Thirsting for a delicious Napa or Sonoma getaway, but stumped about what to do with the kids? We feel your pain.
But California’s famous wine country offers more than cabernet tastings. Here are six super-fun, family-friendly things to do while you’re there. Some spots, such as Sterling Vineyards and Safari West, combine vino and adventure. Others are near the vines, but not among them, so you can keep the children tickled and entertained between sipping-swirling opportunities.
The result: No whining amid the wine-tasting. Cheers to your next corkhead vacation with the kids.
1. Sonoma TrainTown Railroad
All aboard for one of the most charming, old-fashioned amusement parks you’ll ever see. This vintage quarter-scale railroad park features locomotives the kids can climb all over, plus 20-minute rides aboard a choo-choo to the zoo, where you can feed the critters.
There are scads of other pint-sized rides, too, including a Ferris wheel and a carousel. And did we mention the ice-cream treats? You’ll have a hard time getting the fam to leave. But if you can pry them away, Sonoma’s darling town square with its great bakery and cheese shop are a stone’s throw away.
Details: TrainTown admission is free; you just pay for the rides, including the train ($6.75). Open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, weather permitting, through Labor Day and Friday-Sunday through the fall and winter. 20264 Broadway, Sonoma; www.traintown.com
2. Old Faithful Geyser, Calistoga
Ramble around the famously fainting goats, sheep and llamas while you wait for this punctual geyser to blow its top. Old Faithful goes off every 20 to 30 minutes, often creating a lovely rainbow in its delicate clouds of mist. The geyser is also reportedly a reliable predictor of earthquakes. Whenever the geyser’s eruptions deviate from its regular schedule, a quake is likely to occur within a 500-mile radius.
Details: Admission is $9-$15. Open from 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. daily through Sept. 30, until 6 p.m. in October and 5 p.m. November-February. 1299 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga; www.oldfaithfulgeyser.com
3. Sterling Vineyards, Calistoga
A visit to Sterling Vineyards starts with a gondola that whisks you away, soaring 300 feet in the air above Calistoga. Children will delight in the ride aboard the aerial tram with its gorgeous valley views. Once you get to the sun-drenched rooftop terrace, panoramic vistas and a self-guided winery tour await for adults, while the winery provides gondola-shaped snack boxes — with cookies, juice and coloring books — for the wee ones.
Details: $15-$32. Open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga; www.sterlingvineyards.com
4. Safari West, Santa Rosa
Roam a vast 400-acre wildlife preserve and you may encounter giraffes, rhinoceros, cheetahs and numerous species of birds. As close to an authentic African safari as most of us are going to get, this is nirvana for children — a chance to learn about the environment, while exploring it in up-close fashion. Classic safaris ($45-$115), mostly aboard giant off-road jeeps, last about three hours. You can also stay the night in a gorgeous tent cabin ($250-$425), tuck into a hearty dinner with a nicely curated wine list and wake up with the animals.
Details: Open daily; reservations required. 3115 Porter Creek Road, Santa Rosa; www.safariwest.com
5. Petrified Forest, Calistoga
Wander millions of years back in time, as you stroll among these majestic petrified redwood giants, which were turned to stone by a volcanic eruption long ago. All the petrified trees are on the main trail, which is just under a half-mile walk. You can also take the half-mile meadow walk trail, which has views of the original site of the volcano, whose ash fall buried the grove and created the conditions that produced these magnificent fossils.
Details: Admission is $6-$12. Walk the trail on your own, or take a docent-led hike. Open daily from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. until Labor Day, until 6 p.m. through September and October, and until 5 p.m. November-March. 4100 Petrified Forest Road, Calistoga; www.petrifiedforest.org
6. Castello di Amorosa
Cross the drawbridge into Dario Sattui’s authentically styled replica of a 13th-century Tuscan castle and you know you’re in for a special winery experience. Children can climb the high towers, descend into the depths of the dungeon and gape into the murky waters of the moat, while parents can sip cabernet. Little ones may well tucker themselves out exploring the 136,000-square-foot medieval castle and its beautifully manicured grounds.
Details: $15-$35. Open daily 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. March-October, until 5 p.m. November-February. 4045 Saint Helena Highway, Calistoga; www.castellodiamorosa.com