Napa Valley offers some activities that appeal across age groups, such as a scenic ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train. // © 2014 Napa Valley Wine Train
When most people think of Napa Valley, they think of wine tasting. While Napa is certainly famous for its wines — not to mention its spectacular views of rolling hills planted with vineyards and wineries of every architectural style imaginable — the area offers a wide variety of activities that appeal to all ages.
What to Do
Napa may not be the obvious choice for family travel, but there are many exciting things for kids to see and do in the valley. One example is the Napa Valley Wine Train. The 36-mile route from the historic town of Napa to the quaint town of St. Helena (and back) offers unparalleled views of the picturesque Napa Valley. Guests pass by vineyards and wineries as they dine on a fresh lunch featuring seasonal ingredients in the train’s restored 1915-1917 Pullman Dining Car or 1952 Vista Dome. The Lunch Train departs Napa at 11:30 a.m. and returns to the station at 2:30 p.m. There are also dinner trains and special seasonal/holiday packages as well.
After the train ride is a great time to visit the Napa Firefighters Museum in downtown Napa. With free admission, this is a hidden gem that will appeal to kids of all ages. The fascinating artifacts on display include an 1859 hand pumper fire apparatus and a horse-dram fire engine as well as photographs and uniforms dating back to the 1800s. The Firefighters Museum is just one block from the Napa 9/11 Memorial constructed from pieces of the fallen World Trade Center towers.
Another cool place to visit is the “cowboy town” of Calistoga at the north end of the valley. Complete with wood plank sidewalks, this well-preserved town gives visitors a taste of how life in the valley might have been back when ranchers and miners lived here. Calistoga is also where travelers can find the Old Faithful Geyser of California, one of only three geysers in the world designated as “old faithful” because of their regularity. About every 30 minutes, visitors are treated to an exciting eruption of steam and scalding water that sprays 60 to 100 feet into the air.
A unique and family-friendly event in Napa takes place from Labor Day through Halloween at the Grgich Hills Estate winery in Rutherford. During this time, visitors are invited to kick off their shoes and stomp on some grapes. Included with this experience is a tasting of three wines (for adults) and a print of each person’s grape juice-stained footprints on a special t-shirt (for everyone). This harvest experience is available daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where to Taste
Due to the diverse soils, climate and topography of Napa Valley, vintners are able to produce high-quality wines from a wide-ranging variety of grapes. Therefore, when visiting Napa, it’s a good idea to taste some wine. Highway 29 is where visitors to Napa will find many of the well-known wineries such as Franciscan, Mondavi, Beringer, as well as the magnificent architecture of Opus One. For those who choose to venture off the main road, there are dozens of other great wineries to explore.
One example is Trefethen Family Vineyards, located between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. The entry to the estate is a long driveway through the vineyards, used by John Trefethen to land his plane. The 19th century redwood winery is not only a designated National Historic Landmark but is also a working cellar and an inviting place to sample Trefethen’s distinctive award-winning wines, including the flagship 2005 Halo Cabernet Sauvignon which was selected as one of the “Top Ten Wines” of 2009 by Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wines.
Just south of Calistoga, travelers should keep their eyes peeled for an impressive white building perched high on a hill. Designed to look like the white cliffside buildings on the Greek Island of Mykonos, Sterling Vineyards is only accessible by an aerial tram — a thrilling ride for kids and adults alike.
Where to Eat
One example of downtown Napa’s recent culinary renaissance is Torc. This modern American restaurant features a chef-driven, internationally influenced menu that focuses on fresh products from the local area. One example of this is the lemon curd filled doughnut on Torc’s brunch menu, which, according to Chef Sean O’Toole, was developed as a twist on a classic French beignet.
Just a few doors down from Torc, is another exciting addition to downtown Napa’s vibrant nightlife scene: City Winery. Opening in the spring/summer of 2014 in the newly refurbished historic Napa Valley Opera House, City Winery is an exciting entertainment venue, which plans to provide a high-end culinary and cultural experience to Napa Valley. Combining a fully functioning winery with intimate concerts, food and wine classes, private events and fine dining, City Winery is an ideal stop for those with a passion for great wine, music and food.
Located next to Oxbow Public Market, Gott's Roadside serves delicious burgers that will satisfy gourmet cravings (try the blue cheese, Wisconsin sourdough and green chile cheeseburgers). Kids will love eating outside at picnic tables, while the delicious milkshakes in flavors such as vanilla bean, strawberry, espresso bean and mint chip are sure to please everyone.
Where to Stay
Located just a few short blocks from the revitalized downtown Napa area, The River Terrace Inn offers views of the Napa River in close proximity to the Oxbow Public Market and downtown shops, restaurants and art galleries. The hotel is also just a short drive from Highway 29, the main road that cuts through Napa Valley and passes through quaint towns such as Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga.
A refreshing blend of modern elegance and California charm, this small hotel features rooms and suites with private balconies, some of which overlook the Napa River, and amenities such as a fitness center, meeting facilities and a heated outdoor pool. In addition, the menu of the adjacent Restaurant Cuvee is community-focused and dictated entirely by regional availability and ripeness, resulting in a distinct Napa Valley dining experience. After 9:30 p.m., Restaurant Cuvée opens the dining room for dessert-only reservations, allowing guests with a sweet tooth to indulge in the largest dessert menu in the area. Fresh local fruits shine in handcrafted confections such as the lemon thyme creme brulee and Aunt Luzaires’ sweet petal bread.
Indeed, Napa offers visitors more than just its world-renowned wines. With its diverse range of activities, quaint shops and galleries and some of the best restaurants in the world, it’s no wonder why Napa Valley is consistently considered one of the top destinations for traveling.