Napa on a Budget

While Napa Valley is a Disneyland for wine connoisseurs, it’s also a destination where families can experience culinary bliss, high adventure and natural wonders on any budget. We offer tips for an economy vacation, a moderately-priced weekend or a shoot-the-moon extravaganza.


The Fun:  Swing like a monkey on dynamic play structures at Yountville Park and Napa’s Fuller Park.  The crown jewel for the preschool and elementary set is Playground Fantastico, Napa, designed with input from hundreds of local children. Later, chase down a stream while surrounded by coast redwoods at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Older kids can bike the Napa Valley Vine Trail.  

Next, traipse through downtown Napa, Calistoga, Yountville or St. Helena. Sample gourmet goods at Napa’s Oxbow Public Market and stroll the Napa River Trail. Take a break at the 9/11 Memorial made of four original beams from the World Trade Center. Be sure to step inside a depot car turned candy store at Sugar Train in Calistoga.

History hungry? Learn about the region’s agricultural roots at Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park, Calistoga. Minutes away is Sharpsteen Museum, which uses creative dioramas to illustrate life in the 1860s.

Drop in on wineries with amazing art and architecture.  At the sculpture garden at Clos Pegase, Calistoga, give a thumbs-up to the giant thumb. In St. Helena, Hall Winery’s 35-foot-high stainless steel Bunny Foo Foo will steal your heart. And when parents arrange a private wine tasting at Frog’s Leap Winery, Rutherford, kids get coloring books and juice boxes for free. Playing tag with the winery dog is also free.

The Eats: In Calistoga, kids reign at Checkers Pizza, Café Sarafornia and Scoops & Swirls ice creamery.  Visit St. Helena’s Sunshine Market deli and grab dessert from Model Bakery. For burgers and sandwiches in Yountville, go to Pacific Blues Café. For Mexican eats, hit up Tanya’s Taqueria, a Napa favorite.

The Sleeps: Camp at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park for $35 nightly.  Go “glamping” at the park’s canvas-covered yurts priced at $75 and $70, beds included.  For hotels under $150, websites such as and offer wallet-happy rates at places such Wine Valley Lodge, Hawthorn Suites and Napa Winery Inn.


The Fun:  Zoom up to Sterling Vineyards via gondola for views extraordinaire. Adult rides cost $29, kids 21 and under are $15, and tots 3 and under are free.

 If you can’t get to Yellowstone to observe Old Faithful, admire Calistoga’s Old Faithful geyser. Meet the fainting goats. Rates: $14 for adults 12 and over, $8 kids 4-12 and kids under 4 are free.  

In St. Helena, the Culinary Institute of America provides one-hour cooking demos for $20 per person.  Steps away from the demo theater, the well-stocked gift shop sells mini-sized chef hats and aprons for junior cooks.

Recite your favorite Lord of the Rings passages from a castle drawbridge at Castello di Amorosa winery. A self-guided castle tour costs $25 for adults and $15 for kids ages 5 to 20. 

The Eats:  At Boon Fly Café, Napa, Green Eggs & Ham is ever popular with the Dr. Seuss crowd. In St. Helena, line up at Gott’s Roadside for wait-worthy burgers. Yountville’s Redd Wood serves blistered wood-fired pizzas and house-made pasta. Dine indoors or outdoors by the firepit, noshing on New American fare at trendy St. Helena’s Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch. In Napa, Heritage Eats, takes global street food to a whole new level, If you love authentic tiramisu, order one at Bosko’s Trattoria in  Calistoga.

The Sleeps: Calistoga Spa Hot Springs wows guests with four pools, but the baby wading pool is where the action is. Priced in the low-$200s, each modern room comes equipped with well-outfitted kitchenette. Rollaway beds available. Higher up the price ladder in the $300s is the elegant Silverado Resort and Spa, Napa.  It boasts tennis courts, swimming pools, golf, spa and four restaurants and eateries.  At The Grill, kids order from their own coloring book menu. Girls ages 8 to 13 can sign up for a Princess Delight mini-manicure or pedicure while older teens can receive facials and hair salon treatments.  Need adult time? Customize a one-day Junior Tennis and Golf Camp for the children.  In the summer, a kids’ camp combines golf, tennis and swimming.


The Fun:  Go up, up and away, but only go ballooning if Junior is at least 6 years od and 48inches tall. Make sure everyone can wake up before sunrise for this four-hour excursion. At Balloons Aloft, Yountville, a basic ride costs $200 per person and $150 for kids ages 6-16. At Balloons Above the Valley, the pilot usually surprises kids with soap bubbles for blowing, and a champagne brunch is always included for $209 per adult and $165 per child.

 On terra firma, Casa Lana Gourmet Retreats of Calistoga tantalizes with five-hour cooking workshops. Book a private class, which includes your fresh-made, multi-course meal. Prices: up to 4 people $750, extra guest $175.  Recommended for kids 10 and up. 

Like to eat but not cook?  The solution is Foodies On Foot, a guided walking tour at $79 per person, ages 11 and up, that gives you stops at seven eateries. Children ages 4-10 cost $39.50. Under 4 go free, but are expected to share yummies with Mom and Dad.

Finally, Napa Segway Tours serves up themed trips throughout the valley. Consider a Wetlands ride by the river or the Calistoga or Yountville History tour for two hours at $75. Kids must be at least 12 years old and weigh a minimum of 85 pounds.

The Eats: Nowadays, it’s not unusual for parents to bring the kiddos to award-winning restaurants, but it never hurts to remind them of manners.  Perched on a hilltop, Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford, will spoil you with unparalleled views, so choose an outdoor table. For a real celebration, Cole’s Chop House in Napa is an extravagant and exceptional steakhouse, much ballyhooed as a carnivore heaven. Iron Chef fans can pay homage to Morimoto Napa, owned by Chef Masaharu Morimoto, star of the famous food show. Not only is the Japanese fare outstanding, but the décor os gorgeous and the service top shelf. 

The Sleeps: Catering to champagne tastes is St. Helena, Meadowood, a 250-acre resort with tennis, golf, croquet and hiking frills. It’s known in the gastronomy world for the prestigious Michelin starred The Restaurant dining room. A children’s pool helps little ones cool off. Age 16 and up can indulge in services at the completely reimagined Meadowood Spa. A town car can take you into Yountville or St. Helena. The resort treats guests to a daily wine hour with gourmet eats. Bedrooms and suites range from $1,125 to nearly $3,000 per night for a two-bedroom .

The farm-style Carneros Inn is an enclave of tony cottages with three restaurants, spa, bocce ball, hot tubs, pool and general store. A family pool comes stocked with toys, and you can send little ones to learn downward facing dog in a kid’s yoga class.  Teens 14 and up can check out bikes.  Summer Saturday nights feature outdoor movies.  A family suite runs approximately $1,000 per night and a three-bedroom house in this Napa resort costs approximately $2,300.

No matter how often you visit, there will always be a new restaurant to savor or new adventure to brave. As close as it is to the Bay Area, you have the advantage of day tripping Napa or curating a weeklong memory. 

Napa Bound!


Bothe-Napa Valley State Park:

Carneros Inn:

Calistoga Spa Hot Springs:

Hawthorn Suites:

Napa Winery Inn:

Silverado Resort and Spa:

Wine Valley Lodge:



Auberge du Soleil:

Boon Fly Café:

Checkers Pizza:

Café Sarafornia:

Cole’s Chop House:

Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch:

Gott’s Roadside: 

Heritage Eats:

Model Bakery:

Morimoto Napa:

Tanya’s Taqueria:



Culinary Institute of America:

Oxbow Public Market:

Napa River Trail:

Napa Valley Vine Trail:

Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park:

Sharpsteen Museum:



Balloons Aloft:

Balloons Above the Valley:

Casa Lana Gourmet Retreats:

Foodies On Foot:

Napa Valley Segway Tours:

Pioneer Park, Yountville Park: 

Playground Fantastico:


Clos Pegase:

Hall Winery:

Castello di Amorosa:

Sterling Vineyards:

Frog’s Leap Winery:


Tagline Kathy Chin Leong, executive editor of, vacations in Napa every year.  Her kids never complain.




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