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California’s Napa Valley certainly offers many wine-related activities for adults. But for families, there are plenty of things to do that are either “wine-drinking optional” or do not involve alcohol at all.
"While Napa Valley may be best known for its wineries and restaurants, it's also a welcoming destination for families, with a wide range of activities for all ages," said Linsey Gallagher, president and CEO of Visit Napa Valley. “Some wineries offer attractions focused on families, including grape juice tastings and lawn games, and during the summer, each town offers a free outdoor concert series, as well as family-friendly outdoor movies.”
During a trip to Napa Valley last December, my two college-age sons (one who is under 21) and I discovered four great tours that require no ID. Whether clients are curious about how wine is produced, consider themselves foodies or have a sweet tooth for jelly beans, these tours provide opportunities for quality family time during a Napa Valley vacation.
Beringer VineyardsMany people head to Napa to taste wine — which is understandable, since Napa produces some of the best wines in the world. But the valley also offers opportunities for all ages to learn how top California wines are grown and produced.
Beringer Vineyards, the third oldest winery in Napa, offers 30-minute guided tours through its wine caves, which — according to our guide, Jesus — took 100 workers 10 years to dig by hand in 1877. While the tour does include wine tasting for adults over 21, we also learned about the history of the Beringer family, the winery and Napa Valley. And, let’s face it, caves are cool, which is why it was no surprise that kids outnumbered adults on our tour.
"Beringer's daily tours of its historic old winery and caves are open to all ages," said Tracy Sweeney, vice president of hospitality and direct sales for Treasury Wine Estates, the parent company of Beringer "And kids receive a bag of snacks and treats to keep them entertained throughout their visit.”
Culinary Institute of America TourThe Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone in St. Helena offers 30-minute guided tours. The main building looks so much like a castle that some students call it Hogwarts (after the school of witchcraft and wizardry from the “Harry Potter” franchise); the stairway even has a white owl painted on the wall that resembles Potter’s pet, Hedwig.
"The CIA at Greystone is one of the most historic and iconic buildings in the area," said Emma Leggat, director of brand marketing for CIA. "Its castle-like architecture and sweeping vistas of the valley make it ideal for a lunch, dinner or sunset tour."
The tour also takes clients through a quirky collection of 1,100 corkscrews dating back to the late 1880s and offers a peek into the unique kitchen classrooms. One of these is the Willy Wonka-esque Ghirardelli Chocolate Discovery Center, where visitors can see students creating chocolatey confections.
The on-site cafe, run by CIA students, is an excellent spot for a light lunch or freshly baked pastries. According to Leggat, the kitchen gadgets in the Spice Island Marketplace have been tried and tested by thousands of culinary students.
Also worth seeing is the collection of more than 4,000 pieces of specialty cookware, culinary tools and tableware in the Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum at the CIA at Copia (about 20 miles from Greystone). For the shoppers of the family, The Store at CIA Copia has a large selection of unique home and kitchen items, plus children’s culinary tools and books.
Jelly Belly Factory TourAbout 20 miles from Napa Valley, the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield offers complimentary self-guided tours, complete with sweet samples.
“The Jelly Belly factory tour has been rated one of the best factory tour experiences in the country," said John Jamison, vice president of retail operations for Jelly Belly. "Guests can spend several hours here learning about how Jelly Belly’s jelly beans are made, enjoying samples from our expansive Jelly Belly Sample Bar or enjoying bean-shaped burgers and pizza in our Jelly Belly cafe."
Clients meander a quarter-mile elevated walkway above the factory floor that provides a bird’s-eye view of how the family-owned and -operated company makes 15 billion of the world-famous jelly beans each year.
Fun Fact: Jelly Belly uses natural ingredients in many of its flavors, including real chocolate, coffee and fruit purees such as peach and blueberry.
Sterling VineyardsAnother Treasury Wine Estates property is Sterling Vineyards, where the best part of the family-friendly tour is undoubtedly the ride to the hilltop winery.
"A visit to Sterling starts with a five-minute ride on the valley's only aerial tram, whisking your family to the top of the mountain for a walking tour of the winery," said Treasury Wine Estates’ Sweeney. "Children are greeted with an explorer backpack loaded with age-appropriate surprises, and parents can relax knowing that their children are welcome."
The self-guided tour (again, with wine tasting for those 21 and over) explains the winemaking process from vine to glass, and many of the tasting stations offer spectacular views of the valley below. Travel advisors should note that because Sterling and Beringer are sister wineries, clients who book a Beringer cave tour will receive a card for 50% off the Sterling tour when they check in.
The DetailsVisit Napa Valleywww.visitnapavalley.com