Yes, Family-Friendly Wineries in Napa Are a Real Thing.

Jul 2, 2019

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Parents visiting the San Francisco area may think they need to pass up a visit to nearby Napa Valley when they are traveling with kids. But, believe it or not, there are a whole host of family-friendly wineries offering grape juice tastings, kid- (and pet-) friendly picnic areas, aerial tram rides and more. You can easily rent a car and enjoy a day or two in wine country by following this easy road trip through family-friendly wineries.

Here are TPG’s tips for planning a perfect family visit to San Francisco.

Children's Garden at Cornerstone, courtesy of Cornerstone Sonoma
Children’s Garden at Cornerstone. (Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Sonoma)

Cornerstone Sonoma

Begin in Sonoma County in the town of Sonoma. Although not a winery, Cornerstone Sonoma is a charming marketplace that is home to three tasting rooms with great food, live music, different art-installation-style gardens and boutique shopping. While kids will enjoy exploring the different gardens, they will especially want to chill in the Children’s Garden with its colorful playhouses, sandbox and kid-size Adirondack chairs. Visit Highwayman Wines, Meadowcroft Wines and Obsidian Wines to sample local vino, and pop into Prohibition Spirits Distillery to try other liquors that will quench your thirst. Be sure to check out the event calendar before you go, as the marketplace hosts many activities throughout the year such as its Snowman Festival in the winter, Mother’s and Father’s Day fun, and live music in the warmer months. 23570 Arnold Dr., Sonoma, 707-933-3010.

Nearby Attractions: Sonoma is next door to Santa Rosa, which was home to Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. Pop over to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center ($12 for adults, $5 for kids 4–18 and free for those 3 and under) for a taste of all things Snoopy as well as the ice rink he used enjoy and coach hockey in: Snoopy’s Home Ice. Bonus! Both are located next door to the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County ($12 per person for kids and adults; free for infants under 12 months).

Larson Family Winery

Next, keep your eyes peeled for a practically hidden dirt road, where a wonderful family-owned winery welcomes you with a large grassy picnic area with bocce, board and lawn games — plus the Larson family’s three pet dogs that roam between picnic blankets. Current owners Tom and Becky Larson are parents who understand kids and welcome yours with open arms. Walking tours and tastings are available, or purchase wine by the bottle and sample the available food pairings for a perfect picnic. The winery features special events throughout the year, including in winter, when Santa comes for a visit with the kiddos. 23355 Millerick Rd., Sonoma, 707-938-3031.

Nearby Attractions: After your picnic fun, take the kids to Sonoma TrainTown Railroad, a 10-acre amusement park with — you guessed it — train rides. With pay-per-ride admission, you can check out the models and also ride a carousel. (The train ride is $7.50 per person for ages 12 months and older. Amusement rides are $3.75 per person each.)

Courtesy of Benziger Family Winery
(Photo courtesy of Benziger Family Winery)

Benziger Family Winery

Leave Sonoma behind and take a winding road tour through the countryside to visit Benziger Family Winery, where kids are going to love the tram tour — consider it a wine-tasting hayride experience! The 45-minute ride traverses the winery’s hills and gardens with stops at wine caves. The rides are just $10 for those under 21 and are offered seven times per day, weather permitting. The entire estate is filled with gardens and makes for a perfect place for easy hikes and explorations, including of the the winery’s farm and insectary. (The family believes insects are vital to the production of their wines.) 1883 London Ranch Rd., Glen Ellen, 888-490-2739.

Nearby Attractions: Glen Ellen was the home of “The Call of the Wild” author Jack London. If your kids have read the book in school, follow in his footsteps at Jack London State Historic Park ($10 vehicle entry fee), where you can take a guided horseback ride. You can also explore a museum dedicated to the author and visit his former cottage and the ruins of his dream house, which was destroyed by fire before he could live in it.

Valley of the Moon at Mardone Estate

Glen Ellen is also home to Madrone Estate, with 60 acres of vines that have been producing Italian-style wines for more than 150 years. Your family will explore historic buildings as you take a walking tour through the original barrel cellar and learn about the winemaking process at one of Sonoma Valley’s first vineyards. When you are done touring, the kids can play on the patio or the bocce court while you sample the vineyard’s spoils, including light snacks to pair with the estate’s wines. 777 Madrone Rd, Glen Ellen, 707-939-4500.

Nearby Attractions: The perfect weather found in Napa and Sonoma counties isn’t just ripe for growing grapes, it’s also perfect for letting the kids take in nature with the freedom to run and play. Visit Glen Ellen’s Quarryhill Botanical Garden, which has multiple gardens to explore ($12 for adults, $8 for kids 3–17; free for children 12 and younger).

Francis Ford Coppola Winery

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a winery more kid-friendly than the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. (Yes, as in the director Francis Ford Coppola.) Begin your second day of winery tours (or your last stop of a one-day visit) by heading north to Geyserville. At the Coppola Winery, you’ll find two swimming pools with cabanas to rent, which Coppola added specifically to give kids some fun. A lending library offers children’s books to borrow, with a poolside teepee in which to devour them. The pools are only open from spring through fall, but if you choose to visit in the winter, kids can be entertained in the Movie Gallery, showcasing Coppola’s films, or play bocce or table games. 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, 707-857-1471.

Courtesy of Francis Ford Coppola Winery
(Photo courtesy of Francis Ford Coppola Winery)

Nearby Attractions: If the kids (gasp!) grow tired of the fun at the winery, head south to SOAR Inflatables and Russian River Adventures and try your hand at river rafting.

Sterling Vineyards

From Geyserville, make your way to one of the most popular vineyards for all ages: Calistoga’s Sterling Vineyards. Here, you’ll ride an aerial tram to the top of the vineyard — 300 feet above Napa Valley — for inspiring views. Kids will love the ride on the only aerial tram in the area, and your self-guided tour includes motion-sensitive TV screens to guide you through the winemaking processes and facilities. Numerous tastings and pairings are available in different areas of the winery, with open-air balconies providing more views and ample space for kids to play as you sip. A tram ride and tasting is $35 for adults; young people ages 3 to 20 ride for $20 with a paying adult, and it’s free for 3 and younger. 1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, 800-726-6136.

Nearby Attractions: Don’t pass up a visit to the area without visiting the 400-acre Safari West for a true safari experience in an open-topped truck. You’ll see giraffes, zebras, rhinos and more at this unique “zoo.” (Prices vary by day of the week and season but start at $83 for adults 18–61, $80 for teens 13–17 and $45 for kids 4–12.)

Courtesy of Sterling Vineyards
(Photo courtesy of Sterling Vineyards)

Castello di Amorosa

Your next stop after Sterling should be the neighboring Castello di Amorosa, which earns its name for having an authentic castle sprouting up from the vineyard. Designed like a 13th-century structure, the castle spreads across 3 acres with 107 rooms — no two of which are alike. Kids will be amazed by the castle complete with moat, drawbridge, multiple towers and ramparts, chapel, armory, stables and even a mock torture chamber. Self-guided tours provide visitors with maps of the winery, access to two levels of the castle and a wine tasting. Children receive grape juice during the adult tasting and are given crayons and coloring pages in the tasting room to keep them occupied while you imbibe. Guided tours include an hour of walking, so select the self-guided version if visiting with younger kids. Adult admission tickets with a wine tasting are $30; admission for children is $20 for ages 5 to 20, and free for those younger than 5. 4045 St. Helena Hwy. Calistoga, 707-967-6272.

Nearby Attractions: In an area surrounded by towering redwoods, see the trees that lived here more than 3 million years ago at the Petrified Forest. (Admission to the main trail/meadow walk is $12 for adults, $8 for “juniors” 12–17, $6 for kids 6–11 and free for those under 6.)

V. Sattui Winery

From Calistoga, continue south to the little town of St. Helena closest to the heart of Napa. Here, visit V. Sattui Winery, where generations ago an Italian family immigrated and began making wine in the traditional style. What makes this winery kid-friendly is its Artisan Deli and Marketplace, where you can purchase food and wine pairings and set up a cozy picnic with your family. You’ll find sandwiches, panini, pasta, salad, dessert, fresh fruit and more than 200 types of cheese. The 2.5 acres of the estate are complete with gardens, an art museum filled with paintings by local artists, caves you can explore and underground wine cellars. You can enjoy a self-guided tour, and if you have older kids who can chill beneath the giant oak trees long enough for adults to sample wine, there are three tasting rooms available. 1111 White Lane, St. Helena, 707-963-7774.

Nearby Attractions: With most of your trip spent outdoors, turn to the Historic Bale Mill in St. Helena if it rains and you need some indoor activities. It’s not much, but it’s pretty cool to show the kids how an old mill works. (Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for kids 6–17 and children under 6 are free.)

Where to Stay in Wine Country

The Westin Verasa Napa: With a riverfront location, large pool, suites with full kitchens, and a Westin Kids program, this property is great for a family visit. Use your Marriott points and get a free night for 60,000 points per night.

Westin Verasa Napa (Photo courtesy of Westin)
Westin Verasa Napa. (Photo courtesy of Westin)

Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country: In Santa Rosa, you’ll find this comfy Hyatt, which requires just 15,000 points to get a free night. You’ll be close to the best kid-friendly attractions of your visit and have access to a pool. You could also use a Category 1 – 4 award from the World of Hyatt Credit Card.

Andaz NapaPrefer a boutique property that is still points-friendly? In the heart of downtown Napa you’ll find the trendy Andaz. Stay here so you can explore the quaint town filled with local shops, mouthwatering restaurants and, yes, more wine tasting rooms. Book an award night from 25,000 World of Hyatt points per night.

(Photo courtesy of Andaz Napa)
(Photo courtesy of Andaz Napa)

Hilton Garden Inn Napa: Tucked away in Napa County, your family can enjoy the space at the Hilton Garden Inn, with suites and a small pool, after touring vineyards all day. Award redemption range from 32,000 – 60,000 Hilton Honors points per night. Here are some top ways to earn additional Hilton points.

Solage, an Auberge Resort: Looking to splurge during your trip? The kids will enjoy the so-very-Cali-style swimming pool, complete with palm trees and cabanas.

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa: This pet- and kid-friendly property will provide a reprieve when you aren’t touring the area, and is within close proximity to many of the wineries mentioned. Le Club Accor Hotels members receive 5% discount on standard rates.

Bottom Line

With just a couple of days tacked on to your Northern California vacation, your kids can play openly in the sun-filled landscape of the valley as everyone experiences the full taste of Napa.

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