Napa Valley is known for one thing and really one thing only - wine. The vast acres of rolling hills are covered in long grape vines spilling onto the ground in an offering to the farmers who grow them with precision and create the famous wine tastes known around the world. It is a pleasure to see the carefully manicured farms and the process it takes to bring a single bottle of wine into the world.
If you plan on heading to Napa, then do yourself a favor and visit at least one winery while you are there. It is an experience one must delve into at least once before leaving.
After your taste test and tour, if you are wondering what else the area has to offer, the answer is plenty. Especially if you are a SUP fanatic.
As you can probably see from pictures or from personal experience, the Napa Valley is a beautiful stretch of land in the northern section of California. And there are plenty of places to explore on a SUP that will leave you in a state of subtle excitement and ultimate wonder.
That is why we plan on taking you through a virtual SUP tour of the area so that you may begin to form an exciting adventure in your mind and bring it to reality.
With the help of two of our favorite outfitters - Napa Valley Paddle and Petaluma SUP - we will help you experience life on the water in Napa. And give you the tools and the proper contacts to get you on the water making memories that will last a lifetime.
-Perfect Paddles Travel Brief-
Best Time of Year to Visit:
The best time to visit Napa is August through October or March through May. Napa's peak tourist season corresponds with the region's harvest season (August through October). During this busy time, expect crowds and high prices for just about everything, especially accommodations. (travel.usnews.com)
Visa: “All travelers entering the United States from all other countries need a passport upon arrival (regardless of their country of citizenship). Permanent residents and foreign nationals may also need a U.S. visa. You must apply for a visa before you start your trip.” (www.usa.gov)
Flight distances from major cities to San Francisco Bay Area (estimates):
New York City: 6hrs
Los Angeles: 1.5 hr
London: 14 hrs
Paris: 12 - 14 hrs
Dubai: 21 hrs
Istanbul: 14 hrs
Sydney: 14 - 36 hrs depending on layovers
Top Additional Attractions:
Castello di Amorosa: 13th-century–style winery offering guided tours of the castle & tastings of Italian-inspired wines.
Oxbow Public Market: This sprawling marketplace features a riverside deck, food vendors, local produce & more.
Cakebread Cellars: Guests taste wine in nine country-chic rooms & a glass-walled bottle library at this modern venue.
Trefethen Family Vineyards: Charming local vineyard in tranquil surrounds offering winery tours, tastings & events.
Old Faithful Geyser of California: Small, scenic geyser backdropped by palms & mountains, plus a gift shop with locally made goods.
Buddy Deals Reminder:
As a member of Perfect Paddles, you will receive a discount at participating shops on our list. Because you know how to paddle, have skills, and want to spread the stoke of SUP, you deserve a break! Our Featured Buddy Deal Locations on this journey are Napa Valley Paddle and Petaluma SUP in Forestville! To receive your discount, be sure to sign up at Perfect Paddles. And if you are a member, take advantage of this excellent opportunity to paddle with some of the best people in the SUP community!
Exciting Offers from Napa Valley Paddle and Petaluma SUP:
Cuttings Wharf: Ride a relaxed current with a gentle breeze at your back one-way to Downtown Napa. Connect with the natural environment as your paddle breaks the surface of protected waters. Stop for a picnic lunch at Kennedy Park and a swim, or enjoy a post-paddle pint at Stone Brewery. Along the way, spot river otters, turtles, mink and a variety of native and migratory birds that inhabit this protected region where tidal estuary blends into the Napa Valley.
Kennedy Park: Home to the richest wildlife experience on the Napa River, paddle along a restored estuary just a few miles south of downtown with sweeping views of Mt. Veeder, Atlas Peak and Coombsville. Along the way, spot river otters, sea lions, turtles and a variety of native and migratory birds that inhabit these protected wetlands.
Self Guided to Downtown Petaluma: Our most popular paddle has you glide into historic Old Town Petaluma to experience this rivertown revival by water. Beginner level, the round-trip journey starts from the Petaluma Marina and follows upriver into the Turn Basin where you can tie up your board and explore riverfront restaurants, bars, and shops.
Self Guided to Lakeville Landing: Ride the tide and afternoon winds of the Petaluma Gap from our shop in the Petaluma Marina to Lakeville Landing. Enjoy sweeping views of Olampali State Park as you glide along the largest, continuous wetland estuary on the West Coast of North America. One way with board service.
Napa Valley Paddle and Petaluma SUP
There are only two spots you need to consider for your SUP excursion into the world of Napa and that is Napa Valley Paddle and Petaluma SUP.
Located about 40 minutes from each other, both outfitters are owned by the same group of people and offer the best self-guided and guided tours in Napa.
These two places are what the Perfect Paddles team consider to be “hidden gems” in the paddling community. While they offer fantastic tours for locals and tourists alike, not many people are aware that paddling can even be done in the area. Or they’re too focused on the wine tours to do a search.
Make no mistake, if you do decide to give SUP a try during your visit to Napa, we cannot recommend these two shops enough.
With that being said, we will be focusing on a trip given by Petaluma SUP for our virtual tour of the area. And that is the best place to start.
Our virtual tour begins at Petaluma SUP or more specifically at their excellent launch location in Petaluma Marina. This expansive marina is full of sailboats, small motorized boats, and other craft, floating aimlessly along the docks. Adjacent to the boats is a large building housing full facilities for visitors and boat slip renters.
As we take in our surroundings we are greeted by the friendly staff at Petaluma SUP and they outfit us with boards and explain our route. We’ve decided to go on their self-guided trip to Downtown Petaluma and back - riding the friendly river currents to our destination.
The route is simple, we start at the marina and make our way to historic Old Town Petaluma where we will stop for lunch before making our way back to the launch point. It’s a relaxing paddle with no need to hurry and a destination in mind.
The River and the Route
Upon leaving the protected confines of the marina we set sail on the Petaluma River. Petaluma SUP describes it on their website, “Amid 50,000 acres of tidal wetlands, marshes and levees in the San Pablo Bay, the Petaluma River is one of the most biologically diverse tidal sloughs in Northern California. Located in Southern Sonoma County, about 25 miles north of San Francisco, all it takes is a few paddle strokes on a kayak or stand up paddle board to experience the uniqueness of the Petaluma River watershed. It attracts water recreation enthusiasts from all over because of its rich history and easy access to many natural resources along the river’s 16-mile stretch from downtown Petaluma to the mouth of the San Pablo Bay.”
We begin in the wetlands. The river flows in a gentle current that takes us softly towards our destination. On our sides, the marshland grass grows wildly tall and surrounds the scattered pine trees in the distance. In the distance, past the rolling hills of the valley, the mountains loom overhead. The sun is bright here. And while it could be considered a little chilly, the air temperature is pleasant for an afternoon paddle.
After a short time on the river, the scene begins to change. Instead of the wild grasses and flowing trees, we begin to see what looks like buildings in the distance. A few more strokes on our SUP and we enter Old Town Petaluma. We pull alongside the dock and hop off to explore the small section of the city.
The buildings here are of preserved brick with white accented edges. The town here was first settled in 1851 and while the earthquake of 1906 devastated much of the surrounding area, the buildings here were safe from much of the destruction.
Our first stop is at Petaluma Visitors Center where we find the information we need to pick out exactly what we wish to see.
Some recommended highlights include:
American Trust Company, 101 Petaluma Blvd. North: It's a tribute to Petaluma's wealthy agricultural beginnings that it could support magnificent bank buildings anchoring each end of one commercial block. Built in 1926, this building is now Vintage Bank Antiques. Every inch of its three floors, including the former vault, is crammed with furniture, bibelots, memorabilia, paintings, and more.
Temperance Fountain, Corner of Western Avenue and Petaluma Boulevard: Erected in 1891 by the Women's Christian Temperance Union, this solid-marble fountain makes no bones about one of the day's major issues. Engraved in bold letters across its face are the words "Total Abstinence is the Way to Handle the Alcohol Problem." That probably didn't put much of a dent in the business that Petaluma's 50 saloons were doing at the time. And it didn't stop residents from making bootleg booze — not to mention drinking it in speakeasies — decades later, during Prohibition. Here's a good read on Petaluma's Prohibition days.
Clock atop the Masonic Building, Western Avenue and Petaluma Boulevard: The city's Masons were obviously prospering when they erected this impressive Masonic Lodge in 1882. But the real talking point here is the huge clock atop the building. Built in Connecticut, it shipped 'round the Horn to San Francisco. From there it traveled over the Bay and up Petaluma Creek, somehow making it onto the roof.
Where we decide to head to though is Della Fattoria - a cafe and bakery that has existed here since 1860. Their offerings include wholesome meals of a breakfast foods variety, fresh baked goods, and delicious coffee. We hang here for a late breakfast meal and caffeine pick-me-up.
After eating, we wander the historic downtown streets. From our Visitor’s Center information we make our way through the self-guided tour of the abundant Victorian-era houses, with architectural styles that include Queen Anne, Victorian stick, Gothic Revival, Colonial Revival. The homes are ornate, beautiful, and a great reminder of a time that has long been gone.
Overall, the city of Petaluma is beautiful and unforgettable. But we also know there is paddling to be done, so we head back to our launch point.
The Way Back
Luckily for us, the team at Petaluma SUP offers pickup services after the tour is over. Instead of fighting the current, wait for your ride service and head back to your own vehicle before departing. An excellent (and relaxing) way to end the day.
We hope this short virtual tour inspired you to look beyond the frequent wineries of Napa Valley and towards a new experience enjoying the Petaluma River on your SUP. If you do decide to explore the waterways of Napa, we cannot recommend contacting the team at Napa Valley Paddle and Petaluma SUP enough. Besides the virtual tour we just took you on, they offer plenty of different activities, locations, and events on the rivers in their area. Be sure to check them out!
If you have any questions about this trip, need additional places to go, or wish to check out our featured outfitter, be sure to reach out! Our inbox is always open. And of course, if you wish to see additional articles just like this one about paddling around the world and the best places to see, become a Member today! In addition to a wealth of paddling information, you’ll be able to save money on rentals, lessons, and paddling gear from outfitters around the globe. Until next time, keep the stoke for SUP alive and get out there.