Bakeries to Balloons: Fun Early Morning Activities in the Napa Valley

hot air balloons over the napa valley

So, everyone had a little too much fun last night. It’s 8:00, a gorgeous August morning in the Napa Valley, and you’re the only one up. What are your options, short of playing Words With Friends on your phone for two or three more hours? Get up, get out, and enjoy the day. Here are a few ideas that come to mind, if you’re staying in…

Napa

  • Head for 3rd Street on the riverfront, walking along the stretch of shops, hotels, and restaurants, and watch the light change on the river.
  • Go to Oxbow Public Market, pick up some java from Ritual Coffee and some English muffins from the Model Bakery, and sit on the north patio overlooking the Oxbow Preserve while you read your New York Times.
  • Drive to Alston Park on Dry Creek Road and watch the hot air balloons land (usually around 7 am, weather permitting). There’s also an off-leash dog area here, for any canine companions.

Yountville

  • Take a long, brisk walk along Yount Mill Road, which takes you on a lesser-traveled route past old farms and grazing cattle.
  • Wander by the French Laundry’s restaurant garden (6640 Washington Street) and see what’s in season.
  • Poke around the graves at the George C. Yount Pioneer Cemetery and Ancient Indian Burial Grounds (corner of Washington Street and Lincoln Avenue). Find the oldest headstone, which will probably date from the early 19th century.
  • The intersection of Madison Street and Hwy. 29 is another great spot to catch some hot-air balloon activity, weather permitting.
  • Bouchon Bakery, duh! But get there before 9 am if you don’t like long lines.

St. Helena

  • There are several Sunday-paper-reading venues here within a four-block radius: The Napa Valley Roasting Company, the Model Bakery, Sogni di Dolci, and even Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch, which now has an outdoor café area next to its petanque court.
  • Put on your comfy shoes and do the beautiful “Library loop” walk, which takes you through the middle of an old-growth vineyard. Starting at the Roastery, head east on Adams Street; at Library Lane, continue east on the dirt path until you get to the river, then circle back.
  • Go to Gott’s Roadside and sample their new breakfast menu. My favorites include the Southern Sandwich (buttermilk fried chicken, scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese and charred jalapeño mayo) and the Smoked Chicken and Egg Tacos.

Calistoga

  • Get a cup of joe at the Yo el Rey Roasting Company and take a short walk to the “haunted mansion” (corner of West Myrtle and Spring Streets). From the corner of Foothill Blvd. (Hwy. 28) and Lincoln Avenue (the town’s main street), walk one block east on Lincoln, turn left on Myrtle Street, and walk two blocks to Spring Street. For extra points, pick up some baked goods for the rest of your group. By the time you get back, they’ll be needing some carbs.

Kirsten Mickelwait is a St. Helena-based writer who has lived and raised her family in the Napa Valley for nearly 20 years.

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