Napa and Sonoma: Places to Explore

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Napa

One of the Napa Valley's recent success stories is the transformation of Napa, its largest and oldest city (population 78,000), into a spry, hip destination with cool nightspots and affordable lodgings. Although it's definitely a work in progress—you'll still find empty storefronts amid the wine bars, bookstores, and restaurants—Napa attracts more visitors every year.

Napa was founded in 1848 in a strategic location on the Napa River, where the Sonoma-Benicia Road (Highways 12 and 29) crossed at a ford. The first wood-frame building was a saloon, and the downtown area still projects an old-river-town vibe. Many Victorian houses have survived, and in the original business district a few older buildings have been preserved, including the turn-of-the-20th-century courthouse and several riverfront warehouses. A walkway follows the river through town, making it more pedestrian-friendly, and new restaurants and hotels keep popping up. If you base yourself here, you'll undoubtedly want to spend some time exploring the beautiful countryside, but don't miss seeing what the Napa Valley's least pretentious town has to offer.

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