Napa Valley is renowned for its wine-making prowess, however, there is a vast cornucopia of enthralling activities to do aside from getting day-drunk on the purple stuff. Whether you want to hit the open water of the Napa River, hop on the rails of the Napa Valley Wine Train, or get a bird’s eye view of the valley from above, here is a list of excursions and activities for your next visit that doesn’t necessarily require the consumption of wine (should you ever want to do such a thing):
The Napa Valley Wine Train
The Napa Valley Wine Train is one of the top attractions for tourists and locals alike. While wine tasting is involved, this locomotive takes the experience to a new level. While you can have a private driver escort you around the Valley, riding in a refurbished rail car of opulence is infinitely more awesome.
Experiencing a bygone era of rail travel, while simultaneously getting pampered on a 36-mile round trip jaunt through pristine vineyards landscapes, is sure to leave a lasting impression on a visit to Napa.
Hot Air Balloons
On any given early morning in the Napa Valley, you’ll probably catch a glimpse of a squadron of hot air balloons dotting the horizon. Typically launching from Yountville and landing in Napa, hot air balloons are a lovely way to survey the valley in its entire wine-growing splendor. It probably goes without saying, but people with height phobias should probably abstain. Check out Napa Valley Aloft.
Seen most prominently as it meanders through downtown Napa, the Napa River is a waterway that once provided a means to transport goods and supplies throughout the Bay Area and beyond. Now, from a recreational standpoint, visitors can jump into a kayak, or canoe, and experience Napa from a perspective that might get overlooked by most. As efforts are made to rehabilitate the Napa River, native flora and fauna have returned to the area…which includes a colony of beavers that you might be lucky enough to see! Kayak rentals available through Enjoy Napa Valley.
Bale Grist Mill
A relic of the region’s agricultural past, Bale Grist Mill should definitely be on your travel itinerary when visiting Napa…especially for those with young kids in tow. Built in 1846, this water-powered grist mill is still in operation, albeit more so for educational and historic purposes than anything else. However, the meal and flour that is produced is available for purchase, and if your timing is right, you can even partake in a pancake breakfast from ingredients milled on-site.
Traditionally held during Memorial Day weekend in May, this annual event has become a staple in the music festival circuit after only a few short years. Combining elements of exquisite wine, exceptional food and rock-n-roll fortitude, this assemblage draws approximately 120,000 people to Napa over a three day period. Nothing can quite top sipping on vino, eating some culinary wizardry, and listening to the likes of Tom Petty, Foo Fighters, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers (just to name a few past acts)…all in the same place.
Lastly, and perhaps the coolest part: Miner Family Winery has sponsored this event since its inception. If you are ever able to indulge in the experience, be sure to check out the Miner Family Winery stage and visit our booth to see what types of swag and entertainment we have going on.
Similar to BottleRock, but on a much smaller and local scale, PorchFest is a one-day music festival that is totally FREE to all. PorchFest typically happens during one of the last weekends in July and features a vast, genre-diverse pool of musical talent all within the confines of one of Napa’s most historic neighborhoods. Think of it as a giant block party on steroids. Streets in the neighborhood are closed off to traffic and all of the musical acts perform on various porches of Victorian-era homes within a few city blocks.
Patrons of the event are welcome to bring their own provisions; there is food for sale but it is totally a BYOB event. Although public consumption of adult beverages is not encouraged, local authorities will generally turn a blind eye as long as you are discreet and aren’t being that token drunk dummy in the crowd.
Old Faithful Geyser
Perhaps not as mighty or majestic as its counterpart in Yellowstone, the Calistoga version of Old Faithful still provides a dependable demonstration of geothermic activity every 15 to 60 minutes, depending on the time of the year; with water eruptions up to 80 feet in height.
Even if you’re not so keen to wait around for a stream of water to shoot from the ground, also located within the site are various species of goats and llamas, as well as tranquil gardens to enjoy, a picnic area, a geology museum and bocce courts…so essentially, there’s something of interest for just about anybody and for visitors of all ages.
Although a bit isolated from the rest of Napa Valley’s attractions, Lake Berryessa is still a part of Napa County and a can’t-miss locale for anybody that identifies themselves as a water recreation or outdoor enthusiast. Ripe with angling opportunities, water skiing, hiking or camping; there is no supply shortage of things to do at Lake Berryessa. In fact, if you decide to stock up on wine for a few days in Napa, and then spend the rest of your trip meandering around on houseboat at the lake, I’m absolutely positive that there are worse ways to spend a vacation.
Robert Louis Stevenson State Park
Located just north of Calistoga, Robert Louis Stevenson State Park is named in honor of the famous author after he spent his honeymoon in a cabin on this site in 1880. Although his honeymoon cabin no longer exists, there are plenty of hiking trails to explore. Most notably, there is a trailhead that will guide you to the summit of Mt. St. Helena, which is a 10 mile round trip. From this vantage point you can see most of the San Francisco Bay Area, Mt. Tamalpais…and even Mt. Shasta on exceptionally clear days, which is 192 miles away.
For those of you thinking that we in Napa only have wine to offer, hopefully this list provides a bit of enlightenment. It is by no means comprehensive, so if there is a glaring activity that I am leaving out, please feel free to share. As a final takeaway, remember that when you’re here, it’s totally acceptable to do other things besides drink wine…but considering you’re probably visiting for the wine to begin with, make sure that you do plenty of that as well!
Chief Hat Wearer (literally), Resident Hunky Ginger and Wine Club Coordinator at Miner Family Winery, I like to surround myself with good friends and great times. I feel that wine plays a big part in that. My goal is to provide unpretentious insight on wine culture from a guy’s perspective, as well as the Napa Valley in general. I also love baseball and dogs.