Wine Country With Kids?
When you think California wine country, you think grapes, wine, romance, fine dining -- not "great family getaway." Granted, regions like Napa aren't tailor-made for kids, but with the introduction of new family attractions -- and several other little-known charms -- you can customize your activities, venture off the beaten path, and create a vacation your family will never forget.
Safari West. At this 400-acre wildlife preserve, families can get up close and personal with hundreds of animals including cheetahs, lemurs, wildebeests, and giraffes, from the safety of open-air safari vehicles. For the complete experience, spend the night in a luxury canvas tent. 3115 Porter Creek Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95404; (707) 579-2551; safariwest.com.
Russian River (Redwoods, Kayaking, Canoeing). With 76 miles of coast, Sonoma boasts whale watching, fishing, kayaking, horseback riding, and hiking. Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve is a great place for kids to troll through a labyrinth of magnificent Sequoia trees. Camping is available adjacent to the park at Austin Creek State Recreation Area, 17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville, CA 95446; (707) 869-2015; parks.ca.gov.
COPIA American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts. In addition to wine-pairing lunches, exotic food exhibits, and live music, COPIA houses an organic, edible garden. COPIA's Kids' Garden allows children to see, smell, touch, and taste plants grown for food -- they might even start eating greens at home. 500 First Street, Napa, CA, 94559; (707) 259-1600; copia.org.
The Jelly Belly Factory. Just 20 minutes outside of Napa, the original Jelly Bean Factory and Candy Land produces aromas of chocolate, apricot, cinnamon, and pineapple. The free, 40-minute walking tour shares secrets behind Jelly Belly's creation and why it takes more than a week to make a single bean. One Jelly Belly Lane, Fairfield, CA 94533; (800) 9-JELLYBEAN; jellybelly.com.
The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Snoopy's Gallery & Gift Shop. The Peanuts crew was born in Sonoma and now they're immortalized at the Charles M. Schulz Museum, where a gallery of comic strips and Peanuts TV shows are showcased daily. Budding cartoonists create their own masterpieces with complete access to a library of instruction books, drawing tables, writing, and art supplies. The Redwood Empire Ice Arena, still owned by the Schulz family, is right across the street. Museum: 2301 Hardies Lane, Santa Rosa, CA; (707) 579-4452; charlesmschulzmuseum.org. Gift shop: 1665 West Steele Lane, Santa Rosa, CA 95403; (800) 959-3385; snoopygift.com.
Mrs. Grossman's Sticker Factory. The oldest and largest sticker company in the US, Mrs. Grossman's Sticker Factory in Petaluma, CA, has been making stickers since 1979. During the one-hour tour (by reservation only), children watch as factory workers print, package, and ship stickers straight from the factory. 3810 Cypress Drive, Petaluma, CA 94954; (800) 429-4549; mrsgrossmans.com/tours.
While wine tasting is strictly an adult pursuit, there are vineyards that cater to couples with kids. Here are a few favorites.
Sterling Vineyards. With gondolas that travel 300 feet up a hill, Sterling Vineyards is a hit with kids. Self-guided tours allow visitors to see the barrels, taste in multiple locations, and take in panoramic views as slowly or quickly as they wish. 1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, CA 94515; (800) 726-6136; sterlingvineyards.com.
Niebaum-Coppola Estate. Founded in 1880, Coppola Estate is one of the oldest wineries in California. Restored by Hollywood Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, the winery allows adults to browse through an extensive collection of movie memorabilia sipping their favorites, while children can sail boats in the glamorous estate fountains. Rubicon Estate, 1991 St. Helena Highway, Rutherford, CA 94573; (800) 782-4266; niebaum-coppola.com.
Martinelli Vineyards. Set in a historic turn-of-the-century hop barn near the Russian River, Martinelli's (no relation to the cider) offers a variety of gourmet food products, clothing, dishes, books, posters, linens, and other wares. 3360 River Road, Windsor, CA 95492; (800) 346-1627; martinelliwinery.com.
Parents need a little time for themselves, especially in a romantic setting like the wine country. Dinner for two is the perfect opportunity. If you can arrange for childcare, the region offers some of the best dining in the States, and an excellent chance to sip local vintages.
The "Wine Train." Napa's Wine Train hosts special events with childcare (think daycare on wheels). Parents enjoy an uninterrupted, multicourse dinner, while a professional childcare provider entertains the children in a separate car with games, movies, and a meal. 1275 McKinstry Street, Napa, CA 94559; (800) 427-4124; winetrain.com.
The Martini House. Owned by Pat Kuleto and Todd Humphries, the Martini House specializes in "Napa cuisine" -- locally sourced herbs and vegetables, farm-raised meats and wild game, and a wine list that boasts 600+ wines, not to mention the house's signature martinis. Redwood ceiling boards, soft lighting, and gigantic fireplaces add to the charm. 1245 Spring St., St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 963-2511; martinihouse.com.
The Madrona Manor. The epitome of old world-style romance, Madrona Manor offers five-, seven-, and nine-course tasting menus featuring local Sonoma ingredients and vegetables, herbs, and fruit from the estate's organic gardens. 1001 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448; (707) 433-4231; madronamanor.com.
Where to Stay
- Austin Creek State Recreation Area; (707) 869-2015
Indian Springs, Calistoga; (707) 942-4913
Fern Grove Cottages, Sonoma County; (888) 243-2674