Yes, Napa Valley is one of the most luxurious luxury destinations in the world. That doesn’t mean everything here costs a pretty penny. The truth is that Napa County boasts a host of destinations and activities that are totally free. Here are our top 10.
- Shop the market
The Napa Farmers’ Market is the county’s largest and regularly boasts more than 100 vendors, artisans, and purveyors. On Saturdays, it’s also one of the very few markets in the region that operates year-round. The market is held in the City of Napa parking lot at 1100 West Street, two blocks from the Oxbow. Our advice: Go before 9 a.m. to score popular treats such as English Muffins from Model Bakery.
- Explore ‘Cowville’
One of the most scenic roads in Yountville is Yount Mill Road, a ribbon of concrete that winds out of town to the north and reconnects with Highway 29 near Mustards Grill. The best way to experience the road: On foot. Along the stroll you can feed hay to longhorns that graze fields to the east, munch on crab apples, and soak up the scenery. The best part: You’re never more than 10 minutes from downtown.
- Wander Calistoga’s Labyrinth
Wellness practitioners and Zen masters say labyrinths are great places to meditate and dive deep into thought. The Indian Springs Labyrinth on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Calistoga definitely is worth a visit. The circular pathway is adjacent to an art gallery and is a short walk from the spa pools at Indian Springs. It’s also near The Depot, the newest project from Jean-Charles Boisset.
- Summit Mount St. Helena
You haven’t really arrived in Wine Country until you’ve hiked to the summit of Mount St. Helena and enjoyed a bottle of rose before the fog burns off below you. The mountain is in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park and the summit is accessed by the Stevenson trail that winds from the top of Highway 29. Allow about three hours for the grueling ascent; the scramble down goes much faster.
- Disc golf at Skyline
Frisbee golf is serious business at Skyline Wilderness Park in southern Napa. This expansive park has a 400-acre, 18-hole course with DIScatcher baskets; the Marvin Paul-designed course is technical with steep grassy hillsides. The entire course can be played in less than two hours—even less if you only throw nine. Follow the course by using the tee signs on each hole.
- Drink up Napa art
Sculptures on the free and public Napa Art Walk change every year, and for the year starting August 2021 the exhibit comprises 10 sculptures from seven artists representing four western states. Online maps help visitors navigate the art walk. For a fulfilling detour, check out the Rail Arts District, where local artists have painted giant murals on walls of buildings that line the Wine Train, train tracks.
- Pay culinary homage
More than 4,000 artifacts of specialty cookware, bread baking and culinary tools, appliances, and tableware comprise the permanent exhibit about Chuck Williams at CIA Copia. Williams was a popular local chef who went on to launch the housewares company Williams Sonoma. Today the collection of odd-shaped tureens and a duck de-boning machine are among the most bizarre of the items on exhibit.
- Look up
Depending on the time of year, hot-air balloons are a common sight in the skies above the Napa Valley. The good news: Ogling at these giant floating orbs is totally free. Most balloons leave right around sunrise to get aloft before the wind picks up. This means it’s probably best to hit up a local independent coffee shop and find a flat and open space for your watch party.
- Observing the Oxbow
Napa’s Oxbow Public Market essentially put public markets on the map; though others in the United States came before it, no others have quite perfected the luxury angle. While food and trinkets at the Oxbow can be expensive, wandering around to investigate the goodies and wares doesn’t cost a cent. To experience peak rush hour, plan to visit around lunchtime on a weekend.
- Critter-watching in delta
Birding is the name of the game at Wetlands Edge Park in American Canyon, the southernmost city in the entire county. The park comprises roughly five miles of trails in all, including dirt paths that parallel the Napa River where it meets San Pablo Bay. In mornings, usually right around sunrise, the waters are teeming with herons and other birds. Be sure to bring a camera.