Top Things to Do in Sonoma with Kids

This side of wine country’s casual warmth makes for a harvest season that delights all ages

Matt Villano
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Recess at the Hippest Hotel

With its colorful rocket sign reaching for the sky like a Disneyland ride, The Astro (from $160) in Santa Rosa instantly dazzles the under-8 set; adults will appreciate the chic mid century furniture and bold art collection. Less than a year old, the upcycled motor lodge has 32 rooms (plus two suites with kitchenettes) and welcomes young ’uns, who can borrow books from a children’s library in the lobby. Parents can sign out vintage tricycles or Shinola bikes for a ride through Juilliard Park. Final destination? Railroad Square for ice cream, of course.
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Kid-Friendly Tasting Rooms

Let’s face it: Dragging kids along as you swirl and sip all day isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. So some savvy vineyards go out of their way to welcome families with members who are too young to imbibe. Budding green thumbs will dig the tram tours at Benziger Family Winery ($30/adult, $10/child) in Glen Ellen. The 45-minute outing passes by biodynamic hillside vineyards, wine caves, and an insect-attracting garden; a flock of quail might even make a cameo. Forty miles to the northwest, in Dry Creek Valley, Preston Farm and Winery is a quiet, secluded spot for an organic picnic under an ancient walnut tree. Its small market sells fruits, veggies, olive oil, and house-baked bread, and the picnic tables are patrolled by a team of adorable farm cats. But, really, what most kids want is some serious splash action. For that, head to Francis Ford Coppola Winery (from $40/adult, $20/child) in Alexander Valley, where two conjoined pools are flanked by bright blue lounge chairs and shade umbrellas against a backdrop of oaks and vines. Parents, make a reservation ahead of time, and watch out for cannonballs as you laze with your Sofia Brut Rosé.
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Beach Adventures

When a late-summer heat wave bronzes the interior, hightail it for the coast for refreshing sea breezes and cold water. Guide and naturalist Margaret Lindgren leads tidepooling excursions at locales like Salt Point State Park through her Unbeaten Path Tours ($50/person, age 7 and up only). Heads angled down at the rocky pools, little ones (and their minders too!) can spy giant chartreuse sea anemones, purple and orange sea stars, shy hermit crabs, and darting sculpins. Lindgren preaches an eyes-only philosophy; to handle some of these creatures yourself, visit the touch tanks at the Bodega Marine Laboratory in Bodega Bay on Friday afternoons.
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Double Museums

In Santa Rosa, the county’s biggest city, two powerful kid magnets stand side by side on Steele Lane. The mix of crayons, playrooms, and colorful exhibits will lay the groundwork for long afternoon naps. First, visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum ($12/adult, $5/child) to see a  re-creation of Schulz’s studio (he spent 42 years living in the area) includes the drafting table he used when drawing Peanuts. Head to Snoopy’s Home Ice rink ($10/adult, $8/child) next door for year-round indoor skating, or to the next museum, the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County ($12/person). The helmets and play hoses in the new Firefighter Playhouse exhibit are designed to spark curiosity about blaze-braving heroes, and Megaflora, a sculpture composed of the stumps and roots from three felled redwood trees, makes for a natural jungle gym.
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A Day in the Orchards

Before wine took off, Sonoma County’s western hills were known for orchards, not vineyards. Plenty of lichen draped trees remain around the town of Sebastopol, where a morning of apple plucking can lead to a day of action-packed fun.
  • 10:30 A.M. Start at family owned Apple-A-Day Ratzlaff Ranch (707/ 823-0538; closed Thursdays and Saturdays), hunting the rows before biting into one of their pre picked Gravensteins, a popular local cultivar noted for its hints of cinnamon.
  • 12 P.M. At Handline, tuck into calamari tostadas and rockfish tacos on the patio; the greatest-hits kids’ menu and a new handmade wooden-toy kitchen will keep the cubs happy.
  • 1:30 P.M. Take a self guided tour of the 3-acre Luther Burbank Experiment Farm (707/829- 6711), where Sonoma County’s inventive plant breeder created many of the more than 800 varieties of fruit and nut trees, flowers, vegetables, and grains that made him famous. The highlight: An apple tree originally grafted with a mind-boggling 25 selections.
  • 3:30 P.M. Moms and dads who are ready for a drink, listen up. There’s wine at Horse & Plow, but owners Chris Condos and Suzanne Hagins also bottle sophisticated dry hard ciders made from Sebastopol apples. While you sip, your brood can play catch on the expansive lawn and feed the resident chickens.
  • 5:30 P.M. Explore newwave Sonoma County at The Barlow, an old apple canning facility that’s been reborn as a neo-industrial, open-air mall. First find Circle of Hands, a shop stuffed with Waldorf-inspired wooden and cloth toys, children’s books, and nontoxic art supplies. Hungry? Stroll over to Zazu Kitchen + Farm, where there’s pimento mac ’n’ cheese for the little ones, Stone Valley Farm pork sugo and rigatoni for full-size humans, and bacon caramel popcorn for both. Finally, wander over to the new Two Dog Night Creamery, which churns out fresh batches of ice cream every few hours. This time of year, their caramelized apple flavor might pop up at any moment.