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