Hitting the Road: 4 Road Trips for Sonoma Family Fun

  • Travel
  • on OCTOBER 7, 2015
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Day 1: Surfing Up the Pacific Coast

The ocean beaches in Sonoma County are some of the most beautiful anywhere in California. Many of them are perfect for exploring with multi-age groups.

Start your road trip at Doran Regional Park in Bodega Bay. This 2-mile sandy beach is located behind Doran Spit in Bodega Bay Harbor, protecting it from the crashing surf. It also boasts a campground with waterfront family sites, a boat launch, and a short boardwalk. Next, grab lunch on the other side of the harbor at Spud Point Crab Company, a fast-casual restaurant that serves up hot dogs, fried-fish sandwiches, and other kid faves.

If you’re feeling particularly adventuresome after lunch, continue on Westshore Road to Sonoma Coast State Beach at Bodega Head, where a 2-mile loop trail winds you atop precipitous bluffs with mind-bending views of the Pacific. Otherwise, head to Hagemann Ranch Trout Farm, a manmade lake that has been stocked with trout for more than 35 years.

End the afternoon up the coast near Jenner, at Goat Rock State Beach. Here, have the kids scan the tidal zone for beach glass, or lead them to the north end of the beach, from which you can look out across the mouth of the Russian River upon a colony of Harbor seals.

If you’ve got older kids and you’d like to get even closer to the animals, look into 2- or 3-hour guided tours from Water Treks Eco Tours in downtown Jenner.

Day 2: Sampling the Best of the Land

With more than 400 wineries and 50 family-owned farms, Sonoma County is known for its agriculture. Many of these spots make for great daytrip destinations.

Begin your farm tour at McClelland’s Dairy in Petaluma. This family-owned farm offers tours—most of which are led by owner Jana McClelland herself—during which kids can learn about the operation and actually milk cows themselves. Most tours also include cheese and ice-cream tastings.

Next, drive north to Sebastopol and hit Apple Country. In season (which runs roughly August through November), stop at Dutton Ranch or Walker Apples to walk the orchards and sample the area’s most famous apple crop: Gravensteins. During the off-season, hit Andy’s Farm Market on State Route 116 to buy local fruit from local farms. Be sure to stop for lunch at Mom’s Apple Pie, a diner where Betty Carr hand-makes apple pies (and sells them by the slice).

Finish the day in wine heaven at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville. Here, on an expansive outdoor deck, grownups can taste wine (Coppola’s “Director’s Cut” label is his best) at the bar while youngsters can splash around in a day-use pool, toss bocce balls on a number of fancy courts, or sit and read quietly in a library teepee. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a cabine (small changing room) available to rent for the afternoon; if you’re hungry, you can order food to seats near the pool or sit down for a formal meal at RUSTIC, the on-site restaurant.

Day 3: Over the River, Through the Trees

The Russian River runs right through the heart of Sonoma County and is one of the best ways to experience the region with kids.

Start the day by throwing Frisbees and hanging out at Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville. This tiny (and local favorite) beach offers calm-water swimming in a protected lagoon. A local outfitter also rents canoes and kayaks to take out on the river.

After a morning of recreation, explore downtown Guerneville for lunch. The River Inn Grill, on the east end of town, is a great diner. For a more hipster and locavore experience, order a bunch of small plates at Boon eat+drink. Be sure to grab homemade ice cream at the Guerneville Bank Club, where you can take a famfie (that is, a family selfie) in an old bank safe.

After lunch, hike among the Coast Redwoods of Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. Rangers lead guided walks all fall, but the park also has easy self-guided trails worth tromping.

Wrap up the adventure at Backyard restaurant in Forestville, where Chef Daniel Kedan lists on the menu where he sourced each local ingredient (He also serves a mean family-style fried chicken every Thursday night). If you can, grab a seat on the outside patio, where live music is played on weekends. For families with older kids, night-ziplining across forested valleys with Sonoma Zipline Adventures in Occidental is the perfect after-dinner treat.

Day 4: Looking Up in East County

The Mayacamas Mountains separate Sonoma County from Napa County. They also provide a number of opportunities for off-the-beaten path exploration with kids.

Greet the sun by soaking up some open space in the Valley of the Moon. Guided tours of the 535 acres at Bouverie Preserve offer educational introductions to this fertile part of the county; you might even spot a fox while you’re there. Just up the road, check out Quarryhill Botanical Garden, one of the largest collections of documented, wild-collected Asian plants in the entire world.

From here, drive through the town of Glen Ellen and up to Jack London State Historic Park, where the famous author lived for a while toward the end of his life. Two new trails connect the main parts of the park with some of the area’s peaks. The park also has a number of historic buildings and picnic spots.

After lunch, head toward Santa Rosa, where, in the hills outside town, sits Safari West. This 400-acre animal park is home to more than 90 different species, including zebras, hippopotami, giraffes, and more. Families can tour the park in open-air vehicles; for little kids, there’s a foot-tour area that winds past flamingoes and two cheetahs.

Ready for more family friendly adventures in Sonoma County? Start planning your trip today!


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