If you're traveling to Napa Valley with your kids, rest assured that there's a perfect day waiting and a way to have wine without whining (from either the kids or the grown-ups). Spend a night at one of the Carneros Inn's cottages or villas, where you can have plenty of space, privacy and a kitchen. The village-style resort is great for families who may benefit from having everything--swimming pools, bocce ball, a marketplace and multiple restaurants--right there.
Assuming your kids are early risers, start your day off with a sunrise hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley. The Napa Valley Drifters will come pick you up, and unlike other ballooners, their baskets only hold four to six people, so you're treated to a more private ride. For a pre-ballooning breakfast, stop into the Boon Fly Cafe for a cup of coffee and a baker's dozen of their famous donuts when they open at 7am, or if you're feeling ambitious, head over to the Oxbow Public Market for some buttery Model Bakery English muffins and a Ritual Coffee Roasters Coffee.
Once back on Earth and free from the balloon ride basket, kids can run out their energy and stretch their imaginations at the Playground Fantastico in downtown Napa. Thoughtfully designed, the usual play equipment is supplemented with castles, granite geysers, and all kinds of cool things on which to climb.
Playground Fantastico — Photo courtesy of Leathers & Associates
When it's time for lunch, drive up to the original Gott's Roadside (formerly Taylor's Refresher) and claim one of their outdoor tables to enjoy their burgers and fries or stop into the Oakville Grocery to pick up sandwiches and other picnic provisions. For those going the Oakville way, the public park in Yountville is a perfect place to picnic, and also has a great playground right there for when little ones become restless. After lunch, head to Bouchon Bakery for sweet desserts like homemade oreos or French macaroons. Kids might also like to check out the 100-year-old train cars that have been converted into the Napa Valley Railway Inn and the Coffee Caboose--another chance to grab a French-pressed Ritual Coffee.
While some of the stodgier vineyards may not welcome the younger set, many of them are set up for people to wander the grounds anyway, letting kids chase butterflies or check out the diggers and other machinery while parents sip. Making your way north from Yountville, Inglenook (the former Niebaum-Coppola estate) in Rutherford and V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena are both amenable to families (the kids will be wine-drinkers, too, one day, right?). If you continue up the St. Helena Highway to Calistoga, make a stop at Sterling Vineyards. It may not be the most intimate tasting experience, but kids will love the aerial tram that ferries guests from the parking lot to the white stucco building at the top of the hill. Added bonus? The staff sometimes provides organic juice, coloring books and crayons to little guys to keep them busy and hydrated while you sample their Sauvignon Blanc.
Aerial tram at Sterling Vineyards — Photo courtesy of prayitno
While you're in Calistoga, check out the Petrified Forest, which has a short, one-mile walk through the park and tons of information about the process of petrification. It's cool for both kids and adults to follow in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson, marvel at the massive redwoods and get a bit of a geology lesson. To cap off your day, head back to Yountville for dinner, where your whole family is likely to devour the pizzas at Redd Wood or dig Thomas Keller's perfect renditions of comfort food at Ad Hoc.