Vines, Wines, Fine Dining… and Family-Friendly Fun in Napa Valley

I am a mom. It’s a fact that may belie my bias when I tell you that sometimes a girl simply needs a break. Children, husbands, work, the unending demands of every single day… it catches up with you. Even the oft-offered advice, “You must make time for yourself!” can feel like just another pressure.

The anecdote to the mayhem? A few relaxing days away in wine country, visiting family and friends. With our two young children in tow, my husband and I headed to Napa, where we whiled away the days wining, dining and spending quality time with the kids and engaging in adult endeavors like wine tasting and fine dining.

You might not think of Napa Valley wine country as a family-friendly travel destination, but there’s plenty to keep the kiddos entertained, particularly at both of the premier properties we experienced on a recent visit: The Silverado Resort and Spa (www.silveradoresort.com) and The Meritage Resort and Spa (www.themeritageresort.com) - more on both later.

Napa is known for its panoramic vistas, fine dining and history. Because we were only in town for a few days, we wanted to be able to sample the best of the region’s varietals without having to drive from winery to winery. Having friends with local knowledge proved to be a particular boon - they turned us onto what was arguably the highlight of the trip: the Napa Valley Wine Train.

What better way to experience the views and vintages, enjoy a gourmet meal and step back in time to a bygone era of luxury, class and nostalgic train travel in the days when rails ruled as the preferred mode of getting around than to step aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train (www.winetrain.com)?

The Napa Valley railway dates back to the late 19th century and eventually became part of the Southern Pacific Railroad (the original passenger service was discontinued in 1929). Sixty years later, when Southern Pacific petitioned to abandon the line, a group of local investors formed the Napa Valley Railroad (NVRR) and purchased the right of way to preserve a piece of history for future generations.

With 100-year-old railcars and a 150-year-old rail corridor, the NVRR has evolved into one of the most popular excursion trains in the country. The Wine Train’s gourmet lunch and dinner trains began service in 1989 and the line, which now includes 36 miles of track, rolls by 26 different wineries at about 10 miles an hour (the trip, which lasted just shy of three, started and ended at the downtown Napa station).

Diners enjoy a delicious, multiple course gourmet meal prepared in one of the antique train’s trio of on-board kitchens, where the Wine Train’s passionate culinary team cooks up fresh, California cuisine made to order for each guest.

Our friends also turned us on to a pair of distinctly different and equally wonderful accommodations options: The Silverado Resort and Spa and The Meritage Resort and Spa.

Silverado Resort and Spa

Situated along Napa Valley’s scenic Silverado Trail, the Silverado Resort and Spa (www.silveradoresort.com) features four different family-friendly “neighborhoods” to choose from - the two-bedroom condo we stayed at came with perks like a fully-equipped kitchen, refrigerator, dishwasher, toaster and microwave and a dining area with a table for four for the convenience of eating in and plenty of square footage for everyone to have their own space.

There is nothing understated about this gorgeous, rambling property - from the palm-tree-lined drive winding its way up to the “mansion,” the resort’s white antebellum-style main building and the 390 rooms scattered across 1,200 acres to the sheer abundance of outdoor and indoor activities for enthusiasts of all ages, including two 18-hole golf courses, 10 swimming pools, three restaurants, 13 tennis courts, nearby hiking and jogging trails, bike rentals and onsite bocce.

The Meritage Resort and Spa

Set against the rolling vineyards of California’s wine country, The Meritage Resort and Spa (www.meritageresort.com) proved to be an all-inclusive amenity-rich experience: the Four-Diamond Napa Valley property features wine tasting, award-winning cuisine, rejuvenating spa treatments, bowling and luxurious accommodations - all without ever venturing off the property’s 32+ acres of stunning real estate.

The Meritage Resort and Spa opened in July 2006 to become one of Napa Valley’s top luxury hotels and resorts. Situated in front of nine acres of hillside vineyards, The Meritage Resort opened in July 2006 along with the adjacent Vino Bello Resort, creating an ultimate Wine County destination. Combined, the Napa resorts feature 502 luxury guestrooms and suites (322 at The Meritage Resort and Spa; 180 at Vino Bello), a gourmet restaurant, casual dining options (including Crush Ultra Lounge which serves up signature cocktails and sports entertainment), two swimming pools, a premier meeting and event space.

In 2007, Spa Terra opened at The Meritage Resort, making hotel history with its unique location - 40 feet below the iconic Grape Crusher statue, the world’s first entirely underground spa was built. The 9,500 square foot, $7.5 million project features steam grottos, soaking pools, water walls, and lavishly appointed private treatment rooms for individuals and couples.