Family Friendly Wineries in Sonoma, California

When I told my daughter that we were going to spend a couple of days in Sonoma during our upcoming California trip, she asked “Do I have to go to wineries?”

“Yes, you do,” was my very firm answer. We try to balance all of our trips with things that each member of the family enjoys, and usually the balance is tipped in the direction of the youngest member of our family (because, frankly, if she isn’t happy neither is anyone else.) But at the same time, my husband and I love visiting wineries. Yes, we enjoy drinking wine too, but for us a visit to wine country is so much more than drinking wine, and I wasn’t going to take a trip to Northern California without at least some time in California Wine Country.

Driving through the rolling hills of vineyards and seeing the light reflecting off the vines just makes me happy. Walking through the rows of vines, I get the same feeling I might sitting on a beautiful beach and watching the waves crash on the sand or climbing up a tall mountain and taking in the view from above. Visiting a tasting room isn’t about how much wine I can drink. Instead of it being only about the wine, it is also about the experience.

It is about walking into a beautiful chateau or rustic barn, peeking into the barrel room, walking through the chilly caves, or sitting outside in the sun and enjoying the view of the mountains and vineyards while sipping a great wine. It is about the conversations you get into with the pourers or wine makers. It is learning about what wines each appellation is known for and seeing which excite my palate.

Family friendly wineries in Sonoma California

The beautiful grounds of St. Francis Vineyards

Now none of these things may be especially exciting for kids, but I knew they didn’t have to be horribly boring either. Just like in any family vacation, there was a way to find a compromise.

Tips for Picking a Family-friendly Winery

Our first thought was to visit Napa because my husband and I shared one extremely rare weekend away there five years ago and have been itching to go back. But I was surprised when I started looking into which wineries to visit to find so many down right family unfriendly in Napa. So I decided to shift my focus to the more laid back Sonoma County, and I was very happy with the choice. Here I was able to find a mix of wineries that welcomed, and perhaps even catered to, families — along with a variety of other things to do so the day wasn’t just trudging from winery to winery.

Based on my experience visiting wineries in the past, I knew there were a few things to look for in a winery to make a visit a fun family outing.

Family friendly wineries in Sonoma California

A friendly goat at Larson Family Winery in Sonoma

  1. Animals — whether it is a friendly winery dog or farm animals, getting to visit with furry critters helps make a visit to a winery more fun. Luckily winery dogs are so prevalent in California they even have their own picture book.

    Family friendly wineries in Sonoma California

    Wine caves at Benziger Family Winery

  2. Caves — now some vineyard tours can be terribly boring for kids. They may pick up on the difference between old vines and new vines, or the role that insects play in a vineyard, and maybe even show some interest in the harvest process but really, how interesting can it be to learn about something that you can’t even try? However, kids are tantalized by the prospect of exploring caves. Walking through a Hobbit-like door in the side of a mountain and leaving the warm air behind to find cool caverns lined with barrels is a bit like something out of a fantasy tale.

    Family friendly wineries in Sonoma California

    Ladder golf, horseshoes, bocce and bean bag toss at Larson Family Winery

  3. Games — visiting a winery doesn’t need to be just about wine tasting. Many wineries have beautiful tasting rooms on gorgeous properties and it is fun just to relax and spend some time hanging out. Bocce ball courts are pretty popular but you might also find a bean bag toss, horseshoes, ladder golf, or even playgrounds.

    Family friendly wineries in Sonoma California

    Enjoying the picnic grounds at Larson Family Winery

  4. Picnic tables — another good way to blend wine tasting and family fun is with a picnic on winery grounds. There are usually great sandwich shops nearby to pick up a picnic lunch, which you can enjoy with a glass of wine while kids run around the grounds.

    Family friendly wineries in Sonoma California

    The playground at Benziger Family Winery

  5. Juice — I’m surprised that more wineries don’t offer juice tastings (or any beverages) for kids, but I’m immediately impressed when wineries voluntarily offer up water or juice for the littlest tasters. It is a nice touch that goes a long way to making kids feel included.

When you are planning your itinerary for a visit to wine country, I’d suggest visiting no more than three wineries a day. Mix them up to provide a variety of experiences. Perhaps start with one a kid-friendly tour (especially into caves) in the morning, followed by a picnic lunch at a winery, and then a fun family activity or visit to a tasting room that also has some outdoor games. You’ll want to check their website or call ahead to make sure that you don’t need an appointment and to ensure they welcome children. Of course you’ll want to make sure you are going easy on the wine so keep in mind that you can split tastings and if you don’t love it, just dump it! I find that a visit to a winery is a way to demonstrate to kids that drinking wine isn’t about getting drunk, it is gaining an appreciation for flavors and the science and effort that goes into production.

Family Friendly Wineries in Sonoma

Family friendly wineries in Sonoma CaliforniaLarson Family Winery — Our first winery stop was at Larson Family Winery, where we had reserved a picnic table in advance with a perfect view of the vineyard. On our way up from the San Francisco airport, we stopped off at Cornerstone on Highway 121 and picked up some delicious sandwiches and salads from Park 121, so we could enjoy a late lunch in the vineyard. Larson has an interesting history and a pivotal role in the development of Sonoma. The land has been in the family since 1899, operating as a farm and a rodeo before the family started a making wine in 1977. The land where the winery now sits used to be the farthest navigable port up the Sonoma Creek, where steamships would dock and passengers and freight would disembark. From 1929 through the 1950s, the Sonoma Rodeo was held on the ranch and the memory is kept alive in the mural above the tasting bar. Today, the family produces 5,000 cases of 10 varietals, with a motto to “Drink what we can, and sell the rest!”

Sonoma with kids -- family friendly wineries

Larson’s Three Labs of the Three Lab Cab Label

As soon as we walked into the tasting room, we were greeted by one of the family’s three canine ambassadors — a yellow, chocolate and black lab that are the namesake of the winery’s Three Lab Cab label. After our “awwws” and lots of dog petting, we made our way outside where we were shown to our reserved picnic table. Soon, a server arrived with a glass of sparkling wine, some glasses and our tasting menu. As we enjoyed our lunch, we sipped our way from whites to reds…at our own pace and with tableside service. It was the perfect introduction to Sonoma’s wine country. We were able to stretch our legs by walking (or running) through the vineyard and open lawn, and have some family fun on the game turf with a match or two of ladder golf. Larson also has horseshoes, beanbag toss and even a bocce court. Across the parking lot you can visit with the farm’s goats as well. With plenty of picnic tables and a large indoor tasting room, Larson prides itself on being a family-run and family-friendly winery. We enjoyed the atmosphere more than the wines, but I’d recommend the experience for families looking for a relaxing winery to enjoy a picnic, games and wine tasting at your leisure.

Sonoma with kids -- family friendly wineries

Picnics and wine tasting go together at Larson

Benziger Family Winery — The next day we took a different approach to a winery visit with a scheduled tram tour at Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen. Benziger has been family-owned and operated since 1980 and since 1995, the winery has been operated biodynamically. Benziger has earned organic, sustainable and biodynamic certifications, one of only 50 wineries in the country that are certified biodynamic.

Family friendly wineries in Sonoma

All aboard the tram tour at Benziger Family Winery

Benziger welcomes families on its Vineyard Tram Tour, which runs every 30 minutes from 11 am to 3:30 pm (except 12pm), at $25 per adult and $10 for minors. Tours leave promptly so be on time if you book in advance, but if you have some time to spare kids will enjoy playing on the small playset before climbing aboard the tractor-pulled tram for a 45 minute tour. The tram follows a path through the vineyard blocks to the top of a hill overlooking the vineyard for a discussion of the winery’s history, farming techniques, and the various varietals.

Family friendly wineries in Sonoma

Vineyard tasting at Benziger

The next stop offers a white wine tasting in the shade of a tree near the Insectarium — learning about the importance of insects and the gardens in the health of organic, biodynamic farming. The tram tour continues to the “crush pad,” where you get a peek at the machinery that goes into harvesting, destemming, and selecting the best grapes. The next stop was the big payoff (at least for the kids), with a stroll into Benziger’s wine caves, where it is a cool 60 degrees and you get a glimpse of the many, many tunnels filled with barrels, using nature to reduce evaporation and conserve energy.

The last stop is in front of the tasting room for the included tasting. The wines were good, but nothing that we decided to ship home, and I was surprised that they didn’t offer anything for the kids on the tour. There wasn’t any water or juice in the vineyard and I needed to ask about a glass of water when we arrived at the tasting room. While the tour was very interesting, it might be a little long for younger kids.

St. Francis Winery — One of our impromptu spots ended up being one of our favorites of the trip. We stopped in at St. Francis when we had some time before our next tasting appointment because it was a label we were familiar with and enjoy their Zinfandels. As soon as we walked in the door and approached the tasting bar, we were welcomed and our pourer immediately whipped out a small can of apple juice and a wine glass for our daughter, before pouring any wine. Because she was welcomed and included in our conversation, it made for a very pleasant experience for all. The fact that they stock juice at the ready shows that St. Francis not only allows children, but they welcome them. The wines were our favorites from the trip and we bought a few bottles to ship home. Our only disappointment was that we didn’t have more time to enjoy the beautiful grounds.

Family friendly wineries in Sonoma

Francis Ford Coppola — I’m a little hesitant to put this one on the list, but there are some aspects that do make it family friendly. I’m hesitant because Francis Ford Coppola is very commercial and crowded, with a very Hollywood resort feel. But at the same time they offer bocce courts, 3,600 square feet of swimming pools, on-site restaurants, and family-friendly events. If you are interested in pool passes or cabana rentals, you’ll need to do this in advance as they sell out early.

Family friendly wineries in Sonoma

Playing bocce at Francis Ford Coppola Winery

Also, younger kids may not appreciate it, but teens or movie buffs might enjoy looking at Coppola’s collection of film memorabilia and Oscars, including the desk from the Godfather and artifacts from Apocolypse Now. The tasting room itself was overcrowded when we visited, and the service was not very personal or informative. Many of the wines being offered were labels that you can buy anywhere so we chose a more exclusive tasting of those wines only offered at the winery. Many didn’t overwhelm us but the Pitagora red wine blend, a mix of Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Sirah was actually quite good and we bought some to ship home.

Family friendly wineries in Sonoma

Some of the movie memorabilia collection at Francis Ford Coppola

For more information about family friendly wineries, visit the Sonoma County website. A few others that have been recommended to me that we couldn’t fit into this trip are: Imagery Estate Winery, Quivira, Soda Rock, and Ram’s Gate. I’ve also enjoyed visits to Buena Vista (picnic grounds) and Chateau St. Jean (bocce courts) in the past.

Do you have any family-friendly wineries in Sonoma to suggest?

PIN THIS FOR LATER

A selection of family friendly wineries in Sonoma California -- plus some tips on finding kid-friendly wineries

Note: Our tastings at Larson and our tour at Benziger were hosted by the wineries. Support for our visit was arranged by Sonoma County Tourism and our stay was hosted by the Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa. All opinions are our own.

13 Comments on “Family Friendly Wineries in Sonoma, California

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  1. I went to Benziger when I was in Sonoma too and did the tour. I preferred Sonoma to Napa as the countryside was gorgeous and the wineries were a lot more humble. I really enjoyed visiting Jack London State Historic Park too which has some trails as well as his old homestead

      We didn’t make it to the park but it was recommended to me too. I really loved Sonoma–so beautiful!

    i guess that is so true that you need to find family friendly wineries that will also keep the kids entertained 🙂 we still need check out the wineries in sonoma. we always end up going to napa.. but i hear such great things about sonoma!

    I’m definitely pinning this for later as I love Sonoma County but haven’t taken my kids to many wineries there. So glad you found some family-friendly options!

      Great, thank you! Let me know if you find other good options too.

    You know, I’ve never thought of wine tasting as a family outing, but I can see how it can be quite nice. And these are good points to consider for whenever Jay and I decide to try it out.

    Sonoma is just more friendly period and I really enjoying going to the wineries there. I am not a fan of Coppola for all the reasons you mentioned (crowded, commercial, etc.). Another spot that is great for kids – a total blast is Castello di Amarosa (http://misadventureswithandi.com/napa-valleys-castello-di-amorosa.html) but that one is in Napa, so doesn’t count!

      That one was definitely on my list when I was thinking of Napa…although I heard the wines weren’t so great. What do you think? Still worth a trip?

    Great post! If you are in Napa in September/October Grgich Hills Estates has an old world grape stomping that the whole family can enjoy. Would be a perfect trip paired with Castello di Amarosa for kids.

      Hi Angela, my husband and I did the grape stomping at Grigch a few years ago and it was so fun.

    Who knew that wine tasting could be a family activity? 🙂 I totally agree with you though. It’s not the drinking of the wine, but rather the whole experience. I’m not a huge wine drinker but I LOVE wine tasting. Just being in the vineyards make me happy too! I haven’t been to Sonoma yet, but I’d love to go. My favorite wine region so far in California as been Paso Robles!

      We just went to paso Robles this trip too for the first time and I loved it there! I don’t let having a child stop us from doing the things we enjoy, we just have to do it in a slightly different way so I hope to show others that it is possible.

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