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Ultimate Guide to Vacationing in Sonoma with Kids

August 12, 2015

jacklondonMost people think wine country and naturally completely leave the kids out of the picture. But, as someone who grew up in Sonoma County and travels up there with the kids for weeks at a time, I’m here to tell you bringing the kids to wine country is not only feasible, it’s fun.

If you are a single, engaged, doing a couples get-away, or a girlfriends get-away this post is probably NOT FOR YOU. If you are a parent of young kids and want to go to the wine country but knows that hell might freeze over before you manage to get the time off, find someone to watch your toddlers all weekend, and then afford vacation expenses+ long term child care, read on my fellow parent, this one is for you!

Get There

Fly:

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Direct into Santa Rosa on Alaska Airlines from: San Diego, LAX, Portland and Seattle. If you check out fares before and can be flexible with arrival/departure you can pay closer to $125 each way on a direct flight.

The Alaska/Horizon flight into Sonoma County is amazing. It almost feels straight out a movie when you walk out on the runway to board directly onto the plane. Don’t even worry about how you are going to stuff your bag in the overhead bin because Alaska offers a la carte service where you just leave your carry on bag at the side of the plane, walk on with your purse and your bag will be rolled out to you when you deplane on the runway in Santa Rosa. The whole experience is so intimate it makes flying fun again.

I’m not going to talk about the alternatives of flying into San Francisco or Oakland because what parent traveling with kids wants to add another 2+ hours of driving time in traffic to your final destination. Trust me when I say that flying into the Bay Area and not directly into Sonoma County can sometimes take you longer than if you drove 8 hours!

Drive:

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San Diego to Sonoma County is 500 miles and roughly an 8 hour drive depending on traffic. Just do the math to figure out your drive time from elsewhere. The drive is totally doable with kids of any age and then leaves you the option to explore more spots like Santa Cruz and San Francisco. You need a car in wine country.

  • Scenic Route on the 101 – If you have little ones that are going to want a few stops, head up the coast via the 101. It could add another 2 hours to the drive (10+ total hours) with the stops but it’s much more scenic and there are so many things to stop and see as well as beachside places to stay.
  • The Straight Shot – If you are a drive straight through kind of family opt for the 5. It’s the fastest route up and driving through the central valley gives you very little reason to stop.

Get Playtime

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Sonoma County is a great place to raise kids. There are lots of people doing just that so there are a plethora of activities that you can mix in with wineries to balance the vacation between everyone and experience all that wine country has to offer.

African Safari

  • Who: Safari West
  • Where: Santa Rosa
  • Cost: $98 for adults, $40 for children for a 2.5 hour open jeep Safari

Located on Mark West Springs Road in Santa Rosa, this place is amazing. It’s as close as you can get to an African Safari while staying on this continent. This isn’t a mass produced San Diego Wild Animal Park, this is a very intimate and natural environment that gets you up close and personal to the animals. If you have the money to burn, staying on site in one of the tents will blow the kids minds. If you don’t, doing one of the open jeep tours will still be enough to guarantee that they get off their phones for at least an hour.

Train, Carousal, Animals and Playground

  • Who: Howarth Park
  • Where: Santa Rosa
  • Cost: $2 a ticket for rides

Whenever we are away from home we find ourselves seeking out a playground for the kids to run wild for a bit before we make them conform back to being in adult situations. Howarth Park is a great place to do just that.

There is a non swimmable lake were you can paddle boat or canoe and relieve your summer camp days. Across the way is a pint sized train that kids of all ages can ride. Southern California readers are probably thinking that you have seen these in our local Westfield malls, think again, this is a real train.   There is also a carousal, pony rides and petting zoo along with a great big playground that is sure to impress preschoolers and elementary aged kids.

Train Town

  • Who: Sonoma Traintown Railroad
  • Where: Sonoma, 1 mile off the town square.
  • Cost: Parking and general admission are free. $6.25 per train ticket

If your kids liked the train at Howarth Park they will love Train Town. Just one mile off the square in Sonoma. You can’t go wrong paying $6 for a 20 minute miniature (1/2 scale) train ride with a stop in a mini town and petting zoo. Excellent bribe to offer the kids for good behavior during a more adult oriented event.

Children’s Museum

This is a new and excellent Children’s Museum and my benchmark is high coming from San Diego. Personally, my kids like this museum better because of the outdoor space and water play. For only $10 a ticket you can’t go wrong filling up their morning.

Zipline Adventure

  • Who: Sonoma Canopy Tours
  • Where: Occidental
  • Cost: $99 per adult (over 18), $69 for children (10-17)

Zip lining through the redwood trees is a great activity for the whole family. It will take you off the well traveled winery route and into the tall luscious redwood trees for an adventure that you and the kids won’t forget.

Trapezing

  • Who: Trapeze Pro
  • Where: Sonoma
  • Cost: $40 a person, cash only

Trapezing is a really fun activity for kids and conveniently located in Sonoma. You can easily do a half day of winery exploring with another half of trapezing all before dinner. Definitely a family favorite and kids as young as X can swing.

Old Faithful

Every 30 minutes or so the geyser will shoot water 60 feet in the air. Bring your own picnic lunch; let the kiddos roam, and then visit the exotic petting zoo with Tennessee “fainting” goats, llamas, and Jacob’s four-horn sheep. Don’t forget quarters for feed money.

Get Wine

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Here’s the truth, despite what you might think, wineries aren’t snobby. Yes the nectars of the grapes are bottled, sold and served at 5 star restaurants but the wine industry is agriculture which is just farming so don’t let so snobby wino make you feel otherwise. Every winery and tasting room wants to take full advantage of their view so there is always a perfect mix of indoor and outdoor space. The outdoor space is perfect to let the kids run around and explore. There is very little that kids can break outside at a winery.

There are hundreds of wineries that you can go to so I’m only going to list a few places but know that there are ample other options that are a surefire good time.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery

Copolla Winery is a great winery where you can easily spend all day.  That can’t be said for most wineries. With a family friendly pool and bocce ball courts, this could be the only winery you visit and you’ll leave totally satisfied.

Paradise Ridge Winery

Paradise Ridge is great because it’s centrally located and has sweeping westward views.  The sculpture gardens are located on you way up to the winery and make both great photo ops as well as very exciting play structures for kids.  Keep heading up to the winery just before sunset and see the breathtaking sky as evening begins to fall on the valley below.

Wine Train

Consider heading east for a day into the Napa Valley.  Kids of all ages will love getting to ride the train from winery to winery.  It definitely adds another element of adventure to what could instead be a long day of wine tasting and winery tours.

Castello di Amorosa

Take a look at the picture, this recommendation needs little explanation.  Kids go gaga over the castle!

Sterling Vineyards

What kid wouldn’t want to take a ride up 300+ feet in a Gondola to the winery!

Get Beer

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Some people prefer beer. If you are trying to sell your husband on the idea of a trip and he’s a craft beer guy, remind him these places are in Sonoma County. Just say the names and he’ll be sold.

Russian River Brewing Company – Brew Pub

Pliny for Dad and food for the kids, no further explanation needed. No seriously, I’m not even going to explain further.  I had your husband hooked at Pliny.

Lagunitas Brewing Company

Located in Petaluma. Your husband will know it instantly and your kids will be happy with the relaxed outdoor seating.

Get Wet

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If you are heading to wine country in the summer months it can get warm. By warm I mean warm and not hot. What’s the difference? Even if the high is 90 there is no humidity like SoCal and it’s 90 for maybe an hour or two and then drops down into the 60’s or lower every night.  If you aren’t staying at a place without a pool, you’ll survive.

Coppola Winery:

L O V E this place. If I could only recommend one place for a family day in the wine country, this might be it. It’s such a family friendly winery with enough activity to stay all day. They have an amazing pool with little bath houses for changing clothes. In addition there is a fun tee pee for kids along with Bocce Ball courts for a nice family friendly game. It’s important to know that you need to book a pool pass in advance, like way in advance when you are booking your hotel room.

Canoe Down the Russian River:

For the real outdoor enthusiasts trying canoeing down the Russian River. It’s a great adventure that is fun for the whole family and will take your off the tourist trek while getting plenty of sun and exercise.

Get Sleep

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Airbnb:

Let’s face it hotels with little ones can be challenging. Whenever we travel with friends we always prefer to book an Airbnb so the kids can go down early in their rooms and the grow ups can all relax and unwind together. We’ve tried doing this in hotel rooms with infants and sitting in the dark and whispering while the turtle sound machine has the ocean dancing on the ceiling, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Try finding a place in Healdsburg, Sonoma, or Calistoga and you won’t be disappointed.

Flamingo Hotel

This hotel is in Santa Rosa and a good jumping off point if you want to do activities all over but don’t mind not being right in the middle of quaint Sonoma or Healdsburg town centers. The hotel is reasonably priced for wine country and has lots of kids. There is a health club attached to the hotel that uses the hotel pool so you are guaranteed to have lots of local families and kids hanging out at the pool during the summer.

Sonoma Mission Inn

If you are a big hotel and resort person, you’ll love this hotel. It’s got all the charm that you want out of a wine country experience and puts you close to Sonoma and surrounded by beautiful wineries. Their spa is lovely and any treatment you get will give you access to the spa facilities. Highly recommend their dipping pool that is heated to exactly 98.7’!

Solage Calistoga

Solage is located in Calistoga and a hands down favorite of ours. Staying there is everything you picture your wine country weekend to be. There isn’t anything hip about the other hotel recommendations I made so if you are looking for a super trendy or cool spot to stay, this is it. The location is better, the design is prettier, the rooms have better décor, the pool is cool, the spa is luxe, you name it. Everything here is better.

Get Nature

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Sonoma County is naturally beautiful. Like the kind of beauty you can’t even understand in comparison to Southern California. Yes our beaches are lovely but our natural landscaping, hillsides and mountains can’t even come close to the rolling oak tree lined hills of the Sonoma Valley

Annadel

Take the Lake Ilsanjo loop for a vigorous hike up to a swimmable lake.

Jack London State Park

See the beautiful land that Jack London once called home and check out the ruins of mansion in the making.

Sugarloaf State Park

If you have it in you, you can hike to the best views in the bay area!

Armstrong Redwoods

This forest of massive redwoods is enough to even impress parents. Very cool under the shade of the redwoods this is an excellent natural playground for kids.

Spring Lake

Located right by Howarth Park Spring Lake offers paddleboard yoga and canoeing on the lake. A walk around the flat paved path surrounding the lake is perfect for little ones.

Shiloh Ranch Park

Easy to access and beautiful grassy trails for kids to roam free on.

Get Food

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There is no shortage of good food in Sonoma County for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Consider trying these restaurants that all have some great kid friendly element from bocce ball courts to kid friendly fare and great outdoor seating.

Sonoma:

Calistoga:

Santa Rosa:

Healdsburg:

The Bottom Line:

Look, we all want to hop over to Kauai for our next family vacation but for whatever reason most of us can’t swing it. So stop not taking vacation holding off on some big trip that might or might not happen and get out and explore more with your family. If you are looking to get away with the family for a long weekend, Sonoma County is sure to please even your most critical family member (insert baby, toddler or teenage family member of your choice). Between wineries and outdoor adventures Sonoma County is a great way to have a well priced and well rounded vacation for the whole family.

In Gratitude Legos in my Louis

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