As San Francisco Bay Area locals living just south of the city, we have many opportunities for great day trips and getaways. One of the well-known areas within our reach for short visits is the Napa Valley wine region. Recently, we took a ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train and had a tour of Long Meadow Ranch during a two night stay at the Napa River Inn. I’d previously heard very positive reviews of the hotel and can now understand why it gets such high marks and has the honor of being the only hotel in downtown Napa to have Michelin’s highest rating of 3 stars.
Why did we like the Napa River Inn?
Location, location, location
The Napa Valley is easy to reach from many points in the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California. It’s a good place to stay not only for wine country vacations, but also for day trips and weekend getaways. As the “gateway to the valley”, the town of Napa is a good base for exploring the wineries on the main wine routes of Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail, as well as more secluded vineyards and other attractions. From the Napa River Inn, all that downtown Napa offers is conveniently accessible by foot.
The pleasant setting on the Napa River along the River Walk is also ideal with numerous close-by options for dinner, shopping and other activities.
The hotel has an interesting history and is a National Registered Landmark. It’s part of the Historic Napa Mill which was established in 1884 by Captain Albert Hatt who bought the property for $1 for his shipping and merchant business.
The Hatt Building was constructed in 1884 to serve primarily as a warehouse, but it also had a roller-skating rink on the second floor, which I thought was rather surprising. Other buildings were later added for a sales room, produce storage, coal shed, and agricultural chemical storage. When Hatt returned to captaining on the Pacific, his son Albert Jr. took over operations. When his son died in 1912, Captain Hatt sold the property to Robert Keig, who founded the Napa Milling Company. Keig’s family ran the business until the mill closed in 1973. Then in the 1990s, the Napa Mill became the largest historic redevelopment ever in Napa when it was renovated to become the Napa River Inn.
With rooms in multiple buildings amid shops and restaurants, the Napa River Inn seems more like part of a village than a hotel. For us, it was reminiscent of the “alberghi diffusi” (scattered lodgings) we experienced in Italy last summer, a concept designed to utilize various buildings in a village with a central building housing the main lobby.
The hotel includes three buildings with 66 guestrooms reflecting luxury with their own character. Rooms in the Historic Building (original Hatt Building) reflect 1800s elegance, the Embarcadero Building has a nautical theme, and the Plaza Building where we stayed has a contemporary style.
The Riverbend Performance Plaza is a common area for guests on the River Walk adjacent to the hotel, creating a sense of community.
When I walk into a hotel, I’m eager to see what kind of greeting awaits. It makes a big impression, negative or positive, and is often reflective of the kind of service I’m likely to expect throughout my stay. At the Napa River Inn, I was met with a welcoming smile at the front desk, followed by friendly efficiency. It was also the first time I’ve been offered a glass of wine at check-in — definitely a nice touch for a hotel in the Napa Valley.
Comfort and style
I felt at home as soon as we walked in the room which exuded comfort without sacrificing luxury. Nicely appointed with simple, but stylish furniture, mirrors, and art, and a balcony overlooking the river bank, the room was one of those places where you could spend much longer than just a couple of days.
Our room was a Plaza Deluxe in the Plaza Building facing the Napa River. It had a large and very comfortable king size bed, cozy electric fireplace which warmed the room nicely on the cool January evening.
The complimentary breakfast was served each morning from Sweetie Pies, a bakery and restaurant located next to the Hatt Building. We had choices of a variety of fresh baked goods and traditional American breakfast menu items which were delivered right to our in room. Guests can also have breakfast at Sweetie Pies restaurant, if they prefer. But I was relishing the comfort of my room too much to leave and opted for a rare breakfast in bed.
Art on-site and nearby
Artistic touches add so much to a hotel property and the Napa River Inn has interesting art on display in the rooms and throughout the hotel.
At the Riverbend Performance Plaza there is a fountain with a beautiful mosaic piece created by Alan Shepp, Ars Longa Vita Brevis (“Life is Brief But Art Endures”). Its many scenes of Napa Valley history are fun to look for the individual scenes, such as “Comfort Houses”, “Hands Harvesting Grapes”, “Orchard Harvesters”, “Bale Grist Mill”, and “Wine Caves”. Can you spot them? What else do you see?
Just steps away from the hotel, there is more art along the River Walk and for several blocks of downtown Napa. Although we had stumbled upon a few pieces of public art in various locations in Napa, we didn’t realize that there is an entire collection (15 pieces) of sculptures located on several downtown blocks that are organized and listed as the Napa Art Walk. It is a temporary collaborative exhibition by artists from five western states that will be on display through spring 2015. A brochure guides you to the numbered locations. Below are a few of my favorites from the walk.
Wining and dining
There are 20 winery tasting rooms in downtown Napa within walking distance of the Napa River Inn. Since we were out during the days, we didn’t check out the tasting rooms on this getaway, but would love to do that next time. I think the concept of in-town tasting rooms really makes a lot of sense and we’ve also enjoyed them during our stays on other Northern California weekend escapes.
For dining options, there are several cafes and restaurants on the property and a short walk away on the River Walk and in downtown Napa. We had a nice dinner at Celadon, a restaurant serving what they call “global comfort food” with a seasonal menu of Mediterranean, Asian and American influences. Other food and entertainment spots at the Historic Napa Mill complex are Angele, Vintage Sweet Shoppe, Napa General Store, and Silo’s. Along the riverfront, we stopped for a nightcap at the trendy and bustling The Pear Southern Bistro. Their menu of New Orleans and deep south inspired dishes looked enticing and we’ve added it to our list for next time.
The very popular Oxbow Public Market and its wide selection of food and wine of local vendors and artisans is just about a ten minute walk on the other side of the river.
Walking, biking and boating
Among the many activities near the hotel is the Napa Walking Tour which starts right in front of the hotel at 500 Main Street everyday at 9:30 a.m. We saw the costumed guides outside the hotel when we first arrived, adding a period touch to our check-in. We were told that they were a good source of historical information that isn’t easily available from other sources. Guests can also kayak along the Napa River from the hotel’s dock or can get bikes from the “Bicycles to Borrow” program to pedal around town.
The Napa Valley Opera House and the Uptown Theater (two sites used by the Napa Valley Film Festival for events and showings we attended during the festival in November) are key entertainment venues that are also within walking distance of the inn. Basically, at Napa River Inn the town is at your fingertips.
Relaxation and Rejuvenation
A spa treatment was the perfect way to end our getaway. The Spa at Napa River Inn is located just across the parking area from the Hatt Building. It is a small, intimate space smartly decorated in earth-tones and art that adds to the reflective and meditative mood intended by the spa. The lighting throughout the spa is very natural and soothing.
Specialist Joanne Conklin was perfectly in tune with what my body needed during my 75 minute “Be Pampered Body Treatment”. It’s not easy for me to relax as there’s always something to be done and I’ve always been very active, but Joanne’s soothing words and therapeutic touch had me in a stress-free state very soon. The treatment included dry exfoliation, luscious body butters, hot aromatic compresses, a cool tea bag eye compress and my favorite — a hot oil treatment for my hair and scalp. There are 25 treatments available and a couples massage room, too. I wish I could get Mr. TWS to get a couples massage, but he’s not interested — yet.
I also enjoyed talking to Spa Manager Jeanette O’Gallagher who is an innovator in Napa Valley “vinotherapy” and was the first to use wine-based grape seed oil products in Napa spas. She’s the owner of NV Organics, a line of spa products, some of which were provided as amenities in our room at the Napa River Inn. I wasn’t aware of the antioxidant benefits of red wine grape seeds before, but I’m now paying attention.
A bonus feature
Although Mr. TWS and I don’t have pets, I know that many people like to know about hotels that allow them. The Napa River Inn is pet-friendly and in 2012 introduced their Very Important Pet (VIP) Program which includes a welcome basket, and service offerings such as pet-sitting. There are also spa treatments available for your pampered pets.
I would easily have enjoyed a much longer stay at the Napa River Inn. There are many more things to do, restaurants to try, and wine tastings to enjoy. I’d also like to spend more time luxuriating in my room, making the most of such a lovely hotel and its amenities.
Disclosure: Our accommodations and spa experience were hosted by the Napa River Inn, but our opinions and perspectives are totally our own — as always.
For more information: Napa River Inn