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Napa

Country-casual turns cosmopolitan in Napa Valley’s cultural heart

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The bustling city of Napa, on the banks of the Napa River, is celebrating a glamorous reinvention. There was a time not so long ago when the town was a sleepy residential area with strip-mall-style shopping centers. Yet an influx of celebrity-chef restaurants, upscale lodgings, manicured parks and river walks, and dozens of tasting rooms have redefined the area as a luxury destination.

Highlights include Oxbow Public Market, a lively food hall where you can slurp fresh oysters at Hog Island, savor artisanal charcuterie from Fatted Calf, or indulge in truffles and caramels from Anette’s Chocolates. If wine tasting has you in the mood for a good pizza, pick up an organic wood-fired pie from the market’s Ca’ Momi, which has been certified by both the VPN (Vera Pizza Napoletana) and APN (Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani). The restaurant also contributes mightily to Napa’s nightlife with its performance venue, which hosts live bands regularly.

For more edible pleasures, treat yourself to sushi at nearby Morimoto Napa, dine on chef Ken Frank’s elegant offerings at the Michelin-starred La Toque, or discover some of wine country’s most spectacular local-ingredient-driven cuisine right on the Napa riverfront at Celadon. Then, take in a show down the street at the outpost of New York City’s famed Blue Note, inside one of the region’s social and cultural hubs, the Napa Valley Opera House.

As a cultural center of California wine country, Napa provides plenty of opportunities to taste. Stroll downtown to enjoy outdoor art and dip into a variety of tasting rooms. Highlights include Vintner's Collective, housed in the city’s oldest stone building, Mark Herold Wines, an eclectic spot with funky decor, and Prime Cellars, an intimate experience, focusing on small production wines. For a relaxing afternoon, head to St. Clair Brown, a boutique winery, beer garden, and restaurant framed by a 4,500-square-foot organic garden, which overlooks the path of the Napa Valley Wine Train (diners tend to wave as the locomotive chugs by).

Rest and relaxation abounds at options such as the big-city-chic Andaz Napa hotel and the romantic 1889 Churchill Manor B&B mansion, with remarkable old-growth redwood moldings and crystal chandeliers. Overnight stays at the historic Napa River Inn include a decadent breakfast from the Sweetie Pies bakery downstairs. Family-run Cedar Gables Inn offers a full series of cooking classes, where guests share a communal dinner they helped cook, paired with a featured local winemaker’s selected pours.

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