Family-Friendly Wineries in Wine Country

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Fall is the best season for many things but a trip to wine country should be at the top of your list! With the stifling heat and wildfire smoke largely gone, wine country is lovely this time of year and many of the following wineries are family-friendly meaning you can make a family trip out of it. We have the entire area and then some covered—be sure to check out our in-depth coverage for Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Calistoga

Editor’s Note: We make every effort to maintain the accuracy of this list. However, policies do change so contact your winery of choice prior to visiting to confirm their policies regarding children, COVID related reservation procedures and specific family days and hours. 

photo: Wine Institute

Napa, Calistoga, Yountville and St. Helena

Sip
Frog’s Leap
This “green” winery welcomes children and four-legged furry friends alike (note: on a leash, please!  The dogs, that is). While they don’t allow picnicking there’s plenty on the grounds that cater to families including a barn, farm animals and bountiful fruit and vegetable gardens. Currently hosting specific family-friendly tasting times.

8815 Conn Creek Rd
Rutherford, CA
707-963-4704
Onlinefrogsleap.com

V. Sattui Winery
V. Sattui knows that there's nothing that pairs better with a great wine than some delicious meats and cheeses. Their artisan deli offers something for everyone - over 200 cheeses, desserts including creme brulee and gelato, and on the weekends you can dig in to some barbecued ribs and wood-fired pizza. Kids will enjoy romping through the over two acres of picnic grounds.

1111 White Lane
St. Helena, CA
Onlinevsattui.com

Napa Cellars
With bocce ball, ladder ball and corn hole games to keep them busy, this Oakville spot is a natural choice for families. Live music and plenty of picnic tables will make you sit and stay a while. Opt for a tasting or glass and enjoy the sun!

7481 St. Helena Hwy. South
Oakville, CA
Online: napacellars.com

Honig Vineyard & Winery
For a leisurely-paced tasting in a gorgeous setting, this is your spot. Drive down the long driveway and opt for an outdoor table. Kids and dogs are welcomed and they usually have snacks and coloring books to keep the little ones occupied.

850 Rutherford Rd.
Rutherford, CA
Online: honigwine.com

Alpha Omega Winery
This St. Helena spot offers the coloring book, "Exploring the Napa Valley with Traveler Teddies," a kid-friendly guide to the Napa Valley, presented with a box of crayons to the youngest visitors.

1155 Mee Lane at Hwy. 29
St. Helena, CA
Online: aowinery.com

Costello di Amororsa
Costello di Amorosa is a 121,000 square-foot replica of an Italian castle from the Middle Ages. Book a guided tour which features everything from knight armors to a dungeon and a chancde to meet the winery cats, dogs and farm animals. Little royals can sip grape juice and enjoy coloring in the grand Knights Hall tasting room. Note: strollers not allowed inside the winery.

4045 St. Helena Hwy
Calistoga, CA
Online: castellodiamorosa.com

photo: David G. via Yelp

Nosh
Oxbow Public Market
The benefit of visiting this spot is that there is literally something for every taste available. Burgers, cupcakes, oysters and more, grab your fave, pick a table and dig in.

610 & 644 First Street
Napa, CA
Onlineoxbowpublicmarket.com

Fleetwood at Calistoga Motor Lodge & Spa
This ultra kid-friendly spot should definitely be on your list when you visit wine country. They have an expansive outdoor eating area as well as an indoor dining area with a fun view of the open kitchen that the kids will enjoy. The menu of shareable items has something that everyone will love like the wood oven roasted meatballs, speck ham pizza and burrata with grilled peaches. You'll love the property's retro vibe and the kids can enjoy the hammocks and fire pit while you savory your after-dinner drink. 

1880 Lincoln Ave. 
Calistoga, CA
Online: fleetwoodcalistoga.com

Compline Restaurant & Wine Shop
Upscale dining that is still relaxed and welcoming is the name of the game at Compline. Kids will love the burger (you will too!) that's made with Five Dot Ranch beef. Start with the cheeseboard to share and the melon gazpacho if the heat is on. Don't skip the duck fat fries, they will be your new favorite. 

1300 First Street #312
Napa, CA
Online: complinewine.com

Boon Fly Cafe                                                          
The world-famous Boon Fly Donuts are not to be missed on your next trip to Napa. A bucket of these babies for the kids and spicy bacon Bloody Marys for the grown-ups are the perfect way to start your day. Lunch and dinner offer options like flatbread pizza and fried chicken. If you are there on a Monday, you are in luck as they offer everyone's favorite breakfast for dinner!

4048 Sonoma Hwy
Napa, CA
Onlineboonflycafe.com

Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch
Dine in this old barn with plenty of seating, an open kitchen to entertain the littles and tasty farm-to-table cuisine that changes with the season. Big portions are perfect for sharing like the "brick cooked" chicken and the mac and cheese with Vella Daisy cheddar. Enjoy live music on the outdoor patio when the weather cooperates and make sure you save room for the Scharffenberger chocolate cream pie—you won't regret it.

738 Main St.
St. Helena, CA
Onlinelongmeadowranch.com

photo: Kate Loweth

Sonoma

Sip
Cline Cellars Vineyard and Winery
350 acres means something for everyone at this family go-to. And while the grounds don’t look like much driving in, once you’re behind the wall kiddos get treated to a breadth of pretty lawns, ponds, paths and fountains, and the California Mission Museum with its historic display of all 21 missions built to scale in 1939. They’ll love seeing the turtles, fish and exotic birds while you’ll love the wine tasting in a charming 1850s farmhouse.

24737 Arnold Dr
Sonoma, CA
707-940-4000
Onlineclinecellars.com

Bartholomew Estate Vineyards and Winery
Bartholomew Estate Winery sits within the 375-acre Bartholomew Park. Guests with children and leashed fur-babies can purchase bottles at the winery and enjoy a picnic at the many gardens, lawns and picnic areas. You can also purchase picnic blankets and to-go-wine cups on site. The park also offers over 3 miles of hiking trails to explore.

1000 Vineyard Lane
Sonoma, CA
Online: bartholomewestate.com

Francis Ford Coppola Winery
One of Sonoma County's most popular family-friendly wineries, has two pools, bocce ball courts, a movie gallery showcasing Coppola film props such as Don Corleone's desk from The Godfather, and the original automobile from Tucker: The Man and His Dream, and a poolside restaurant where wine and food can be delivered to parents while the littles splash around. rent a cabana for the day for your own private changing area and shower.

300 Via Archimedes
Geyserville, CA
Online: francisfordcoppolawinery.com

Nosh
Lou's Luncheonette
You'll love this stop as it has many kid-friendly favorites: fried chicken, biscuits, sandwiches, deviled eggs, pimento cheese, collard greens and baked beans. Desserts include fried pies, milkshakes and soft serve. Breakfast is no longer available and service changed from table-side to counter, making for a much faster dining experience. Choose a spot on the patio where the kids can dig in the rocks with the dump trucks.

2698 Fremont Dr.
Sonoma, CA
Online: lousluncheonette.com

Sunflower Caffe
Right in the middle of Sonoma's central square you will find the simple, delicious food of Sunflower Caffe. Open for breakfast and lunch, the lines can get long but it's worth the wait to grab some farm-fresh eggs or the ever-popular grilled cheese sandwich. Their expansive back patio is full of water fountains and tons of spots to explore or sit for a bit.

421 First St. W
Sonoma, CA
Onlinesonomasunflower.com

Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and the Russian River Valley

Sip
DaVero Farms & Winery
This beautiful, certified biodynamic farm and winery is home to olive groves, a vineyard, fruit trees, an expansive vegetable garden, as well as chickens, sheep and pigs. Stop over for a wine and olive oil tasting and bring your kids along as they can play in the garden or check out the animals while you sip on some of the best wines of the region.

1766 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA
Onlinedavero.com

Truett-Hurst Winery
The Dry Creek Valley is home to this scenic gem that offers creekside Adirondack chairs and picnic tables where you can enjoy a glass of their Salmon Run Zinfandel and, if you are lucky, spot one of the namesake fish as they spawn in the creek. Ask the winery staff for their special glasses that make spotting the salmon even easier. Kids will also love the goats, chickens and organic gardens on the property.

5610 Dry Creek Rd.
Healdsburg, CA
Onlinetruetthurstwinery.com

Matanzas Creek Winery
Plan your visit to this Santa Rosa gem when the lavender is in bloom. The calming scent takes over the property and you will want to spend the day sipping sauvignon blanc as the kids play cornhole under the massive oak trees. Swing by the lavender market if you want to bring home some lavender-scented bath products or even a bunch of lavender grill sticks for your next barbecue.

6097 Bennett Valley Rd.
Santa Rosa, CA
Onlinematanzascreek.com

photo: Belden Barns Farmstead & Winery

Belden Barns Farmstead & Winery
While Mom and Dad taste wines at Belden Barns Farmstead & Winery above Santa Rosa in central Sonoma County, the kids can borrow the winery’s scavenger-hunt-style “adventure” backpacks and wander the 55-acre property in search of flora, fauna, and random or whimsical items. The backpacks are filled with field guides to local birds or insects, magnifying glasses, sketchpads, crayons, and a checklist of things to find. The kids are encouraged to check off as many items as possible, searching for things like an acorn, an owl pellet, a feather, something heart-shaped, or a piece of trash. The goal is to keep kids busy and engaged while their parents taste wine. Wine tasting by appointment only.

5561 Sonoma Mountain Road
Santa Rosa, CA
Online: beldenbarns.com

ACORN Winery
Kids are welcomed to this Healdsburg winery with LEGO bricks, crayons and cornhole to keep kids entertained while parents taste. Children may also explore the vineyards adjacent to the tasting room, join parents on a guided vineyard walk and taste grapes during harvest. Appointments required.

12040 Old Redwood Hwy.
Healdsburg, CA
Online: acornwinery.com

Landmark Vineyards
Hop aboard the complimentary Horse Drawn Carriage Tour. Led by third-generation Sonoma Valley farmer Pat Prather, this tour dives into estate viticulture practices, winemaking techniques and Sonoma wine history. It’s the perfect outing for a warm afternoon (available Saturdays May-September).

101 Adobe Canyon Road
Kenwood, CA
707-833-0053
Onlinelandmarkwine.com

photo: Furthermore Wines

Furthermore Wines
This Russian River Valley spot welcomes your two-legged and four-legged children to join you for a day of bocce ball and picnicking at their Sebastopol winery. Known for their laidback vibe and outstanding pinots, Furthermore is definitely a spot to spend the day. Check out their lineup of events to increase the fun even more.

3541 Gravenstein Highway North
Sebastopol, CA
Online: furthermorewines.com

Preston Farm and Winery
As the name implies, this winery is also home to animals like sheep, hens and occasionally pigs. Kids will love the many cats that roam the property (but leave Fido at home for this visit). Grab one of Preston's famed Rhône varietal wines and enjoy it with a picnic lunch on the grass. Grab some pastured eggs and ground lamb in the shop to take home with you (along with your vino, of course).

9282 West Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA
Onlineprestonfarmandwinery.com

Alexander Valley Vineyards
Kids can join in winery and cave tours with their parents, visit the vineyards and enjoy the winery’s picnic area.

8644 Highway 128
Healdsburg, CA
Online
: avvwine.com

photo: Nella duBon-Koch

Nosh

The Barlow
This 12-acre outdoor market district features delicious food, wine crafts and so much more from over 30 local merchants. Stroll the dog friendly campus, that was once an applesauce cannery, sip some local wines while the kids enjoy some organic ice cream and romping around on the lawn. Be sure to check out the edible landscape.

6770 McKinley St.
Sebastopol, CA
Online: thebarlow.net

Stockhome Restaurant
Husband and wife restaurateurs, Chef Roberth and Andrea Sundell, know what it's like to dine out with kids. Parents to four kids themselves, they opened Stockhome in their Petaluma hometown with a keen eye to what would be convenient for families. The counter-service restaurant serves the popular cuisine of Stockholm including Swedish favorites like meatballs with lingonberries, mashed potatoes and gravy.

Other favorites include the kebab plate with pommes frites and the little gem salad with fried garbanzo beans. Kids will especially love the massive-but-delicate Swedish pancakes with fresh berries and vanilla cream and the pita pizza. Bonus: you can be sure they'll behave during the meal as you can bribe them with some of the restaurant's authentic Swedish candies. A few dozen varieties are available for purchase by the pound at the counter, after you finish what's on your plate, of course.

220 Western Ave.
Petaluma, CA
Onlinestockhomerestaurant.com

Play

TrainTown
Generations of parents have made a pit stop at TrainTown, located just a mile down the road from Sonoma's main plaza. Take the 20-minute train ride around the park and then check out the other old-school rides—a carousel, Ferris wheel, dragon coaster and more. Visit the miniature town and petting zoo before you head out.

20264 Brodway
Sonoma, CA
Onlinetraintown.com

Epicenter Sports and Entertainment Complex
This state-of-the-art fun and fitness center features a trampoline park, an arcade, bowling alley, an indoor soccer field, laser tag, dining and more. Put this on your list in case you encounter a rainy day on your wine country weekend.

3215 Coffey Lane
Santa Rosa, CA
Onlinevisitepicenter.com

Charles M. Schulz Museum and Snoopy's Home Ice
Kids of all ages will enjoy learning about long-time Santa Rosa resident and Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz at this museum with interactive exhibits, animated Peanuts specials, original comic strips and more. Then head next door to the ice rink that Schulz had built in 1969 for some family skate time and snacks at the Warm Puppy Cafe.

2301 Hardies Lane
Santa Rosa, CA
Onlineschulzmuseum.org and snoopyshomeice.com

photo: Safari West

Safari West
For a real adventure, spend the day in the Sonoma Serengeti at Safari West. This accredited zoo offers guests who are four and older a tour of the 400-acre property in a safari Jeep. Younger guests will enjoy a walking tour where you can meet a flamboyance of flamingos and a tower of giraffes. Extend your stay in one of the property's tent bungalows and wake to the sounds of wildlife.

3115 Porter Creek Rd.
Santa Rosa, CA
Onlinesafariwest.com

The Petrified Forest
Take a walk through this ancient forest where a volcano eruption turned trees into stone. You can explore on your own or take the docent-led 1.5 hour walk to learn about the area's history.

4100 Petrified Forest Rd.
Calistoga, CA
Onlinepetrifiedforest.org

Old Faithful Geyser of California
Spend a few hours exploring the property and watching the geyser erupt. Grab a picnic table or enjoy a game of bocce ball. The kids will be amazed to see the property's animals which include llamas, four-horned sheep and the famous fainting goats!

1299 Tubbs Lane
Calistoga, CA
Onlineoldfaithfulgeyser.com

CIA at Copia
If you are looking for an epicurean experience to share with the whole family, book a Sunday family cooking class at the CIA at Copia in downtown Napa. Here you'll get an interactive demonstration experience making dim sum, eclairs, mac and cheese and more. Each class has a different theme and you just might get to sample your creations at the end!

500 1st Street
Napa, CA
Onlineciaatcopia.com

photo: Kate Loweth

Stay

Wildhaven Sonoma
This spot right on the Russian River just opened and you are going to love it! Safari tents with actual beds are available for families with communal BBQs on site. Walk a few steps down to the river and spend the whole day tubing, catching fish and enjoying the sun. Read all about Wildhaven here

2411 Alexander Valley Rd.
Healdsburg, CA
Onlinewildhavensonoma.com

Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection
If you are looking for the ultimate in comfortable, luxury accommodations, this is the spot. Located in the quiet town of Calistoga, Solage has everything your family will need for their wine country stay. Cottage-style suites provide privacy for your family including outdoor patios to enjoy morning espresso or an afternoon glass of wine. The two-bedroom Estate Suites offer even more private outdoor space and your own personal hot tub for relaxing in the evenings. 

Head to the pool to enjoy the newly-opened Picobar with poolside service (we definitely recommend the Cowgirl Creamery queso and the whipped avocado to share). Bikes are available to borrow throughout the property, s'mores are offered on Friday and Saturday nights and spa services are available on-site. 

755 Silverado Trail N
Calistoga, CA
Online: aubergeresorts.com/solage

Carneros Resort and Spa
With 100 cottages, suites and residences, Carneros Resort and Spa is your go-to spot for a luxurious family getaway. During the summer months, parents can enjoy a night out while kids enjoy a delicious dinner, an array of fun and exciting games and a kid-friendly movie. Carneros Kids’ Night will also include a game room complete with ping pong, foosball, shuffleboard and an array of board games. Sounds like a win-win!

4048 Sonoma Hwy.
Napa, CA
Onlinecarnerosresort.com

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
Camping in wine country! You can set up your tent, rent a cabin or reserve one of the yurts that sleep up to six people at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. The park has a spring-fed pool that's great for cooling off when the days get hot. Explore the park's pioneer cemetery, hike to the Bale Grist Mill to learn about the milling process and enjoy the trails and creeks. Old Faithful Geyser is just up the road.

3801 St. Helena Hwy.
Calistoga, CA
Onlinereservecalifornia.com

photo: The Sandman Santa Rosa

The Sandman Santa Rosa
Right off of 101, The Sandman's Santa Rosa location is super convenient for families visiting wine country. The welcoming staff and chill mid-century modern decor will make you feel relaxed the minute you arrive. Families will especially love the family suite—with a king bed and a twin-over-full bunk bed everyone is able to spread out. Spend your days lounging by the heated pool where you can purchase snacks, ice cream and their homemade Froze (for the parents) at the Pool House & Bar. Summers at The Sandman bring their food truck nights and live music by the pool.

3421 Cleveland Ave.
Santa RosaCA
Onlinesandmansantarosa.com

Flamingo Resort
This family-friendly hotel just completed some major renovations and it's the mid-century modern resort of your dreams from the minute you walk into the gorgeous lobby. Families will love the deluxe family king room that has a king bed for parents and a bunk bed in a separate room (with a door that closes! Hooray!). A mini fridge will keep your beverages chilled and the room's electric kettle is perfect for morning tea or hot cocoa.

Spa facilities are available onsite so definitely book your massage to take full advantage. You can also check out the yoga classes and other wellness programs offered at the health club. 

2777 4th St.
Santa Rosa, CA
Online: flamingoresort.com

Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country
This hotel has lots of great options for families including rooms that sleep up to four, some with Nintendo consoles for when you really need some kid downtime. Splash in the large pool and enjoy the outdoor fire pits in the evening.

170 Railroad St.
Santa Rosa, CA
Online: hyatt.com

—Nella DuBon-Koch, Kate Loweth & Mae Respicio Koerner

 

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Featured photo: Wine Institute

Where to Eat, Sleep & Play in Wine Country with Kids

The Ultimate Kids Birthday Party Venue Guide

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Birthday parties have certainly changed in the past 18 months but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate! We have plenty of birthday party ideas for you to take the stress out of celebrating so you can focus on the special birthday kid. Get ready to party! 

San Francisco

San Francisco Zoo
Birthday parties at the SF Zoo include use of party room overlooking the chimps, zoo admission and ride tickets for guests, your choice of catered lunch, birthday cake, gift for the guest of honor, face painting and more. Not to mention you get a party coordinator so you can relax and enjoy yourself. Add on an animal encounter for a memorable–wild time, explore the grounds and catch a train or carousel ride with your guests after the festivities.

Sloat Blvd and Great Hwy
San Francisco, CA
Onlinesfzoo.org

Play Haven
Play Haven is perfect for crawlers, toddlers and preschoolers who want to party. A mini rock climbing wall and art station are just a few of the highlights of this play space that encourages creativity and hands-on learning. Birthday celebrations can happen during regular open play hours, or pay a little extra to have exclusive use of the space. They also have food and face paint add-ons to make your party over the top.

254 Laguna Honda Blvd.
San Francisco, CA
Onlineplayhavensf.com

Little Artistas
With two SF locations in Glen Park and Noe Valley, Little Artistas will let your party guests and birthday kid get messy with art in their studio (bonus: no clean up for you!). Their two-hour parties start with an hour of art that's tailored to the birthday child, followed by an hour of food and merriment. Add on a face painter for some bonus fun. Good to know: They will also bring the party to you if you prefer to have a home party.

Two locations in San Francisco, CA
Onlinelittleartistas.com/parties

Little Oceanauts
With a three-story obstacle course play structure, trampoline, slides and ball pit, kids will have plenty of room to run and burn off those cupcakes. A separate area for toddlers and infants means everyone stays safe while having fun. Bring socks!

1917 Ocean Ave
San Francisco
Online: littleoceanauts.com

photo: Fentons

East Bay

Fentons Creamery
Your little ice creams lovers will scream for Fentons party packages. The banquet hall is perfect for hosting and the party menus range from grilled cheese to chicken fingers. Top it all off with one of Fentons custom-made ice cream cakes.

Two locations in Oakland and Vacaville, CA
Online: fentonscreamery.com

Children's Fairyland 
Step back in time at this amusement park in Oakland that has been around since 1950. Birthday boys and girls can celebrate their big day next to Cinderella's slipper, in the Japanese tea garden or in the circus-themed area. You can rent a space and plan your own gig or have the park take care of all the details for you. Fairyland is ideal for kids eight and under as it has kid-sized rides, friendly animals and storybook performances.

699 Bellevue Ave.
Oakland, CA
Onlinefairyland.org

photo: STEMchef

StemChef
Located at the Blackhawk Plaza in Danville, StemChef is a cross between an escape room and an interactive museum, where kids work as a team to solve puzzles related to a monthly theme and uncover hands-on science concepts that culminate in a delicious dessert. StemChef is a great birthday activity and was founded by Dr. Ashie Bhandiwad, who started cooking with her inquisitive three-year-old daughter and introducing her to STEM fields in the process. Bonus: this party is drop off only!

Cost: $35/participant
Ages: 8 and up
Online: stemchef.com

Chabot Space & Science Center
Shoot for the stars and host your outer space birthday party at Chabot. The adventure begins with an hour and a half in a private party room decked out with a festive celestial theme, tables and chairs for all your guests and a dress-up photo booth. Spend the rest of the day taking in a Planetarium show, exploring the interactive exhibits and peering through high-powered telescopes.

10000 Skyline Blvd.
Oakland, CA
Onlinechabotspace.org

Silliman Aquatic Center
Splash down any time of the year at this 32,000-square foot indoor pool that has two water slides, a zero-depth activity pool and a 245-foot lazy river. There's something for every age from toddlers to teens. Reserve the teen room that includes two pool tables, a PS3 and Wii. Or grab the activity room that has a Foosball table, Wii and ping pong table. All guests have access to the pool either during or following the party.

6800 Mowry Ave.
Newark, CA
Onlinenewark.org

See more East Bay recs here: tinybeans.go-vip.net

Peninsula

La Petite Playhouse
This spacious, underwater-themed playhouse is sure to be a hit. From climbing and sliding to shooting some hoops, your party will have plenty to explore. You'll have exclusive use of playhouse for one hour, your own private party room, a coordinator to help with all the planning and not one thing to set-up or clean-up. Geared toward the 10 and under crowd with separate baby/toddler area.

1264 Oddstad Dr.
Redwood City, CA
Online: lapetiteplay.com

CuriOdyssey at Coyote Point
This science and wildlife center is the perfect spot to host a birthday party for kids of any age. All guests receive admission to the center where they can learn about science through hands-on exhibits and animal encounters. Parties receive use of a party room and patio. For an additional fee you can add on a private educational program like Marvelous Marble Roller Coasters or a Super Survivors Wildlife Presentation.

1651 Coyote Point Dr.
San Mateo, Ca
Onlinecuriodyssey.org

Grins n' Giggles
This extra-special spot just opened and we could not be more thrilled. Grins ‘n’ Giggles party space was designed with specialized indoor and outdoor play structures to accommodate children of all abilities and accessible for those with special needs and disabilities. Best of all, it’s available year-round, rain or shine. Grins ‘n’ Giggles is staffed by credentialed early childhood educators with experience in caring for children of all abilities, who will help parents plan a fun-filled day of activities, which could include face painting, art projects, bounce house jumping, parachute games and guided play.

McCarthy Center for Children & Families
1764 Marco Polo Way
Burlingame, CA
Onlinegrinsngiggles.org

Mints & Honey
Modern and creative, this neighborhood café and design studio space is perfect for littles looking for something a bit more sophisticated. While the basic package offers two hours in the space to make it your own, our favorite is the HoneyComb Crafttea Package that sets everything up for a petite party with crafts and afternoon tea. With different themes for both boys and girls, it’s one party that is totally photo-ready.

Onlinemintsandhoney.com

See more Peninsula recs here: tinybeans.go-vip.net

photo: iStock

South Bay

Tutu School
For the sugar plums in your life, the Tutu School's ballet birthday parties will be the perfect way to celebrate. Your mini dancers will enjoy a personalized ballet class, story time, crafts, cupcake picnic with pink lemonade and every guest receives a tutu or princely cape to dress up in and take home. In addition to Willow Glen, they have 15 other locations that offer birthday parties.

1702 Meridian Ave.
Suite I
Willow Glen, CA
Online: tutuschool.com

Cucina Bambini
Practice your Top Chef moves at this cooking school where the kids are put to work! Choose a pizza, pasta or cupcake theme and invite your guests to don their aprons and chef hats. The kids learn how to make dough, what goes into a good sauce and how many gummy bears can top a cupcake before it falls over. Got a favorite food that's not pizza, pasta or cupcakes? They will help you design your own personal theme for the big day!

1041 Lincoln Ave.
San Jose, CA

22 S. Santa Cruz Avenue
Los Gatos, CA
Onlinecucinabambini.com

San Jose Giants
This minor league baseball park is the perfect excursion for your little sports fan's next birthday. For $19/person, you get tickets to the game, a hot dog, drink and Guanatos Ice Cream Bar. All kids at the party get two passes to the Family Fun Zone where they can practice their big league swing. Your group will receive recognition on the video board, public address system and daily scorecard. Gigante is always around to take photos with fans and get the crowd riled up to cheer for the home team!

Municipal Stadium
588 East Alma Ave.
San Jose, CA
Onlinemilb.com

Whirlygig Parties, San Jose
The ultimate birthday party spot and a space where kids can be kids! Whirlygig has four unique play rooms, each with a theme like Farm or Beach, and can amplify the birthday fun with a customizable party theme with all the essentials! The birthday boy or girl can choose their own party theme from amazing options like Dinosaurs, Unicorns and Outer Space—there is truly something for everyone. Additionally, parents can expect delicious and gourmet food options, straight from the owner’s cooking school, Savory Kitchen—no more cardboard pizzas and sticky floors.

919 The Alameda
San Jose, CA
Online: whirlygigparties.com

See more South Bay recs here: tinybeans.go-vip.net

photo: Poekie Nook

Marin

Poekie Nook
Perfect for the crafty 7-11 age group, this creative studio has been teaching hand sewing and beading techniques to Mill Valley children since 1992. Creator of the popular Poekie, birthday parties can choose between sewing or beading and get use of their upstairs room, during normal business hours. Bring your own snacks and decorations or let them do it all for you. Every guest receives a goody bag and takes home their projects.

247 Shoreline Hwy
Mill Valley, CA
Online: poekienook.com

Morning Star Farm
If your little one is desperate for a pony this year, do the next best thing and book a party at Morning Star Farm. Kids up to age eight can enjoy a pony party with pony rides, a petting zoo and a party in the outdoor picnic area. Kids eight and over can book a riding party where each guest has their own mount and gets a one hour riding and grooming lesson.

885 Sutro Ave.
Novato, CA
Onlinemorningstarfarm.info

Marine Mammal Center

Education meets entertainment at a “Barkday Party” where kiddos learn about marine mammal life (and get to make fish milkshakes, yes, you read that correctly) and you are supporting their work in rescuing and rehabilitating sick and injured marine mammals. The party includes a 2.5 hour room reservation (pre-decorated!), a 1 hour educational program, a birthday cake (for 15) and small party favors. Typically offered on Saturday mornings and afternoons.

2000 Bunker Rd
Sausalito, CA
Onlinemarinemammalcenter.com

Bay Area Discovery Museum
Stress free is the name of the game at BADM. They offer two different packages in three different museum spaces so parents can pick the option that works best for the size of their party. Hosts can also choose to customize their party by adding on fun activities facilitated by BADM staff, or can select the “Blast Package” which includes all of the available activities, as well as decorations, party favors, etc. All packages include staff to help with set up and clean up so parents can actually enjoy the party themselves.

557 McReynolds Road
Sausalito, CA
Onlinebayareadiscoverymuseum.org

Marin Treks

This museum offers indoor birthday parties for kids or they can come to a park near you to put on an awesome animal show. This hands-on birthday adventure allows the birthday girl or boy and their guests to hold and learn about an amazing collection of live reptiles, amphibians, insects and arachnids. Children will learn where they live, what they eat, how they avoid predators and a whole lot more.

1559 H So. Novato Blvd.
Novato, CA

Onlinemarintreks.com

See more Marin County recs here: tinybeans.go-vip.net

Featured photo: iStock

 

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Editor’s note: We’re making every effort to provide you with the most up-to-date information. Check location websites before your visit, for their most current COVID-19 protocols. Stay safe!

All aboard! From museums to epic model trains, we’ve got it all covered. Read on for a mega list of locomotive fun, that’ll have your mini conductors enjoying the tracks all over the Bay and beyond.

San Francisco

photo: Shaun Koch

Cable Car Museum

This stop will give you a behind-the-scenes look at the city’s famous Cable Cars. The bottom level offers a peek at the cables that make the whole system work and upstairs, you can explore the mechanics of the cars themselves and see exactly what goes into powering them. The best part is, admission is free!

1201 Mason St.
San Francisco, CA
Onlinecablecarmuseum.org

SF Railroad Museum and Gift shop

By allowing kids to take control of a 1911 San Francisco streetcar model, this compact and free museum near the Ferry Building offers a feel of what it's like to drive a streetcar  Hop aboard any of the historic F Market streetcars (along Market St. and the Embarcadero) for a front door drop-off.  Be sure to check out their train-tastic gift shop.

77 Steuart St.
San Francisco, CA
Onlinestreetcar.org/museum

photo: Marianne Hale

Little Puffer Miniature Steam Train

Located inside the San Francisco Zoo, a ride on the Little Puffer is the perfect way to take a walking break, and still observe a variety of animals from the cars. At more than a century old, it has a fascinating history, including being one of three of its kind in the world. Rides are $7, not included with zoo admission, and children under three ride free with a paying adult.

Sloat Blvd at the Great Highway
San Francisco, CA
Onlinesfzoo.org

Currently closed: 

Randall Museum

Little train-lovers will love a stop at the always-free Randall Museum. The museums basement houses one of the largest model railroad layouts in California, that you can run with the push of a button. Kids can also enjoy hopping aboard the Randall Pacific Caboose. Good to know: the museum is temporarily closed due to Covid-19, check their site for updated info. 

199 Museum Way
San Francisco, CA
Onlinerandallmuseum.org

East Bay

photo: Golden State Model Railroad Museum

Golden State Model Railroad Museum

This amazing collection of model trains and railways recreate the terrain of Northern and Central California in detail. The miniature trains run Sundays from noon-4 p.m. Admission is between $3-5, children 4 and under are free and families get in for $10. 

900-A Dornan Dr.
Point Richmond, CA
Onlinegsmrm.org

Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society

Your train-lovers are in for a treat at the Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society, from mountains to drawbridges and an evening scene, complete with a thunderstorm—they’ve recreated tons of routes for train travel. This epic model is only open to the public a few times a year, so check out their schedule for specific monthly dates.  Admission is $3/adults, $2/children 6-12 and six and under are free, as are scouts who come in uniform!

2751 Buena Vista Avenue
Walnut Creek, CA
Onlinewcmrs.org

 

photo: Niles Canyon Railway

Niles Canyon Railway

History comes to life on this old-school railway and museum that runs south of Pleasanton and makes a round trip between Fremont and Sunol. You can choose to ride a diesel or a steam engine, and even rent out a caboose or whole train for your next event. Be sure to check out their locals favorite Holiday Train of Lights in November and December.

37105 Vallejo Way
Fremont, CA
Onlinencry.org

Redwood Valley Steam Train

High up on the hills above Berkeley, this mini-train winds through the redwoods of Tilden Park. You’ll travel over bridges and through a tunnel on the 15-minute round trips. Tickets are $3.50 for adults/children, ages two and under ride free and a five ticket family pack is $14. Open weekends all year round and summer weekdays, weather permitting. 

Tilden Park
At the intersection of Grizzly Peak Blvd and Lomas Cantadas Rd.
Berkeley, CA
Onlineredwoodvalleyrailway.com

Golden Gate Live Streamers

If you visit the Redwood Valley Steam Train on a Sunday, you’ll likely get a bonus ride. That’s when the Golden Gate Live Steamers let the public take a spin on their small-scale model trains. They run Sundays noon-3 p.m. (weather-permitting)—rides are free, but donations are appreciated.

Tilden Park
Located just below the boarding area for the Steam Train
Berkeley, CA
Onlinegoldengatels.org

photo: Ardenwood Historic Farm

Ardenwood Historic Farm

Within this fully functional farm is a short railway operated by Ardenwood’s Railroad Museum, that takes you from one end of the property to the other. On board, you'll find staff and docents dressed in period costumes taking you back to when railroads connected the East Bay’s farms to towns and cities. Rides are included with admission, so your little passengers can ride as many times as they'd like. Admission ranges from $2-6 depending on month and day, children under four are free.

34600 Ardenwood Blvd.
Fremont, CA
Onlineebparks.org/parks/ardenwood

Outback Express Adventure Train

Like the Little Puffer, this train is located within a zoo and can be accessed without buying an Oakland Zoo admission. You will still spy a few of the wildlife, as the train travels through the Australian exhibit (hence the name). Rides are $3/person, children under two ride free, however, you will still need to pay for zoo parking.

9777 Golf Links Road
Oakland, CA
OnlineOaklandzoo.org

Jolly Trolly at Children's Fairyland

For the tiniest train aficionados, take a ride on the Jolly Trolly, the oldest ride at Children’s Fairyland. This kid-size train travels through the parks Old West Junction area and through a tunnel and is always a hit with the itty-bitty crowd.

699 Bellevue Ave
Oakland, CA
Online: fairyland.org

Peninsula/South Bay

photo: Nella DuBon-Koch

Roaring Camp Railroads

Roaring Camp hosts several events throughout the year, including its annual Thomas the Tank Engine Days. This railroad in the mountains travels through Redwoods and over trestles, take a ride to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and back for an extra-fun day of adventure.

5401 Graham Hill Rd.
Felton, CA
Onlineroaringcamp.com

Edward Peterman Museum of Railroad History  

Located inside the Caltrain depot in Santa Clara, the South Bay Historical Railroad Society operates this museum. Displays include artifacts, paraphernalia and two working model railroad lines. Museum is free and open to the public on Tuesdays nights and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

1005 Railroad Avenue
Santa Clara, CA
Onlinesbhrs.org

Central Park Bianchi Mini Train

This delightful tiny train gives rides around San Mateo's Central Park for $2 a ride. It runs weekends year round and daily during the summer.

50 E 5th Ave.
San Mateo, CA
Onlinecityofsanmateo.org

Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad

For just $2/person (2 and under are free) this historic, 1/3-scale railroad loops around Oak Meadow Park. This locals go-to has plenty of attractions to keep your group busy all day.  Visit the park in December for a special holiday ride during their annual lights exhibit.

233 Blossom Hill Rd
Los Gatos, CA
Onlinebjwrr.org

Marin/Sonoma Counties

photo: Nella DuBon-Koch

Sonoma TrainTown Railroad

TrainTown is a hit with railroad lovers of all ages. The passenger train takes visitors through tunnels and over bridges before stopping at a miniature town and petting zoo (bring quarters for food). The park also offers a concession stand, a train themed gift shop and several amusement rides. Admission and parking are free and tickets are sold for individual attractions.

20264 Broadway
Sonoma, CA
Onlinetraintown.com

Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum

The lovely restored building at Shoreline Park captures the past in two museums. The ground floor houses the detailed operating HO-scale model that shows Tiburon, the railroad town c. 1900 to 1910, and upstairs is the Depot House Museum, where the stationmaster’s family lived. The museum is open weekends 1-4 p.m. and on sunny Sundays in October-April. Admission is free but donations are welcome.   

1920 Paradise Dr.
Tiburon, CA
Online: landmarkssociety.com

photo: Nella DuBon-Koch

Ride the SMART

For your North Bay adventures, ride the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit or SMART train, as the locals call it. With stops from Larkspur to Santa Rosa, you and your little travelers can sit back and enjoy the Marin open-space views.

600 Larkspur Landing Cir.
Larkspur, CA
Online: sonomamarintrain.org

Howarth Park

This 138-acre park is home to a carousel, animal barn and train ride. The simulated 1863 C.P. Huntington steam train takes guests on a quarter-mile ride through a tunnel, pond, over a bridge and into the forest. Must be 42 inches tall to ride alone, children 12 months and under ride free.

630 Summerfield Rd.
Santa Rosa, CA
Online
srcity.org

Further Afield

photo: Nella DuBon-Koch

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

Just 10 minutes from the southern entrance of Yosemite National Park is the historic Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad offering train rides, gold panning, an on-site museum and well stocked collectibles gift store. Their 1-hour narrated "The Logger" tour and 3-hour "Moonlight Special" are popular with families and offer boxed lunch and dinner options.

56001 Highway 41
Fish Camp, CA
Online: ymsprr.com

California State Railroad Museum

Take the Amtrak to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, just a block away from the Old Town stop, you'll find trains, refurbished cars, an elaborate model railway and a room with a whopping EIGHT train tables. For an additional fee, you can also take a ride along the Sacramento River on weekends during the Summer. Children 5 and under ride free.

125 I Street
Sacramento, CA
Onlinecsrmf.org

Western Railway Museum

Chug on out to Solano County to check out the dozens of railcars, engines and trolleys housed in this one-of-a-kind museum. Kidods can climb on cars in the giant sheds out back and hop aboard one of the trains or streetcars for a ride around the hills. Be sure to check out their calendar for their Halloween and Christmas events.

5848 State Highway 12
Suisun City, CA
Onlinewrm.org

 

photo: Kate Loweth

Railroad Park Resort

45 minutes past Redding is Railroad Park Resort where you'll find glamping at its finest.  Accommodations  include vintage railroad cabooses that sleep up to five, with fridge, microwave, full bathroom, WiFi, on-site pool, a nearby creek for exploring and a restaurant serving breakfast and dinner in a rail car. 

100 Railroad Park Road
Dunsmuir, CA
Onlinerrpark.com

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

Located in Jamestown on the way to Yosemite, this Gold Rush hot spot is a destination for California train lovers. One of the highlights is a guided walking tour of the Park’s authentic, working railroad roundhouse and air-powered turntable. Visit on the second Tuesday of every month for a behind-the-scenes tour or take a ride on weekends during the warmer months. Be sure to check out the Polar Express In December.

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
10501 Reservoir Rd.
Jamestown, CA
Onlinerailtown1897.org

photo: The Napa Valley Wine Train

The Napa Valley Wine Train Santa Train

While this train is usually used for wine-tasting, it transforms into the Santa Express every winter. Riders are treated to games, music, hot cocoa, fresh-baked cookies and a visit from the big man himself along the journey.

The Napa Valley Wine Train Station
1275 McKinstry Street
Napa, CA
Online: winetrain.com

The Skunk Train

The Skunk Train has been transporting passengers for over a hundred years on the world-famous Redwood Route, with depots in Fort Bragg and Willits, in beautiful Mendocino County. The railbikes at Fort Bragg, available March-November, are a must. While in Fort Bargg, stop by the Mendocino Coast Model Railroad , admission is free with your Skunk Train ticket. Visit in November and December for a ride on the Christmas Trains that include cookies, hot cocoa and a visit with Santa. 

Fort Bragg and Willits Depots
Onlineskunktrain.com

Western Pacific Railroad Museum

This exciting, hands-on museum offers train rides, a "Run-A-Locomotive" program that allows you to rent a vintage diesel locomotive and operate it on museum grounds, a Pumpkin Express in October and Santa Trains in December.

700 Western Pacific Way
Portola, CA
Online: wplives.org

—Nella Dubon-Koch, Melissa Bouse & Kate Loweth

Featured photo: Toddlin’ Across America

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Road Trip Calistoga: Where to Eat, Stay & Play

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Just a couple of hours north of the Bay Area you’ll find the quaint, little city of Calistoga, perfect for a summer staycation or a family getaway anytime of the year. Famed for its natural hot springs, this Napa Valley town is filled with California history, eateries, wineries, attractions and accommodations that appeal to both adults and littles alike. Checkout our recommendations below for a Calistoga road trip the whole family will enjoy.

photo: Nella DuBon-Koch

Explore

Old Faithful Geyser of CA
Just a short drive from downtown Calistoga, the geyser erupts multiple times a day forcing plumes of water and steam up to 80 feet high for up to 10 minutes long, depending on the season. The geyser’s sun and water conditions make it the perfect rainbow generator and it’s also a reliable earthquake predictor when its eruption patterns become irregular. There are onsite picnic nooks, cabanas and utensils for visitors to use, serene gardens, an earthquake and history exhibit, the popular Jacob’s Four-Horn Sheep, Guard Llamas and Tennessee Fainting Goats that make for the perfect day outing for your bunch.

1299 Tubbs Lane
Calistoga, CA
Online: oldfaithfulgeyser.com

Safari West
This “Sonoma Serengeti” will transport you to another continent. Its 400 acres are home to over 900 species of wildlife. Go on a safari jeep tour and view wildebeest, rhino, zebra, and giraffe, in their open habitat, while pink flamingoes and ostriches take a peek into the jeeps. Walking tours and overnight “glamping” are also available.

3115 Porter Creek Rd.
Santa Rosa, CA
Online: safariwest.com

The Petrified Forest
A preserved ancient forest created by a volcanic explosion 3.4 million years ago by the extinct volcano that is now Mt.St. Helena, the Petrified Forest is a collection of fossilized redwood trees that laid beneath volcanic ash for millions of years. There are two family friendly 1/2 mile trails. The Main Trail loops through tree exhibits and petrification information and the Meadow Trail winds through small meadows ending at a large open meadow with stunning views of Mt. St. Helena, as well as a remnant ash fall, great for exploring. 

4100 Petrified Forest Road
Calistoga, CA
Online: petrifiedforest.org

Castello di Amorosa
Kids and kids at heart will enjoy this 121,000 square-foot replica of an Italian medieval castle. Book a private guided tour and explore areas like the knights Hall, Chapel and Dungeon and maybe spy the winery cats, dogs and farm animals while you’re at it. Your mini wine connoisseur's can sip grape juice and enjoy coloring in the grand Knights Hall tasting room. Note: strollers not allowed inside the winery.

4045 St. Helena Hwy
Calistoga, CA
Onlinecastellodiamorosa.com 

photo: Nella DuBon-Koch

Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park
This California Landmark was built in 1846 and is one of only a handful of mills of its kind still functioning in the U.S. today. The mill offers tours, milling demonstrations and educational activities teaching the history of the region. Explore the easy-to-moderate History Trail hike stretching from the Mill to the eastern edge of Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Climb a hill dotted with Oak and Madrone trees and take in a historic pioneer cemetery with gravestones from the 1800s. Consider packing a lunch to enjoy at the picnic tables at the trail’s end or around the Mill. 

3369 St. Helena Highway North
St. Helena, CA
Online: napaoutdoors.org

Copperfield's Books
Located on Calistoga's main street—Lincoln Ave., Copperfield's Books has a wide variety of books, jewelry, quirky gifts, garden starter kits, local artisan treats and so much more to keep your gang entertained for days. Your little bookworms will especially like the oversized animal kites that decorate the stores ceiling.

1330 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga, CA
Online: copperfieldsbooks.com/calistoga

Sharpsteen Museum
Come learn about Calistoga's history through up-close displays, detailed interactive dioramas, pop ups and exhibits built with kiddos in mind.  Established in 1978, by Ben & Bernice Sharpsteen, the museum also features Ben's work as an animator, producer & director for Walt Disney who earned the studio 11 Oscars and Sam Brannan's (the founder of Calistoga) cottage from the 1800's.

1311 Washington St.
Calistoga, CA
Online: sharpsteenmuseum.org

Bothe Napa Valley State Park
Located in beautiful Napa Valley, this State Park offers over 10 miles of hiking trails, day use picnic areas, camping accommodations and a spring fed swimming pool for visitors to enjoy. Check out their outdoor education programs including the Junior Rangers which meet every Saturday at 10 a.m. throughout the Summer.

3801 St. Helena Highway North
Calistoga, CA
Online: napaoutdoors.org

photo: Nella DuBon-Koch

Eat

Bella Bakery and Cafe
Indulge in fresh, made from scratch goodies at this locals go to. Your little monkeys will go bananas for their nutella-banana croissant and their breakfast burritos, generous quiche slices and flavorful fruit tarts don’t disappoint. All the delicious treats will have you packing a box for the road for sure.

1353 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga, CA
Online: Bellabakery.com

Palisades Eatery
Palisades is the marriage between Checkers Pizza and Palisades Deli, making it a family hit with its welcoming laidback setting and crowd-pleasing menu of burgers, pizza, pasta, tacos, salad, a kids menu and more. 

1414 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga, CA
Online: palisadeseatery.com

Buster’s Southern BBQ
Buster's has been cooking up authentic Louisiana  BBQ since 1965. Sample their award-winning family recipes at their casual joint at the end of Lincoln Ave. There’s indoor and outdoor seating and live Jazz and Blues on Sundays from 3-6 p.m. Be sure to try their dessert specials and corn bread.

1207 Foothill Blvd.
Calistoga, CA
Online: busterssouthernbbq.com

Cafe Sarafornia
This locals favorite serves up classic diner cooking and offers breakfast all day in its homey, welcoming cafe. Some of our favorites are the Luis Burrito, the 2-2-2 Breakfast and the Bacon, lettuce, Tomato and Egg Breakfast Sandwich. There's also a mini breakfast and kids meal, perfect for the half-pints.

1413 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga, CA
Online: cafesarafornia.com

Puerto Vallarta Restaurant 
For some fresh, delicious Mexican, that tastes like abuelitas kitchen, head over to this small family owned and worked restaurant dishing out authentic meals big in flavor. From quesadillas to fajitas, you'll find something to satisfy everyone's tastebuds—great post hike or pre-hot spring soak.

1350 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga, CA
Online: puertovallartarestaurant.business.site

photo: Nella DuBon-Koch

Calistoga Creamery
Cool off after a long day of exploring with a yummy cone, frozen yogurt or custom, thick milkshake, in fun flavors like Cardamom, Lemon Cookie or good ol' Madascar Vanilla, always organic and locally made with fresh ingredients you can taste.

1473 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga, CA
Online: visitcalistoga.com

Cal Mart
Conveniently located in downtown, this gourmet grocery market is stocked with a deli, smoothie and espresso bar, a bakery, hot food items and everything you need for a picnic, as well as those last minute snacks or toiletry needs.

1491 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga, CA
Onlinecalmartnv.com

Gott’s Roadside
A short drive from Calistoga is the original Gott’s Roadside, now with several locations in the Bay Area. Savor their popular burgers, salads, shakes and more, all made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Parents can enjoy the extensive beer and wine list while the minis stretch their legs in the grassy picnic area in the back.

933 Main St.
St. Helena, CA
Online: gotts.com

 

photo: Nella DuBon-Koch

Stay

Golden Haven Hot Springs Spa and Resort
Golden Haven is known for its natural hot spring spa and mud baths. They also feature a variety of spa packages and large, comfortable rooms with kitchenette, suitable for families. Youngsters can enjoy hanging by the fire pit, playing a round of chess or cornhole on the lawn, complimentary bikes ideal for a short ride into town, and night swims in the spacious, naturally heated pool.

1713 Lake St.
Calistoga, CA
Online: goldenhaven.com

Indian Springs Calistoga
Luxury meets comfort at what was the original planned site for Stanford University. An olympic 1910 mineral pool and family pool, hot tubs, picturesque gardens adorned with roses, olive and palm trees and mission style bungalows and cottages with sweeping Napa Valley views make for topnotch accommodations your whole party will appreciate.

1712 Linciln Ave.
Calistoga, CA
Online: indianspringscalistoga.com

Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa
The Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa's decor celebrates the “great American road trip.” Rooms are inspired by vintage camper vans, including a “Camper King Suite” that features a table banquette that turns into a bed for the little ones. The warm geothermal, mineral-water fed pools and wading pool are also a hit with little travelers. There is bocce ball, hula hoops and tons of board games onsite for guests to enjoy.

1880 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga, CA
707-942-0991
Online: calistogamotorlodgeandspa.com

photo: Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection

Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection
If you are looking for the ultimate in comfortable, luxury accommodations, this is the spot. Located in the quiet town of Calistoga, Solage has everything your family will need for their wine country stay. Cottage-style suites provide privacy for your family including outdoor patios to enjoy morning espresso or an afternoon glass of wine. The two-bedroom Estate Suites offer even more private outdoor space and your own personal hot tub for relaxing in the evenings. 

Head to the pool to enjoy the newly-opened Picobar with poolside service (we definitely recommend the Cowgirl Creamery queso and the whipped avocado to share). Bikes are available to borrow throughout the property, s'mores are offered on Friday and Saturday nights and spa services are available on-site. 

755 Silverado Trail N
Calistoga, CA
Onlineaubergeresorts.com/solage

Calistoga Spa Hot Springs
The multiple geothermal mineral pools—including a kiddie pool, a large whirlpool, a Spa, fitness center, picnic areas and ample sun deck, along with guest rooms equipped with a kitchenette with cooktop and refrigerator, make this an ideal home away from home for your getaway. 

1006 Washington St.
Calistoga, CA
Online: calistogaspa.com

photo: Nella DuBon-Koch

Getting There

V. Sattui Winery
One of our favorite stops for a picnic on the way to Calistoga is V. Sattui Winery, located off Highway 29 in St. Helena. This family friendly winery features beautiful lawns with picnic tables, an artisan deli stocked with cheeses, sandwiches, salads, desserts, disposable tableware and more. Check out their website for their weekend outdoor BBQ's that include dishes such as thin crust pizzas—a hit with the kiddos, tri-tip steak and bruschetta with fresh mozzarella made onsite. Grab yourself some vino and grape-juice for the kids, enjoy the ample grounds and let the minis burn some roadtrip steam. 

1111 White Ln. (@ Highway 29)  
St. Helena, CA
Online: vsattui.com

Insiders Tip: Also on the way is Traintown in Sonoma. It features a four mile track quarter scale railroad that takes visitors to a miniature town and petting Zoo (bring quarters for food), a concession stand, all about trains gift shop and amusement rides for the whole family to enjoy. Check it out for some added fun and adventure.

 

—Nella DuBon-Koch and Kathy Chouteau

feature photo: Nella DuBon-Koch

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Insider’s Guide to CityPASS

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Did you leave your heart in San Francisco? Whether you’re planning a trip to the city by the Bay or playing tourist for a few days, max your time out with CityPASS and save some money while you are at it. Visiting premier attractions at a discounted rate without having to wait at ticket lines makes this a real San Francisco treat. Read on to find out more about what it is and how you can make it work for you!

CityPASS What?
CityPASS is a booklet/mobile passport containing VIP admission tickets to some of the city’s main points of interest. You’ll skip the lines, go straight to the main entrance and save a chunk of change in the process.

California Academy of Sciences
Explore science in the heart of Golden Gate Park. Relax in front of the deepest indoor coral reef on earth, interact with butterflies in a four-story indoor rainforest, research nearly 40,000 different creatures from around the world, study the planets in a 75-foot planetarium, visit a living roof with spectacular city views and so much more at the Cal Academy.

Upgrade it: Add on an Academy and Aquarium behind-the-scenes tour, (cost for CityPASS holders ages 8 and up is $24.95, subject to availability). Purchase day of or book online.

Insider Tips: Stop by the planetarium kiosk when you first arrive to secure a showtime (it’s right next to the gift shop). Download the free Academy Insider iphone app to help plan your visit and get the most out of your day and don’t forget. Show your CityPASS booklet at the Academy store to receive 15% off your purchase.

Hours: Mon-Sat, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Golden Gate Park
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, CA

Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure
Depart from renown Pier 39, enjoy a one-hour narrated cruise with sweeping views of locations such as San Francisco’s historic waterfront, Alcatraz and a breathtaking sail underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Tours are available in other languages via personal WiFi-enabled device. There is indoor and outdoor seating on a first come, first served basis, as well as a snack bar and restrooms onboard.

Upgrade it: Go for a 1-1/2 hour Escape from the Rock Cruise where you’ll learn Alcatraz’s history and snatch epic up-close photos. Children 5-11 receive one complimentary pair of 5x magnification souvenir binoculars with upgrade. Cost to upgrade for CityPASS holders is $5/person.

Insider Tips: Bring a hooded jacket as winds out on the Bay are strong with an occasional splash if you’re seated outdoors. Consider the morning and late afternoon cruises for less crowded options. Be sure to check in with the ticket booth as schedule is subject to change depending on weather and visit the nearby, famous Pier 39 sea lions on K-Dock.

Hours:  Available 7 days a week; frequent daily departures. Times vary by day and season and special holiday hours apply.
PIER 39
San Francisco, CA

Aquarium of the Bay
Surround yourself with native San Francisco Bay marine life and get up close views of sharks, bat rays, Garibaldis and more, as you walk through 300 feet of glass, underwater tunnels. Study the giant Pacific octopus and catch an animal encounter and more at one of the many daily programs. You and your little marine biologists will love touching and learning about sea stars, anemones and the friendly bat rays at Touch the Bay (Bay Lab). Watch the playful otters in their panoramic, watershed exhibit and learn all about ocean conservation.

Upgrade it: Get o a behind-the-scenes tour for an additional $17/ages 5 and older.

Insider Tip: Mornings are the least crowded.

Hours: Summer, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Winter, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
PIER 39
The Embarcadero and Beach Street
San Francisco, CA,

photo: The Exploratorium

Exploratorium
Experience over 650 hands-on exhibits at this family-friendly hub of science exploration. Strike a pose at the popular Shadow Box, where a bright flash illuminates a phosphorescent wall capturing your shadows. Make beautiful paintings with soap and water at the Soap Painting exhibit. Test your groups trust for one another at the two-person water fountain—Sip or Squirt. Be amazed by Rolling Through the Bay, artists Scott Weaver’s replica of San Francisco made out of 118,423 1/2 tooth picks! Have some fun talking to each other from several feet away at the iconic Archimedes, in the entrance plaza.

Upgrade it: Add on Tactile Dome and take an interactive excursion through total darkness. Must be 7 years or older, $15 for CityPASS holders.

Tip: Exploratorium After Dark is every Thursday night 6-10 p.m., enjoy one-of-a-kind activities, guest speakers, music and cocktails. Additional $19.95 per person, adults only.

Hours: Tue-Sun, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Open Thursday evenings 6-10 p.m., adults only. Closed most Mondays, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Pier 15
San Francisco, CA
photo: SFMOMA

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Wander through seven floors of modern and contemporary art that will interest all ages. One of the largest museums in the United States and one of the city’s most treasured, SFMOMA features works by Andy Warhol, Ruth Asawa, Frida Kahlo and many others. Stroll through the sculpture garden, explore the impressive 30-foot living wall and enjoy breathtaking views of the city. Check out the fun, bright-colored restrooms on every floor and savor several gourmet dining options.

Upgrade it: Special Exhibition upgrades/purchases can be made while presenting your mobile tickets, booklet or voucher at the ticketing desk.

Insider Tips: Bring headphones and download the free SFMOMA Audio app and listen to celebrities and curators give their take on the exhibits. Stop by the ticketing desk to lean more about the daily public tours. Size is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis. Be sure to walk across the oculus bridge on the fifth floor and take in the views on the seventh floor terrace.

Hours: Fri-Tue, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thu, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Through Labor Day, enjoy later hours until 9 p.m. daily. Closed Wednesdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
151 3rd St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
Other Options
As of March 1, 2020, the new San Francisco CityPASS program will cover prepaid admission to the following attractions:

  • The California Academy of Sciences
  • A Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure
  • A choice between Aquarium of the Bay OR The Walt Disney Family Museum
  • A choice between the Exploratorium OR San Francisco Zoo and Gardens

The San Francisco CityPASS C3 ticket lets shorter-stay and weekend travelers experience the benefits of the original San Francisco CityPASS program—deeply discounted prepaid admission to premier visitor sights—with a customizable mobile ticket that allows entry to three top sites. The three chosen attractions do not need to be selected in advance and can be visited in any order.

As of March 1, attraction options will include:

  • California Academy of Sciences
  • Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure
  • Aquarium of the Bay
  • Exploratorium
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art—SFMOMA
  • The Walt Disney Family Museum
  • Bay City Bike and Parkwide Bike Rentals
  • de Young Museum + Legion of Honor
  • San Francisco Zoo and Gardens

photo: Kate Loweth

Show Me the Money!

There are two ways to explore the city with CityPASS , both can save you up to 45% on your adventure.

  1. San Francisco CityPASS costs $76/ages 12+, $56/kids 4-11, and kids under may be eligible for free or discounted admission at some of the locations.
  2. San Francisco C3 costs $69/ages 12+, $54/ages 4-11, and kids under may be eligible for free or discounted admission at some of the locations. C3 passes are available in mobile form only.

Purchase

Purchase online and choose to receive mobile ticke or have a booklet shipped to you. You can also purchase a booklet once you arrive in the city at the first attraction you visit.

Visit the CityPASS FAQ page for further detailed information and answers to your questions.

—Nella DuBon-Koch
Photos by author except where otherwise noted. 
Editor’s note: Passes were provided by CityPASS but all opinions belong to the author. 
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Marin Playgrounds You Must Visit

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Marin has so much to offer from its serene open spaces to awesome, scenic playgrounds. We’ve rounded up some of our favorites for packing a picnic, soaking up the sun and letting the minis run wild.

Town Park - Corte Madera

This 22.7-acre park is a local favorite. It features several picnic tables with grills, a tennis and basketball court, soccer and softball fields and a large lawn area for picnicking. Your littles will be entertained with several play structures, swings and rock climbing wall, all enclosed by a gated fence, next to its own parking lot. 

498 Tamalpais Dr.
Corte Madera, CA
Online: townofcortemadera.org

Piper Park - Larkspur

Piper Park is located in the heart of Central Marin, along the scenic Larkspur Marina. It boasts of expansive picnic areas, Mt. Tamalpais backdrops and several sports facilities, including beach volleyball court. The renovated, timber-themed playground has several climbing structures, with slides and a rotating cone tower. There’s various picnic tables with grills, a small parking lot and even a dog park for your canine buddies.

250 Doherty Drive
Larkspur,CA
Online: cityoflarkspur.org

Millenium Playground - San Anselmo

Designed by the town's children, this playground is a favorite among Marin County families and will surely be a hit with yours. Its detailed wood train depot, town hall, castle with towers play areas, zip-line, slides, swings and signature giant dinosaur makes for hours of imaginative play. Facilities also include, restrooms, picnic tables, parking and several sports fields.

Parking Lot and playground directly across from the American Legion Log Cabin at:

20 Veterans Place
San Anselmo, CA
Online: townofsananselmo.org/Memorial-Park

Freitas Park - San Rafael

This 3.5-acre park is popular on hot days for its water play feature. Your water babies will love controlling the water flow via pressing the hand on the red pipes that sends the sprinklers through three giant rings and sprouting up from the ground. If that’s not enough excitement, just a few steps above sits the playground full of climbing structures that will keep the minis busy. There’s also a large field, picnic tables and well-kept restrooms for your needs.

89 Trellis Dr.
San Rafael, CA
Online: cityofsanrafael.org

Santa Margarita Valley Park - San Rafael

Tucked away in a cul-de-sac in the quiet Terra Linda neighborhood, this playground has a lower toddler area with climbing structure and sandbox and main playground above in the open field with tube slides, steering wheel bars and swings. You can also find a couple of picnic tables, restrooms, grassy field, tennis and basketball court, as well as several scenic Terra Linda/Sleepy Hollow open space preserve trails, adjacent to the playground.

97 De la Guerra Rd.,
San Rafael, CA
Online: cityofsanrafael.org

Pioneer Park - Novato

Historic Pioneer Park features 9 acres of walking paths, picnic and barbecue areas, tennis courts, ample lawn area (great for frisbee), benches, the Novato creek and Historic Pioneer Memorial Cemetery to explore. The impressive playground offers a tot lot and extensive play structure for the older crowd, full of slides, bars, bridges, sliding poles, climbing walls and swings. Pack a lunch and make it a day, as one can easily spend several hours here, enjoying the tranquil surroundings and letting the youngsters burn some steam.

1007 Simmons Ln.
Novato, CA
Online: novato.org

George “Rocky” Graham Park - Sausalito

This spacious park was renovated in 2015 and is the only outdoor recreational space in Marin City-Sausalito. Near the Marin Gateway Shopping Center, it offers a three level, treehouse-themed play structure with climbing wall and slides. An adult fitness area, amphitheater with turf lawn area, several picnic tables with grills, toddler play area with swings, bathrooms and murals showcasing Marin City’s history.

850 Drake Ave.
Sausalito, CA
Onlineyelp.com

Brickyard Park - Mill Valley

A charming hidden gem in the Strawberry neighborhood and a quiet, less crowded option. The boat-themed play structure and beautiful views of Richardson Bay are perfect for nautical imaginative play. There’s a couple of picnic tables and several waterfront benches. The shore is open to explore but swimming here is not recommended. Be sure to take a break on the tree swing overlooking the water.

Great Circle Drive and Seminary Drive
Mill Valley, CA
Online: strawberry.marin.org/parks

Old Mill park - Mill Valley

Nestled among a redwood grove, this is a popular go to for locals on hot, sunny days. In addition to the large, multi-leveled playground, there's Old Mill Creek (best for splashing during spring and early summer), trails and Reeds Mill—the historical landmark after which the city was named, to explore. Amenities include restrooms, picnic tables and grills.

352 Throckmorton Ave.
Mill Valley, CA
Online: millvalleyrecreation.org

 

Blackies Pasture Playground - Tiburon

Also known as Leo J. Tugenberg Playground, this playground is located along the San Francisco Bay. You can reach the playground heading south on the graveled Tiburon Historical Trail, from the main parking lot. There are two play areas, one for tots and one catering to older kids with monkey bars and rolling pipe slide. There’s lots of picnic tables, benches, open fields to run around on or take in the views. Restrooms are located behind park.

654 Tiburon Blvd.
Tiburon, CA 
Online: destinationtiburon.org

—Photos and story by Nella DuBon-Koch

Featured photo: iStock

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Over 50 Bay Area Restaurants Where Kids Eat Free

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Taking the family out for a meal on the town doesn’t have to break the bank. We’re gathered up dozens of spots that offer free kids meals from burgers to bibimbop. Scan through this massive list to pick your next family-friendly dinner spot with bonus savings!

photo: iStock

San Francisco

Squat & Gobble 
Three locations in San Francisco: West Portal, Market/Castro and Marina.
Online: squatandgobble.com
Tuesdays child’s entree free with purchase of an adult meal. 

Celia’s by the Beach
4019 Judah St.
San Francisco, CA
415-759-8741
Online: Celiasbythebeach.com
2 Kids eat free per paying adult on Wednesdays from 4:30 p.m. ’till closing. 

Amici’s
Locations: San Francisco, Danville, Dublin, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Redwood Shores, San Mateo, San Rafael, Vacaville
Online: amicis.com
Tuesdays, one child entree free per purchase of adult meal.

Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack
3230 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA
415-206-2086
Online: emmysspaghettishack.com
Mondays and Tuesdays between 5-7 p.m., kids eat free. One child’s pasta dish per adult entree.

photo: iStock

East Bay

High Tech Burrito
1815 Ygnacio Valley Rd # B,
Walnut Creek, CA
925-938-3888
Online: hightechburrito.com
Sundays, free children’s meal per adult meal purchase

Casa Orozco
7995 Amador Valley Blvd.
Dublin, CA
925-828-5464

325 South L St.
Livermore, CA
925-449-3045
Online: casaorozco.com
Mondays, one free children’s meal with each $11.99+ adult lunch entree or $14.99+ adult dinner entree.

Chevy’s
Locations: Richmond, Emeryville and Union City
Online: chevys.com
Wednesdays, kids eat for $1 with the purchase of one adult entree. Plus, kids can practice their tortilla-making skills with their own tortilla dough ball and take home a pit to grow their own avocado tree. 

El Torito
5 Monarch Bay Dr.
San Leandro, CA
510-351-8825
Online: eltorito.com
Wednesdays, kids under 12 eat for $1 with the purchase of any regular priced adult entree.

Fillipo’s
5400 College Ave.
Oakland, CA
510-601-8646
Online: filipposrestaurant.com
Tuesdays, kids eat free with adult meal purchase. The free meal includes a drink and ice cream sundae.

photo: iStock

Knudsen’s Ice Creamery   
3323 Castro Valley Blvd.
Castro Valley, CA
510-582-2775
Online: icecreamery.net
Mondays, buy one adult sundae get one kids’ sundae free. Wednesdays, buy one adult entree and get one kids’ meal free. Dine in only.

Simple Fondue
2300 First St. Suite 110
Livermore, CA
925-443-6638
Online: simplyfonduelivermore.com
Sundays, kids 12 and under eat free with each adult Fondue Brunch or Fondue Feast purchased.

Tomatina
Locations in Alameda, Union City, Walnut Creek, Santa Rosa, San Mateo, San Jose, and Santa Clara
Online: tomatina.com
Thursdays, free child’s entree per paid adult entree.

photo: iStock

Peninsula

Maverick Jacks
1190 California Dr.
Burlingame, CA
650-347-3061
Oonline:maverickjacks.com/specialevents
Mondays, 1 kids meal free with purchase of 1 adult entree. 5–9 p.m.

El Torito
388 Vintage Park Dr
Foster City, CA
650-574-6844
Online: eltorito.com
Wednesdays, kids 12 and under eat free with the purchase of any adult entree.

Jack’s Prime 
3723 South El Camino Real
San Mateo, CA
Online: jacksprime.com
Mondays, One free kid’s meal with every adult meal purchased. 5–9 p.m.

Nachoria
226 Lorton Ave.
Burlingame, CA
650-581-1321
Online: nachoria.com
Mondays are Family Nights– 1/2 off kids meal with purchase of adult meal. 4-6 p.m.

Pizza My Heart
Locations: Burlingame, San Mateo, San Jose and Emeryville
Online: pizzamyheart.com
Tuesdays, kids make your own pizza $5-$6, depending on location, 4-8 p.m.

Sweet Tomatoes
1040 Grant Road, Suite#350
Mountain View, CA

650-961-2500
Online: sweettomatoes.com
Tuesdays are Family Nights—kids eat free with meal with purchase of adult meal. 

Chevy’s
141 Hickey Blvd.
South San Francisco, CA
650-755-1617
online: chevys.com
Wednesdays, kids eat for $1 with the purchase of one adult entree. Plus, kids can practice their tortilla making skills with their own tortilla dough ball and take home a pit to grow their own avocado tree. 

 

photo: iStock

South Bay

Mendocino Farms 
Multiple locations

3090 Olsen Dr., Suite 150
San Jose, CA
One free kids’ meal for every adult meal purchased on Tuesdays.

1875 S Bascom Ave Suite 440
Campbell, CA
Online: mendocinofarms.com
One free kids’ meal for every adult meal purchased on Thursdays. 

Chevy’s
5305 Almaden Expresway
San Jose, CA
408-266-1815

8440 Murray Ave.
Gilroy, CA
408-847-2726
Online: chevys.com
Wednesdays, kids eat for $1 with the purchase of one adult entree. Plus, kids can practice their tortilla making skills with their own tortilla dough ball and take home a pit to grow their own avocado tree. 

The Blue Door Restaurant
1502 Saratoga Ave.
San Jose, CA
Online: thebluedoorrestaurant.com
Every Tuesday kids 12 and under can choose any meal item from the Kids Corner for FREE!

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit 
Locations: Livermore, Fremont, San Bruno, Castro Valley, Concord, Brentwood, Fairfield and Vacaville.
Online: dickeys.com
Sundays, kids 12 and under eat free with $10 minimum adult purchase. Dine in only.

Hobee’s 
4224 El Camino Real
Palo Alto, CA
650-856-6124

800 W. Ahwanee Ave.
Sunnyvale, CA
408-524-3580
Online: hobees.com
Wednesdays, kids 10 and under receive one free entree per paying adult, after 5 p.m. 

Marie Callender’s
751 East El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA
408-245-3710

620 Blossom Hill Rd.
San Jose, CA
408-578-0643
Online: mariecallenders.com/specials
Tuesdays and Saturdays, kids 12 and under eat free with purchase of an adult meal. 

Willow Street Pizza
1072 Willow St.
San Jose, CA
408-971-7080

20 South Santa Cruz Ave. #218
Los Gatos, CA
408-354-5566
Online: willowstreet.com
Tuesdays, kids eat free with purchase of adult entree.

Asian Box
1875 Bascom Ave.
Campbell, CA
Online: asianbox.com
Wednesdays after 5 p.m. and all day Sunday kids eat free with any box purchase. 

El Torito
477 East Calaveras Blvd.
Milpitas, CA
408-946-8012
Online: eltorito.com
Wednesdays, kids under 12 eat for $1 with the purchase of any regular priced adult entree.

photo: iStock

North Bay

Black Bear Diner
490 Las Gallinas Ave.
San Rafael, CA
415-295-7897
Online: blackbeardiner.com/sanrafael
Tuesdays, kids bring in their teddy bears for Teddy Bear Tuesdays and eat free. 

Crepevine
1133 4th St.
San Rafael, CA
415-257-8822
Online: crepevine.com/sanrafael
Mondays, kids eat free with purchase of adult meal. 4 p.m.–close.

740 Farmers Lane
Santa Rosa, CA
707-577-8822
Online: crepevine.com/santarosa
Tuesdays, kids eat free with purchase of adult meal. 4 p.m.–close.

High Tech Burrito
800 Redwood Hwy.
Mill Valley, CA
415-388-7001

914-A Sir Francis Drake
San Anselmo, CA
415-455-9176
online: hightechburrito.com
Sundays, one kids meal free per every adult meal purchase.

Chevy’s
Locations in Novato, Santa Rosa and Vallejo
Online: chevys.com
Wednesdays, kids eat for $1 with the purchase of one adult entree. Plus, kids can practice their tortilla making skills with their own tortilla dough ball and take home a pit to grow their own avocado tree.

Finnegan’s Marin
877 Grant Ave.
Novato, CA
415-899-1516
Online: finnegansmarin.com
Sundays, kids eat free all day, one kids meal per adult entree.

Sonoma Taco Shop
210 Northgate One
San Rafael, CA
415-479-9066
Online: sonomatacoshop.com
Every day, kids eat free with the purchase of an adult meal. Dine in only.

Heads up: These deals could change at any time, confirm them with the restaurant before heading over.

—Shruti Priya Bapna, Nella DuBon-Koch, Melissa Bouse and Kate Loweth

Featured photo: iStock

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Santa Maria is a Central California-coastal city, boasting of vineyards, breathtaking coastal views, Hollywood history, agriculture and it’s famous Santa Maria-style barbecue. Situated along the historic El Camino Real, between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, this hidden gem offers loads of family-friendly activities and local eateries that make it the perfect destination for your next SoCal road trip. Read on for our picks, to make your central coast family trip a breeze!

Explore

Dig deep into the native Chumash past and Learn about the local National Natural landmark-The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, filled with Hollywood history, at the Dunes Center, in historic Guadalupe. The Center offers animal specimens, interactive educational activities and short films about the local area. Enjoy researching and comparing sand samples from all over the world at the Great Sand Challenge wall, where you’ll learn how to tell sands age and what region it’s from based on color.

Add to the collection by taking an information card, collecting a sand sample from your next travels and delivering it to the Center. Get up close to the fascinating, unearthed artifacts from the “Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille”, who built the largest set in movie history in the nearby dunes, for the 1923 silent epic, The Ten Commandments. Every hollywood buffs dream! Check out all the films that have been shot in the area and find out why its referred to as Hollywood’s second home. Open Wednesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m., other days by appointment. $7/adults, $6/seniors, kids 12 and under are free.

Get a closer look at the dunes by driving all the way down West Main Street to the entrance of the 592-acre Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve. The miles of photo-worthy sand dunes and views of the shore are truly spectacular and familiar from films like The Ten Commandments (1923), G.I Jane, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End. The park has beach access, although swimming here is highly discouraged due to strong rip currents. There are restrooms, hiking and picnic areas and plenty of free parking. Tip: be sure to bring a sweater as it gets pretty windy at times. Keep an eye out for a friendly ranger, ready to answer all of your questions and share the efforts taken to conserve the snowy plover and California least tern nesting grounds, the preserves diverse ecosystem and fauna and flora that thrive in this habitat. Hours: 7 a.m.–sunset. No dogs allowed at any time.

photo: University of the Fraser Valley via flickr

Take the fun indoors and let your mini mad-scientists run loose at the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum. This hands-on, science-based, education space is the hub for all things creative exploration and play. The interactive exhibits, daily educational programs and Discovery Makerspace will keep everyone occupied for hours. The Makerspace, where you can enjoy stations like robotics, woodwork and circuitry is included with museum admission.

Your little music lovers will love The Walking Piano where they can learn to read simple sheet music and play familiar tunes in no time. The Vandenberg Launch Experience will give the whole family an opportunity to experience a space launch using actual United Launch Alliance Control Center computer consoles and all will have a blast with pretend play at the various real-life replica exhibits.

If all that discovering makes you tired, head down to Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard & Winery for a relaxing, countryside setting and an assortment of handcrafted wines. The kiddos can play games like cornhole, giant Jenga, Apples to Apples and chess, while you sit back, take in the peaceful surroundings and enjoy a glass of their smooth dessert Syrah. Take a stroll through their beautiful 78-acre, family-friendly estate and explore the wine caves—the first built in Santa Barbara County. Tasting is $15 for six pours with last pour at 4:45 p.m. and cave tours are $40 per person, include a small food pairing, tasting, guided tour and barrel tasting. Take in the peaceful surroundings and let the knowledgeable staff fill you in on the vineyards history and their “distinctively different age-worthy wines.”

Eat

Moxie Cafe is a local favorite serving wholesome, health-conscious foods, that range from pastas to sandwiches. The staff is welcoming and the aviation decor, honoring the cities WWII aviation contribution, is inviting. There’s a variety of yummy breakfast to dinner choices for the 12-and-under crowd, several paired with locally-sourced, Santa Maria strawberries, some of the sweetest you’ll ever taste. Try the popular Chicken Milano pasta, in house-made Milano sauce, with all-natural chicken and warm, fresh ciabatta on the side.

There’s plenty of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options as well as an extensive beer and wine list. Complete your meal with their crowd pleasing Snowball Brownie—your choice of favorite gelato on top of a freshly baked, warm chocolate brownie. You may want to get your own. Dine Thursday–Saturday and enjoy family-friendly, live music.

For wood fired pizzas and fresh ingredients you can taste, visit Pizzeria Bello Forno, in Old Town Orcutt. With creation’s like Stephanie’s Carne Asada and Tart Cherries and Sausage, it’s easy to see why they were voted best pizza in Northern Santa Barbara County. Their hearty house-made angus beef meatballs and flavorful roasted pepper-tomato cream soup were a hit with adult and kiddos alike. The friendly staff and charming location make this a foodie must.

Enjoy Santa Maria-style barbecue and history at the Far Western Tavern. Established in 1958 by the Minetti family, this landmark restaurant is established in native ingredients and methods made known by the local 19th century rancheros. Using Santa Maria Valley local ingredients and traditional family recipes, the cuts are juicy, uniquely seasoned and served with the classic pinquito beans, bread, salsa, choice of green salad or farmers market soup and more.

Your little vaqueros won’t be left behind with choices including beef sliders and steak skewers. The western decor will take you back to the towns Swiss-Italian ranching roots and top-notch service will make you feel like family. If you still have room for desert, do your wild bunch a favor and savor the Crème Brûlée Trio in vanilla bean & lavender shortbread, orange blossom and walnut tuile and seasonal berry & orange biscotti flavors.

Satisfy your sweet tooth at Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab—a Central Coast go to, serving hand-crafted, premium ice cream in unique monthly featured flavors and original, traditional classics such as Merlot Raspberry Truffle and Elvis Special. The Orcutt Crunch-marshmallow ice cream, caramel, pecans, chocolate chips and toffee, is this location’s featured flavor and Motor Oil—dark chocolate, Kahlua ice cream and fudge swirls—are both worth the stop. The fun interactive parlor design, including an ice cream lab and giant checker board, will keep the whole family entertained while enjoying your treats.

Stay

The newly remodeled Fairfield Inn and Suites Santa Maria is centrally located to main points of interest and right off Highway 101, making it the perfect destination for your stay. Amenities include, fitness center, indoor pool, business center open to all guests, ample free guest parking and convenient in-room refrigerators. The assortment of items offered at the complimentary hot breakfast buffet will surely please even the pickiest of eaters and get you going on your adventures. Your little travelers will enjoy the do-it-yourself waffle maker and you the complimentary 24/7 coffee bar in the lobby. The courteous staff will help you with your needs and make you feel right at home.

Seasonal Adventures

If you’re in the Santa Maria Valley in the spring, be sure to check out the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum’s Free Family Kite Festival. Attracting over 2,000 kite enthusiasts from all over the central coast, the festival is quite a sight to see. It also hosts several children’s educational activity booths with games for the kids, community resources and local vendors including your usual fare of churros, snow cones, kettle corn and more.

Held annually at Rotary Centennial Park, in the beautiful South College Drive neighborhood, the park has two playgrounds, basketball courts, large grassy open space, several picnic tables, restrooms on site, free parking lot as well as plenty of free street parking. Pack a picnic and lawn chairs, wear plenty of sunblock, enjoy the view and live entertainment and don’t forget your kites!

—story and photos by Nella DuBon-Koch unless otherwise noted

Editor’s note: This trip was paid for by Santa Maria Valley but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.