Staying someplace historic is appropriate in Napa because much of the downtown looks as though it belongs in another era. In fact, Napa claims to have more structures built before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake than any other Bay Area city.
Efforts to save older buildings took hold in the 1970s, after preservationists became alarmed by the demolition of several historic buildings to develop modern shopping strips, epitomized in Napa by Clocktower Plaza. Now, the city boasts that its redevelopment programs strive to “preserve the Victorian charm and historic character” of the city.
Downtown Napa proved easy to explore with a dog because I could walk almost everywhere. For $2, the Napa Valley Conference and Visitor Bureau sells the 28-page Historic Walking Tours of Napa, an architectural guide to the city. It contains intriguing historical tidbits, such as the fact that some of the businesses built over Napa Creek in the 1860s had trap doors, which allowed merchants to fish while working.
The self-guided tour starts near the Napa Valley Opera House, an Italianate theater built in 1879 and reopened in 2003 after being dark for 89 years. The opera house, which had become an eyesore, was rescued by volunteers, who formed a non-profit group to raise money for its restoration. Now the exterior looks much as it did when John Philip Sousa’s band played here.
Not far from the Opera House stands another handsome Italian design, the Winship Building, distinguished by ornate suns in its pediment. But my favorite spot was a little off the main route. The First Presbyterian Church on Third Street, opened in 1874, is an unmistakable example of Victorian Gothic architecture.
On the other side of the Napa River stands Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, designed by New York architect James Stewart Polshek, whose work includes Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Arkansas. Bailey napped outside while I explored the three-year-old center’s edible gardens and exhibits that include everything from Julia Child’s copper pots to PEZ dispensers. I also sampled regional wines and gourmet chocolates after lunch at Julia’s Kitchen, a restaurant named for the masterful cooking instructor who served as an honorary trustee until her death in August 2004.
After sniffing around downtown, I sensed Bailey’s desire to frolic. We drove to Alston Park, which has a three-acre off-leash dog park called Canine Commons. Dogs also can walk off-leash in the 26-acre Cherry Orchard section in the southwest corner of Alston Park and leash elsewhere among the hills of the 157-acre open space on Dry Creek Road.
Bailey loved romping around the dog park. When it was time to leave, I tempered Bailey’s disappointment with a reward—a dog treat shaped like a wine bottle. Bailey wagged his tail and licked my cheek. I didn’t need my book to know that he was telling me that he was happy to be with me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.