“You’re bringing your kids? To wine country?” I was asked this question multiple times and responded confidently with a “Yep! It’s going to be great!.” And it was. I don’t even know where to begin illustrating this part of our trip. It was incredible, restful, and beautiful – full of gorgeous views, delicious meals and obviously lots of wine! Were there a few tantrums and stressful moments here and there? Of course. But these happen whether we are at home or away, so I wasn’t discouraged from getting out as a family. We had to shift our plans a little because of the huge amounts of rain. This really just meant more eating, drinking and relaxing and less outdoor activities than planned (we didn’t mind at bit.) Wine country is known for being a romance destination, honeymoons and anniversaries, yet it was amazingly kid-friendly. I think because we went during off season (key if you want to take kids) people were extra accommodating towards us and our two very young children. It’s hard to narrow down my favorite moments and places but I’ll try! Below are some snapshots and notes. Enjoy!
Stay: We set up shop at the delightful EuroSpa and Inn in the charming town of Calistoga for 5 nights. We were served a scrumptious breakfast in the courtyard every morning and warm cashew chocolate chip cookies every afternoon. We had a two bedroom suite with a whirlpool tub that Charlotte (see below) especially enjoyed and a fireplace in the living area. It was the ultimate cozy retreat in our little mountain/wine country town for the week and we looked forward to returning there every day to unwind after our sightseeing. From the Inn we ventured all around Napa Valley doing something different each day. If you’re not familiar with the area – Napa Valley is made up of a strip of small little wine country towns (including actual Napa) that are all connected in this gorgeous mountain terrain. Something I was happily surprised by was how non-commercialized and touristy wine country felt, but also how accessible the entire Napa Valley was. You can stay in any of the little towns that make up the valley and still be able to explore the rest of the area. It’s called wine country because you really are in the country! I loved how rural and relaxing it all felt. However, there was still loads to do. Each town was dripping with vineyards, wineries, restaurants, art galleries, shops, etc. We opted for doing one little outing each morning, then spending the second half of the day and evening relaxing at the Inn or wandering around Calistoga, so our trip really felt like a vacation and not as much of a chaotic adventure.
See: Castello di Amorosa, also known as “the castle.” We had heard mixed reviews about visiting this particular tourist stop and I am so glad we decided it was something we wanted to see. They served Grace grape juice and bread sticks while we did a tasting. The olive groves, roaming chickens and moat going around the castle (yes, it’s a real castle!) made us feel like we were in medieval Europe. And the castle itself is just stunning.
Eat: Burgers and fries at Taylor’s Refresher. My Uncle Alan, who is all-knowing when it comes to food and wine, gave us a few must-eat recommendations, including this burger joint. It’s outdoor seating only with a very picturesque grass lot of picnic tables and umbrellas. The ahi tuna burger was so fresh with a nice kick of wasabi and cilantro. I only wish it were bigger because I wanted more!
Stroll: HALL St. Helena has not just wine but a showcase of modern art and great outdoor space for walking around. It provided a beautiful backdrop for some family photos and all felt very classy. Grace loved picking the mustard flowers and the giant bunny sculpture at the front of the property. Getting to see the mustard flowers was another major perk of visiting wine country in the spring during off-season. They blanket most of the vineyards in beautiful shades of yellow and serve as a cover crop helping fertilize the soil before the branches bud, as well as helping with erosion. You can read more about their role here.
Treat: Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. Only in our dreams could we ever afford to eat at Keller’s famous French Laundry, but luckily right next door is his chic French bakery filled with a nice variety of macaroons, croissants and the like. Their interpretation of a Ho Ho (an Oh Oh) was oh so yum.
Sip/ See: The famous Chateau Montelena. I will say of all the places we went, the people at Chateau Montelena were the most friendly. Additionally, I can see why their Cab Sav has received international recognition – it’s delicious! Or should I use “exquisite” when referring to wine? No clue. The girls fell asleep during our first tasting, so we stayed for a second and were having so much fun that we really didn’t take many pictures except this one below. You might recognize it from this movie. It was also here that I learned old wine corks are great entertaining tools for a 2.5 year old and a baby.
Eat/See: The Culinary Institute of America . Oh man, if I had to pick one thing that was my favorite, going to the CIA would be it. I had a bit of a Julia Child moment (even though I’m not in culinary school and there really are no parallels.) We had an incredible 4 course meal at their Gatehouse Restaurant (miraculously the girls cooperated through the entire thing!). What’s neat about the restaurant is that it is completely run by students at the culinary school. It’s a small intimate setting with no detail left out. Our dishes were meticulously plated with perfect serving sizes and accompaniments. Cured salmon, potato crepe, fennel tarragon purée, squab breast, and caramelized endive tart were just a few of the dishes. I can still recall the deliciousness.
After our meal, we went and toured the school (for free!). Above is Grace admiring the wacky cork screw collections and below is the actual school. I loved seeing the classrooms, and all the students cooking and learning away.
Eat/See: Oxbow Market is an indoor food and gift market. A great place to mosey around during a rainy day. Chris really wanted to find some tasty Mexican street food while we were in California and this hit the spot.
That’s all folks! Hope you enjoyed our little wine country with kids tour guide. Thanks for reading. -Addie