Sure wine country is romantic, but now it’s a surprisingly great destination for families too, with a growing number of vineyards trading in elegant tasting rooms for child-friendly fun zones that happen to also pour amazing wines for the grownups. The boom in craft breweries has also been a boom for families, with brewing facilities including not just tasting rooms, but inviting outdoor spaces, special family-friendly tours, and restaurants offering special children's menus. Some places even have tail-wagging dogs that welcome a good scratch behind the ears.
With more than 130 breweries within its borders, San Diego County has become a hub of craft brewing. Yet one of its oldest craft breweries remains one of its brightest stars, with die-hard fans the world over.
Stone Brewing was founded in 1996 by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, two music industry guys who discovered they shared a mutual obsession with craft brewing. The duo’s bold, hop-centric Stone IPA immediately struck a chord with beer lovers, and the brewery has been expanding ever since.
After outgrowing its original San Marcos space, Stone moved to a 57,000-square-foot facility in Escondido. Over the years, the brewery has racked up too many awards and accolades to name, landing the top spot on BeerAdvocate’s list of “All-Time Top Brewers.”
Stone’s Escondido brewing complex is also home to Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, named by RateBeer Best in 2017 as “The Best Place for Beer in the United States." With its lush organic gardens, waterfalls and cosy Adirondack chairs, the expansive outdoor patio is a great place to kick back and sample as many as a dozen Stone brews. Bring the kids, even, who can dabble their fingers in sparkling fountains and join you for a game of bocce on a pair of courts. After dark, an outdoor movie screen adds free entertainment for all, while fire pits warm the scene.
Academy Award winning director Francis Ford Coppola adds his larger than life style to his estate like compound near Geyserville, in the north end Sonoma County wine country. This play land, where everyone is welcomed, is not just about wine, but about relaxing in wine country style. On a warm afternoon in summer, relax by the fabulous pool while your children wade in special shallow zones or splash in fountains, and you might start wishing you never had to leave.
Play a round of bocce (similar to boules) with your family on pretty courts overlooking surrounding vineyards. Take turns watching the children so you can slip away for wine tasting, or join an interesting tour.
Inside the main building, where there is also a full service restaurant celebrating fresh, local ingredients, visit Coppola’s memorabilia filled film gallery, complete with some of his shiny Academy Awards.
Insider’s tip: Splurge on a poolside private cabana for ultimate relaxation; day-use fee includes an all-day pool pass. Bocce courts and some wine tastings are free.
Tucked away in the south-west corner of Riverside County, this vineyard retains its traditional California ranch feel while still being only a hop, skip, and a jump from the beaches of Southern California. And it offers very good fun for families.
First, there are lively Saturday night bonfires, offered on summer weekends. Children can climb aboard a mechanical bull, have their faces painted, take a carriage ride around the property, and have treats from snack bar. They just might get what they want after you’ve relaxed with a local glass of wine or craft beer. Children can also look at the ranch’s resident dogs and horses. Live music sometimes adds a nice touch (check the winery website for details).
Insider’s tip: Unlike some local wineries, this ultra-casual Temecula Valley charmer does not require reservations for its wine tastings.
What began as a cobbled-together home-brewing operation grew up to become the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, one of America’s first modern microbreweries, and the producer of one of California’s most beloved beers: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
Founder Ken Grossman started out as a young home brewer, making beer in five-gallon batches with homemade equipment. After studying chemistry at university, he opened a home-brewing shop in Chico for like-minded brewing fanatics.
Two years later, he took the plunge into commercial brewing. To make do with limited funds, Grossman outfitted his operation with used dairy tanks, a soft-drinks bottler and equipment salvaged from defunct breweries.
In 1980, he brewed his first bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The bold, piney beer was an instant hit, so much so that Grossman had to expand the brewery twice to keep up with demand.
In the decades since that first auspicious batch of its namesake pale ale, Sierra Nevada’s line-up has grown to include many other fascinating brews, such as Hop Hunter IPA, Kellerweis, Beer Camp IPA and the intense 'High Altitude' series.
At Sierra Nevada’s taproom and restaurant in Chico, visitors can sample 19 draft beers and enjoy seasonal, farm-to-table fare. Those interested in observing up close how it all happens can select from a range of brewery tours, each of varying length. The restaurant makes bread from spent brewers’ grain and even offers a good children's menu, with organic peanut butter, golden raisins and fresh fruit on a crunchy flatbread. The brewery also has a 350-seat live music venue, so be prepared to stay a while.
Book the Ultimate Tour at this picturesque vineyard, spilling down a vine covered hillside on the outskirts of Healdsburg. To tour the estate, climb aboard a Swiss military style vehicle to bump and jostle across the hills. Next, follow your guide on a walking tour of Bella’s elegantly appointed wine caves, including richly appointed areas reserved for weddings and other special events, to an underground tasting room.
Back outside, relax under handsome oaks, maybe with another glass or two, and enjoy the stunning scenery.
On the search for great beer in the City by the Bay, but taking your little ones along? Head for this handsomely restored 1930s era building overlooking San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. Look at the lobby’s remarkable original murals, but ignore the signs directing you to the more formal upstairs restaurant.
Instead, head straight back to the Beach Chalet’s inviting garden, which seems to meld into the forests of Golden Gate Park. Children love to dash around the open space while you order a house brew or choose from a wide array of California wines by the glass. Can’t decide which beer to try? The sampler set is for you.
Adam Firestone grew up in the vineyards and cellar of his family’s namesake winery in the Central Coast, yet he developed a thirst for brewing at an early age. He carried out his brewing experiments using converted winemaking equipment—and the results weren’t always great.
Undeterred, Firestone continued fiddling with beer recipes and trying to convince others to buy into his dream of opening a brewery. He finally found a willing partner in David Walker, his brother-in-law, and together they conspired to create a brewery that would combine Old World craft with California innovation. In 1996, they opened Firestone Walker in Paso Robles.
The duo’s first release, a cask-fermented English-style ale called DBA (Double Barrel Ale), has become a California classic.
Along with the Paso brewery, Firestone Walker has outlets in Buellton and Venice, each with its own focus. The main location produces the flagship beers and vintage barrel-aged brews, and offers brewery tours (kids as young as 12 are welcome to come along).
The Barrelworks facility in Buellton focuses on eccentric wild ales. The Propagator brewhouse in Venice specializes in experimental beers and limited local offerings. Beer tastings are offered at all three locations, and each has its own restaurant, all of which are family-friendly: Menu items include big burgers, house-made pretzels, fish-and-chips and pizza.
For a fun road trip with something for everyone, wind into wine country north of Santa Barbara to this elegant estate. There are delicious wines for grown-ups, including a complex Syrah, with hints of blackberry and mocha, and Roussane, an unusual white with apricot, fig, and honey notes, but there is also a giant chessboard with life size pieces. If the children don’t know how to play chess, just use the pieces for draughts. Get beautiful views and a nice dose of nature on inviting trails to deep pools of shade beneath handsome live oaks.
Plan ahead and pack a picnic, including meats and other items for grilling (on-site grills and picnic tables are open to all). Or, on most summer and holiday weekends, enjoy creative fare from local food trucks while local singers and musicians perform on the lawn.
Four house beers, 20 local brews on draught, and over 100 different bottles are certainly the main draws at this temple to beer in the unfussy and laid-back Sonoma County town of Sebastopol. But a beer garden in the back, with tables with umbrellas and twining grape vines hinting at surrounding wine country, makes an inviting retreat for families. Fire pits warm up chilly evenings. And you can warm up with a rich Cabernet Sauvignon or another Sonoma vintage by the glass.
A children’s menu offers chicken tenders and mac and cheese, but adventurous youngsters can order pan roasted salmon and a great choice of fresh salad stuff. HopMonk Tavern regularly books live music, so the young children can show off their dance moves too.