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Napa's River Walk leads to art, nature and doing the cha cha cha

The main physical feature of the Napa Valley is the Napa River, and you can best appreciate this lovely, winding waterway in a short stretch of downtown known as River Walk.

If you can count to ten, you can do the cha cha cha.
If you can count to ten, you can do the cha cha cha.
Photo by Kevin Nelson

River Walk combines art and history, views of the river (which in the heaviest storms can rise over its banks and flood low-lying areas), restaurants, shopping and even a place to do the cha cha cha.

“Everyone loves to cha cha cha,” sang Sam Cooke, and the basic ten steps of the dance are laid into the sidewalk on Main Street at Napa’s Riverfront development. These stainless steel steps show how to start and where to put your feet, and you can dance solo or as part of a couple. Many people walking by are unaware of the existence of the steps. When they see them their inner Fred or Ginger suddenly emerges, and their attempts to cha cha cha never fail to bring giggles.

The cha cha cha installation, by artist Robin Murez, was originally part of Napa’s downtown art program, ARTwalk, which sponsors 15 sculptures in the area. One of them is Constellations II, an abstract red steel piece that stands in the nearby Riverbend Plaza at the Napa Mill. Another art piece there is a mural-like mosaic fountain. The mosaic is an artist’s depiction of Napa’s 19th century pioneer days, of which the old mill and silos, now renovated, played such a big role.

The walk along the water, from the mill to say, the First Street Bridge, is a flat, easily done 15 minutes. You will pass by more art pieces and the Veterans Memorial Park with its poignant tribute to the six Napa County soldiers killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. People relax and eat lunch in the park and at sidewalk cafes along the way, blissfully unmindful of the sacrifices that made such carefree days possible.

Both the First and Third Street bridges afford splendid views of Napa’s main artery. Pleasure boats dock at a landing near Morimoto Napa and Fish Story. Kayakers paddle past, ignored by the ducks. Across the river the Wine Train chugs by, beginning its tour of the valley.

You can pick up a map showing the locations of all 15 sculptures in the Napa ARTwalk at the Napa Valley Welcome Center at 600 Main Street. Each sculpture has its own QR code. Scan the code with your smart phone and then listen to each artist talk about his creation in his own words.