Log In / Join Now

Napa Travel: Diversions

What to do between meals and wine tastings

Posted: June 29, 2004

Jean Debuffet's The Extravagant welcomes visitors to Clos Pegase, where wine shares the spotlight with architecture.
  Napa Valley Travel Guide  
  Fine Dining  
  Casual Dining  

Despite what outsiders might think, there are moments in Napa during which people do things other than sip wine. There are plenty of other activities to feed the soul -- some are cultural, some adventurous, some informative, many relaxing.

What makes Napa a great destination is entwined with what makes it an ideal place to create great wine: good weather, beautiful scenery and a population of folks who know how to blend the rural, laid-back atmosphere of wine country living with sophisticated tastes.

Spas and shopping experiences abound in Napa, and the Napa Valley Wine Train would be a hit with any railway aficionado, but we're more interested in directing you toward activities that allow you to mingle with locals and absorb their experience and knowledge firsthand. Once you get a glimpse of Napa the way the Napans see it, you'll be hooked.

If you need to take a break from the swirling and sniffing, notice how the love of wine easily splashes over into art, as the di Rosa Preserve, Clos Pegase and the Hess Collection demonstrate. The world-class collections at each are nestled among grapevines that create a lovely backdrop for art viewing.

Napa continues to attract people with an interest in the wine country lifestyle, and if you need to brush up on how to incorporate that style into your own way of life, head to the Culinary Institute of America or to Copia for a refresher class. You can improve your spatula skills or beef up your confidence in pairing food and wine.

If you crave some entertainment, the recently resurrected Napa Valley Opera House is the most exciting venue around. Afterward, hang out with the locals across the street at Bounty Hunter Rare Wine and Provisions' wine bar, where winemakers recount harvest stories over tall glasses of wine.

To soak up the scenery, consider checking out the views from the basket of a hot air balloon at dawn. Wine country weather makes Napa one of the more reliable places to experience ballooning. If golf is your game, the valley offers several options, whether you want to hit a bucket of balls or play a full 18 holes surrounded by vineyards.

Clos Pegase
1060 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707)942-4981
Web site www.clospegase.com
Open Daily, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Clos Pegase is a joy to visit for the architecture alone. Architect and designer Michael Graves is responsible for the plan -- his sole winery design -- a simplified and elegant homage to classical architecture, with repeating columns and clean lines. Founder Jan Shrem's passion for art really comes across in the sculpture garden and minigallery, which includes works by Jean Dubuffet, Richard Serra, Henry Moore, Robert Morris and Francis Bacon. Many of the paintings and sculptures feature images of Pegasus or Bacchus, echoing the classical architecture, mythological namesake and love of wine. 6/6/2001

500 First St., Napa
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (888) 51-COPIA
Web site www.copia.org
Open Wednesday to Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost $12.50

It's almost impossible to describe Copia, dubbed "The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts," but perhaps that's the point. Curious exhibits, tastings, classes, art collections and an "edible garden" all revolve around the themes of wine, food and art and aim to challenge the way we think about and interact with these concepts. Copia is easiest to digest when it takes a whimsical approach, as with artist Sandy Skoglund's recent installation of a life-size cocktail party scene covered entirely in puffed cheese snacks, or her photographs depicting figures wrapped in bacon or in a blizzard of popcorn. Interactive displays, such as one in which visitors try to identify candy bars from pictures of their respective cross-sections, are fun. Admission includes daily wine tastings at the Wine Spectator Tasting Table and a revolving schedule of programs such as comparative potato chip classes and gardening demonstrations. Admission to some events, including movies and live performances, may require an additional fee.

Culinary Institute of America at Greystone
2555 Main St., St. Helena
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 967-2320
Web site www.ciachef.edu/greystone
Open Daily
Cost Demonstrations $12.50

If you always wanted to go to culinary school, you'll probably be drawn to the castlelike CIA, where you can mingle with students in chef's whites while you browse the cookware- and cookbook-filled gift shop or grab an espresso at the coffee bar. Or visit the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant, so named because the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation has donated more than $1 million to the school (although Wine Spectator is not involved in its operation). You can also attend one of the daily cooking demonstrations taught by a CIA grad; you'll receive a copy of the recipe and get to sample the food, be it wild boar potpie, blueberry-pecan scones or some other seasonal dish.

di Rosa Preserve
5200 Carneros Highway, Napa
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 226-5991
Web site www.dirosapreserve.org
Open Almost daily; reservations required
Cost $12 di Rosa Preserve

Part nature preserve, part eclectic art collection, the di Rosa Preserve is jam-packed with contemporary art to make you smile. Boasting more than 2,000 pieces in various media, the collection is composed entirely of works by Bay-area artists. Besides paintings and photographs, there are hundreds of sculptures, their forms ranging from cars hanging in trees to a 65-foot-high stack of file cabinets. Tour lengths vary throughout the year, with most lasting two and a half hours. This is an informal and antimuseum setting in which to view art without nameplates. You're encouraged to wander the various buildings and sculpture gardens, among wild peacocks and grapevines.

Chardonnay Golf Club
2555 Jamieson Canyon Road, Napa
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (800) 788-0136
Web site www.chardonnaygolfclub.com

Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park
2295 Streblow Drive, Napa
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 255-4333
Web site www.playnapa.com

Vintner's Golf Club
7901 Solano Ave., Yountville
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 944-1992
Web site www.vintnersgolfclub.com

The Chimney Rock Golf Course was supplanted by grapevines in 2000, but golf is still going strong in Napa Valley. In addition to the private golf courses in Napa -- including Meadowood and Silverado Country Club (which are open to guests of the resorts) and Napa Valley Country Club -- there are several public courses to choose from. Chardonnay Golf Club boasts two 18-hole courses -- a private one complete with an island green par-3 13th hole, and a challenging public course set amid vineyards. Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park offers 18 holes, with water coming into play on 16 of them. Finally, the covered driving range and nine-hole pitch-and-putt at Vintner's are among the best in the valley.

The Hess Collection
4411 Redwood Road, Napa
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 255-1144
Web site www.hesscollection.com
Open Daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Hess Collection visitors center, perched on Mount Veeder, is a beautiful and serene spot that includes a tasting room, gift shop and world-class art gallery. Owner Donald Hess' collection encompasses modern paintings, sculpture and multimedia works by Francis Bacon, Frank Stella, Franz Gertsch and others. Hess seems drawn to highly textural pieces of sculpture, such as the Boyle Family's Lorry Park Study With Concrete Kerb, a highly detailed, painted fiberglass piece that is a realistic replica of a clod of mud, and Magdalena Abakanowicz's Crowd, a tiny army of life-size, headless figures in burlap and resin. Throughout the center are beautiful views of the tank room, bottling room and vineyards, cleverly framed as art.

Hot Air Balloon Rides
Balloons Above the Valley
5091 Solano Ave., Napaa
Telephone 800-GO-HOT-AIR6
Web site www.balloonrides.com

Bonaventura Balloon Company
Telephone 800-FLY-NAPA
Web site www.bonaventuraballoons.com

Napa Valley Aloft
Telephone (800) 944-4408
Web site www.napavalleyaloft.com

Napa Valley Balloons Inc.
6795 Washington St., Yountville
Telephone (800) 253-2224
Web site www.napavalleyballoons.com

Nothing compares with the views of Napa from a hot air balloon floating above the valley. Rides are amazingly gentle -- a peaceful sensation of standing still even though you're constantly moving with the air currents. Weather permitting, the balloons operate year-round, creating a postcard image each morning shortly after sunrise, when as many as a dozen balloons are aloft. Most rides cost about $200 per person, but the price often includes a continental breakfast before taking off and a sparkling-wine brunch upon landing, although packages vary. It's standard to get started before sunrise, and the whole excursion lasts between three and five hours, including about an hour of flying time. Balloons vary in size; capacities range from a handful to nearly 20 people. Bring lots of film.

Napa Valley Opera House
1030 Main St., Napa
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 226-7372
Web site www.napavalleyoperahouse.org

When the Napa Valley Opera House was built, in 1879, it was named as such to distinguish it from the local bawdy burlesque stages. Today, opera continues to represent only a fraction of the performances here, which include dance, theater, music and comedy. After narrowly avoiding the wrecking ball in the early 1970s, the Opera House was renovated and restored before reopening in 2002 after nearly 90 years of darkness. The second-story, 500-seat main hall attracts both local and international acts that sell out well in advance.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.