They may not be able to partake in the grape, but that doesn’t mean kids can’t enjoy a trip to Napa. As long as you limit the number of tasting stops (always a good idea when carpooling a load of little ones, obviously) and throw in some activities just for them, the whole family can enjoy a day or a vacation in wine country.
THINGS TO DO:
At the base of the valley lies Napa itself, a former drive-by town that in recent years has transformed into a destination in itself. Downtown’s best stops are clustered around a bend in the river, so take a walk along the paths or over the bridges to stretch the legs after the first bit of driving. You may even want to duck into one of downtown’s tasting rooms (we love Bounty Hunter, as well as the bargains at the Oxbow Wine Merchant to get the day started off right.
If you’re going to ask kids to sit in the car and then behave at the wineries while you try a wine or two, they’re going to have to run off some energy first. The best place to play in Napa is Playground Fantastico, an aptly-named park designed by kids with the help of playground architecture firm Leathers and Associates. The different-themed structures invite children’s imaginations to run wild, as well as their little legs.
A great option if you’re avoiding excessive sun or rain is to herd the kiddos indoors to Scientopia Discovery Center. This children’s museum and playspace offers all-day admission, so you can drop in both on your way up and down the valley and enjoy the exhibits on bubbles, magnets, scents, wind, and much more. TIP: The vending machine stocks healthy snacks, but it’s more fun to pack your own picnic to enjoy in the snack room.
North of Calistoga lies the 400-acre wonderland that is Safari West, where your family can observe zebras, hornbills, antelope, even rhinos in a “wild” setting. Reservations are required for the three-hour tours, during which you’ll bump over some of the local terrain in a jeep, and hoof it about 30-45 minutes to get better views of some of the critters. Safari West also offers accommodations in luxury safari tents, if you want the full Out of Africa feel.
If the grown-ups have their hearts set on doing some tasting, there are a few wineries up here that cater to kiddos. At Sterling Vineyards, kids enjoy a tram ride with great views at the top. The ultra-romantic Castello di Amorosa resembles a medieval Italian castle, and provides grape juice for children to sip on while their parents taste the real deal. And for really fantastic wines in a classic Silverado Trail setting, Robert Sinskey’s pinot noirs, pinot blancs, and more are paired with seasonal delicacies from the kitchen for a truly indulgent experience. TIP: Kids love the koi ponds out in front.
Another great option is to pile the family onto the luxurious Napa Wine Train, and take the driving out of the equation. The three-hour roundtrip journey flies by while you enjoy gourmet lunch or dinner (and local wines for the grownups) in the vintage dining or domed cars. Kids can get fresh air waving out the back of the train at the cars crawling up and down the valley.
WHERE TO EAT:
Downtown Napa’s Oxbow Public Market is wine country’s equivalent of San Francisco’s Ferry Building. With artisans and food purveyors like Ritual Coffee Roasters, Hog Island Oyster Company, Fatted Calf, and Kara’s Cupcakes, you can taste your way through Northern California’s best delicacies or pick up some picnic items to take with you for your day.
Also in downtown, Pizzeria Azzurro’s sleek subway-tiled interior compliments the true stars of the restaurant—the wood-fired stove and the perfect pies it turns out.
Both at its original location in St. Helena and at the newer Napa outpost, Gott’s Roadside Tray Gourmet (formerly known as Taylor’s Automatic Refresher) serves up sparkling simplicity: burgers, fries, milkshakes (along with some other items, like fried calamari and tacos) in a casual setting, including plenty of outdoor seating.
WHERE TO STAY:
At Solage Calistoga, the fun starts at check-in, when you’re led to your parking spot by a valet on a bicycle. Then you’ll be loaned some cruisers to use during your stay, for an easy pedal around the resort, or even into nearby downtown Calistoga. The kids will want to make the geothermally-heated pool home base, and you’ll want to camp out at the spa, but the modern, airy suites have their own allure.
If you’re not down with eating all your meals out with a posse of toddlers, then you may want to stay at the Westin Verasa, located in downtown Napa. The suites at this luxe property feature full kitchens, so you can whip up meals to save money, time, meltdowns—and it’s walking distance from Oxbow, so you’re covered in terms of meat, produce, bread, cheese, and much more. There’s also an outdoor pool and a bocce court in case you haven’t found enough to occupy your days in Napa.