There's More To Do Than Just Drink
Image by ohkaterina via Flickr
By Deirdre Bourdet
ST. HELENA, CA - Whether you're a tippler, a toddler, or a teetotaler, everyone needs to do things other than drink wine on a trip to wine country. Fortunately, there are plenty of non-alcoholic activities to entertain you in just about every sub-region of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. This series of articles will point you to some of the less obvious ways to have fun in the land of wine.
Image by Marilyn M via Flickr
Get Involved With the CIA. The Culinary Institute of America, that is. This world-class professional culinary school offers many of its classes to the public, some for a single day, others for only two hours. For those with even shorter attention spans, there are 15-minute crash courses at the Flavor Bar to train your palate... learn how to select and balance different aspects of flavor (bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and spicy) to maximize tastiness in the Taste Like A Chef session, or explore the aromatic features and terroir specifics of chocolate with The Chocolate Experience. Both classes involve "mouths-on" training and an easy to follow video for only $10 per person.
In June, the Flavor Bar will be launching its Oleoteca experience with super fresh, super premium olive oils, the likes of which we Americans have never previously gotten to enjoy. Don't miss the school's seductive Spice Island cookware store on the way out, which carries many professional books and equipment as well as items for the home chef. If you've worked up an appetite with all that learning, kick back on the restaurant's lovely patio, enjoy the gorgeous view over the valley, and let the pros prepare you a fabulous seasonal meal that makes the most of the valley's agricultural bounty.
Peruse The Wares. Whether you're looking to buy, or just want to wash the windows with your tongue, downtown St. Helena is for you. Step into the world of Sex and the City among the eye-popping wares at Footcandy, where Manolos, Jimmy Choos, and a host of other sparkly, spiky wonders compete for your attention. Pop across the street to Bellissima the lingerie store to browse for sweet, saucy, and anything in between. Check out fun games, cards, and gifts at Pennaluna, next to the Napa Valley Roasting Company on Adams Street, stroll through M's eclectic, one-of-a-kind home home décor, or visit St. Helena Cyclery for your serious cyclist needs. You can drink in the culture at I. Wolk gallery or the independent movie theatre, munch through the fabulous edibles at Olivier or Sunshine Foods, and indulge yourself in artisanal truffles from Woodhouse Chocolates. Whatever your weakness, you can probably find it here.
Get Some Grist For The Mill. Just north of downtown St. Helena, off Highway 29, Dr. E.T. Bale's Grist Mill awaits. This mill is rumored to have been the center of social life in Napa Valley back in the 1850s when everyone gossiped and chatted each other up while they waited for their grain to be milled. Its 36-foot wooden overshot waterwheel was thought to be the largest in the country. Today the mill remains as an intact piece of history and part of the state park system, thanks to significant preservation efforts that have restored the mill to a fully operational state. On milling days, you can score yourself a bag of freshly milled flour or polenta and watch the wheel in action, using its original 19th Century technology. On other days, you can take a tour led by the miller himself, and marvel at the hand-hewed cogs and human ingenuity. Hiking trails take you the two miles north into the adjoining Bothe State Park trail system near Calistoga, a fabulous place for a picnic.
CLICK HERE to plan more things to do in all of Napa Valley.