We are very fortunate to live about 90 minutes from Napa Valley and we make a trip a few times a year to visit. It is such a beautiful place and while many people might consider Napa a place for adults only, it is actually a great place for a little family getaway!
Prior to starting this blog, I spent many years working in the wine industry. That took me to Napa and Sonoma frequently to dine out and to visit various wineries. To this day Napa is one of my most favorite places to visit and the one spot I always tell my husband I dream of living. Many wineries in Napa are not appropriate places for children but there are a few that offer amenities and allow you to have the Napa wine tasting experience and still bring the kids.
Napa is so much more than just wine though- the climate is spectacular, the views are stunning, the food is amazing… And I discovered many years ago that Napa Valley contains the fountain of youth. Let’s keep this just between you and me but people who live in Napa seem to be healthier, happier, shinier people. I have met countless people that are 50 years old and up that have lived in Napa their entire lives and have aged so gracefully and just radiate health and happiness. Seriously. I have yet to figure out where exactly the fountain of youth lies but I am convinced it is somewhere in Napa Valley.
So ready for an adventure? Here are a few of our favorite things to do:
Napa Valley starts with the larger city of Napa, followed by Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St Helena and finally Calistoga. All of these little towns are right on Highway 29 and as you drive North, you will see countless wineries to stop at along the highway. The views are beautiful so this should be a very pleasant drive.
It is a quick little trip from town to town and here are a few of our favorite stops:
Oxbow Public Market- We LOVE this market. If you have been to the Ferry Building in San Francisco, this is similar but a bit smaller. The Oxbow Market is a great first stop for the day. You can go from stall to stall inside the market and get amazing food, pastries, coffee and of course wine.
We start at Oxbow and get breakfast and coffee. There are tons of food choices inside the market but our favorite is Model’s Bakery. The English Muffins are to die for- the thickest, softest most amazing things ever and then Ritual Coffee is just delicious.
There are some little stalls to stop in and shop for cheese, olive oil, fresh produce and more. We like Whole Spice which is a stand with about 8 trillion spices in jars. I got a few to try for a popcorn bar this summer. We also tend to grab Kara’s cupcakes for picnics later- the flavors change all the time but most recently I had a Strawberry cupcake that had fresh organic berries mixed into a cream cheese frosting and a strawberry filling inside the vanilla cupcake. Just delicious 🙂
If ice cream is more your speed, you might hit the Three Twins Ice Cream stand- the ice cream is just delicious and I saw quite a few people with cones for breakfast!
Another alternative in Napa if you want to skip Oxbow is the Historic Napa Mill. This is an outdoor shopping center with lots of food options, a few smaller stores and The Napa Inn (which is gorgeous). There are some restaurants and the Napa General Store which is fun to poke around. This is defiantly a more upscale shopping center – my children loved the bright colors and walking around- but a place where they need to have nicer manners for sure. Across the street from the Napa Mill is the downtown area where they have events and a Farmer’s Market and such so you might get lucky and find something cool going on. There are some great photo opps within the Napa Mill like this gorgeous mosaic fountain. We have grabbed sandwiches at the Napa General Store and enjoyed them on little tables in front of this fountain before. Very pleasant and relaxing.
If you are lucky enough to hit this spot at the right time of day you can snap some stunning photos. There are lots of beautiful backgrounds to capture- the sun was crazy bright when we were there mid morning so I had a hard time but this is the water view on the front of the marketplace.
And don’t forget to snap your photos at the Napa sign as you come or leave Napa.
In St. Helena you might consider stopping at Long Meadow Ranch. It is a pretty winery that also has a small organic farm, homemade olive oil, a restaurant, a little cafe and more…
Long Meadow is a lovely place to visit. There is a lot to offer- a small Farmer’s Market, a small store and wine tasting bar, an outdoor cafe with a Bocce court, pretty Adirondack chairs, a large grassy area for events and a restaurant. We walked through the garden, hit the produce stand, stopped into the wine bar and bought some amazing cheese and homemade crostini, played horseshoes, the girls ran and jumped and played on the grass- overall we love Long Meadow Ranch. Although we haven’t done wine tasting there yet, I am familiar with these wines and I know they are very good.
Sterling Vineyards was our next stop to get our wine on. Sterling is up in Calistoga and from a purely wine point of view this would not have been on my agenda. But this is a fun stop if you have kiddos though because Sterling has a pretty cool gondola that takes you up and above the Napa Valley. You will start at the gondola and go up a mountain and at the top you will get a tasting glass. As you tour the property you will taste 5 wines and you wind up on a rooftop deck where you can order food, buy additional wines etc..
Our girls did like the gondola and Sterling gives children adorable little happy meal boxes with crayons and a small snack so my kids were thrilled to pieces. It was really nice for us because it gave them entertainment so my husband and I could take in the lovely views and chat and not have the constant interruptions from the kiddos.
Note the gondola is a little pricey at $88 for our family of 4.
Castello di Amorosa is literally right across the street from Sterling. Again I wouldn’t have chosen this on an adult only wine trip. It is a neat stop with kids though because it is a giant castle. There is a guided tour of the castle or just cruise around on your own. It was about $60 or so for the 4 of us to tour the castle so we decided to just wander outside instead. (Tasting fees in Napa can really add up so you want to pick and chose the best spots to spend your money).
The kids loved this castle and we saw pigs, chickens and goats. Very fun but it was extremely packed on our last trip.
Chateau Montelena is another winery that is great to check out with kids. I would have enjoyed the wine tasting but we actually skipped it this time around. The Chateau is a pretty English style castle surrounded by Jade Lake. The lake is Japanese style and Montelena wine club members can reserve cool pagodas around the lake to have a picnic lunch or dinner.
We just walked around the lake, picked some berries and enjoyed our cupcakes from Kara’s. Chateau Montelena is the winery that put Napa Valley on the map in a Paris Blind Tasting in 1976 so there is something for the adults (delicious wine, history) and something for the kiddos (a fun lake, ducks to feed and possibly cupcakes to enjoy.)
By now you will probably be hungry again so I have a few options for lunch.
V. Sattui Winery is located in St Helena. They have a large picnic area and you can find a fairly good size general market/ wine tasting area, buy bread, olives, cheese and other picnic foods and then sit outside and enjoy. This place has a lot happening pretty much all the time. They often have BBQ, an ice cream stand and it is intended as a family place. You will see tons of children running around.
There was an event the day we visited and the place was pretty packed so we actually decided not to stay. Across the street as an alternative for picnic food is the fabulous Dean & Deluca. They have a coffee bar, a wine section, delicious salads and produce and lots of gourmet treats. Perfect place to get a coffee and snack but please note you can’t take it over to V. Sattui as they only allow food purchased from their store on the grounds.
We love Yountville and it is a perfect place to enjoy the late afternoon. Yountville is where the French Laundry is located so you can bet the food is just amazing. There are so many choices of where to eat and they are all located within a very small area so really we usually park and walk everywhere. You will find the V Marketplace on Washington Street which is a small little shopping center with Michael Chiarello’s store, NapaStyle. You will also find the French Laundry just down the street, Bouchon restaurant and Bottega (Michael Chiarello’s restaurant). There is also a pretty grassy area that is so relaxing to sit and watch the kids run around.
Directly across the street from V Marketplace is Bouchon Bakery. This is a must stop for us because they have amazing pastries and treats. I will warn you the lines are long and you really have no idea what they have available until it is basically your turn. Inside the bakery you have about 3 feet to move and then the cases holding delicious treats. There are no menus and no tables so you have to be prepared to order quickly. I got this yummy homemade ho-ho thing last time around and it was amazing, my big girl got a strawberry- rhubarb cheesecake, my husband a chocolate peanut butter cup… Yum!
I will say the lines are long and they tend to sell out of things by the end of the day so it is best to get there early and keep your treats for later if you can.
If you are ready to walk off some of the delicious food you ate, you might walk down Washington Street a bit. Across from the French Laundry is the organic gardens for the restaurant which you can just walk right past. They are really gorgeous with herbs, bee hives, chicken coops, zillions of organic fruits and vegetables and all immaculately cared for.
Down Washington Street a bit more, you will find Redd Wood which is delicious. I got the burrata there recently and it was amazing. Note if you have little children, they might not love this place. We ordered the four cheese pizza for my girls not realizing one of the cheeses would be blue cheese. They were less than impressed with the pizza. The pizza was absolutely delicious but just a little stronger flavors than their palates are used to. You might also try Bistro Jeanty for something slightly more casual and absolutely delicious.
Across the street from Redd Wood is Ciccio Restaurant. It is the cutest little building and just goes to show the gems that you will find in Napa Valley. This is actually not a market but rather a restaurant and I have this one on my list for our next trip.
There are a few small tasting rooms in this area, the Napa Valley library (where we usually park if it is closed), the most darling little gas stations-turned wine bars ever, and just tons of things to see. You can also walk over to Domaine Chandon which has beautiful grounds and delicious sparkling wine.
And now it is time for the kiddos to have fun! Just past all the beautiful places I mentioned is the Yountville Park. An absolutely adorable park with a fun play structure, lots of green grass and just look at the views across the street for the adults to enjoy:
There are picnic tables as well but I have never found those empty. I do love spying on others that nab those tables because seriously. In Napa they know how to do things and I have seen the most magazine perfect, gorgeous picnics at that park.
Oh and one last thing. An article about Napa would not be complete without mentioning Gott’s Roadside. There is a location in the Oxbow Market and a roadside stand in St Helena as well as locations in Palo Alto and San Francisco.
Gott’s is very similar to In and Out Burger and they offer a bunch of burger choices, shakes, fries, sandwiches and hey- you are in Napa so why not have a glass of wine with your burger?
We like the St Helena location as they have a huge picnic area for the kids to run and play. Oh and the coolest bathrooms ever! Just be prepared as the lines can be crazy long. My poor husband waited in line and I sat with the kids while they ran, played, jumped and took about 8 zillion photos with my iphone. Just when we were out of gas and out of patience our food arrived (whoot whoot!)
And I would LOVE to hear about your favorite spots in Napa Valley. Any hidden gems that you have found?
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