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Weekend Traveler

Explore downtown Napa and neighboring Coombsville

Enjoy Ackerman Family Vineyards Cabernet (photo: Bo Links)

There are so many wine areas in Napa, it’s hard to believe there are any more to be discovered. Recently we tasted our way through several wineries in the Coombsville AVA, the newest of Napa’s subappellations. Located just east of downtown Napa, it’s a wonderful destination to enjoy beautiful scenery, meet friendly people, and find great wine. And by including downtown Napa, too, we had plenty of choices for restaurants and hotels.

Only an hour’s drive from San Francisco, this part of the Napa Valley is quick, easy, and a great way to savor time away from the daily grind.


Stay

Downtown Napa is fairly compact. Park your car, check in at one of the well-situated hotels, and get out and explore. The Napa River snakes its way through town, and if you plan ahead you can enjoy the scene from a number of properties.

Next to the water, the River Terrace Inn is a casual place to stay. With its soothing colors, friendly service and convenient location, it’s an easy choice — especially when your room has a patio with your own private view of the river (707-320-9000, www.riverterraceinn.com).

The Napa River Inn, located in the historic Napa Mill, occupies a prime spot on the River Walk. In the main house, this boutique hotel offers comfortable rooms in a grand style reminiscent of the 1800s. Some include canopied beds and fireplaces, and all have modern amenities. A full breakfast is delivered to your room each morning from Sweetie Pies bakery (877-251-8500, www.napariverinn.com).

For more contemporary accommodations, choose The Westin Verasa overlooking the river. Most rooms at this resort have kitchenettes and spacious bathrooms, and the Westin-branded Heavenly Beds will assure a dreamy sleep. (888-627-7169, www.westinnapa.com)

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The Coombsville AVA was officially established in December 2011. It is named for Nathan Coombs who purchased the land in 1836. Known for Cabernet Sauvignon and volcanic ash, this exciting locale is producing a wide range of other varietals as well. Because the wineries are family-owned and small producers, call ahead for an appointment. Here are the wineries we visited:

From its perch atop a hill, Porter Family Vineyards has a striking view of the Coombsville region. The wines are crafted in a cave hidden 50 feet beneath the hill. We sampled their wines in a stunning tasting room. Favorites include the 2008 Sandpiper Red (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot), the 2009 Cave Dweller (Cabernet and Syrah), and the 2009 Chardonnay (707-927-0765, www.porterfamilyvineyards.com).

Ackerman Family Vineyards produces delicious Cabernet Sauvignons in a beautifully serene setting. Their Bordeaux-style wines (we tried the 2005, 2006 and 2007) are rich and silky. Choose one of their specialty food pairings, and take pleasure in the picturesque views as you sip their appealing wines (855-238-9463, www.ackermanfamilyvineyards.com).

The land that includes the restored home of Henry Hagen and his Cedar Knoll winery is today the site of Palmaz Vineyards. Located at the foot of Mt. George, the amazing four-level cave is the same height as a 15-story building. Savor small hors d’oeuvres with some of their elegant wines including the 2010 Napa Valley Riesling “Louise” and the 2007 Palmaz Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (707-226-5587, www.palmazvineyards.com).

After a day of wine tasting, the pools at the River Terrace Inn and the Westin Verasa offer a soothing respite. There’s also bocce ball at the Westin and complimentary bikes at the River Terrace Inn. If your idea of relaxation includes a spa, then head to La Pelle Spa for one of their luxurious treatments (707-255-6182, www.lapelleskinspa.com).

After dinner, Silo’s (707-251-5833, www.silosnapa.com) is the place to mellow out to cool jazz. Nightlife in downtown Napa is heating up so find music, a movie, or uncover a new wine bar.

Shop

Just before you reach downtown Napa, check out the latest arrivals at the Napa Premium Outlets (707-226-9876). Once in town the General Store (www.napageneralstore.com) is a longtime favorite for a wonderful selection of artisan goods, wine country accessories, and hearty fare. The Oxbow Public Market (www.oxbowpublicmarket.com) is another treasure trove of good eats, great wine and relaxed dining — all by the riverfront. Stroll through town and find more boutiques, antique shops, tasting rooms, and restaurants.

And of course, wineries and tasting rooms hope you’ll buy wine when you visit, so don’t disappoint.

Dine

Brunch in wine country is the perfect way to fortify yourself before heading out for a day of tasting, so we tried Tarla’s in Napa’s burgeoning west end. A combination of Greek and Turkish influences, the food is creative and the Napa-influenced interior is fun and informal. We started with Istanbul-style stuffed mussels, a succulent mouthful of rice, currants and pine nuts. Next up was the crab sandwich on ciabatta stuffed with fresh crab, bacon and avocado and served with yummy Greek fries and spicy mayo. Don’t miss side orders of potato cakes and warm potato buns that are to die for. Buttery, flakey baklava was the indulgent finale to a terrific meal (707-255-5599, www.tarlagrill.com).

The Oxbow Market has a good assortment of places to eat, and we opted for the Kitchen Door. The interior of the restaurant is open and airy — you feel like you’re in a family kitchen. The menu has an international flair so we tried the Armenian lahmajune. Made with spiced ground lamb and salad served on a thin piece of dough, you simply fold it and eat. The Korean short ribs are cooked with a soya glaze and come over bacon-fried rice. The candy cap mushroom bread pudding for dessert is a must-have (707-226-1650, www.kitchendoornapa.com).

The Wine Train (800-427-4124, www.winetrain.com) is an easy way to experience the valley’s good life as you travel to St. Helena and back to Napa. You’ll taste interesting wines and local cuisine in beautifully restored vintage rail cars.

In the lobby of Westin Verasa, find Bank Café & Bar, Ken Frank’s (of La Toque in Rutherford) casual restaurant. It’s a place to enjoy delicious food all day long (www.westinnapa.com/dining).

Other Essentials

Coombsville Vintners & Growers: www.coombsvillenapa.org
Downtown Napa: www.donapa.com
Visiting Napa Valley: www.visitnapavalley.com

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Patty Burness can be found on Twitter at @pattygb or reached by e-mail at patty@marinatimes.com