Every time I tell someone we went to Napa Valley for a vacation, people would ask me in surprise, “With the kids?” We’ve just spent five glorious sun-filled days in Napa Valley, California with a nine, seven and two year old and the trip was a smashing success! We enjoyed world-class wines, ate at fine restaurants, visited a geyser and picnicked our way through Napa Valley. Though we had to make some concessions for our napping toddler, there are lots to do in the Napa Valley with kids. Here’s our Itty Bitty Foodies Guide to Napa Valley.
Before the trip:
1) Prepare your kids for a Napa Valley trip. Don’t spring a wine trip on them. Get travel books, watch travel shows on the region and read a little about wine making to peak their interest. We like the DK Eyewitness Guidebooks like Top 10: California Wine Country and if you’re also tagging San Francisco along with the trip, get San Francisco and Northern California. Anticipation is a key factor in having a happy trip. We love to watch our kids’ faces light up when what they read comes to life. They were so excited to see bunches of grapes dangling heavily on vines when we visited Vincent Arroyo Winery.
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The staff were so happy to see children interested in their craft, they gave us a private tour of the vineyard, explained the wine making process and even took us into the barrel room where they siphoned port directly from a barrel. (see video below)
These stellar Vincent Arroyo wines are small batch and very reasonably priced.
2) Make your restaurant and winery tasting reservations. Napa Valley gets busy so it’s worth it to do some legwork before the trip and get your bookings in place especially if you have young kids who may not be able to wait patiently. If The French Laundry is on your list, make those reservations as soon as you can. Napa Tourist Guide with listings for hotels, wineries, wine map, restaurants, itineraries etc was invaluable.
3) Sign up for a Priority Wine Pass which gets you VIP service, complimentary wine tastings or a 2-for-1 tasting deal, wine club discounts and priority service. This also helped plan out which vineyards we wanted to visit like Hall Wines in Saint Helena. We received a complimentary tasting and spent some time just perusing the grounds to admire the modern sculptures and artwork. The kids loved Little Bunny Foo Foo and the Camel looking through the Eye of the needle. Use coupon code “LOCALWALLY” (a money saving tip from Napa Tourist Guide) and pay $45 for the card instead of $125.
4) Search coupon sites like Groupon or Living Social to see if they have discounted tickets for things to do in the area like a Hot Air Ballooning with Champagne tour or Wine & Chocolate Pairing. We got heavily discounted tickets to see Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga
5) Learn the rules of Bocce ball. Tons of places have bocce in their vineyards like Larson’s Winery or at their restaurants. We visited Michelin starred, Solbar at Solage Resort in Calistoga and what a pleasure it was to sit outside sampling sparkling wines while kids played. No one batted an eyelid that they kids were covered in sand when they got to the table to dine. That’s my kind of five star dining! Solbar serves fresh modern Californian cuisine which paired so well with wines.
Try also their ‘green flights’ which are wines on draft that don’t require packaging and are all sourced locally.
Accommodation in Calistoga:
Calistoga sits on the northern tip of the Napa Valley. At just 2.5 miles square miles, we chose to stay at this tiny, bohemian town known for it’s hot springs, natural beauty and laid-back feel. With 3 kids in tow, finding hotel accommodation to fit a family of five could be a challenge.
We found a great deal through Jetsetter and stayed at Sunburst Calistoga. Sunburst offered suites, a geo-thermal heated pool and microwave facilities for warming up milk for baby was just great for families. The quaint hotel with it’s mid century modern touches was quiet and yet close to all the bustle of downtown Calistoga which was a short walk away.
ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONS:
We split our days into segments so there was time to be active and sight see and also sneak in some wine tasting time by picnicking at wineries.
Calistoga is also home to Old Faithful Geyser. Living up to its name, the geyser does not disappoint, spouting out hot water every hour. There’s a small petting zoo with Tennessee fainting goats for the kids, geology museum, bocce, picnic tables and lots of room to run around while we wait for the geyser to wake up. It’s a beautiful serene setting. Tip: This is wine country, so feel free to bring a bottle of wine to sip while waiting. There are wine glasses and a wine opener at the front desk.
Also in Calistoga, the Petrified Forest is a treat for nature lovers and science kids. Time it with one of the docent led tours which takes approximately 1 hour. It’s an easy walk even for my two year old with stroller-friendly trails. This is a great way to have your kids learn about the scientific process of petrification and how these majestic redwoods turned into stone. It’s really quite mind bending to touch wood that is 3 million years old only to find that it’s actually cold stone fossil.
Chateau Montelena Winery put Napa Valley Chardonnay on the map in 1973 at a blind tasting, winning over French old world wine royalty at the historical Judgement of Paris wine competition. The chateau resembling an English Gothic castle gatehouse and it’s beautiful grounds is definitely worth a visit. Book ahead for a private vineyard tour.
A beautiful lake with swans and ducks and a little pagoda gleams on the grounds. It’s serene and wonderfully calming.
For all your picnicking needs, you MUST-ABSOLUTELY-NO-BONES-ABOUT-IT go to Oakville Grocery. They have two locations (Oakville & Healdsburg). We bought a little of everything from this highly curated selection of products from farmers, artisans and purveyors in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. We gorged on olives, local cheeses, freshly-made salmon, salads and fried chicken (note: spicy) and artisan bread.
For those heading up to a Sonoma winery to picnic, we recommend The Epicurean Connection. It’s right in the heart of Sonoma Plaza with a gorgeous park and playground for kids to run around. As a bonus, the owners, make their own cheese and wholesale only at Kendall Jackson winery and The French Laundry.
We bought our picnic stash before visiting Larson Family Winery (free tasting with the Priority Wine pass) which is just ten minutes away from the Sonoma Plaza. Larson Family Winery has picnic tables, ride on toys for toddlers and bocce ball but call ahead to book a table.
Thomas Keller’s Bouchon is another great place to stock up on French pastries, croissants and coffee for a brunch picnic. This is one way to try some of Keller’s world renowned cuisine without a booking at The French Laundry.
Last but not least, I wanted to mention some notable kid-friendly restaurants we dined at (aside from the ones we mentioned above). Barolo in Calistoga features Southern Italian food with a contemporary and seasonal flair at Mount View Hotel right in downtown Calistoga. We couldn’t get enough of the homemade pastas especially the lamb bolognaise and the hand spun pizzas.
In Yountville, Bistro Jeanty is a local French bistro serving country cuisine. We enjoyed escargot, braised pork shoulder, steak frites and duck with lentils. The service like the food was hearty and warm.
After a packed itinerary, there’s still so much to do in Napa Valley with kids. A hot air balloon ride, going up the aerial gondola at Sterling vineyards, visiting Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley Wine Train to name a few. We hoped you enjoyed our journey.
Yours in wanderlust,
The Itty Bitty Foodies
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