California Wine Country for All Ages

Kid-Friendly Activities
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Scimitar-horned oryx, Safari West, California
Scimitar-horned oryx roam the grounds of Safari West, with guest tent cabins in the background. (courtesy, Safari West)

Kid-Friendly Activities
Since the wine region is a far cry from a theme park vacation, parents will need to balance children's activities with adult ones—especially if you don't want little Emily all fidgety as you try to relax with a glass of Merlot. So, at least once a day, do something special, just for her. In both Napa and Sonoma there are plenty of ways to entertain the younger set—and mom and dad too.

Farm Tours: Sonoma County seems to have figured it out. Stressing the fact that families shouldn't have to leave little Sammy home with a babysitter while mom and dad get loopy on the vino, the county sponsors Farm Trails. Your family can pick strawberries, go on a hayride, explore vineyards, or view honeybees, all for a pittance. Visit for a detailed list of farms, hours, and seasonal activities.

Kayaking: When SOAR Inflatables (Healdsburg, CA) owner Larry said I could bring my nine-month-old child on an eight-mile kayaking trip (or my dog, if I had one), I wasn't so sure about his sanity. But after trying it out, I can vouch that Larry and his staff offer a fun (and safe) kayaking adventure for all ages. Trips last four to eight hours and require a decent amount of paddling down the Russian River, so make sure at least someone in your clan is in decent shape.

Old Faithful Geyser (Calistoga, CA): More for the kids than mom and dad, Old Faithful is a speedy showstopper. Every 30 minutes, this geyser spurts steamy water high into the air, wowing kids and geologists alike. Pet llamas and goats while you wait for the old girl to blow.

Parks: Sonoma and Healdsburg boast shady central squares packed with kids. Local families favor Santa Rosa's Howarth Park. Younger kids head straight for the pony or train rides (and the carousel), while families with older children fish, hike, boat, and mountain bike. In summer, the city offers outdoor movie nights. After wine tasting, reward the little guys with a trip to Napa's new community-built Playground Fantastico, Pioneer Park (Calistoga, CA), or Yountville Park.

Safari West (Santa Rosa, CA): Right in the hills of Santa Rosa, you can embark on a daylong safari and view hundreds of African mammals, including giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, and rhinos, all housed in the wildlife preserve. If you want the complete adventure, stay overnight. Tent cabins include heat, plush beds, and views of the giraffes in the savanna. Plus, you get to hear the animals all night (which isn't as annoying as it sounds), eat camp-style meals, then sit around a campfire telling ghost stories, singing songs, and roasting s'mores late into the evening.

Swimming: Geyserville's Lake Sonoma, with 50-miles of coastline, draws families, campers, anglers, and boaters. In summer, cool off in Morton's Warm Springs' (Glen Ellen, CA) natural hot springs pools. And, as long as you can get there before 10 A.M. on summer weekends, it is worth the trek to Calistoga Spa Hot Springs Resort (Calistoga, CA) to wade in the four mineral springs pools while mom and dad take turns in the mud baths.

Train Rides: Ride amusement park rides, then take a mini train ride to pet llamas, goats, and rabbits at Train Town (Sonoma, CA). Or take little locomotive lovers on the Napa Valley Wine Train (Napa, CA). Their family date nights keep children in their own train car with babysitters, movies, and kid-style food, while mom and dad enjoy a leisurely gourmet dinner.

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


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