The California spirit: Explore the culinary wonders of the Golden State
Sure, California 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 kid-friendly fun zones that happen to also offer amazing options 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 kids’ menus. Some places even have tail-wagging dogs that welcome a good scratch behind the ears.
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens
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.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
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 everyone’s-welcome play land isn’t just about wine but relaxing in wine-country style—no matter when you were born. On a warm afternoon in summer, relax by the fabulous pool while your kids wade in special shallow zones or splash in fountains, and you might start scheming how to work here so you never have to leave.
See who’s got game in your family with a round of bocce on pretty courts overlooking surrounding vineyards. Take turns watching the kids so you can slip away for wine tasting or join an interesting tour.
Tucked away in the southwest 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’s offers crazy-good fun for families.
First, there are lively Saturday night bonfires, offered on summer weekends. Kids can climb aboard a mechanical bull, get their faces painted, take a carriage ride around the property, and give you please-can-I-have-one looks for treats from snack bar. They just might get what they want after you’ve relaxed with a local glass of wine or craft beer. Kids can also visit with the ranch’s dogs and horses. Live music sometimes adds a nice touch (check the winery website for details).
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
One of the early—and now leading—names in California’s craft beer scene, this brewing company has grown from modest 1980 beginnings in the tucked-away college town of Chico, about 85 miles north of Sacramento, to operate microbreweries all over the U.S. The impressive yet inviting headquarters is a must stop for any craft-brew fan; take the excellent brewery tour to learn about beer-making and get a touch of local history too. While the guided tasting of new and limited-release beers is for adults only, the entire family can dine in the brewery’s Taproom restaurant. The kids’ menu has some fun twists too, such as organic peanut butter, golden raisins, and fresh fruit on crunchy flatbread.
Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves
Book the Ultimate Tour at this picturesque vineyard, spilling down a vine-covered hillside on the outskirts of Healdsburg, and get ready to blow away your kids. To tour the rambling estate, climb aboard a Swiss military-style vehicle to bump and jostle across the hills (kids love it). Next, follow your guide on a walking tour of Bella’s elegantly appointed wine caves—including richly appointed nooks and crannies reserved for weddings and other special events—to an underground tasting room.
The Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant
On the search for great beer in the City by the Bay, but toting along your little ones? Head for this handsomely restored 1930s-era building overlooking San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. Check out 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).