There is so much to love about Napa Valley - 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.
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 a trip one time 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 in Napa the city. 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 easy and great with kids) and be in walking distance of Oxbow, regular food trucks, great restaurants and a few interesting shops. 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. All that, and you’re only a short drive from Highway 29 and all the other more typical Napa Valley activities.
Where to stay
Where to eat
- Farmstead (St Helena)
One of my 2 favorite restaurants in the area. We go at least once every time we are there. Great local and sustainable food. The cheddar biscuits and honey butter are a MUST!
- Bistro Jeanty (Yountville)
The second of my 2 favorite restaurants there. The food is amazing, full flavored and comforting. The atmosphere is great, a relaxed french bistro. Cocktails are delicious. Reservations recommended.
- Bouchon Bakery (Yountville)
Definitely worth a stop but go early as the line gets long. Even if you live in NYC where they have outposts, the one in Yountville is far superior. I have always enjoyed the TLC cookie but my new favorite is the cinnamon bun, it is to die for. The bread has a perfect luxe texture, the amount of cinnamon is perfect, it is sweet without being too sweet and the frosting is the perfect complement. Warning that the coffee is not the best, at least the drip and Americanos, too bitter. They also offer sandwiches and a range of drink options.
- Bouchon Bistro
Another Thomas Keller place. A nice French bistro with the usual offerings, all yummy. If cauliflower soup is on the menu, order it - amazing!
- Farm at the Carneros Inn (Carneros)
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. Service, atmosphere and food are really great. I had the best pork chop dish of my life there.
- Gott’s Roadside (Two locations - Napa and St Helena)
Gourmet hamburger place with great menu options for all (fish tacos, salads…). Good for takeout too if you are staying nearby.
- Market (St Helena)
Delicious, modern American Food in a very easy environment.
- Dim Sum Charlie’s (Napa)
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.
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 instance, the cable car ride at Sterling is lots of fun for families. Young children might only be able to manage one winery if you plan to be there for a while, older kids (4 and up) can likely easily manage 2 and even 3 wineries a day. Good snacks for the kids will make the experience much more fun for everyone.
In the last couple years more and more wineries have started requiring reservations, many can be booked online. So if there is a winery you really want to visit, be sure to see if reservations are required.
- Darioush – Currently our favorite. Excellent wine. Great 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. The pistachios they serve with tastings are addictive. Reservations required. You can make one on the spot but might have a wait.
- Cakebread Cellars – one of our favorite wineries, they seem to really care about their craft. We served one of their wines at our wedding! Reservations required.
- 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.
- A few other wineries we like there are: Frank Family, 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.
More 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. It can get very busy/crowded, especially around lunch time.
- St Helena Olive Oil Co (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. 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 after that we have moved to California and within the first 3 months had an olive tree planted on our backyard!
Honestly, this it just the tip of the iceberg. So many more amazing places. Really there is so much to do but some of the fun it just being there, driving around and taking in the peaceful beauty of Napa Valley.