Living in San Francisco (or visiting!) has the added perk of proximity to one of the world’s best destinations for wine. I’ve spent many weekends, birthdays, and other celebrations exploring Napa food and neighboring wine country across Healdsburg, Sonoma, and Napa Valley. I have my go-tos in the Sonoma square and my favorite spots in the town of Healdsburg, yet somehow I had hardly spent any time exploring downtown Napa.
With the help of one of my oldest friends (who is now a winemaker and local there) I created a list of the best restaurants in Napa to scout out. I wanted to include not only wine tasting rooms and fancy restaurants but craft breweries, markets, and local’s favorite places to eat.
I set out on a mission to see what flavors await those who may want to experience wine country but not jump into the crowds and craziness that can be the Napa Valley (word has gotten out!)
After a short drive from the city, I decided to park myself in downtown and use it as a base to explore. Staying for a few nights in downtown Napa allowed us to walk everywhere (and not need to worry about designated drivers.) It’s a relaxing way to roam from one eatery to another, stopping for a stroll by the river or to browse some art in between. It became my new favorite wine country discovery, and equipped with this list and/or your own thirst for culinary experiences there…I am certain it will be yours, too.
Here is the list, which evolved a bit as I did my own hopping around:
Best Restaurants in Napa
Where to Eat and Drink Downtown
I’ve tried to break them down by meal category or primary beverage, but there is understandably a ton of overlap! You can likely eat as well as drink wine and/or beer at most spots, so be sure to check your options when you arrive.
Downtown Napa Wine Tasting
A truly beautiful interior, lovely staff, an adjoining art gallery, and some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc I’ve had? What more could you ask for? If you go tasting at just one spot in downtown Napa, make sure you stop in here.
Named one of America’s top wine restaurants, Compline is top spot to sip wine They also offer wine education classes from their sommelier that I’m dying to get to.
Trahan-Prime Cellars Tasting Room
If you’re looking for a relaxed and comfortable wine tasting experience that feels a little like being in someone’s home (as opposed to a stuffy tasting room,) look no further than this friendly spot in downtown Napa. Two wineries have joined forces here, so you can taste a variety with the help of the knowledgeable staff. Also: priced extremely reasonably.
A beautifully designed and newly opened space, Brown Estate (located in nearby St. Helena) makes excellent wines, particularly their Zinfandel. The tasting room is chic, and the tasting price is steep ($40-50) but there is no doubting it’s one of the best places to drink wine in downtown Napa.
Note: I also highly recommend checking out the Downtown Napa Wine Tasting Card to see if it makes sense for your trip. It’s $15 and gets you half off at ten tasting rooms in downtown (including my favorite one!) If you’re going to do more than a few tastings, it pays for itself.
Best of Downtown Napa Beer
St. Clair Brown
This place was our favorite discovery of the trip and what will singlehandedly keep us coming back to downtown Napa. Veteran winemakers and brewers came together to create a boutique urban space, complete with culinary garden, that is both comfortable and chic. During our visit the warm and welcoming staff not only served us some of the best wine and beer of the weekend, but came around with bites straight from the garden for us to taste. Safe to say (because well, we joined the beer club…) that this is one place we’ll be back to again and again. Highly recommended!
It was a delight to discover relative newcomer Trade Brewery, who is already winning awards for their craft beers that they continue to refine. Their taproom is friendly, and highlights of my flight and tasting included their 220 V Juicy IPA and Hatchet IPA, but all their beers are tasty. It’s nice to see a beer scene developing alongside the wine industry in Napa. Definitely worth a visit!
A short walk from the main area downtown, Tannery Bend is another great addition to the growing craft beer scene in Napa. They make both classic ales and pilsners and experiment with seasonal and unique brews. Their saison in particular gets rave reviews.
Breakfast in Napa Downtown
C Casa: two words: breakfast tacos! You can see them making the tortillas by hand, and while there’s no shortage of excellent Mexican food in California, they’re really doing it right here. Located inside Oxbow Market.
Alexis Baking Company: items like a leek and goat cheese omelet or creme brûlée French toast alongside freshly baked goods make this the go-to spot for locals who want a hearty breakfast.
Model Bakery: just around the corner from Oxbow, it’s an outpost of the famous Napa Valley bakery. They make artisan breads, and are perhaps most well known for their English muffins (which Oprah apparently flies in for, NBD!)
Lunch in Napa Downtown
Angele: Give me a riverside French countryside restaurant and I’ll give you my new favorite place to eat. From foie gras torchon to steak tartare, they’ve got a range of classic French dishes. They serve dinner here as well but I love sitting outside during the day.
Oxbow Public Market: A variety of options await at Napa’s fantastic gourmet market. Favorite options include Kitchen Door, Hog Island Oyster Bar, and Gott’s Roadside (both of the latter have other locations.) It’s also a great place to browse for culinary goods ranging from spices to olive oil to specialty bitters.
Bounty Hunter BBQ: a massive wine list, rare Scotch, and a barbecue menu that includes St. Louis ribs, smoked beef brisket, and beer can chicken makes any list of mine. It’s a casual place that takes the pretense out of Napa without losing any of the intensely good flavor.
Dinner in Napa Downtown
Torc: Ah, this might take the cake as my favorite meal we ate in downtown Napa. The open kitchen and dining room is bustling with activity, but the dishes are expertly presented and as good as anything I’ve eaten this year. No matter what you order it’s bound to be good — whether a hamachi crudo or roasted pork belly. Their ‘Taste of Torc’ set menu is a great way to go if you want to sample the restaurant’s highlights.
Miminashi: I’ve been a fan of the izakaya, or Japanese pub, since my trip to Japan earlier this year. Miminashi serves some of the best Japanese comfort food, including yakitori on an imported grill and delicious ramen and okonomiyaki. They also have a rolodex with dozens of cocktails, a fantastic sake list, and a soft-serve ice cream bar that alone makes the visit worth it.
Zuzu: A most excellent array of tapas await at this cozy Spanish restaurant that favors local and organic foods from Northern California.
Other Recommended Food:
- La Taberna
- Gran Electrica
- Napa Valley Coffee Roasting
Recommended Downtown Napa Hotels
If you’re looking for a grand hotel: Archer Hotel (don’t miss the rooftop bar!)
If a B&B in a Victorian house is more up your alley: Hennessey House B&B
If you’re wanting space and a good value: Embassy Suites Napa (their complimentary breakfast is excellent!)
If you make it there soon, let me know how your trip went and what your favorites were!
:: save for later ::
P.S. More wine?