Napa's dream

A river-centered revival in the heart of the Wine Country
Lisa Taggart

River floods leave fertile soil in their wake, the silver lining to the havoc wrought. But instead of cropland, the Napa River is repaying its namesake city with a revitalized downtown scene. Though a long-term restoration project is still years from completion, local riverfront culture has already bloomed.

The new gallery-cum-nightclub in the overhauled 1884 Napa Mill complex epitomizes the city's focus on the arts. By day, the space exhibits regional and contemporary artists as MJ Schäer Gallery (9-6 daily; 500 Main St.; 707/251-3726); by night, it jumps as a jazz club, DG's (closed Mon-Wed; admission varies; 707/253-8474). "There's a lot going on here," says Michael Schäer, the gallery's owner. "The whole face of the downtown and riverfront is changing."

Sleek Celadon ($$$; lunch Mon-Fri, dinner daily; 500 Main; 707/254-9690), with its Mediterranean cuisine, relocated to the Napa Mill in September 2002. In fact, the business district teems with good choices: Pilar ($$$; lunch Tue-Sat, dinner Mon-Sat; 807 Main; 707/252-4474) has delicious California cuisine with French and Spanish influences; the menu at elegant new Restaurant Budo ($$$$; lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; 1650 Soscol Ave.; 707/224-2330) features Asian-accented dishes. Plus, don't miss the gorgeous and extravagantly good cakes at Sweetie Pies (520 Main; 707/257-7280).

 

 

Of course, all rivers in this valley flow somehow into wine, and tasting rooms have quickly popped up. Bounty Hunter Rare Wine & Provisions (975 First St.; 707/255-0622) is an old favorite, specializing in uncommon bottles. And the free Napa Downtown Trolley ( www.nctpa.net/trolley or 707/255-7631) means visitors don't have to drive.

Food-and-wine museum Copia (closed Tue; $13; 500 First; 707/259-1600) remains the town's anchor; another classic draw is the lovely 1879 Napa Valley Opera House (1030 Main; www.nvoh.org or 707/226-7372), which reopened in 2003.

But the place hasn't gone too upscale. A new $15 wine-tasting card ( www.napadowntown.com) promotes savings. With the card, you get 10-cent pours at 10 locations as well as admission to Copia. That's a deal in Napa's resurgent downtown.

 

 

On the riverfront

The city of Napa is 55 miles north of San Francisco. For information, visit www.napavalley.org or www.napariverfront.com or call 707/226-7459.