Sonoma County contains such extraordinary geographical diversity—including the Pacific Ocean, rivers, lakes, beaches, coastal cliffs, mountains, valleys and California redwood forests (even pygmy forests)—that it seems impossible to experience all it offers.
But there’s actually a fun and easy way to try: just visit Sonoma County’s eleven state parks, each of which occupies unique terrain in this famous Northern California region, just north of San Francisco.
Feel like a day at the beach, with tide-pooling, a hike along coastal cliffs, driftwood for the kids to be able to build a fort? The beaches at Sonoma Coast State Park are the perfect solution.
Maybe you’re seeking a day that lets you enjoy the outdoors while soaking up some important California history? Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park (SHP) is a great place to learn about the rancho system that existed before California became part of the U. S. Or learn about the Russian fur traders who once lived on the north coast at what is now Fort Ross SHP. At Sonoma SHP, located in buildings on or near Sonoma’s historic plaza, you can visit the last California mission (built in 1823), tour General Mariano Vallejo’s home, and more. And at Jack London SHP you can tour the home and farm buildings of that adventurous early 20th-century writer (and also hike, picnic, and visit the small museum).
At these or other state parks you’ll find redwood trees, a pygmy forest, a spectacular springtime display of rhododendrons, an underwater park, an observatory with powerful telescopes to observe the night sky. And fishing, horseback riding, diving, bird-watching, accessible trails, ranger-led tours, visitor centers, back country camping and auto-accessible campsites.
Here are Sonoma County’s outstanding state parks arranged in alphabetical order:
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve: Small but absolutely worth a visit, the 520-acre Armstrong Redwoods is a haven for many stately Sequoia sempervirens—the famed redwood tree that can stand more than 250 feet tall and live more than 1000 years.
Austin Creek State Recreation Area: With nearly 6,000 acres, featuring 20 miles of trails that run through meadows and woodlands and across rolling hills, Austin Creek SRA is a recreational dream. It’s also adjacent to Armstrong Redwoods with its majestic groves of redwood trees.
Fort Ross State Historic Park: Beautifully situated on the far northern coast of Sonoma County, Fort Ross State Historic Park—a thriving Russian-American settlement from 1812-1841—is rich with history.
Jack London State Historic Park: Once the home and ranch of writer/adventurer Jack London and his wife, Charmian, Jack London SHP contains the cottage where he wrote while running his progressive agricultural enterprises. You’ll find hiking trails, a small museum, well-preserved ranch buildings, the Londons’ graves, and much more.
Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve: This pristine reserve contains 317 forested acres and many rhododendrons. Each May these spectacular flowers burst into bloom and color the deep green of the forest with brilliant pink blossoms. For more details, read Gualala’s Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve.
Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park: Dating from the 1830s-1840s, Petaluma Adobe was then known as Rancho Petaluma. With the largest privately-owned building in the state, it was headquarters of a working ranch owned by one of the state’s most important early figures, General Mariano Vallejo. Today the building is decorated in authentic period style and welcomes visitors.
Salt Point State Park: With 20 miles of hiking trails, over six miles of rugged coastline, and an underwater park, you can enjoy a variety of picnicking, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, skin and scuba diving, and camping. You can even walk through a pygmy forest.
Sonoma Coast State Park: This series of beaches separated by rock bluffs and headlands extends 17 miles from Bodega Head to four miles north of Jenner. It features more than a dozen scenic points along coast Highway 1.
Sonoma State Historic Park: Unlike most parks with a plot of land and geographical boundaries, Sonoma State Historic Park is a series of historic attractions in several locations within the town of Sonoma.
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park: Sugarloaf Ridge State Park contains the headwaters of Sonoma Creek with 25 miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding. There’s also an observatory that’s frequently open to the public.
Trione-Annadel State Park: Trione-Annadel is an outdoor lover’s paradise, offering almost 5,000 acres of rolling hills and 35 miles of trails for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians. Wildflowers bloom from January into September, but peak months are April and May. A fishing lake is perfect for anglers; sensational views attract photographers; and bird lovers can spend many happy hours here.
Find a Guide to Sonoma County's Regional Park System here.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez