The Twins Take on the Napa Valley

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Known mainly for its gorgeous rolling vineyards, wine-tastings and hot springs resorts, California’s Napa Valley isn’t the first place you think of when planning a family weekend get-away.  While it’s definitely true that Napa is ideal for a romantic weekend alone with your husband or a girls’ pampering weekend, there really is a lot of fun to be had for the kids if you know where to look; and the Twins have scoped out a huge list just for you!   Luckily we go there A LOT!

Where to stay

Several hot springs resorts in Calistoga do allow children, but not all of them.  The two we’ve been to with our kids are Indian Springs and Calistoga Hot Springs Resort.  The latter is more reasonably priced and even has a kiddie pool.  Both will expect you to keep your kids calm and quiet; this a tranquil town where adults go to relax, after-all.

Where to Play

Playground Fantastico in Napa has an amazing play structure for the little ones (and it happens to be just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Napa Premium Outlets) and St. Helena Elementary School in St. Helena has the sweetest all-wooden play structure we’ve ever seen…and we’ve seen a bunch!


Play Structure at St Helena Elementary School

In fact, it doesn’t matter where we are going; we will scope out the local parks (and libraries for that matter).  My kids even love the play structures inside amusement parks; we all need a break from the in-your-face entertainment.  Back to the basics is always a great rule of thumb.  Plus, mom and dad can sit and have a cup of joe. The Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company is around the corner from this playground.  My husband David loves to lie down in a nice grassy lawn and take a nap; he might be part dog.  The lawn next to this playground is perfect!

St. Helena Skate Park. If you have older kids who are into skateboarding, this skate park is one of the best ones in Northern California. It’s a little-known cement paradise, tucked away in Crane Park so if you have skaters in your family, you will earn some major brownie points when you pull up to this little gem.

Art galleries. Browse through the many art galleries that line the main strip in St. Helena; they can be surprisingly kid-centric.  Look at this!  Dr. Suess was all over this one!  IMG_1961


Where to Eat

  1. Giugni’s Deli  in St. Helena has a huge assortment of fun treats as well as killer sandwiches for your picnic at the park.
  2. Palisades Cafe Deli in Calistoga. Speaking of sandwiches, if you are in Calistoga, you have to eat lunch at Palisades (which is located in an old train station); and afterwards bring the kids into the train car right next door that has cleverly been converted into a candy store called the “Sugar Train,” where you will find a treasure trove of sweets, many of which you haven’t seen since your own childhood.


    Giugni’s Deli, St. Helena

3.  Gott’s Roadside. (Otherwise known as Taylor’s Refreshers), is a must with the family.  Order your food (we recommend the fish tacos for the adults and burgers/shakes for the kids) and sit at a picnic table on a grassy lawn and wait for your order to be called over the loud speaker. Order a glass of wine with your meal or bring your own bottle and enjoy while your kids run around on the grass.

4. Soo Yuan Chinese restaurant in Calistoga. If you’re craving chinese food, it’s simply the best Up Valley you can find.

5. Pizzaria Travigne. Excellent pizza and pasta and one of the most affordable places in town where you can bring your kids.


Julie enjoying her cappuccino outside the Model Bakery

6.  Model Bakery in St. Helena:  The coffee makes Starbucks seem cheap, but then again you will not find a Starbucks or anything like it this deep into the valley, so you might as well lean into it if you gotta have a latte.  But the real reason to stop here (besides obviously posing for posh photos with your designer pound puppy and Facebooking that you went to Paris over the weekend as we are) is for the creamy eclairs.  MMMMM I want one right now.  IMG_1954

7. The Big Dipper Ice Cream Parlor on Oak Avenue in St. Helena is a favorite with our kiddos.

Where to SiP

So, when you’re traveling with kids, you might think wine tasting is out of the question, but it IS possible. Our best experience for wine tasting while also being fun for the kids has been at Frank Family Vineyards in Calistoga. There are sweeping lawns and oak trees with plenty of picnic tables that look out onto gorgeous vineyards. Our kids usually run around and explore while us adults eat a picnic lunch, chat and drink Frank Family’s delicious wines.

Hiking and Biking

If your kids are outdoorsy, bring bikes or rent them for your stay.  Check in with the bike store in downtown St. Helena for the best trail guide. In the future, the Vine Trail will connect the current bike trail in Yountville with Calistoga and eventually will make one long, safely paved Class I bike trail that will go from Calistoga to Vallejo. This trail is scheduled to be completed by 2016.

Linda Falls

Linda Falls

Los Posadas in Angwin (in the mountains above St. Helena) has fantastic hiking trails and there’s also a shorter hike, that would be fun with kids over age 5 to a waterfall called Linda Falls, which is also in Angwin. Here’s a link that will explain more about Los Posadas: . You can also hike Mt. St. Helena from Calistoga.


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 Julie showing her muscles at Linda Falls 

TIPS and HINTS for Traveling Napa Valley

1. Bring the pooch:  Napa Valley in general, but St. Helena specifically is dog-friendly; I mean, like abnormally so. Never mind the fact that there’s a gourmet dog bakery on the main strip of town, but there are water dishes outside most of the restaurants and many businesses encourage you to bring your dog in.  One such fabulous place is Steve’s Housewares which is 1/2 hardware store and 1/2 kitchen store. There, my dog is spoiled rotten with treats and smothering.  Once, while enjoying the afore-mentioned St. Helena Public Library, my sister’s dog was tied up to a tree out front when it began to rain.  The librarian at the front check-out desk came and found us in the children’s section and, in a chastising tone, asked us to please bring the dog out of the rain and into the library! Now, before you call animal control on us, you should know that this is a water-loving yellow lab who would (and has) risked his own life for the chance to go swimming… and the temperature doesn’t matter to him at all- he is immune to the cold, so although I’m sure he was happy as could be to come in and hang out with us in library, I can assure you he was just fine out there. The point is, this town is freaky in love with dogs! They even have a dog parade every fall (another fun event in this Mayberry-esque town you might want to check out it ~ it’s quirky and adorable).
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 2.  Some random facts. Did you know, your ticket aboard the wine train does not include wine?  Just a random piece of trivia that has nothing to do with kids. And while we are spouting random facts, if you say you are going to Napa to wine-taste, you probably aren’t.  The Napa Valley is made-up of the town of Napa and many smaller towns like Yountville, Oakville, St. Helena and Calistoga.  Napa is a suburb filled with strip malls; but you can go hot-air ballooning out of there (and you really should).  St. Helena is where you will find most of the wineries,

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Goodies at Bouchon Bakery

boutiques, and gourmet restaurants.  Calistoga also has some great restaurants and they are more affordable than the ones in St. Helena ~ we especially love Checkers.  Calistoga is known primarily for its natural hot springs resorts and B & B’s.  Yountville has amazing (but pricey) restaurants, like the famous Bouchon Restaurant and Bakery and my personal favorite, R&D Kitchen (excellent sushi menu).  The entire valley has great biking and hiking, but PLEASE don’t bike on Silverado Trail – many serious cyclist do, but it’s a curvy, two-lane road full of drunk drivers and there have been many fatal accidents involving cyclists. Okay – I will get off my soap box now…just want to keep my fellow humans alive and well.


The Twins’ kids during Harry Potter Week at the St. Helena Public Library

3.  Special Kids Events.  The Cameo movie theater (along with the Robert Louis Stevenson museum) in St. Helena does a pirate-themed week every summer for the local children. However, they won’t turn away the tourists.  The following are websites you should check back in with from time-to-time, for other kid-centered events.  For example, when the final Harry Potter movie was released, the library did a week-long Harry Potter event including a continuous reading of all 7 books, live owl show, costume contest, trivia contest, and a walk from the library to the little theater to view the movie.  Obviously, the Twins and kids were all over it!!!  Likewise, this same movie theater hosts a free family film festival every spring with a student film contest which showcases films made by students at the local schools.  It is amazing, and again, free!  But you must reserve tickets ahead of time to get a seat. If you happen to be in Calistoga in December, check out the annual tractor parade: tractors lit up with Christmas lights and paraded down main street at night. Need I say more?


Harry Potter Trivia Quiz at the St Helena Public Library


Green Screen at the Napa Valley Film Festival showing of How to Train Your Dragon


Pirate Event at the Cameo

Santa Cruz, Beach Boardwalk, Ca.

My son has a January birthday.  I know what you’re thinking; bummer for him to not only be celebrating in the dead of winter, but also to have Christmas so close to his birthday.  Well actually, to have a birthday on the heals of Christmas can be good.  As in, “Hey kid, sorry Santa didn’t bring you everything you wanted, but there’s always your birthday.”  And as far as celebrating in the winter goes, hey this is California after all.  You can find sun.  Here’s where we found it:  Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.  We could do it in a short weekend, no problem.  My husband David gets the travel planning award for this one.  He found the greatest little cottage to stay in; right on the beach, called The Ocean Echo Inn in Santa Cruz.  It was plenty big even though we had an extra kid with us (my nine-year-old nephew), making us a party of five.  The cottages are like the little house concept; a full house only shrunke14241974n.  Ours had two main spaces; a master bedroom, and a family room/kitchen area complete with a convertible sofa for the three kids.  The bathroom was super small, and the kitchen was itty bitty; but so cute and clean it was worth it.  We made a full egg and pancake breakfast and a dinner while we were there and it was just fine.  There are also outdoor barbecues if needed.  The weather could not have been better and the beach that’s viewable from the communal patio is literally RIGHT there.  The little sandy cove feels very secluded since it’s quietly tucked behind a mostly residential neighborhood.  Also, the inn is only a ten-minute drive to our main destination; Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.  If you’ve never been there, it is worth the triIMG_1866p; like you are stepping back in time a century.  Since we were there in January, which is the off-season, half the park is closed; and wrist-bands are way cheaper; costing us $23 each.  But that’s ok because what’s open is really the best part; including the world-famous Giant Dipper, the 90-year-old wooden roller coaster in America.  We had an eight-year-old, a nine-year-old and a new ten-year-old and they all agreed it was the best possible place to spend a birthday.  My nephew wants an exact replica of our day for his next birthday.  There were very little lines, so the kids would get off a ride, run around back to the entrance and get right on it again.  I was sure they were all three going to throw up on us, but they didn’t.


Pumpkin Picking in Grass Valley

If you live in the greater Sacramento area (or are just visiting) and want a fun place to go get your pumpkins without battling the crowds at Apple Hill, I highly recommend Bierwagen’s in Grass Valley. When my sister told me that’s where she wanted to take us this year to get pumpkins, I was very confused. I thought, “Why would they have a place for kids to pick pumpkins where they also sell beer out of a wagon?” Turns out “Bierwagen” is the last name of the family who owns the farm and it’s a really great pumpkin patch that my sister and her family have been going to for years with her in-laws.

rayner family photo The Rayner Family Christmas Card shot that resulted from our day at this scenic farm.





The pumpkin patch was a surprisingly quaint little farm nestled in the Sierra Foothills. It’s a bit of a trek if you live in the Valley but very easy to find, as it’s not far off of I80. It’s worth the drive if you’re looking for pumpkins that are actually growing out of the ground instead of lined-up in a parking lot. It doesn’t have the bounce houses and carnival rides like at some of the places they have nowadays – it’s more of throwback to the “real” pumpkin patches from when we were little – picture the one in “The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” – only with cute farm animals to pet and a corn maze.


They also had food there – which was great because we realized once we arrived that we were starving! They were selling hot dogs and hamburgers (which were very tasty) and homemade pies from a little booth. We had to wait awhile for our food because there were only two young ladies working; they seemed a little frazzled trying to ring people up and also make all the food – I think they were understaffed on that particular day but they were very sweet and apologetic about the wait. I saw several people waiting for these fried apple donut-type balls. I didn’t have one but they were made fresh right there and they smelled amazing. There is a restaurant across the street called the Happy Apple Kitchen, which my sister said the family also owns and that’s why they have such good apple baked goods.

DSC_0078 My niece, Ava, proudly showing off her pumpkin. You can see my son in the background waiting to catch the football from my husband (It wasn’t really an appropriate place to be throwing a football – several times they almost hit other families who were strolling through the pumpkin patch minding their own business). Ava, at least, had her priorities straight! After all, we were here to get pumpkins.


Another thing I liked about this place was that it was just so beautiful and peaceful – it was far enough from the freeway to be very quiet and there was nature in every direction – ahh, it just puts you in a good mood to see the land the way God made it. There are orchards and rows of corn and pretty rolling hills full of pumpkins. There were also a few booths with crafts and gifts to buy. We don’t go for that sort of thing but we did buy a homemade apple pie on our way out because pie is something I don’t know how to make, so whenever I have the chance to get homemade pie, I jump at it! mmm- it was sooo good. My mouth is watering for some right now just thinking about it. Guess I’ll just have to wait until next year.

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The Twins Visit Fort Bragg, California

We had the pleasure of visiting Fort Bragg, California in February.  Though it is not the most popular time of year to visit a beach town in Northern California, the kids, the dads, and we twins alike had a fabulous time!

Here are the hkaties iphone 422ighlights that we highly recommend in any season:

1.  Cowlick’s Ice Cream Cafe which boasts mushroom ice cream and other unique gems!

2.  Shopping Downtown.  There are candy shops and toy stores for the kids, boutiques, kitchen shops,  and antiques for the mommies, and even gaming stores for any daddies or teenagers who may accompany you.

3.  The tide pools at MacKerricher State katies iphone 425Park.  Wow!  Just three miles north of Fort Bragg, you will find hiking trails, tide pools, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the area.  Sometimes seal lions show up as well.

4.  The Pudding Creek Bridge is amazing and has a fantastic beach behind it that the kids loved exploring.

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5.  Lastly, if you are into BBQ, The Q at 1064 S Main St. was mouth-watering.  We ordered BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, onion rings, potato salad and cole slaw.  We way over-ordered though, not realizing how large the sandwiches would be.  Next time, we will split sandwiches or meals.

We hope you visit Fort Bragg on your next vacation, and by all means bring the kids!

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The Twins!