Typically, parents view vacations in two categories: romantic or family friendly. We promise you can have both! We ventured from our Southern California home to Napa with ease, and had a blast with our 4 year old son and Doberman. JetsuiteX and Tablet Hotels made our vacation planning easy and seamless, so we could concentrate on having fun! First off, we headed to Burbank Airport and had an amazing experience with JetSuite! If you live in California, I highly recommend you download their app. Not only is it easy to book, it's really affordable and such a nice experience! Complimentary drinks and snacks, incredibly friendly service, dog friendly, plus you can arrive at the private terminal about 15 minutes before takeoff and 2 bags are included.
After our short flight to Concord/East Bay, we walked off the airplane literally steps away from our rental car, where we were immediately helped into our rental and our luggage was in the trunk waiting for us. The day before, JetSuiteX organized everything for us over email. I was so impressed with the service! JetSuiteX was a fun and easy way to travel, without the high price of renting a private jet on our own. Plus, our son had a blast being so close to the planes! It's a 45 minute drive up to The Carneros Inn, and an easy drive. If you want a Modern Farmhouse Winery to stop at, I highly recommend the Starmont. Open everyday from 10am-5pm, and take walk-ins. Very relaxing and modern farm vibe, plus some delicious wine especially their Chardonnay. We were able to snag a Groupon and get 2 for 1 tasting! Perfect little stop on your way up to Napa.
Speaking of modern farmhouses, we were blown away by how chic our resort was! The Carneros Inn has a perfect balance of ease and accommodation, and they really hit the mark on service. Upon arriving, we were treated with glasses of wine and escorted to our suites. Something really unique about Carneros, is you get a little farmhouse as your suite. Those are always my favorite hotels, as I think it makes the vacation feel more adventurous, especially for the kids! We were given two houses, smartly decorated with sleek modern furniture, with a huge bathroom (plus heated floors and a fireplace!). The homes were adjoined by a huge porch and enclosed backyard. Our son and Doberman loved that they had their "own" house!
We were ready to drop our bags and explore the resort! Carneros is set on an expansive property, and there is plenty to do, whether celebrating your honeymoon or family fun. There are two pools, set at opposite ends of the property, one "adults-only" and one family friendly. We put on our swimsuits and set off to explore the latter. One of the things I love about Carneros are the endless rows of Fig, Pear, and Apple trees. Makes such a pleasant jaunt as you explore. The family pool has a large lap pool, hot tub, and toddler friendly splash pool and felt warm even when the wind was breezy. Plenty of lounge chairs, umbrellas, and friendly service. Feel free to order lunch or a glass of rose. Our son was eager to dive in!
After a fun afternoon swimming and sunning, we decided to continue to explore the property. They have games on the lawn, some cute market and clothing shops, and for my car loving husband we were lucky enough to see the McLaren team arrive on their way to Pebble Beach.
After a long day of travel and having fun, we decided to eat at one of the restaurants on the property, Boon Fly Cafe. Casually chic, and they provide a kids menu with coloring page and crayons. We had a short wait, and relaxed on their porch swing. We ordered their taco special that also came with delicious Margaritas, and everything was delicious, and again the service was really spot on. Bellys full, we took a starlit walk back to our little houses, and had a peaceful night's sleep in the blissfully quiet resort!
After some delicious pancakes and eggs, we decided to head out into Napa to explore the wineries. Carneros Inn is South, a great tipping off point to travel North Napa as well as Sonoma. We decided to head up North to Calistoga, then make our way back down to the resort for the evening. If you have never been all the way up to Calistoga, I highly recommend it! There are some fantastic wineries, plus the landscape is divine! You start to see bigger mountains, and trees and the air feels fantastic. No wonder the grapes love Napa!
We explored a little of downtown Calistoga, with it's quaint antique shops. It really is the cutest little town, with some great hotels including Calistoga Ranch if you want a Romantic getaway.
If you are into Historic parks and visiting on a weekend with your family, make your way to the Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park, between St. Helena and Calistoga. Great hiking, and some really interesting History on the Old Mill. This is one thing we were unable to do since we were only there during the week, but it definitely came recommended as a cool place to explore!
From Calistoga, we started to make our way down to my favorite spot in Napa, St. Helena. If you are new to Napa, or want a family-friendly Winery there is Castello Di Amorosa, a 13th Century Style Winery offering tours and tastings of Italian inspired wines. It is VERY touristy (not usually our main bag) and probably not where you are going to discover your favorite wines, but if you need a little fun for the kids, take them to the Castle! There are animals on the grounds and a beautiful forest next door.
We had fun exploring the grounds, especially the beautiful forest next door! Being originally from Texas, and now living in SoCal we don't see trees quite this big! A gorgeous site.
We love to explore, but now it's time to get to business and find some good wine! First stop, Hall Winery is a must! The architecture and modern artwork is the best in Napa and Sonoma county, plus their wines are excellent. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is my favorite! You really can't beat their style and taste in art, selected by Mrs. Hall. They are dog and family friendly, and have an amazing sculpture garden your kids will love. Look for the big silver bunny in St. Helena!
After a lovely tasting, it was definitely time for lunch! I strongly suggest heading next door to pickup some sandwiches and salads from Dean & Deluca. Take it from this former New Yorker, you want those sandwiches! We took ours to go, and headed to Alpha Omega Winery across the way. They allow you a picnic as long as you do a tasting after, have great views, and are dog and kid accommodating. The tastings are pricey ($50) so we shared one, and I promise the Chardonnay is worth the price, one of the best I have had in the county! V.Sattui next door has a deli in their winery and are family and dog friendly if you need a more economical option. They do get pretty crowded, especially in tourist season and they do not allow any outside food.
When traveling with a family, especially a spirited four year old boy, you look for a few things in a vineyard/winery. Do they have a lot of free outdoor space to explore? Do they have animals or lawn games on site to see and play? Do they have a train, tram, gondola? Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga checked our last one off the list! Purchase various levels of tasting from General, to Silver, and finally Platinum Experience. If traveling with kids, the general experience is plenty, and allows a fun aerial tram ride to some incredible views. We had fun tasting their wines along the self guided tour and Hudson loved the tram! If you want a seated tasting, with perfectly paired dining options and a more intimate tour, I would recommend the Platinum experience. We loved exploring Sterling Vineyards, and really enjoyed their servers who were knowledgable but not too pushy.
Three vineyards is plenty for the day, so we head back down to the resort to get ready for dinner. Craving pizza and ice cream, we decided to have dinner that evening at Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. On a previous visit to Napa just the two of us, we rode bikes from Napa River Terrace Inn and loved grabbing breakfast at the market, so we thought we would give dinner a try as a family. We grabbed pizza at Live Fire, and the best ice cream sundae at Three Sisters Ice Cream.
On our last full day, we wanted to give Sonoma a try! We headed out early to breakfast at Sunflower Cafe in downtown Sonoma. Cutest little spot, with a dog friendly back porch and an eclectic little garden to dine in. Great coffee, eggs, and pancakes to fill us up before a full day of fun!
Our son is a super trooper to travel with, so we thought it was definitely time to give him some kid friendly fun! What better place then Train Town in Sonoma? Perfect for a train obsessed little guy! They have a train ride throughout the amusement park that stops at a petting zoo, and tours a little mini old time town of Sonoma. He had a blast! They have other little rides too, and it gave him something to look forward to before another day of vineyard exploring. Because it was a weekday, the crowd was not too bad and tickets were a decent price.
After Train Town, it was time for more vineyard exploring! We found two in neighboring Glen Ellen we were really excited about! One for it's casual ease, and the other for its great reputation for wines. Our first stop was Valley of the Moon at Madrone Estate. Dog friendly, super laid back atmosphere, and great grounds with Bocce ball and plenty of room to roam. We opted to buy a bottle of Viognier and head outside. We loved the helpful service and friendly people who let us relax and take in the beauty of the valley!
Lasseter Family Winery
Our last stop was Lasseter Family Winery. This is appointment only, and neatly tucked into a beautiful little nook in Glen Ellen. Lasseter has some amazing history, and was founded by head animator for Disney and Pixar, John Lasseter. My husband saw the vineyard featured on Jay Leno's Garage, and we wanted to explore it because there is a legendary huge train on the property. Well, turns out it's only on the private/family side of the property, but nevertheless it brought us to some great wine! After our son got over his initial disappoint there would be no train, we headed on our semi-private tour with another couple, who thankfully also had a small child in tow! Yay for small miracles!
I loved the attention to detail our tour guide gave us, plus her passion and care for the Vineyard was obvious. To see how important the Vineyard is to the employees, really does make a difference in the wine and experience. We toured the grounds and the wine making process, from grape, to barrel, to even onsite truck bottling! After our guided tour sampling the initial whites and rose, we headed in the sit down tasting room. Yes- onto my favorite part...the reds!
They had such a lovely spread, and we tasted several of their amazing reds including their "Paysage" which was my favorite. Everything about Lasseter is authentic and lovingly thought out, including the artwork for the labels which comes with their own stories. In the end it was the quality of wine, and the stories and the love behind them that made me truly fall in love with Lasseter! We signed up for the wine club, getting their $90 tasting complimentary, and receiving some truly lovely wines year round! Something to remind us of our great trip! We loved the cheese pairing and chocolate that complimented the reds, and Hudson had a little setup too to keep him happy!
For our last night in Napa, mom and dad needed a date night! Carneros Inn connected us with a lovely babysitting service, Napa Valley Nanny. The owner Maggie was extremely informative of our babysitter, a teacher who was fully vetted with background checks and contacted us immediately asking our sons needs and his favorite things to do. We felt comforted knowing our son was in good hands!
Once our nanny arrived, we headed straight to the adult pool, to enjoy the hot tub, sunset, and a bottle of our Lasseter Family Vineyard wine. The adult pool has a gorgeous view of Napa, and is tucked at the back of the property. Very calming and relaxing, we felt like we were on our own private property!
We decided to stay on property for dinner, and changed in the Pool Clubhouse. Carneros has one fine dining option, FARM, with great reviews. It has indoor and outdoor options and that evening had live music, which is always a plus! Our server was friendly and prompt, and we had a lovely meal! The portions are smaller, and prices high, so don't expect a Texas-sized steak dinner. Flavors were spot on, but I would advise to skip desert and order one of their after dinner Ports or cocktails instead.
On our last day before we headed to the airport, we had to take a last drive up to St. Helena and grab a famous burger from Gott's Roadside (formerly Taylor's Automatic Refresher). This place is amazing! Contemporary take on a 1950's burger joint, they are always busy but the line moves fast and it's worth the wait! From burgers, to fries, salad, and a yummy chocolate milkshake, everything we ordered was incredible. Plus there's a nice backyard with picnic tables and plenty of space for kids and (leashed) dogs to play.
We had such an amazing time in Napa and Sonoma county, and were sad to leave! There is so much to see and do as a family, I promise you will not be disappointed you brought the whole gang!
Know Before You Go
I definitely recommend pre-planning as much as possible before your trip. Many places are walk-ins, but some are appointment only. Also, secure any babysitting as early as possible as they get quite full, even during the week, as well as reservations at resort restaurants. I also would map out were you are going on each day to see the most possible. Napa and Sonoma county are quite spread out, and can take up to 45 minutes/ an hour to get from Calistoga down to the Southern part of Napa. If you are questioning whether a winery allows kids, and it's unclear on their website, call! There are also some vineyards that do not advertise "family-friendly" but actually are! Same with dogs, most vineyards have lovely outdoor spots, and love leashed dogs. Just check before you go, and avoid any stress.
More Family Fun
Here's a few more fun family ideas to try!
*Francis Ford Coppola Pool in Geyserville, CA (I recommend renting a Cabana early!)
*Pacific Coast Air Museum in Santa Rosa, CA
*Old Faithful Geyeser in Calistoga, CA
*Hiking in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
*Larson Family Winery in Sonoma, CA
*Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen, CA (tram ride kids will love!)
*Landmark Vineyards in Kenwood, CA (Horse drawn carriage rides, May-October!)
*Scientopia Discovery Center, Napa Valley, CA
I am a huge proponent of taking kids to places they need to behave and be around adults, but it's definitely a balance! Pepper your day with kid focused activities (and rewards) and I know they will have fun while you can too!