Indian Springs: family-friendly resort in Wine Country

Bunk beds, Cottage 8.

Bunk beds, Cottage 8.

People assume that because California’s Wine Country is all about wine, it’s not a destination for families. I live here, and let me tell you – this could not be farther from the truth.

My wife and I were reminded of this again this past weekend when we spent a night at Indian Springs Resort & Spa, a Bohemian paradise at the north end of the Napa Valley. The resort dates back to the late 1800s and currently is at the tail end of a multimillion-dollar expansion and renovation that basically tripled the size of the place. Another benefit of all the construction: The place now is more family-friendly than ever before.

Our accommodations—Cottage No. 8, for those of you scoring at home—reflected this perfectly. When the cottage was built, in the 1930s, it was a one-bedroom/one-bathroom with a kitchen. Today, the cottage still has the main bedroom (with a queen-sized bed), the bathroom, and a sitting room. But as part of the upgrade, the kitchen was converted into a second bedroom with bunk beds.

The bunks, from Restoration Hardware, were a great design: queen on bottom, twin on top. As part of the rehab, the resort also covered one of the windows with a chalkboard on which kids could draw. (ICYW, the resort provided a little basket of chalk.)

Elsewhere in the cottage, in the main sitting room, we found a mini-fridge, and plates and silverware.

The cottage would have been great for our family of five. Though Powerwoman and I appreciated escaping with Baby G, we lamented that we hadn’t brought our big girls to experience it, as well.

We thought of L and R at other moments during our stay. Near the main pool, which is fed by a natural spring and has waters that are always somewhere between 92 and 102 degrees, the resort has set up two kid-sized picnic tables with cups of colored pencils. Near the main spa building, there’s a Gratitude Tree on which guests of all ages can write down what they’re grateful for and hang the tags on the tree.

The resort also has shuffleboard, ping pong, and bocce. And a restaurant with a killer kids’ menu (and churros flavored by candy-cap mushrooms). For the grown-ups, there’s an amazing spa, and an adults-only pool.

In short, if I were visiting Wine Country with young children, Indian Springs would be one of the first resorts I called upon to inquire about availability. Not only do I recommend the place, but I can’t wait to get back (with big girls in tow). Maybe we’ll see you there.

On the rails for a family holiday travel day trip

Little R (and cat), enjoying the view.

Little R (and cat), enjoying the view.

While I always love family treks to faraway places, I also am a huge fan of day trips close to home. These excursions are great ways to introduce kids to new stuff in their own (proverbial) backyards. They also usually are cheaper and less disruptive of the family routine.

One of our favorite “local” day trips in recent weeks was a holiday-themed ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train. The excursion represented my parents’ Christmas/Hanukkah gift to my 3-year-old daughter, Little R.

Considering how much fun I had, it might as well have been my gift, too.

Our experience started at the bustling depot in downtown Napa, where hundreds of families waited patiently (and some not so patiently) for engineers to signal it was time to board. A large number of these folks waited in queues to have their photos taken with Santa. We lingered near the platform, marveling at the size of the train wheels and admiring the train itself.

This was a wise spot to wait; when it came time to board, we were that much closer to the front of the line. Everyone had assigned seats, so once the ticket-taker let us through, we headed toward the rear of the train for Car No. 11, where we were escorted to a spacious booth in a refurbished dining car. The booth became our home for the next two hours. As the train headed north toward Yountville, the four of us colored pictures of trains (with crayons provided by servers in the car), played word games with each other, and watched in amazement as the world zoomed by outside.

(A bridge! A vineyard! A truck full of bottles! )

Of course we snacked, too. Though food wasn’t included in the $30 ticket fees, servers in our car presented us with a menu featuring a handful of (reasonably priced) breakfast goodies (such as fruit, pastries, etc.) and a variety of drinks (non-alcoholic options, such as milk and hot chocolate, for the kids; alcoholic options, including wine and spiked eggnog, for the grown-ups).

As a family, we went in for a bunch of different stuff. (Little R is not a fan of cheese Danish. Now we know.) Dad got sparkling wine. I got the eggnog.

By the time the train stopped outside Domaine Chandon, in Yountville, to turn around, R was ready to get some wiggles out. Thankfully, that’s precisely when a cavalcade of mascot-like beings started making their way through the train to interact with kids and pose for pictures.

First came a person dressed as Frosty the Snowman. Then came someone dressed as Rudolph. There also was a giant gingerbread man. And, of course, Santa. R took in all of it, clapping and smiling and staring at every one of the characters. When the train started moving again, she was transfixed by the scenery as if she was seeing all of it for the first time.

And when the train finally stopped back at the depot in downtown Napa, her comment was, quite simply, “But I want to keep going on the train!”

Sure, there was more to our afternoon in Wine Country, including lunch at the Oxbow Public Market (C Casa in the house!) and a stop at The Model Bakery in St. Helena for peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. But the highlight of R’s 2014 holiday celebration was a special ride on the Wine Train. As far as day trips go, you can’t get much richer than that.

What sorts of family day trips do you like to take from your home?

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