Western Trips

Western Trips

Monday, November 5, 2012

Downtown Napa

Western Trips visits the historic and popular tourist city of Napa California, a symbol of the world famous California wine making industry. Napa is located about 47 miles and a one hour drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge. If your California travels take you to the northern part of the state, a trip to Napa, whether for a day or a long weekend, makes a great addition to your vacation planner. You'll enjoy the wineries, the history and the terrific scenery. 

napa valley opera house
Napa Valley Opera House
The Founding of Napa

Napa is the county seat of Napa County California. The town was founded in 1847, about the time that the United States annexed Alta California. California was ceded by Mexico as a result of the Mexican American War. This is in contrast to the nearby town of Sonoma California in the Sonoma Valley wine region which was founded by the Mexicans in 1823 and made the site of the Mission San Francisco Solano. Napa was founded by a man named Nathan Coombs who had acquired the land from a party who had received it as a Mexican land grant. This land grant was named Rancho Entre-Napa

The settlement of Napa, which for a short while was named Napa City, was built along the Napa River which runs south towards San Francisco Bay. The Napa River originated on the slopes of Mount St. Helena to the north. Little by little the town grew, first with a saloon and then a general store. Napa Valley itself had been farmed by settlers since the 1830's. In the early years, Napa Valley farmers grew a variety of crops. Today, the Napa Valley is known throughout the world as a premiere wine growing region which rivals the famous wine regions of Europe. 

Before European settlement, the Napa Valley region was inhabited by Native Americans of the Wappo group. The Wappo occupation of the region goes back 10,000 years, to about 8000 BC. This history makes Napa Valley one of the longest inhabited regions in California. The city of Napa is located in the southern portion of the valley. 

napa bank building
Old Napa Bank Building
Downtown Napa

The early growth of Napa, today's downtown Napa, had a lot to do with the California Gold Rush. For one thing, the climate in Napa is quite different from that in the Sierra Nevada foothills. During the raw winter months in the Sierras, many a miner headed towards Napa as well as other towns to the west to escape the cold. The success of the gold miner pretty much dictated how long he could afford to be away from the Sierra foothills during the winter. Those with no real resources had to tough it out in the mountains.

Downtown Napa is located along the scenic west bank of the Napa River and features several historic buildings. One prominent structure is the Napa Valley Opera House which was built in 1880. The history of the Napa Opera is that over all of these years the opera house has survived major floods, the administrations of twenty-six presidents and six wars. The first performance at the Napa Valley Opera House was Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, H.M.S. Pinafore. Today, the opera house is a National Historic Landmark. 

Another historic structure in downtown Napa is the Napa Bank Building  which was constructed in 1923. This site is also a National Historic Landmark. The building is located at 903 Main Street. The architecture is Classical Revival Art Deco. 


The Semorile Building at 975 Main Street shown in a photo below was built by Bartolomeo Semorile and designed by Napa architect Luther M. Turton. This structure is an outstanding example of Victorian commercial architecture. The Semorile family came to Napa in 1869 and began their grocery business just east of this building. Early in 1889 they established a new store and residence in the building shown, remaining until their retirement in 1924.

Western Trips has three other wine country related photo articles you'll find interesting. They are a Visit to St. Helena and a Tour of Sonoma California and it's mission. Also see the California Old Faithful Geyser north of Calistoga.

napa california on Napa River
Newer section of downtown Napa on Napa River
The Napa Wine Auction 

One of the biggest events each year is the world famous Auction Napa ValleyThe Napa Valley Vintners' annual community fundraiser Auction Napa Valley  brought more than $8 million in  bidding over the weekend of May 31 to June 3, 2012. Visitors and bidders came from across the country and around the globe. The 2013 date is set for June 1st. Dates announce for future years are June 7, 2014 and June 6, 2015. Proceeds from the Auction Napa Valley support health, youth and affordable housing non-profit programs. Additional information can be found at auctionnapavalley.org

Touring the Napa Valley 

Being located in the southern section of the Napa Valley, the city of Napa is often the first stop when touring the valley if you're coming from the San Francisco Bay Area communities. Just like in Sonoma County to the west, the Napa Valley runs fairly north ans south. The main highway through the Napa Valley is Hwy 29. Many people begin their trip in and around Napa and then drive north to visit the towns and wineries dotted all along Hwy 29. 

Make note that the town of Calistoga which is in the northern area of  Napa Valley and on Hwy 29 has a long history of being a spa destination. Many hot springs are found in the area. The closest wineries around Calistoga include Chateau Montelena Winery, Sterling Winery and Schramsberg Vineyards.

historic napa california building
Semorile Building
Another stop in the north section of Napa Valley and just a few miles north of Calistoga off Hwy 29 is the Old Faithful Geyser of California. You will enjoy our Western Trips photo article of this Napa Valley geyser along with a video clip of it's regular eruptions. Our link is Old Faithful Geyser of California.

Visiting the California wine country can be a one day trip, a long weekend or a week long adventure. Plenty of good wineries to visit, great restaurants to enjoy, a wide variety of available Napa Valley hotels and B & B's and of course a good amount of California history. If you haven't had the opportunity to visit Napa California and the wonderful wineries all along the valley, you will be in for a fascinating experience when you do. 

(Photos from author's private collection) 

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