Monday, May 18, 2015

Relaxing in Livermore

This coming summer will be the first in 4 years that I will not be pregnant or breastfeeding...which means it's the first summer in 4 years that I can really entertain the idea of wine tasting with the kids! Woohoo! Visiting wineries with children in tow is very intimidating to me. My 2 year old can be particularly unpredictable and has no concept of an "indoor voice" whatsoever. Luckily we have some friends that moved to Livermore about a year ago and have done the hard work of figuring out which wineries are best for young kids. We have taken a couple of trips to the area this Spring, so I wanted to share our favorite stops for wine and beer tasting along with a great family hike. 

When planning our day trips, I always like to find a mix of things that everyone can enjoy and it seems to work best if we let the kids get out and stretch their legs before taking them on more adult oriented activities such as wine tasting. On our most recent trip, we started the day with a hike in the Morgan Territory Regional Preserve. We wanted to get there early in the morning because we are complete wimps when it comes to heat and didn't want to be walking around when it started to warm up. We started shortly after 10 and we were back to the car a little after noon. The hike was great for kids and had a decent amount of coverage from the sun (about half the hike was in the shade).

There is free parking at the staging area and a small farm with livestock that the kids enjoyed saying hello to. Signs on the trail said that the area was used for open grazing, but unfortunately we didn't come across any cows on our walk. We did however see dozens of ground squirrels that were popping their heads up out of the grasses as we walked by and the kids were very amused by the loud humming from the crickets. 

If you try really hard, you can see the head of the ground squirrel popping up where the arrow is :)

The trail was wide and easy for the kids to run along (with the exception of a few areas that were rocky) and could easily be tackled with a good jogging stroller. The loop we took was a little over 2 miles long and there was only one stretch of about half a mile that didn't provide much cover from the sun. 

The girls were fascinated by a small bug that had landed on our little ones' shoe.

I would definitely recommend this area for a hike, especially in the spring time when the hills are still green and you might come across some wild flowers. We went in early May and were able to catch the hills before they turned completely brown, but had we come a month earlier it would have been lush green for as far as the eye could see.

Mt. Diablo in the distance.
After a morning hike, there are plenty of options for some more relaxing fun. The Livermore Valley has dozens of wineries to choose from and a much more laid back vibe than the better known Napa and Sonoma Valley's. We have visited several wineries here in the past couple of years and every time there was a good mix of families and people without children.

On our most recent trip we met up with our friends from Livermore and had a picnic at Retzlaff Winery. Retzlaff is one of the oldest wineries in the area and offers estate bottled wines produced from certified organic grapes. The grounds are really beautiful and cater perfectly to families (as well as people who want to bring their dogs along). There is an expansive lawn for picnicking as well as picnic tables and lawn games, all nicely situated under rows of century old pepper trees.

The kids were happy as could be, sitting in the shade having their own picnic, and then playing their own version of the popular lawn game Bags while the adults shared a bottle of the Rose, which was very refreshing in the warm afternoon.

If you are more of a beer lover, then head on over to the relatively new (opened in 2014) Eight Bridges Brewing Company. The brewery is located in an industrial office park, but what it lacks in curb appeal, it more than makes up for in the quality of beer and the family friendly atmosphere. I was thrilled to see that the opening paragraph on their website encouraged people to bring their kids and dogs, and they did not let us down. We threw out a picnic blanket on the floor next to our picnic table and the kids settled in nicely with some crayons and games from the breweries' game table. It wasn't long before the brewery dog also made himself comfortable on the picnic blanket, which our kids absolutely LOVED. At one point our 2 year old actually followed the dog back behind the bar counter (where the dogs bed was) and the people working at the counter just smiled and chatted with her. We quickly brought her back to our table, but it was so nice to feel like it wasn't a nuisance for our kids to be acting like kids!

The breweries weiner dog made himself immediately at home with the kids.

We had a sampler, followed by a pint of the Golden Nektar Pilsner and everything was excellent. Our kids had such a good time that even though it was clearly past their nap times, it was hard to pry them away from the fun and games to pack them up in the car. This is definitely a place we will return to when we are in the area.

Have you been to Livermore? 
What are your favorite places to explore with the family?

Details: Livermore is located about 30 miles from Berkeley, and takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending on traffic. Directions to Morgan Territory Regional Preserve can be found here. From the staging area, we turned right on the trail and then made a left on the Volvon trail, left on Blue Oak Trail, left on Hummingbird Trail, left on Volvon Trail, and a slight right onto Condor Trail, which led back to the parking lot. Retzlaff Winery has a range of tasting options from $5-$15, or you can buy a glass or bottle to enjoy in the picnic area. Beers at Eight Bridges were ~$5-$6 for a sampler of 4 beers or a pint. We had the Hoppy Salvation, Golden Nektar Pilsner, Hoppy Annihilation and the Stout. All of the beers were very good, but the last three noted were our favorites.

Cost: Gas ($5), Bottle at Retzlaff ($18), Taster and Pint at Eight Bridges ($12)

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