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Napa Valley Arts & Culture

Wine country history, innovation, and imagination

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The artistry found at many Napa Valley wineries goes well beyond what’s poured in your glass. The Hess Collection, for instance, contains a virtual museum of important international works. Turnbull Wine Cellars in Oakville showcases one of the largest permanent photography exhibition spaces on the West Coast, including original works by Ansel Adams. 

Quixote Winery’s former owner, meanwhile, commissioned Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser to design a stunning Silverado Trail palace, which evokes the work of Gaudí in Barcelona with its gold-leaf onion dome, melting architectural lines, and expansive tile mosaics.

Even the downtown Napa streets abound with artwork, on display through the biennial Napa ARTwalk program. On plazas all around town, you’ll see large marvels of imagination and craft created by artists from the Western U.S. Rotating works remain on view for two years, and are spaced near one another and close by such destinations as the Oxbow Public Market, the Napa River Inn, and Napa Mill, making for a leisurely walk that is stroller- and wheelchair-accessible. Past pieces have included such eye-popping creations as a giant charging bull crafted from steel and polished locust wood, a monster-size wine bottle made of woven grapevine cane, and an aurora borealis “curtain of light” crafted of aluminum, Plexiglas, and powder-coated steel.

In 2016, the historic 1880 Napa Valley Opera House was transformed into a hip hangout as the Blue Note Napa club took over the bottom floor as an outpost of the famous New York music venue. The upstairs showcases acts of all kinds, such as NapaShakes (an interpretive Shakespeare theater), Napa Valley Film Festival screenings, and private arts programs.

The valley’s museums of the more conventional sort are well worth a visit too, for an immersion into the rich character of the centuries-old Napa Valley settlements. Yountville’s Napa Valley Museum, for instance, inspires with its Land and People of Napa Valley permanent exhibition (did you know that wine country boasted an important Chinese culture in the 1800s?), and St. Helena’s Robert Louis Stevenson Museum shares global treasures from the Treasure Island author and Napa regular. 

Anyone interested in making a deep dive into Napa’s winemaking past should drop by the 1881 Napa Wine History Museum & Tasting Salon, which has an extensive array of artifacts from the early years of California winemaking on display, as well as a historic overview of the 16 sub-appellations of Napa Valley and anecdotes about their founders and other industry pioneers. Admission to the museum is free; after taking in the exhibits, visitors can participate in tastings of various local Cabernet Sauvignons.

Another must-stop: the Sharpsteen Museum in Calistoga, which is a treasure chest of Napa Valley history from its prehistory to post–World War I. Its stories are told through elaborate dioramas by Ben Sharpsteen, an Academy Award–winning animator, producer, and Walt Disney Studios director.

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