Visiting Napa Valley with a toddler
My husband and I had been to Napa a couple times before our daughter was born and really loved it. We loved the scenery, visiting wineries, eating amazing food and exploring fun shops. There is something about the refined yet chill atmosphere in the Valley that really helps you relax. Now that we have moved from the East coast to a mere 2 hour drive from Napa, we have been determined to take advantage of it. We just spent our second long weekend up there with our daughter and we all had a blast. Napa can be a fun destination even with a toddler!
About staying Napa: If you’ve been to Napa in the past you, like us, probably skipped over the city of Napa itself and focused on Yountville, St. Helena, the myriad of wineries along the main strip (Highway 29) and nestled elsewhere in the area. In fact, I didn’t even realize there was a Napa city until a year ago! I had thought Napa just meant Napa Valley. But after some research for our trip last November and reading about Oxbow Public market, which is line with artisanal food purveyors, and Gott’s Roadside Diner I decided we had to spend some time there. And I now believe it is one of the best places to stay as a home base while enjoying the valley. There has clearly been a lot of investment in downtown Napa and foodie entrepreneurs are flocking in. What I love is that you can stay at a number of hotels (the Westin is our preference with kids) and be in walking distance of Oxbow, regular food trucks, great restaurants and a few interesting shops like Tyler Florence’s shop with funky and functional home goods. A few streets away you’ll also find a Whole Foods and a Safeway, which is handy when you want to pick up some staples to have around for the kids. All that, and you’re only a short drive from Highway 29 and all the other more typical Napa Valley activities.
Where to stay
- Westin Versa (Napa, CA) (detailed review)
Clean, modern and very comfortable. Well located – walking distance to Oxbow Market and downtown Napa. Has 1 and 2 bedroom suites with kitchens – great for kids.
- Carneros Inn (Napa, CA)
We LOVE this hotel. It is where we stayed the 2 times were in Napa before we had our daughter. The grounds are lovely and it is nice to park your car and stroll to the front door of your very own free standing very well appointed cottage (plush bedroom with sitting area, fireplace and small desk along with a large bathroom with a soaking tub and indoor/outdoor shower) AND private patio. You feel like you’re in the lap of luxury. The onsite restaurant, Farm, is amazing. The views by the pool are gorgeous, which happens to be where breakfast is served. You might wonder why we don’t stay there now, well, the setup of the cottages are perfect for a couple, but not so great when you have a young child so we have had to look elsewhere. But I had to mention it since it is so wonderful. If you want a romantic getaway, this is a real gem. Or if you can afford the 2 bedroom cottages, then, well, bring the kids!
Where to eat
- Farm at the Carneros Inn
Farm is a pretty fancy restaurant but still with that laid back Napa vibe; we ate there when we stayed at Carneros Inn. It was very nice to get dressed up and walk over to dinner. I wanted to mention it in case you were traveling with friends or family and have a chance to sneak out for a grown up dinner, or if you have a very well behaved child. We would have brought Sofie there for an early dinner if she had been napping. But she has been protesting naps lately, which leaves her on the cranky side by dinner time. But the service, atmosphere and food are really great. I think I had the best pork chop dish of my life there.
- Fish Story (detailed review)
Focus on sustainable seafood. Nice options for the kids. Great calamari.
- Gott’s Roadside (detailed review)
Gourmet hamburger place with great menu options for all (fish tacos, salads…). Good for takeout too if you are staying nearby.
- Dim Sum Charlie’s (detailed review)
It’s a food truck that services Dim Sum! Fun place to try out. If you don’t find anything for your kids, you can always pick something up from Oxbow Market a couple doors down.
- Mark’s the Spot (detailed review)
A food truck serving delicious, satisfying food which is all handmade, farm fresh, locally sourced, mostly organic food served in biodegradable and earth friendly packaging!
- Go Fish (detailed review)
Great food, airy atmosphere. Nice children’s menu. Really love this spot. The hostess even remembered us after it had been 3 months since our last visit.
- Market (detailed review)
Delicious, modern American Food in a very easy environment.
- Bouchon Bakery
French macaroons are awesome, but don’t last long so only get what you’ll eat that day or the next day at the latest. The TLC cookies, not your average oatmeal cookie, are a must get – they are now my favorite item and they actually last a while if you stick them in a ziplock. Seasonal and almond croissants are also very nice. I have tried the TLC cookies and really wanted to love them but just don’t. They also offer sandwiches and a range of drink options. We always just pop in and out for pastries. The line can get long, especially if you get there around lunch time. They do take credit cards…thank goodness!
- Bouchon Bistro
French bistro with usual offerings. A few outdoor tables. We were there when they had fried smelts…so so good.
- While we haven’t been to them, and they are not kid friendly, this is home to French Laundry and Ad-hoc.
Other places we want to try are:
- Napa: Tyler Florence’s Rotisserie and Wine, Morimoto, Oenotri, Boon Fly Café, Ubuntu
- Yountville: French Laundry, the little salad/soup/sandwich shop inside NapaStyle (the food looked really low key and tasty!)
- St. Helena: Farmstead, Cook
When visiting wineries with a toddler, I would recommendation you test the waters to see how many wineries your child will tolerate each day and to pick wineries with something fun for them too. For example, the cable car ride at Sterling is lots of fun. We decided to keep everyone happy by only going to one winery a day with our little one. But if you have slightly older kids who don’t get tired midafternoon, then you could easily make it to 2 a day. I also suggest you go around morning snack time and bring a really enticing snack that your child can eat on their own; this will help keep them occupied with something they’d be doing/eating anyway while you enjoy your tasting.
- Darioush – Currently our favorite. Excellent wine. Super tasting experience. Beautiful grounds. Juice for kids. See Rick for your tasting if you can, he’s great. They also have a retail shop with interesting, albeit, expensive home goods. Fun to poke around. Oh, and their pistachios are to die for. I’m tempted to drive up just to get more of them! Definitely bring some home.
- Sterling – Has cable car which is fun for all, young and old. Great views. Juice for kiddos at the last tasting. The wine is just ok but the cable car and views make it worthwhile.
- Provenance – Juice for kids. Large lawn out front for running around on, great leaves to play with in the fall.
- Chateau Montelena – a bit further north but worth the drive. The grounds are really beautiful (bring your camera) and the wines are lovely. No special offerings for kids except to enjoy the outdoor space, including a koi pond. We joined their wine club and have not been disappointed.
- Cakebread Cellars – one of our favorite wineries, they seem to really care about their craft. We served one of their wines at our wedding! We haven’t gone back with Sofie so I’m not sure if they do anything special for kids.
- A few other wineries we like there are: Duckhorn, Paraduxx, Stagsleap, Opus One (fun to visit at least once), Domain Chandon is nice to visit to learn about Champagne/Sparkling wine and enjoy and outdoor sculpture garden, Whitehall lane, ZD makes wonderful wine and can be harder to find in stores.
Other kid-friendly activities
- Yountville – nice outdoor space to walk around, lots of fun sculptures to check out, great places to eat and quirky shops.
- Napa River – great to walk along
- Old Faithful Geyser of CA – geyser and a few animals to visit
- Playground Fantastico (Napa, CA)
- Napa Farmer’s market – while I haven’t been, I am sure it’s a good one. Check out their site for details on when they are open. We have always been wine tasting and missed it.
- Oxbow Public Market (Napa)- similar to the Ferry Building in San Francisco and Chelsea Market in NYC. Interesting specialty shops and restaurants. Including Whole Spices Company where you’ll want to buy more spices than you’ll ever need, Three Twins Ice Cream selling scoops and pints, Hog Island Oyster Company, The Fatted Calf (around the corner), Ca’Momi with amazing cream puffs (my favorite is the vanilla one)
- Fatted Calf – artisanal charcuterie and butcher shop at Oxbow. If you drove to Napa, bring your cooler; you will want to take some meat home. They have the best bacon for making my lentils and sausage dish. They also have great picnic items like olives, pates and salami.
- Dean and Deluca (St. Helena) – fun for any foodie. Nice place to grab picnic items as well.
- St Helena Olive Oil Co (Napa & St. Helena) – really fun place to visit since you get to taste everything! They have amazing olive oils, vinegars, pasta sauces, salts and many other fun specialty foods items. You can read my article on some foodie finds that talks about a few things they sell. One addition to that list is their Organic Red Heirloom Tomato sauce, it is so good that it can easily be turned into a fantastic dinner. They also have fun antiques and home items. While both fun, the store in Napa is bigger, brighter and has a bit more to offer. My first visit to the Napa store in 2004 was when I saw my first olive tree up close and fell in love with their beauty. 6 years later we have moved to California and within the first 3 months had an olive tree planted on our backyard!
We will be back there often (already itching!) and I’ll update as we find new great places to share. I’d love to hear of some of your favorites!