Summer time, and the livin’s easy… when you’re with your family in Sonoma County. With more than a million acres to explore, the landscape brims with variety, be it sandy beaches and rugged ocean cliff hiking trails, grassy meadows and boating ponds, or tall mountain trails amid lush forests. Even kids going through the “terrible teens” will have hearts in their eyes for mom and dad, with adrenaline adventures like zip-lining or kayaking.
Here are some top picks for how the whole family can enjoy a vacation in wine country – together! Find more info on our Guide to Sonoma County Family Fun.
Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail, Bodega Bay
Even though this paved trail runs along the salt marsh that’s home to wildlife and thousands of birds throughout the year, rowdy kids and leashed dogs are welcome. Give the kids binoculars and see which animals they can spy with their little eyes. The path is easy, looping one mile through Doran Beach Regional Park and Bird Walk Coastal Access Park along Doran Park Marsh and tidal channels, over a new 110' bridge that spans Cheney Creek, and connects to the Bird Walk Park up on the levees. To access the trail, park at a 10-car space parking lot off Highway 1 at the south end of town (between Smith Brothers Road and Doran Park Road), or enter through Doran Regional Park at the north end of town. Fuel up with lunch at The Boat House (1445 N. Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3495) in town, where owner Captain Rick Powers’ schooner hauls in seafood straight from the water for Dungeness crab cake sandwiches, briny oysters, and legendary rock cod fish-n-chips.
Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail, 355 State Highway 1, north of the town of Bodega Bay. Parking $7.
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, Guerneville
The 805-acre Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve is a great place for your family to walk among towering coast redwood trees. As huge as the park is, it’s easy to navigate, over the mostly flat, mile-and-a-half long round trip Pioneer Nature Trail. Some of the most popular trees include the Icicle Tree, with its mysterious “burl” formations, the Colonel Armstrong Tree, estimated to be over 1,400 years old, and the Parson Jones Tree, towering to 350 feet (that’s taller than a football field is long). Bring a picnic, too – may we suggest grabbing to-go from the 3 Alarm Grill on Main Street in town, for tasty barbecue ribs, a stacked high Cubano sandwich, and the famous Nick's Trailer Park Dog, an all beef Vienna hot dog topped with bacon, American cheese, BBQ sauce and homemade coleslaw, served with fries.
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, 17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville, 707-869-2015. Entrance fee is $8 per vehicle and free for pedestrians and cyclists (and it's possible to park outside the entrance gate and walk in without paying the vehicle fee).
Owner Suki Waters is a local Native American descendant, guide, and kayak instructor, specializing in wildlife, Sonoma history, and ecology tours. From beginner boaters to skilled sports enthusiasts, there’s an adventure for all, staged along the amazing coast. Explore the quiet estuary or tackle the dancing sea, and keep your eyes peeled for area residents like sea lions, harbor seals, otters, birds, and maybe even a whale.
Water Treks EcoTours and Kayak Rentals, 10438 Highway 1, Jenner, 707-865-2249.
Horse N Around Trail Rides, Bodega Bay
The hillsides and redwood forests bring gorgeous Pacific Ocean views, made even finer on horseback. When you see the big, gentle eyes of the noble steeds, you know the creatures are well loved, living on their 378 acre scenic ocean view ranch. Combine happy animals with stunning open range, vistas, cliffs and beaches, and you’re in for a one-of-a-kind encounter. There are ocean view, trail, and dazzling sunset rides, all as relaxing or exhilarating as your experience level allows.
Horse N Around Trail Rides, 2660 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-8849.
Sonoma Canopy Tours, Occidental
Capture the moment after your zip line instructor straps you into the specially-designed harness and Go Camera you’ll wear for this high-speed scream through space. That’s because your eyes may be closed the first time you traverse this zip line course winging you up to 25 miles per hour through a redwood forest, over a ravine 300-feet below, and along a creek. But soon, you’ll be smitten by the fun and ogling the views. Part of the challenge is just getting to the jump canopies, since eleven different platforms test your clambering skills, too, daring you to scale a skinny spiral staircase 30 feet up, and wobble across a 175-foot-long sky bridge.
Sonoma Canopy Tours, 6250 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 888-494-7868.
Johnson’s Beach & Resort, Guerneville
Get the party started just beneath Guerneville’s entryway bridge, lounging on the spotlessly clean river sandbar with rentable umbrellas and beach chairs, or on the water, meandering its gentle currents with by-the-hour canoes, kayaks and pedal boats. If you like to chat with new friends, you’ll like it here, since groups gather to socialize and gossip about small-town doings.
Johnson’s Beach & Resort, 16241 First St., Guerneville, 707-869-2022. Free public entrance; parking is $5 on weekends and for special events.
Spring Lake Regional Park, Santa Rosa
This 320-acre park features camping, fishing (you’ll need a license if you’re over 16), swimming from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, hiking, and biking, as well as picnic areas with barbecues, and five group picnic areas. Spring Lake also offers year-round boating (no gas motors/engines): bring your own craft up to 16 feet in length or rent from the concession stand May to September. Spring Lake also features a swimming lagoon with floating play structure for kids, near the Violetti Road park entrance. Life guards on duty during the summer months.
Spring Lake also includes the Environmental Discovery Center, with interactive displays and activities aimed at kids 6-12. Youngsters touch sea creatures in tidal-action pools, watch fish from the park’s lake swimming in an aquarium, view taxidermied mountain lions and coyotes, and learn about Mother Earth in the storytelling cavern. They have lots of fun — but they also walk away with knowledge of earth stewardship and earth science.
The center is open to the public from noon to 5 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays. Admission to the center is free (but parking inside the park is $7). Adjacent Howarth Park offers a large play environment for young children and parking is free at Howarth Park.
Spring Lake Regional Park, 393 Violetti Road, Santa Rosa, 707-539-8092.
Scandia Family Fun Center, Rohnert Park
This kid’s fantasyland includes two 18-hole miniature golf courses complete with tiny buildings, bridges, and waterways. Also featured are 18 batting cages with slow pitch and fast pitch. The bumper “blaster” boats, equipped with water sprayers, are a great way to cool off on a warm day (or night, since the place is open late all week long), while the Lil’ Indy Raceway gives a racing experience with its straight track and banked turns.
Scandia Family Fun Center, 5301 Redwood Drive, Rohnert Park, 707-584-1398.
Enjoy a “wild” time by taking an open-air safari vehicle along this 400-acre wildlife preserve. You’ll catch sight of giraffes, lemurs, cheetahs, and wildebeests. And it gets even better — you can stay overnight in one of their luxurious tents.
Safari West, 3115 Porter Creek Road, Santa Rosa, 707-579-2551.
House of Happy Walls Museum, Glen Ellen
The House of Happy Walls Museum sounds delightful even before you know what it is. What makes this National Historic Landmark abode so cheerful is that it salutes author Jack London’s artistic life, set appropriately enough, in Jack London State Historic Park. Jack lived for adventure and fantasy, and you can hike the 26 miles of connecting trails of this 39-acre backcountry woodland retreat and mountain expanse just as he did. The centerpiece is the ruin of the huge Wolf House that the London family built, but which burned down before they could move in. So close to his heart was this dreamed-of home that Jack is buried there. You can go on free weekend tours with a guide, or trek on your own anytime, through the restored Cottage where London wrote and died, and learn about London's worldwide adventures at the Museum itself.
Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, 707-938-5216. $10 vehicle entry fee; $5 hike in/cycle in; Cottage Entry Fees $4 adults; $2 seniors/students; 12 and under free.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.