However, I also truly love wine. I find everything about wine to be interesting – from growing to winemaking to wine tasting.
My wife and two little girls are my whole world, and when combined, there is nothing I’d rather do than spend time with them in my favorite place on earth – Wine Country.
My father felt the same way about his family, as he told me about when we were young, that doing things without his family wasn’t an option in his mind. “If someone didn’t want his business because his kids were with him, that’s perfectly understandable, but we won’t be staying…”. I now understand this much more than I did BEFORE I had kids. The time we have together is limited and precious, and whenever possible I prefer to combine interests, let them experience nice things, and to teach them about the world around them.
Now don’t get me wrong – there is a time and place for children – clearly every event is not suitable or appropriate for them. However, we always try to be aware of our surroundings and closely watch those around us for any signs of (justified) annoyance that their ‘adult time’ is effected. It is a REQUIREMENT with us that the girls are well behaved (or we leave immediately), and in these situations, they usually comply.
So how do you spend time in such an adult-oriented destination, WITH your kids, and NOT ruin other people’s experiences? I think that with all-things-kid, it is a combination of two factors:
- Make it a balance of things that THEY also want to do and find fun/interesting
I’M KIDDING! #2 is patience, understanding, and flexibility. I find that making them a part of most events (with boundries) usually keeps them interested and better behaved than just telling them to ‘go play’ or whatnot.
Step #1 – FEED THEM. CONSTANTLY.
Hunger is the easiest to solve, so we do our best to always keep them fed.
The first stop whenever we visit Napa (kids or not), is this little ‘shack’ on the side of the road on the Silverado Trail in Napa, which has THE best fresh berries I’ve ever tasted. I mean, these freakin’ things are I-don’t-care-if-these-things-were-grown-under-high-tension-power-lines-I’ll-still-eat-them good.
Oh, and a quadruple pack like the one in the picture above is like $8. That doesn’t suck.
For lunch, we usually hit one of these two places, which are great to eat with kids:
- Dean & Deluca or Oakville Grocery (have a picnic at Rutherford Grove Winery)
- Taylor’s Refresher, which apparently has been renamed to ‘Gott’s Roadside‘, is always a hit – who doesn’t love a burger?
STEP #2 – THREATEN NOT TO REWARD THEM WITH AT THE END OF THE DAY
One word is truly Pavlovian in our house – ‘Cupcakes’. You mention the possibility of a cupcake later in the day, and these girls snap RIGHT in line.
I don’t think that Oxbow is necessarily a place for kids overall – it’s rather high end and mostly fine foods. It’s beautiful and interesting though, and I’d definitely recommend checking it out.
STEP #3 – CALL AHEAD AND CONFIRM KIDS ARE OK
We’ve begun to visit wineries and events that are ‘kid friendly’, and there are a SURPRISING amount of them! There are many welcoming places in the valley when you are visiting with kids – and you actually don’t have to look all that hard either.
I always call the vineyard in advance and tell them that we have our kids with us, as well as their ages. I ask them to be honest with us, because we don’t want to bring the kids someplace that will take away from their other guests experience. I have only found 1 place that said that it wasn’t the right place, and thanked them for their honesty.
STEP #4 – VISIT PLACES WITH MORE THAN JUST A BAR
Kids at a vineyard might seem counter-intuitive, but think about it as a grape farm, and your opinion may change slightly. Simply having a small table with coloring books and toys, some animals for the kids to look at or pet, bocce ball or cornhole, or even just a simple picnic area transforms a ‘belly up to the bar’ experience into something both the parents and the kids can enjoy.
- St. Supery
- Frog’s Leap
- Dutch Henry
- Casa Nuestra
- Larson Family Winery
- Rutherford Grove
- Frank Family Vineyards
A standout ‘kid friendly winery’ for us on a recent trip was Flora Springs. I was pleasantly surprised by this, given the level of their wines and the fact that they had a very nice private tasting area.
They have a tasting room right on Highway 29, which is where I think that most people go. However, I recommend paying a little extra to head up to the winery itself for the private tour and tasting.
The girls especially loved the barrel cave part of the tour. Ella was content to scream the word ‘ECHO!!” over and over, and we were content to try some barrel samples. Travis even let the girls help!
STEP #5 – DID I MENTION FOOD?
Eat dinner early. You are more apt to actually GET a reservation, and you won’t piss off as many people if the kids melt down.
Our ‘go to place’ though is Bistro Jeanty, which is a fantastic French Bistro in Yountville.
Admittedly, I wouldn’t have thought to bring the girls here until I saw Philippe Jeanty visit a few tables that had kids and check in on them to make sure everything was ok.
It sure doesn’t hurt that they have great desserts either.
STEP #6 – HOME BASE
This might sound like a no-brainer, but finding the right hotel (to me) makes all the difference when traveling with kids. While there are tons of hotels to stay at in Napa Valley, one that has always stood out for us whether we were traveling alone or with the kids is the Meritage & Vino Bello Resort.
This place literally has it all. These are sister hotels which are share the same property and amenities – such as the Siena Restaurant (which I highly recommend), a full service spa inside a cave under a vineyard, and a few other things as well. On top of this, both have their own pools, hot tubs, and gyms.
The Meritage side is setup as a true hotel, whereas the Vino Bello are 1 bedroom condo timeshares that they also use as a hotel when there are vacancies. The Meritage has more of a luxury resort feel b/c it is busier and fully staffed, whereas Vino Bello has a much more private and casual feel to it – in the best kind of way.
We fell in love with this place when we stayed here during a 2 quick days in the valley in the late fall of 2009. It was very cool that night, and we had just finished dinner at Siena, and we took our bottle of wine with us and walked out onto the central courtyard patio of the hotel. Stars were out, they had tons of outdoor couches with heaters overhead, a giant firepit, and even a bocce ball court. We were hooked. Combined with the fact that the staff falls all over themselves to take care of you, it’s a perfect combination.
As for Vino Bello, it is the type of place that when you walk in to your room you think that the front desk messed up and upgraded you. First off, it’s enormous. I’d guess 1,000 sq ft+, easy. It has a full kitchen with stainless steel appliances and marble counters. It has a full living room, with an LCD TV and a working fireplace. There is a huge dining area that easily seats 8-10. There’s a big patio or balcony with an outdoor furniture set that has access from your bedroom or the living room. The bedroom has a giant whirlpool tub in it, and the huge, luxurious bathroom has an all glass steam shower. I’m telling you – its ridiculous.
This is the perfect place to setup as a ‘home base’ for the next few days that you are here. Having the full kitchen REALLY helps meals with the kids, as does having the bedroom separate for naps (for me OR the kids). Topping this all off is a splash pad and kiddie pool next to the adult pool, nice big gas grills to use, and plenty of open area for the kids to run and play.
One great example of how they go above and beyond is their ‘movie night’ feature. It’s simply a DVD library that the kids (or you) can choose from, for free, along with a bag of microwaved popcorn. It’s nothing fancy…just take it back to your room and enjoy…but it shows forethought and insight into what helps their guests enjoy their stay best. The kids LOVE it, and we love watching the sun set with a glass of wine on the patio while they enjoy their movie.
So that’s my 2 cents on Napa with kids. I’m thinking of starting a second blog on kid-centric experiences in Wine Country, but who are we kidding – I can’t even keep this one updated.
I’d love to hear your comments, thoughts, and recommendations too!