In terms of its main attraction — wine — Napa, Calif., needs no introduction. But there is far more to this scenic town than matters of the grape. Historic buildings, hiking, biking, hot springs and spas are on tap, and the town of Napa is only an hour's drive from the coast (though it's a two-hour drive — when traffic is light — to the Golden Gate Bridge).
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Given the Napa Valley's reputation for high-end wine, food and vacationing, it won't shock you that it's a pricey place to live. But, let's admit it: Those prices help keep things classy! Development is limited by strict regional zoning laws, which have saved the valley from mega-sprawl and preserved a small-town feel. The recession has impacted Napa, primarily by moving real estate prices from stratospheric to merely outrageous.
Napa is one of five towns in the valley and all have that California vacation town feel that makes for a great retirement locale. The other towns are Calistoga, Oakville/Rutherford, St. Helena and Yountville. Most of the valley is flat agricultural land, with side canyons cutting into tall, steep hills on either side. The hills protect the valley from wind and give it a stable Mediterranean climate that produces world-class wine.
There are hundreds of wineries in the region, including 24 tasting rooms in downtown Napa alone. But the town also includes dozens of other businesses, many lining an outdoor pedestrian town center. Many of course are high end, like the Mustard Seed (voted best clothing boutique in Napa Valley 16 years running) and Quent Cordair Fine Art, but there reasonably priced markets, outlet shops and department stores.
Many 19th-century buildings on Napa's main street have been saved and restored, including the Pfeiffer Building (1875), which is now a multi-winery tasting room, the Historic Napa Mill and the Napa Valley Opera House, which maintains a full calendar of musical and theatrical shows.
The town of Calistoga (population 5,000) and its famous hot springs and mud baths are 25 miles north of Napa. The vibe here is less precious than in Napa, and the town's small main street is convenient to decent hiking in the surrounding hills.
For retirees seeking expanded horizons, Napa Valley College (enrollment 7,700) as well as Pacific Union College (1,500 students) offer classes and programs.
Locals tend to be healthy, aided by the Mediterranean climate — pleasant, sometimes-cool winters and warm sometimes-hot summers — conducive to outdoor activity. Most of the 23 inches of annual rain fall November through March. Besides biking and hiking, outdoor recreation includes kayaking and sailing on San Pablo Bay (the north end of the San Francisco Bay), tennis, golf and the usual slate of beach sports along the coast, an hour west.
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