Plan a Victorian-Inspired Weekend Getaway in Wine Country

San Franciscans have flocked to Napa Valley since the mid-19th century, drawn by its gorgeous landscapes, mild weather and medicinal spring waters. 

But in the days before transbay bridges, Victorians traveled by steamboat up to the highest navigable part of the Napa River in Downtown Napa before heading up-Valley. Its location as the gateway to Napa Valley brought hotels, restaurants, mercantile shops, banks and other businesses to this bustling town, many of which survive to this day, transformed to welcome a whole new generation of travelers.

Courtesy of Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ

A taste of the past
The Italianate façade of this former grocery store in the Luther Turton-designed Semorile Building is virtually unchanged since 1889, but today’s offerings are anything but at Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ. Owner Mark Pope kept the historic look with exposed brick, wood columns and Mexican tin ceilings but the smokin’ menu and international wine list are totally modern at this perennially packed destination. Savor the generous St. Louis Cut BBQ Ribs with artisanal beer or pick from 40 wines by-the-glass. 975 First St., Napa

Courtesy of Angele Restaurant

Dine by the riverside
Victorians disembarked the steamboats near Main and Fifth Streets, the site of today’s Historic Napa Mill. The former steamboat captain, Albert Hatt, moored his personal schooner in the airy building where Angele Restaurant serves up Provencal cuisine today. The riverside patio is a favorite spot for locals to dine. 540 Main St., Napa

Chill at the Mill
In its earlier days, Napa Valley was an abundant producer of grains, in addition to fruit, memorialized by the 84-foot storage silo of the former Napa Milling Company. Today it’s Silo’s, a cool, 100-seat jazz, blues and rock venue with full bar and appetizers. Gordon Huether’s music-themed works add a totally modern vibe. 530 Main St., Napa

Relax in time
Formerly a bustling landing area for steamboats, the Historic Napa Mill is now a super-quiet corner of town and home to the full-service, luxury boutique hotel Napa River Inn offering all the modern amenities. The hotel’s Embarcadero and Plaza buildings face the river while the historic Hatt Building offers Victorian-decorated rooms and suites. 500 Main St., Napa

Courtesy of McClelland-Priest

For more low-key accommodations, but with Victorian flair, stay in a Bed & Breakfast such as McClelland-Priest in the historic Napa Abajo/Fuller Park residential district just south of Downtown where wealthy 19th-century steamboat captains, bankers and businessmen established grand homes. 569 Randolph St., Napa

Courtesy of Napa Valley Wine Train

Green travel—19th-century style
Once landing in Napa, Victorians traveled up-Valley first by stagecoach, then by steam railroad beginning in 1868. The Napa Valley Wine Train runs on the same rail footprint as the original railroad, except this time with energy-efficient compressed natural gas. With its cushy, swivel seats and elevated cars, the train provides the greenest and most relaxing views of the Napa Valley.

For more information on Downtown Napa’s historic properties, architecture and walking tours, visit Napa County Landmarks or the Napa County Historical Society both located in the historic Goodman Building. 1219 First Street, Napa

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