6 Tips for Visiting Wine Country with Kids

6 Tips for Visiting Wine Country with Kids

We used to live in San Francisco. As huge wine geeks, we took ample advantage of our proximity to Napa and Sonoma (and Anderson Valley) by making frequent day trips to “wine country.” It was so easy to hop in the car, drive the hour plus up Highway 101, drop into a winery or two, have lunch in between, then hop back in the car and drive home.

Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge en route to California wine country.
Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge en route to California wine country.

After our daughter was born we continued to make these occasional trips “up the road” to check out new wineries and visit old favorites. One day, when our daughter was two years old we overheard her say to her doll as she walked down the hall of our apartment, “We’re going to wine country, Babydoll. We’re going to wine country.”

We're going to wine country babydoll, we're going to wine country!
We’re going to wine country babydoll. We’re going to wine country!

Were we making the trek to wine country too often? Maybe. But that’s not the point. The point is that even seemingly adult travel adventures can be fun for kids. You can visit wine country with kids. You just need to know how to plan.

1. As in all travel with kids, come armed. Bring crayons/markers and something to color on, stickers, a travel game, an ipad/iphone and any other portable activities that will keep your kids entertained. Also bring along snacks and drinks to keep bellies full and blood sugar up.

The owners at Chauteau Rives-Blanque in Limoux, France, dug up a coloring book and colored pencils during our visit.
The owners at Chauteau Rives-Blanque in Limoux, France, dug up a coloring book and colored pencils during our visit.

2. Research the wineries ahead of time. Look up their websites or check some reviews to see what each winery is like. A winery located on a farm is likely to be much more fun for a kid than a winery tasting room located in a commercial office park (yes, they do exist and, yes, we have dragged our daughter to them).

Playing with the resident dog at Domaine O'Vineyards in the Languedoc Region of France.
Playing with the resident dog at Domaine O’Vineyards in the Languedoc Region of France.

Think outside the box to see what the wineries might offer in addition to wine. For example:

• Is it family run and do they have children? If so, there is a good chance there will be a few random toys laying around or a swing set to play on. Or at a minimum, the owners may have a few tricks up their sleeves to keep the little ones entertained.
• Does the winery have a working farm? They may have some animals to visit – probably a dog, maybe a horse and if you’re really lucky, some sheep or pigs.
• What time of year is it? If you are going in the spring, wineries that operate as organic or biodynamic will likely have wildflowers growing among the vines. Ask if you can pick some with your child.
• Does the winery have a picnic area? Kids love picnics. Bring a blanket and a picnic basket and maybe a ball to play catch or a Frisbee to toss.
• Is the winery hosting any events? Some wineries will host wine tasting events that include activities for kids

A friendly pig at Lazy Creek Vineyards in Anderson Valley.
A friendly pig at Lazy Creek Vineyards in Anderson Valley.

3.  Try to plan your trip for off-season. Summertime, fall harvest and February and March (when wineries release their most recent vintages) are very popular and tasting rooms can get crowded. Tasting room staff may be less accommodating of kids during these times. The tasting rooms themselves may also be too crowded for kids to find a place to sit with their activities.

Showing up off-season at Chauteau Saint Jacques D'Albas meant the tasting room was empty.  Our daughter was able to sit at the tasting bar and color while we tasted through the various wines on offer.
Showing up off-season at Chauteau Saint Jacques D’Albas meant the tasting room was empty. Our daughter was able to sit at the tasting bar and color while we tasted through the various wines on offer.

4. Don’t rush your tasting. Most places will let you taste at your own pace (provided it’s not high season and the tasting room isn’t jammed – see above). Start with one or two pours then do something else on-site with the kids (pick flowers, pet the resident dog, stroll through the vines). Kids refreshed, you can come back for another couple of pours.

Picking flowers near the vineyards. A great break to refresh the kids while out visiting wineries.
Picking flowers near the vineyards. A great break to refresh the kids while out visiting wineries.

5. Level your expectations. We were lucky in that we lived so close to such an amazing wine region we were able to visit over and over. It was easy for us to limit ourselves to one winery per trip because we could return again soon.

For most people, however, wine country is a vacation destination. It’s reasonable to want to check out as many wineries as your palate can handle. With kids in tow, you realistically should shoot for two or a maximum of three per day if your vacation is short (4-5 days).

If you visit more than two or three wineries in a day you risk a meltdown at the final winery or resistance to further visits on subsequent days. If your vacation is longer (a week or more), it’s wise to limit your visits to one or two per day and/or take a day off here and there.

After a morning winery visit, we ate lunch in Limoux, France.  The town square had a fountain where a few kids, ours included, braved the cold water for a bit of fun.  The authorities didn't seem to mind...
After a morning winery visit, we ate lunch in Limoux, France. The town square had a fountain where a few kids, ours included, braved the cold water for a bit of fun. The authorities didn’t seem to mind…

6. Plan an activity between winery visits to break up the day. For example, there’s a small little amusement park called Sonoma TrainTown Railroad in the town of Sonoma. You can go to a winery in the morning, eat lunch in Sonoma town square, spend an hour or two at TrainTown then visit a second winery before the day is over. Win-win!

The most adult-seeming vacations can be tailored to make them fun for kids as well. You just need to plan in advance and keep fidgety bodies and short attention spans in mind. Even your kids can be excited about a trip to “wine country, Babydoll!”

OWV Recommendations for kid-friendly wineries in Northern California– these are not necessarily our favorite wines, but they do offer an enjoyable experience for families:

Robert Sinskey Winery in Napa Valley. Nice wines, good nibbles you can share with the kids, and a Koi pond.  Everyone will be happy!
Robert Sinskey Winery in Napa Valley. Nice wines, good nibbles you can share with the kids, and a Koi pond. Everyone will be happy! Photo by John via Flickr.

Napa County
Sterling Vineyards (gondola ride to the top of the mountain plus an on-site art collection)
Frog’s Leap Winery (veggie gardens, a fall pumpkin patch – with carving events, and a pond)
Alpha Omega Winery (large wrap-around porch with lots of chairs and sofas for comfy sitting)
Robert Sinskey Winery (koi pond and flight of wines paired with small bites)

The patio at Lynmar Estate.  Beautiful, even on a rainy day, and with lots of space for kids to explore while parents relax. Photo by John via Flickr.
The patio at Lynmar Estate. Beautiful, even on a rainy day, and with lots of space for kids to explore while parents relax. Photo by John via Flickr.

Sonoma County
Francis Ford Coppola Winery (day use pool for a fee, bocce courts and games for free, movie memorabilia throughout the property and in a gallery)
Lynmar Estate (beautiful patio with tables and chairs and veggie/herb gardens to wander)
Benziger Family Winery (tour of property is aboard a tram attached to a tractor. This winery is also organic and biodynamic, which we love!)
Preston Family Vineyards (another organic winery, it’s also a working farm that produces more than just wine)

The grounds at Golden Eye Winery feature a fountain, lots of grass, a patio with tables and chairs and beautiful vineyards for a stunning view.
The grounds at Golden Eye Winery feature a fountain, lots of grass, a patio with tables and chairs and beautiful vineyards for a stunning view.

Anderson Valley
Golden Eye Winery (beautiful back patio with tables and umbrellas, a fountain and a large grassy area for running around)
Toulouse Vineyards (lovable dog named Tess who greets each visitor)
Lazy Creek Vineyards (farm with animals, including some big, friendly pigs, gardens and special heritage roses)
Navarro Vineyards (picnic tables and a grassy area for playing)

Keep an eye out for future posts on Sonoma, Napa and Anderson Valley in our “A Weekend In…” series.

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Post Discussion

9 thoughts on “6 Tips for Visiting Wine Country with Kids

  1. Jen Shippole

    Awesome article!

    3 years ago Reply

  2. Tom Suro

    Great blogg! I have to hit the gondola at the Sterling Winery again.

    3 years ago Reply

  3. Monahan

    I found the following information for these wineries:

    Sterling Vineyards
    https://www.sterlingvineyards.com/
    (800) 726-6136

    Frog’s Leap
    https://www.frogsleap.com/flash/intro.html
    [email protected]
    Tel 800.959.4704
    Tel 707.963.4704

    Alpha & Omega
    https://www.aowinery.com/
    Phone: 707-963-9999

    Robert Sinskey
    https://www.robertsinskey.com/
    (707) 944-9090

    Francis Ford Coppola Winery
    https://www.francisfordcoppolawinery.com/
    (877) 329-3266
    [email protected]
    (707) 857-1400
    [email protected]

    Lynmar Estate
    https://www.lynmarestate.com/
    707.829.3374 or
    877.282.3441
    [email protected]

    Benziger Family Winery
    https://www.benziger.com/
    (888) 490-2739
    (707) 935-3016 fax
    email: [email protected]

    Preston Family Vineyards
    https://www.prestonvineyards.com/
    (707) 433-3372
    [email protected]

    Golden Eye
    https://www.goldeneyewinery.com/
    (800) 208-0438

    Toulouse Vineyards
    https://www.toulousevineyards.com/
    Telephone: 707-895-2828
    Fax: 707-895-2829

    Navarro Vineyards and Winery
    https://www.navarrowine.com/main.php
    1-800-537-9463 or 707-895-3686

    3 years ago Reply

  4. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

    Great tips and a very useful list of kid-friendly wineries. I recently visited my friend in Sonoma. My own kids stayed in Texas with the grandparents, but my friend’s daughter accompanied us as we explored Napa and Sonoma. I heartily agree that the places with animals and gardens were the ones that entertained her. I can also highly recommend Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga. It’s a castle, and they offer kids juice in the wine tasting room.

    3 years ago Reply

  5. JEssica

    Sounds like a great trip!

    3 years ago Reply

  6. Tamara @ We3Travel

    Great tips on how to balance a trip to wine country with kids! I appreciate your suggestions for which wineries are kid-friendly in Napa and Sonoma — especially since they seem hard to find!

    2 years ago Reply

    1. Kara Suro

      Have a great trip and be sure to let us know if you make any particularly kid-friendly discoveries.

      2 years ago Reply

  7. Jenna

    Great tips and information. My son teases me about wine tasting (if I try to take him to one now, he rolls his eyes and basically refuses, but he’s 7, so he’s more outspoken about his wishes!). Clos Pegase near Calistoga is another choice if your kids enjoy looking at art.

    2 years ago Reply

    1. Kara Suro

      Ha. Yeah, I’m sure our days are numbered. We just returned and haven’t yet tried to drag them north for a winery visit. But, we did go to Cowgirl Winery in Carmel Valley. The wines were just ok but the bocce, bean bag toss and chickens kept the kids happy so it was totally worth it. Thanks for the tip on Clos Pegase. We’ll have the check it out. Our daughter is very into art!

      2 years ago Reply

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