The Napa River flows through the heart of the city. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s amazing how many times you can go someplace, but not really know it. You know what you want to do, where you want to go. But what about its history? What about other aspects of this place that aren’t on your normal agenda?

I had the opportunity this spring to spend a few hours exploring the city of Napa with my friend, Joyce, while others in the tennis group went elsewhere.

We started with a stroll near the water, first walking by the old buildings of Historic Napa Mill. It’s also where we ended our adventure; specifically at The Fink. This bar that has been open less than two years, has a speakeasy vibe. Dark and moody, it was also tremendously inviting.

The Fink brings a feel of yester-year to bar patrons. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Along the river are multiple informational signs touting the city’s past and present.

One sign reads: “These buildings were constructed alongside the embarcadero de Napa by Captain Albert Hatt, a seafarer who came to California in 1864. The 1884 building was used as a warehouse and for the sale of merchandise. The second floor housed a roller-skating rink. The 1886 building was designated a U.S. government bonded warehouse for the storage of spirits and wines. The second floor contains Hatt Hall, a meeting place for secret societies and later used as a National Guard armory and for social events. In 1912, the Keig family converted the complex to The Napa Mill, a regional granary, mill and purveyor of agricultural supplies. Restoration began in 1995 for the Napa River Inn and Hatt Market.”

Public is a fixture throughout Napa. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. The brick came from the San Quentin brickyard.

The Napa River was a major part of commerce when the city was first established. Steam boats and ferries transported people and cargo to and from San Francisco and the Napa Valley.

The river’s headwaters are near Mount St. Helena; then empties into the San Francisco Bay.

The Goodman Building, home to the Napa County Historical Society, is sandwiched between more contemporary buildings. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A sign on the promenade says, “Regional commerce relied on water transport to ship lumber, agricultural goods, livestock and textiles. Numerous wharves were constructed along the river providing docking for waterway commerce.”

Today, the river is more of a scenic byway, becoming a destination after the 2005 flood project that restored riparian habitat to the landscape, cleaned up contaminated sites, and removed dilapidated industrial buildings.

Before the project’s completion the city had suffered from more than 20 major floods.

This mosaic represents the local flora and fauna, as well as historical elements. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In addition to the walking trail along the river, numerous commercial entities parallel the water.

While Napa is a modern city with nearly 80,000 residents, home to numerous wineries and restaurants, a stroll through downtown is an architectural tour of sorts. Some buildings date to the 1800s.

Placards on structures and monuments throughout town give a glimpse into Napa’s past.

I learned the city is the birthplace of the loudspeaker and the Magnavox Corp.

Tribute is paid to local military personnel who have died while in uniform.

On the wall of one building reads, “Built in 1905, this building was the first home of the Napa Register. The historic building survived the Great Earthquake of 1906 and the 2000 Yountville earthquake. Following the Napa earthquake of 2014, the building was purchased and restored by the grapegrower Beckstoffer family.”

Quickly ducking into the Archer Hotel it was as though we were in a fancy hotel in a much larger city.

Napa is definitely more than a wine destination. Simultaneously it embodies an upscale, laid back aura that appreciates its past and embrace its role in the 21st century.

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