You’re all smiles when you’re in Napa. That’s just the way it is. The people are friendly, an abundance of wine is at your fingertips, and with so much to do (including BottleRock, the popular music and culinary festival) and see (Napa Valley Film Festival), it’s quite a popular destination. According to the San Francisco-based research company, Destination Analysts, in 2014, Napa Valley had 3.3 million visitors. In addition, 93 percent said they are “very likely” to return. Well, it’s easy to see why. And after you read this list of our Downtown favorites, you’ll promptly start planning your grape-inspired getaway.

Stay in this walkable part of town for a different take on the city. You’ll want to gather with friends to check out everything from the new Culinary Institute of America at Copia to the super cool and chic spot, CRU @ The Annex. Use our list as a guide to experience this area’s latest additions.

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Stay At Napa River Inn
Situated in Downtown Napa right on the riverfront, this historic property has remained a Main Street staple ever since it opened 16 years ago. The classic Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel is quite charming and offers its guests 66 rooms to choose from within its Embarcadero, Historic or Plaza buildings.

napa-river-inn-photos-exterior-copyWe love the property’s Plaza Building because its recently renovated Deluxe Rooms provide visitors with the modern sensibilities of today. Expect a cozy king-size bed with pillow-top mattress and down pillows (perfect for sinking into), a fireplace, balcony overlooking the river, and a marble-tiled bathroom with two luxe terry cloth robes. Our favorite daily ritual is turndown. We couldn’t get enough of the square chunks of mint chocolate left on the nightstand. The addictive confection, which is made specifically for the hotel, is from the Vintage Sweet Shoppe at the Historic Napa Mill. You can purchase some for $32 per pound or if you ask, housekeeping just might give you a couple extra to help you make it through the night.

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Make A Date With The CIA
No, this is not the Central Intelligence Agency, so don’t worry. The Culinary Institute of America at Copia is seriously the go-to for all things food related. Sign up for a cooking class for you and the crew here. Learn how to make pistachio puffs and lemon curd or take the Chef’s Class: Happy Hollandaise! in the Napa Valley Vintners Theater with its spacious 2,800-square-foot kitchen and auditorium.

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After class, walk a few steps over to The Restaurant at CIA Copia for dinner. Set to serve tables sharable plates infused with the freshest seasonal ingredients, you’ll love the lively atmosphere here (and its outdoor pizza oven). For a more intimate setting, gather in one of three private dining rooms (order the grilled hangar steak with porcini mushrooms, bone marrow and Cabernet reduction) or plan to meet friends in the restaurant’s 360-square-foot Tasting Salon.

Images from The Culinary Institute of America's Greystone Campus in Napa Valley, California. The Copia property in Napa, CA. Second floor.

Before you leave, be sure to stop by The Store at CIA Copia for a potpourri of items like standard French or flat roux whips, conical strainers, Peterboro baskets, olive oil body balm from 80 Acres, and porcini risotto from Wineforest Wild Foods. There’s also a huge book selection to choose from including The Modern Preserver by Kylee Newton or The Art of the Cookie by Shelly Kaldunski.

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Pair Popcorn And Wine At CRU @ The Annex
One of the newest additions to Oxbow Public Market is the nearly 2,000-square-foot CRU @ The Annex. It is the hotspot for socializing with friends in an environment where technology (think four screens) meets a lot of personality (floppy straw sun hats are available for sunny days on the patio and cotton Mexican blankets for chilly afternoons and evenings). Here, owners Chuck and Anne McMinn of Vineyard 29 in St. Helena, sell their wines by the flight, bottle or by the glass. Try the 2014 CRU Pinot Noir (a combo of dried rose petals, cranberry, orange peels, sandalwood, truffle, forest floor, oak and creamy vanilla) with truffle Parmesan popcorn or the first release of CRU Merlot (a blend of plum, cherry, floral, dark spice, fresh herbs and chocolate) with carmel mocha popcorn.

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The space, which was created for locals and tourists alike, contains local art from Nancy Willis and Marissa Carlisle. Willis’ “If I Go…” is a series of video clips set in Paris (think vistas from a hotel balcony) and Carlisle’s “Duette” showcases mixed media photographs of eyes with an underwater filtering.

Other highlights include a love lock gate on the patio and the CRU note wall, which is perfect for selfies. Step inside the bathroom to see its walls covered with big calendar dates that have personal messages written on them.

img_0190-copyGrab the day’s date on your way to the loo and scribble your own note before pinning it to the calendar wall.

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Get Cozy At The Corner Or In A Cave
Just a quick stroll from Napa River Inn is where you’ll find The Corner Napa. It’s sophisticated (holds the largest collection of rare whiskey in the region), hip (think exposed bricks with brass and marble) and happening (expect a packed house). “It provides a moody and sexy spot to stop by on your night out,” says Kaine Gish, general manager. “You can have pretty much any experience you are looking for—a romantic dinner, drinks, nightcap, happy hour—whatever you desire. The interior provides the perfect foil for great food, wine and cocktails,” Gish says. Stop by for dessert and order the chocolate silk (think dark chocolate ganache, hazelnut and salt), espresso creme brûlée, and white chocolate bread pudding with Chambord and mixed berries for the table. All three treats are divine. Most of the time, you’ll visit a place and there will be only one standout item on the menu. We promise, that’s not the case here. Each item is a winner. This outstanding trio will satisfy your sweet tooth in more ways than one.

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Located about 4 miles from Napa River Inn is where you’ll find The Meritage Resort and Spa. It’s worth taking a trip here just to dine in the property’s 20,000-square-foot natural stone Estate Cave. Bring friends here for lunch (ask chef to prepare his smoked short rib with apple puree and asparagus topped lightly with an apple brandy jus) before retreating to Spa Terra or to Crush Ultra Lounge to challenge pals to a friendly game of bowling.

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Go For A Bike Ride
The new Vine Trail is ideal for biking with friends. Rent a bike from Enjoy Napa Valley and take the 12.5-mile route from Napa to Yountville (Kennedy Park to Madison Avenue). The next phase of the trail, which will be completed in three years, will connect St. Helena to Calistoga. And when all is said and done, the Vine Trail will total 47 miles.

goetherAdmire the Valley and ride to places like Gordon Huether‘s 15,000-square-foot studio to see some of the artist’s fascinating work. We love Huether’s The Color Of Music pieces, which are covered in musical notes with pops of color like red, pink and fuchsia, that delve into the relationship between light and sound and color and music. The talented 57 year old’s work—like the Historic Napa Mill Gateway—can be seen just a few steps away from Napa River Inn. Crafted from recycled steel, Huether painted aluminum signage and used custom patinas to create a standout look for Downtown. “Every project has its own story,” Huether says. “I’m into pretty with a story.”

Always on the move, he’s currently working on the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. “I can’t really talk much about Salesforce yet since we are in early schematic design,” Huether says. Adding, “If I’m not doing something creative, I’ll probably get into some sort of trouble.” Born to create artistry for all, Huether says, “I do what I do as an artist because my mission in life is to inspire the spirit of humanity by bringing beauty and meaning into the world through art.”

Laura J. Downey bicycling through Napa Valley

Laura J. Downey biking through Napa Valley

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