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
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!
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.
Where to Eat
- Giugni’s Deli in St. Helena has a huge assortment of fun treats as well as killer sandwiches for your picnic at the park.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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: http://www.singletracks.com/bike-trails/los-posadas.html . You can also hike Mt. St. Helena from Calistoga.
Julie showing her muscles at Linda Falls
TIPS and HINTS for Traveling Napa Valley
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?