California Wine Country for All Ages

There's no need to book a babysitter the next time you want to visit northern California's wine country. Napa and Sonoma offer family-friendly travel options for the entire brood.
Calistoga, Napa County, California
Calistoga, one of Napa County's several famous wine towns, draws family travelers from all over the world. (courtesy, Calistoga Chamber of Commerce)

When I recently told a mommy friend of my decision to take our toddler to Napa County wine region, she gasped, "Don't people give you dirty looks?" I'm sure many would share this sentiment, until they realize that the vineyard-covered pastoral lands are perfect for kids. Wine country is just that—country. And if your child is as interested in goats, chickens, tractors, and endless space to run free as mine is, you'll find northern California's world-class wine region to be the ideal place for a family trip.

Sonoma or Napa County: How to Decide
Though often viewed as the eccentric cousin to sophisticated Napa County, Sonoma County actually pairs haute culture with her crunchy reputation in surprisingly family-friendly ways. In-the-know families flock to the casual towns of Sonoma and Healdsburg (on opposite ends of the Sonoma Valley) for everything from kayaking to tractor-pulls through vineyards.

Most non-California visitors head straight for the Spanish-style hamlet of Sonoma. Imagine families picnicking in the central town square beneath a canopy of shady oaks and eucalyptus, while kids climb the play structures and mom and dad sip Chardonnay. Throw in tasting rooms and galleries ringing the square, a train theme park, and your hotel, all within walking distance.

Farther north, Sonoma County's darling Healdsburg lures local Bay Area families. Complete with a central town square (that at any given time has about 50 kids playing on the grass), access to Russian River beaches, country roads ideal for biking between wineries, casual eateries, and kid-friendly tasting rooms, Healdsburg seems to have been constructed with families in mind.

But don't start scratching Napa County off your list just yet. Though you may not want to drag your toddler into the Restaurant at Meadowood for dinner, you should not avoid Napa County (or Meadowood Resort for that matter) until your kids are old enough to drink with you. All of the Napa County towns—Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and especially Calistoga—are home to wonderful city parks, plus restaurants and tourist spots for the whole clan.

Of all the Napa County towns, Calistoga is the family destination du jour. This northern-most Napa Valley village reminds the entire wine region of its country roots, while not quite shunning the subtle glam of the region. Annual festivals like a lighted tractor parade and weekly summer town dances pair well with the contemporary hotels and spas that draw families from around the globe.


Published: 3 Aug 2009 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

Best Hotels in Sonoma

$225-$349
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#1
MacArthur Place Inn & Spa
$459
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#2
The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa
$200
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#4
El Pueblo Inn

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