While the Napa Valley may be best known for its world-class wineries and restaurants, it is also an ideal destination for families. Year-round mild temperatures and more than 53,000 acres of protected land allow visitors of all ages to fully enjoy the outdoors, while educational adventures, full-service hotels, and family-friendly restaurants result in itineraries that appeal to all.
The Great Outdoors
From the Napa River to Lake Berryessa, Napa County is home to several large bodies of water, and all the associated fun, water-related sports. Rent a kayak or paddleboard at Napa Valley Paddle or Getaway Adventures, and spend the day afloat. Or get an altitude adjustment by hiking in one of Napa Valley’s many protected outdoor areas such as Alston Park, Newell Open Space Preserve, Skyline Wilderness Park, or Bothe Napa Valley State Park. The valley is also full of great biking trails. The Napa Valley Vine Trail, which currently provides a 12-mile trail between Napa and Yountville, will eventually link 47 continuous miles along the valley floor. Bicycle rentals are available at Napa Valley Bike Tours, St. Helena Cyclery, and the Calistoga Bike Shop. For younger kids, there are playgrounds at Napa’s Fuller Park, Yountville Park, and St. Helena’s Crane Park. Connolly Ranch offers farm-based education programs for kids of all ages. If there are teens in the family, Napa and St. Helena feature excellent skate parks.
Another family favorite is Calistoga’s Old Faithful Geyser, one of the world’s three such named geysers, which erupts a spout of 350-degree water every half hour. While waiting for the eruption, families may visit the petting zoo’s Tennessee Fainting Goats, four-horned sheep, and llamas. Just up the road is the Petrified Forest, with giant redwood trees that were turned into stone following a massive volcanic explosion that took place more than three million years ago. Or, give the kids a wine-country memory they will never forget and reserve a hot-air balloon ride in the wee morning hours with Napa Valley Aloft or Balloons Above the Valley that provide breathtaking views of the valley at sunrise. Napa Valley Aloft Balloon launches from V Marketplace in Yountville and accommodates children as young as six years old.
Many Napa Valley wineries cater to families to ensure that both adults and children have a memorable and enjoyable experience. Sterling Vineyards is reached by a gondola rising 300 feet to a mountaintop winery designed to resemble a contemporary Greek fortress. Once off the tram, kids receive a “tram pack” of goodies to keep them busy. The self-guided tour allows guests to walk around the grounds rather than standing in a tasting room, and frozen slushies are offered to children.
Frog’s Leap Winery is also a working farm, complete with vegetable and fruit gardens, and a large pond for frog catching and goldfish spotting. It also offers a kids’ soda-tasting and coloring books. Or take a tour in a 4x4 vehicle at Long Meadow Ranch’s mountain vineyards. Its tasting room in downtown St. Helena has a petanque court and large lawns for working off excess energy. Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga is a meticulous reproduction of a 13th-century Tuscan castle that will fascinate all ages with its dungeon, moat, suits of armor, and courtyard. Outside, there are emus, peacocks, and sheep to entertain even the most tired toddler, child, or teen. And at Chateau Montelena, renowned for its role in the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting and the film Bottle Shock, families can explore the castle-like winery with its little lake, Japanese gardens, and koi fish.
For a complete list of family friendly wineries, visit: https://www.napavintners.com/wineries/wineries_family_friendly.asp
Menus for Finicky Eaters
Oxbow Public Market in Napa is an upscale food court that appeases every palate or craving. Gott’s Roadside, both in Napa and St. Helena, provides American classics such as burgers, fries, and shakes, and wines by the glass or bottle for adults. Pizza requests may be fulfilled at Pizzeria Tra Vigne, Azzuro Pizzeria and Enoteca, or Velo Pizzeria in downtown Napa. Calistoga has Checkers and Café Sarafornia, both offering kid-friendly menus.
The restored antique Pullman-style Napa Valley Wine Train is another family-friendly dining option. The locomotive departs from downtown Napa and runs through St. Helena. The seasonal open-air car is especially popular with families and, while the regular train journeys do not offer a dedicated children’s menu, they are able to adapt dishes for younger tastes, including a barbeque meal or plate of simple pasta.
If there is a budding chef in the family, book a tour at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena to visit the vegetable gardens and learn about cooking techniques and healthy eating. Their gift shop features items perfect for kids, including right-sized chef hats and aprons, cookbooks, and child-friendly utensils.
Arts and Culture
At di Rosa, peacocks roam the grounds that feature a sculpture garden, which is home to the world’s tallest filing cabinet and a hanging upside down car. The Napa Valley Museum offers a range of family friendly activities including culinary adventures that teach attendees the layers of the earth by decorating cakes and learning about fine arts by painting portraits. Each month offers a different activity. The Yountville Art Walk, similar to an outdoor treasure hunt for art, is a perfect activity for kids of all ages.
For those visiting the Napa Valley in April, be sure to review Napa Valley’s Arts in April program. Interactive experiences include the “Treasure Calistoga Scavenger Hunt” created by Treasure Napa, a group of local artists who produce treasure hunts on Instagram to support local businesses and promote the arts.
A visit to the working Bale Grist Mill is like stepping back into 19th-century Napa Valley, and visitors can even buy flour milled on site. Or, visit the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum next to the St. Helena Library to learn about the author of Treasure Island and A Child’s Garden of Verses and see some of his childhood memorabilia. Stevenson spent his two-month honeymoon in an abandoned miner’s cabin on the side of Mt. St. Helena, and his book, The Silverado Squatters, recounts that adventure.
The recently renovated Indian Springs Resort in Calistoga depicts a family vacation circa 1930, with a range of accommodations that includes rooms, bungalows, cottages, and houses. A big attraction for kids is the Olympic-sized mineral pool, one of the largest pools in California, which is kept at 82–102 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the season. The resort also offers complimentary bikes to ride around the property or into town.
The bustling social scene at Solage Calistoga means a fun stay for all age groups. There are two pools, one for families and a separate Olympic-size pool for adults, both surrounded by towering palms. Kids can play bocce ball or borrow the complimentary beach cruisers to bike into town.
Each of the multi-room lodges at Calistoga Ranch provides a full kitchen and a central outdoor family space. Complimentary bicycles are provided to guests for easy access to downtown Calistoga. Catch a glimpse of the resort’s Baby Doll sheep that work as natural “lawnmowers” on the property.
Meadowood Napa Valley is the perfect home base for an active family. The 250-acre resort includes tennis courts, golf fairways, croquet lawns, hiking trails, and spacious cottages. During the summer, its Children’s Sports Camps are open to children ages 6 to 11 and offer instruction in tennis, golf, and croquet as well as supervised swim classes.
The Carneros Inn in Napa offers a collection of stylish and comfortable cottages with plenty of space for groups. Along with a family pool (as well as an adults-only pool) with toys and snacks, the younger set may enjoy kids’ yoga classes while mom and dad relax at the spa. Other family-friendly non-resort properties, each which feature swimming pools for a relaxing splash at the end of the day, include the Westin Verasa; Embassy Suites; the Hilton Garden Inn, and the new Hampton Inn and Suites, each in Napa; the El Bonita Motel in St. Helena; and the Best Western Plus Stevenson Manor in Calistoga.