When we told people we were taking 4 kids to wine country, we got laughed in the face. “Ha, good luck!” were the exact words, I believe.
Sounds like a dare to me.
Let me tell you, I had my own apprehensions at first. But we did it. We packed up four kids between the ages of 1 and 4 and flew to the holy grail of wine, Napa Valley! And while it was a little hectic at first (but mostly because of a broken down car, not the kids), we survived to tell the tale.
Now that all is said and done, I’m convinced that traveling to California wine country with kids is absolutely doable. In fact, you (and the kids!) might actually even enjoy it! Here’s how we were able to get the most out of Napa & Sonoma with kids in tow!
Do a self-guided winery tour
Sterling Vineyards is pretty popular as one of the must-see kid-friendly wineries in Napa Valley. And part of that is because of their self-guided tasting concept. The first in the area, we slowly made our way up to the winery, first riding the gondola to the top of the hill, and then meandering our way up from terrace to terrace while we tasted different wines along the way. At the very top, a large terrace overlooks the valley, making it a great place to relax with a glass of wine while taking in the views. While kids over 3 aren’t free, you will get a cute goodie box with coloring books, crayons and a lanyard water bottle.
Hang out at Sonoma Plaza
It’s completely legal to drink in Sonoma Plaza Park, so we took advantage and had a glass in the park while the kids played on the playground. Sonoma Cheese Factory across the street has a good variety of grab-and-go foods, a small wine selection, and a fresh sandwich counter; all perfect for a picnic lunch. You’ll find a good number of small tasting rooms surrounding Sonoma Plaza as well.
Make a Visit to Train Town
This one is totally for the kids, but for a little give and take, Train Town is a fun stop just down the road from Sonoma Plaza. The mini-amusement park, complete with a carousel and ferris wheel, also includes 4 miles of train tracks that circle the park. We took the 20-minute ride and stopped to pet the goats at Lakeview, the miniature train town.
Hire a Nanny
Since we were traveling with such a big group, we were lucky that we were able to alternate watching kids at different times (plus had family nearby that graciously offered to babysit), while the rest of the adults went out exploring. But with all of us wanting to go to dinner together, we decided to hire Napa Valley Nanny to watch all the kids for one night while we snuck away. It was a little spendy, as with everything in Napa, but fairly reasonable compared to what most hotels will charge for babysitting services. We were very happy with the girls that were assigned to us, and the kids had a blast playing with the toys they brought!
Pack Light; Rent!
The worst part about vacationing with kids is all the extra stuff they require. Napa Valley Baby Gear Rentals makes it a little easier by offering just about everything you might need: from high chairs to portable cribs and even baskets of toys. While we didn’t need to use their services this go around (we brought up stuff from our apartment in Palo Alto), they are a good, reasonably-priced resource worth looking into if you’re coming from far away. Plus, if you’re staying in a hotel, they can have everything set up for you before you even arrive!
Take a Dip among the Vineyards
Francis Ford Coppola Winery is a “wine wonderland”, as they call it. You can start your day with a wine tasting, have lunch at their restaurant, kick back and sip wine by the pool in the afternoon, and end the day throwing some bocce. The Coppola family has taken everything a family might want for a chill day in wine country and put it all into one place. Pool tickets and cabine rentals sell out fast (they were already booked by the time we tried to reserve way back in April), but if you can get in at the right time, you can enjoy the best of both worlds: entertainment for the kids and wine for the adults! Or, if you can’t get into Coppola, don’t forget about Airbnb options. We ended up booking a house with a pool so we could keep the party going at home!
The best advice I can give for finding “family friendly” wineries is to seek out wineries with outdoor spaces. The more space your little one has to roam while you taste, the better. A few of the recommendations we came across were Twomey, Frog’s Leap, Castello di Amorosa, and Sterling, of course. There are definitely some wineries that may not be appropriate for children, but all in all I’d say we saw at least one family at every winery we visited, so you shouldn’t feel out of place with kids as long as they are well-behaved.
Enjoy Casual Dining Spots
Ok, clearly we won’t be taking Evelyn to the French Laundry any time soon. But there are plenty of more casual eateries where foodies can still get a taste of Napa Valley’s finest without having to go for 5-star dining.
Gott’s Roadside | a favorite spot in St. Helena for classic burgers and milkshakes (think In-N-Out) with a huge outside patio space.
Pizzeria Tra Vigne | we grabbed take-out here on our way backing from wine tasting, and our bellies were definitely happy.
Bouchon Bakery | great for takeaway breakfast or an afternoon sweet treat, if you can handle the wait. order online ahead of time to save yourself some time.
Rutherford Grill | unstuffy, American cuisine for sit-down dining. service was rather slow on the night we visited, though, so it may not be a good choice for impatient kids.
Oxbow Public Market | downtown Napa food hall/market offering several options to please everyone’s taste buds, all under one roof.
Now that we know how painless it is, we’re looking forward to many more trips to wine country (even with the kids)!
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