OT: Taking the family to Napa

Submitted by will on February 18th, 2014 at 2:19 PM

I have my last MBA class tonight. I fly to California tomorrow. My last MBA exam is Thursday night, which I will take from Cupertino. We have friends who live there, and will be staying with them. However, they just moved there, and don't know the area well.

The wife and I are taking the twins to Napa with some friends that moved out west. I'm looking for budget friendly reccomendations for places to go with little children in Napa. Any suggestions?  Are free wine tastings a thing of the past?

The  last time we tried taking them on a vacation, it was a disaster. We stayed 100 yards from the beach, and only made it to the beach twice - each time only 15 minutes.

Any advice is greatly appreciated!!



February 19th, 2014 at 12:14 AM ^



I live in Yountville, work production

F#@* the generic places aka silver oak, mondavi, etc

Have lived in Yountville on and off for 3+ years-- tips on doing napa cheap



Yountville taco truck (taco garcia) open 11 am- 10 pm. Seriously the best burritto I have ever had, and only 5-6 dollars. It will fill you up. Closed sunday. Located next to Panchas/ across from Redwood.

Addendum- 15 dollar box lunch located behind ad hoc. Same food as a 60+ $$ dinner from ad hoc. Open 11-2 Thurs, Fri, Sat only. The best fried chicken you will ever have. YOU MUST DO THIS.

If you want to stay in Yountville, which you should, check out lavender. It is a 4 sisters bnb, and is honestly priced. You might be able to get a 3 for the price of 2 because its the off season. 


2 tastings I recommend--

Hall Winery St. Helena-- awesome juice, huge cabernet, but also a bunch of pinot from andy/ RRV/SLH/ Sta Rita Hills. You will pay like 35 bucks for an absurd amount of wine. Their mass production stuff is meh, but their single vineyard productions are amazing. They will pour you hundreds of dollars worth of wine, and their wine club is full. GO THERE.

Neal Family Vineyards

Owner/winemaker lead the tastings, both good dudes. You have to book this tasting online, but the tasting is FREE. The only way he will charge you is if DONT show. Has vineyards all around the valley, but the winery is up on howell mtn. You should probably buy some stuff if you visit here though, cuz it would be shitty to take up his time/ juice and leave with nothing.


Ballin out tastings you should do

-Shafer--RP 100 pt cab, awesome syrah. family is from michigan. RESERVATION NEEDED, will be around 50? EDIT: Dont take children to Shafer.

-Outpost-- This should be your #1 priority. Best View in Napa, RP 100 pt cab, the Dotzler family is awesome, Thomas Brown winemaker, havent been on a tour but knowing the family/people who work there, I'd be surprised if it wasnt the highlight of your trip. RESERVATION NEEDED



Redd-- just go to the bar area, great place.



February 18th, 2014 at 2:38 PM ^

It was NOT a cheap vacation. Possibly the thing that made it almost reasonable was we stayed in a condo and did our own cooking (shopped at the Walmart) but the car rental place was NOT IN the airport and they didn't save a car for us. Kate pitched a fit after waiting for about two hours so I told them to just take us back to the airport. We ended up with a Nissan minivan for the week for $50 TOTAL and we didn't have to refill the tank. Other than that, expect to pay a lot.


February 18th, 2014 at 2:41 PM ^

So the last time we were there, we went for a day and managed go to do alot really cheaply.

domain chandon had free tastings before 10. St Supery had a free tasting as long as you made a purchase. Sterling had B1G1 gondola rides before noon. That included 4 tastings for like $20. Castella Amarillo (spelling?) was brand new the year we went and had free tastings. After that we hit up the picnic place (V Sattui?)  and got out for lunch less than $20. Our splurge for the day was Van Der Hayden to try to late harvest cab.

Pricing that out now puts you in the hundreds of dollars. I'm hoping there are lesser known wineries with tours that would just be happy to have visitors in the middle of winter, but maybe I'm just too used to the midwest and the late 90s?


February 18th, 2014 at 2:32 PM ^

We rented a condo through VRBO in downtown napa. We all wanted to be able to stay together, and have rooms for the kids. First time parent, so I can't imagine leaving the kids unattended in a hotel, even if in the adjoining room.

Further clarification, 289/night would probably be on the high side of my idea of 'budget friendly'..



February 18th, 2014 at 3:16 PM ^

San Francisco itself has so many activities that I won't even try to list them--it's like asking what to do in London or New York.  It just depends on what you're into (and what your budget is).  Whatever it is, you will most likely leave feeling disappointed that you didn't have more time there.  I know I always do.  Venture outside of the downtown area, though. 

If you do go to San Francisco, Visit Golden Gate Park and wander around for a little while.  Even 1-year-olds enjoy being wheeled around a park.  If there's a game you will want to watch, there's a nice bar there across the street from the park on Stanyan (the Kezar Pub).  I watched the Michigan @ Oregon football game there many years ago.  Of course there are plenty of great bars all over the city.

Since you have a car in Napa, be sure to stop in Sonoma.  When I was there about 8 years ago, it was a somewhat less expensive alternative to Napa; I'm not entirely sure that's still true, though, but I do know other people who preferred Sonoma to the more touristy Napa (again, I'm not sure if that distinction is still accurate--I have heard that it might not be).  Once you get to Napa, make sure you head up the valley toward Calistoga; don't just stay in Napa proper.  There are some beaches in Marin County, but obviously that's not an activity for late February/early March.

Zone Left

February 18th, 2014 at 3:50 PM ^

If you're looking for affordable stuff with young kids, go to the Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. My toddler loved looking at the different plants and running around. 


February 18th, 2014 at 5:23 PM ^

While you're in SF, this is a fun place for the kids to climb around in golden gate park. There is a small entrance fee but it's not bad and there is a nice tea pavilion with kid snacks in the middle


February 18th, 2014 at 2:35 PM ^

There is a free science museum there which we did not get to because of the off season hours. There is a park attached to a school called the playground fantastico which was a good way to spend a few hours. There was a sand play area and multiple wooden constructions which the daughter enjoyed. 

I would NOT bother with the geyser. It's nothing but a tourist trap and wasn't that impressive. But it IS one of only two in the country, the other being the REAL Ol Faithful.

I wanted to go the the Grist Mill, but again, check the schedule and plan ahead of time. It's the other side of St Helena, almost to Calistoga.

When you can, drive down the Silverado Trail instead of Napa Hwy. It was much faster as basically nobody drove down it when we were there. We were there in May.


February 18th, 2014 at 2:47 PM ^

the kids aren't even 21 months. (See my avatar) They just hit 12 months.

My wife rarely drinks - we're going to Napa primarly because she and her friend want to go to Ad Hoc, The Farm, etc.

I'm going to watch MSU-UM from the BBQ bar there, and anything else on top of that is gravy.

I fully understand the opposition to kids in Napa, but our kids will appreciate the scenery there just as much as they would 'enjoy' a costumed giant animal. (No offense to Disney, just don't think 12 month old's would appreciate it).

Wife and I have been through a rough year, and this is a break for us. Her mother watches the kids while we work, so she needs the break as much as we do. Not asking for sympathy, but rather constructive advice for how to have a good time with little babies.

Zone Left

February 18th, 2014 at 3:53 PM ^

Actually, 12 months old isn't too bad. I was assuming they were more like toddlers or early elementary age. You can bring really young kids to a winery and probably still enjoy yourself. The weather here has been extremely mild--even for California--so you can probably go to the small places and have fun.

Try Saddleback Winery. It's owned by an old school Napa guy. Basically, you sit outside on a picnic table and get some wine for about $15/person.


February 18th, 2014 at 2:37 PM ^

you might be better off staying local and going to Winaries in the South Bay.  There are quite a few in the Santa Clara mountains and some of them have great views down the mountain into the bay.

You can probably hit a few and then go down to Santa Cruz or Half-moon bay or something.

Bob The Wonder Dog

February 18th, 2014 at 2:39 PM ^

Go to Domaine Chandon. They have a very interesting tour which shows the process of making sparkling wines (e.g., champagne).  Also, the tour of the Robert Mondavi winery is quite nice, and there is a free wine tasting at the end (at least there used to be). 


February 18th, 2014 at 2:40 PM ^

Do not go with kids, and it really has nothing to do with the whole "drinking" thing.  Napa is best when you can bounce from vineyard to vineyard enjoying not only the wines, but also scenary.  Also, most vineyards don't really servef ood (at least not that I can remember).  The point is: you will be doing a lot moving if you want to enjoy Napa to its fullest.  Unpacking and packing and preparing the kids etc etc every 1.5 hours is gonna be no fun whatsoever.  


February 18th, 2014 at 2:43 PM ^

They shut down the downtown roads and had a couple bounce houses and street vendors and such. It was interesting. No different than any other street fair probably though. That was a good evening for Kate. 

If you like smoked beef, there is a restraunt downtown called the Buckhorn Grill. We ate there and I thought it was pretty good.



February 18th, 2014 at 2:49 PM ^

go to taylor's refresher/gott's roadside.  it's a burger joint on the side of the road with milkshakes.  lots of picnic benches.  lots of kids.

go to sterling.  they have a gondola ride that kids would enjoy.

spend most of your time in sonoma.  more family friendly.  the town squares in healdsburgh and the town of sonoma often have events for kids, including playgrounds, fairs, farmers markets, etc. and healdsburgh has some galleries that your kids might tolerate for a short time.

sonoma has some bike tours.  no big roads.  depending on how big your kids are, that's a good idea.  the tours go to wineries, but most of the time is spent on the bikes.

carneros has some hotels that are kid friendly, like the meritage.  has a pool, mini golf type things.


February 18th, 2014 at 3:15 PM ^

Gott's is a great place for a burger and take your own wine.  No corkage fee.

Virtually everything in Napa is expensive, even the few budget hotels (as compared to their pricing in other locations).

The food is fabulous at most of the restaurants.........but again, pricey.


February 18th, 2014 at 2:57 PM ^

But Before I saw that It was Will who posted this I was going to go on a rant about "Napa" and the people who call it "Napa" and their inherent correlation with douchebaggery. As a notorious caste jumper(middle class woo-hoo) I have to admit my irrational contempt for the wealthy lingers on.

On a happier note, how are the twins?


February 18th, 2014 at 3:04 PM ^

They are doing well. Little man is in the 0th percentile, and is frequently bullied by his 'little' sister. They caused me an unmeasurable amount of stress, and I have far more grey hair than I did last year.

That being said, they are worth it. Parenting isn't for everyone, but I'm glad I get the opportunity.

I don't have the negative associations with Napa, but maybe I just got lucky last time. We found a condo for 500 for 3 nights for a 3BR, right in the heart of downtown. I know food will be expensive, but that's my wife's thing. It looks like its going to be sunny and 72 on Saturday - hopefully some great weather to let the twins take in the views.

I'm waiting for a Hello post to pass on the hand-me-downs..


February 18th, 2014 at 3:21 PM ^

My kids are about to turn two.  My little guy's head is in the 80'th percentile(Charley Brown syndrome) but other than that they're hovering around the 50'th.  I'll have some jerseys to forward eventually.  What sizes are the kiddos wearing? 


February 18th, 2014 at 3:26 PM ^

Carter is still in 9-12 month stuff. His legs are long enough for 12m pants, but they look ridiculously large because of how skinny he is.

Ainsley is rocking 12 month stuff. She was walking at 11 months, and is only a few days away from finding a way around the gated in area we've created for them in the living room.


February 18th, 2014 at 3:04 PM ^

Go to Oakville Grocery, customize picnic lunches for all, go to one of the wineries and have a picnic lunch at the awesome outdoor eating areas they all have....pretty affordable, even for Napa

Cali Wolverine

February 18th, 2014 at 3:12 PM ^

...you leave your kids with the grandparents and have an amazing romantic vacation with your wife. (I have plenty of suggestions for this). This is equivalent to taking your wife on a romantic vacation without the kids on a Disney cruise...not a good plan. So this "trip" is doomed from the start. If you are taking your whole family go to SF and have your friends meet you....lots to do with kids.


February 18th, 2014 at 3:22 PM ^

My mother in law watches our twins 9-5 M-F. This is her vacation too. I don't trust either of my parents to watch them when I am out of the house.

We're going to Cali to see numerous friends, but taking 3 of the 11 days to go to Napa. We have a free place to stay in Cupertino. If we get brave, we may try and meet halfway with my family in San Diego.

Try having twins, you get used to failure. That being said, we won't give up trying to have some sense of normality.


February 18th, 2014 at 3:13 PM ^

I'm not sure if there's a more overrated place in the world than Napa.  I went once for a wedding and wouldn't even think of going back.  It's not even like the landscape is worthwhile.  And to think about taking one-year old kids???  Why in the world would you do that to yourself?  I have a two year-old daughter and know it would've been a nightmare taking her there.  Hotels?  Expensive (~$300/night).  Food?  Expensive (though good) and not for babies.  Scenery?  Vastly overrated.  Go to Florida. Go to somewhere else in CA.  Go to Mexico.  Go to Costa Rica.  Just don't waste your money on Napa.

Gob Blueth

February 18th, 2014 at 3:16 PM ^

I might recommend Maisonry.  It's in a great area where you can walk around (and check out the fresh gardens of the French Laundry).  It has an art gallery including a lot of metal worked goods (so not just paintings on a wall), and then there's a fantastic outdoor area where you can sit at a big table and order a bottle of wine and some food.  It's not super cheap, but has a great wine selection of local vineyards and you can choose how much to order and what price range, rather than pay $10pp for tastings.



February 18th, 2014 at 3:20 PM ^

I live along the peninsula and will be heading up to napa this weekend to golf and go to a napa valley high school sports booster club dinner on Saturday night... I would recommend both of those things

Anyway, although I side with many of the people who would have advised you to go elsewhere because of cost, it sounds as though you are already locked in on napa valley. I personally enjoy the grounds at Rombauer and Buena Vista to be the most asthetically pleasing. My favorite tasting of all time was at a very very tiny place called frias family vineyard simply because the grounds were beautiful and the staff was fantastic, unfortunately, I believe it was a tasting by appointment only, but it might be worth looking into. I would highly recommend that you stay away from the wine train if that is even on your radar. Also, although I enjoy the wine at duckhorn, I have found the employees to be on the stuffier side.

I highly recommend that you go to Vi Sattui and at least try the Madiera, I always pick up a bottle or 4 when we head up to napa. Also, I know it was mentioned in this thread, the employees at vi sattui frown on outside food and drink, so don't try to drag over a delicious lunch from Dean and DeLuca's across the street. If you're an old fashioned/manhattan guy, I highly recommend you pick up a bottle of Eva vermouth at Dean and DeLuca's as I believe it is the stuff used at Zingermann's (according to a friend) and I have yet to find it anywhere else.

Ad Hoc is a great spot, and some other locals we ran into last time also mentioned brunch at Mustard's. I have heard great things about Bouchon as well, but I've never been there and it would definitely be on the pricier side.


February 18th, 2014 at 3:23 PM ^

The Coppola and V. Sattui Estates are pretty family friendly. Napa has a train that takes you through the wine country as well.

If you and your wife get out alone, I'd recommend the Consentino and Grgich wineries. Very good and nice people!

Have fun!