Father and mother, and two small children sitting on a driftwood log and looking out at the Pacific Ocean

How to “Re-create” a Childhood Trip to Sonoma County as an Adult

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Been missing the Sonoma County vacations of your youth? With the world once again reopening, it's an ideal time to not only revisit us, but also plan a trip that "re-creates" your happiest memories here. Much of Sonoma County's history and nature remains intact, enabling you to reunite with landscapes, attractions, and even hotels and restaurants that may be just as you remember them — or even better.

The following trip suggestions invite you to revel in your childhood memories of Sonoma County, and re-create them in the here and now!

Hit the Road

Sonoma County makes it easy to re-create your childhood road trip(s), since so much of the landscape remains unchanged from decades past. You may no longer have access to the family wagon, but you could still gather your kids, significant other, siblings and/or parents and embark on a classic summer family road trip in Sonoma County.

Rediscover timeless scenery along winery routes like Dry Creek Valley Road
Rediscover timeless scenery along winery routes like Dry Creek Valley Road 

Seeking rolling landscapes of vineyards and farms — and maybe the wine you were denied as a kid? Hop on Westside Road and wind your way past the rolling hills, orchards, and forests of the Russian River Valley. Take Dry Creek Valley Road from Healdsburg to Lake Sonoma to see the landscape unfold like a quilt of greens, or follow Highways 128 and 101 through the Alexander Valley between Healdsburg and Geyserville. On all these routes, you'll pass lauded wineries and weather-worn barns from long before your folks (by birth, choice, or otherwise) last brought you here. 

Monte Rio Community Beach
Monte Rio Community Beach 

Explore the river and redwoods of West County by taking to the 10-mile Bohemian Highway ​​​​. At the northern end, ancient, giant trees still reach for the sky at Armstrong Woods, summer revelers still flock to Monte Rio Community Beach, and there's plenty of peace, quiet, and space to be found.

Sonoma Coast State Park
Sonoma Coast State Park 

If the ocean is what you miss most, head to the Sonoma Coast and its sprawling Sonoma Coast State Park. Travel as far south as Bodega Bay, and/or way up the Northern California coast to stunning spots like Jenner, The Sea Ranch, and Gualala. Collect shells and driftwood at Salt Point State Park, watch sea lions frolic at Goat Rock Beach and, depending on the time of year, watch for whales way out in the waves — just like when you were a child. 

Go Camping 

If your favorite family trips were spent camping in Sonoma County, why not revisit the magic of grilling, playing, and sleeping under the stars? Whether in an RV, tent, or cabin, or even the rustic-chic luxury of glamping, there are fond memories to be rediscovered in beautiful campgrounds throughout the county.

Casini Ranch Family Campground
Casini Ranch Family Campground

Immerse yourself in Russian River life at two sites that have been open since the 1960s, Duncans Mills Camping Club and Casini Ranch Family Campground. Both feature full RV hookups, private river access (as well as canoes and kayaks), and plenty of games and outdoor space. At Duncans Mills you can participate in planned cookouts with your neighbors or soak in the 16-person hot tub, and at Casini Ranch you can opt for activities like hayrides, movies, and beach bonfires. 

KOA Cloverdale Camping Resort is one of two KOA campgrounds in Sonoma County
Cloverdale Wine Country KOA Camping Resort is one of two KOA campgrounds in Sonoma County

Two family-owned KOA Campgrounds lie at opposite ends of the county, offering tent sites, cabins, full RV hookups, and a chance to recapture your camping glory days. At the northern end, the dark-sky Cloverdale Wine Country KOA Camping Resort is perched on a ridge overlooking the Alexander Valley wine region, with a hillside pool, nature trail, fishing pond and paddleboats, and a playground. At the southern end, amenities at San Francisco North/Petaluma KOA Campground include a pool and hot tub, horseshoe pits, a petting farm, and bocce ball.  

Bodega Dunes Campground
Beach at Bodega Dunes Campground 

Various sites along the 17-mile-long Sonoma Coast State Park enable you to stay by the Pacific Ocean, such as Wright’s Beach and Bodega Dunes. If mountains were more your family's thing, head to 4,000-acre Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, which has tent and RV sites, flush toilets, and well-trod trails to the enduring peak of Bald Mountain.  

Glamping tent at Wildhaven Sonoma
Glamping tent at Wildhaven Sonoma

If you're more excited about the memory of a camping trip rather than camping itself, consider stepping up the comfort level. You could stay in a retrofitted Airstream trailer surrounded by redwoods at AutoCamp in Guerneville, or luxuriate in safari-style tent cabins at Wildhaven Sonoma in Healdsburg, which features bathroom and shower facilities. Imagine, all the youthful frolicking in the great outdoors without any of the potential back strain. 

Stay at a “Throwback” Hotel 

Rather sleep entirely indoors? Sonoma County is home to many hotels and inns you just might have stayed in with your family. Some have been around so long, it's even possible your parents stayed there with their parents. 

Raford Inn
Raford Inn 

In West County beside the Russian River, rustic-chic treasures like the Highland Dell Lodge and The Village Inn & Restaurant have been popular summer getaways since 1906. Farther south, in the heart of the Russian River Valley, the 1880 Victorian Raford Inn perches high above Eastside Road, offering vineyard and morning-mist views from its wide porch.

Lobby of the Hotel Petaluma
Lobby of the Hotel Petaluma

Hotel Petaluma has graced downtown Petaluma since 1912, and now features the added perks of an oyster bar and winery tasting room. Since 1907, Hotel La Rose has anchored Santa Rosa's Railroad Square, and still retains its Old World elegance. Either (relatively) high-rise property provides an opportunity to live out those Eloise dreams of your youth.  

The Astro Motel in Santa Rosa
The Astro Motel in Santa Rosa

If you want to revisit the mid-century golden age of auto travel, two Santa Rosa spots will steer you in the right direction. The Astro Motel was built in 1963 in the heyday of the American motor lodge, but in 2017 was remodeled into a 34-room motel with original mid-century modern furnishings. And the iconic 170-room Flamingo Resort, originally built in 1957, has been fully renovated but retains its cool mid-century vibe — including its glamorous central pool. 

Eat at Historic Restaurants

Dozens of restaurants in Sonoma County have been operating for at least 30 years, and some have been around for more than a century — which means that eateries you loved on your family trips here may still be open for business. 

Union Hotel Restaurant in Occidental
Union Hotel Restaurant in Occidental 

For instance, many of the classic Italian restaurants you may have dined in as a kid are still serving pasta, pizza, and more. In Petaluma, just one of them is Volpi’s Ristorante & Bar, which has specialized in family-style Italian since 1925. In Occidental, Union Hotel Restaurant has been cooking up Italian meals since 1879, and across Bohemian Highway, Negri’s Italian Dinners & Joe's Bar has been open for business since 1942. 

Omelette Express in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square
Omelette Express in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square 

In Santa Rosa, several hotspots of the 1970s are alive and well. In Historic Railroad Square, you can still order giant omelettes at Don Taylor’s Omelette Express or linger over a fine French meal at La Gare French Restaurant. Along Sonoma Highway, you can re-create a special night out at The Villa, or for a much more casual experience, bite into the crunchy bliss of Betty's Fish and Chips

Visit Timeless Attractions

Many of Sonoma County's most beloved attractions from the past have been lovingly preserved or restored, inviting you to step back in time to those carefree, unhurried days of your family vacations to the area.  

Peanuts figures can be found at the Charles M. Schulz Museum
Peanuts figures can be found all over Santa Rosa, including the Charles M. Schulz Museum 

For instance, though cartoonist and Sonoma County resident Charles M. Schulz passed away in 2000, your inner child can still visit the Peanuts in Santa Rosa. In Schulz's honor, there are statues of  Snoopy, Charlie Brown and other beloved Peanuts characters all over town, including Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport (STS).  You'll also find the world's largest collection of his cartoons at the 8,000-square-foot Charles M. Schulz Museum, where exhibitions are constantly changing, focusing on different themes in the Peanuts cartoons. 

Luther Burbank Home & Gardens
Luther Burbank Home & Gardens

Also in Santa Rosa, you'll still find Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, where Burbank, "Wizard of Horticulture," lived from 1884 to 1906, developing hundred of entirely new plants, many of which can be found in his greenhouse and one-acre garden. 

The corner of Petaluma Blvd. and Western Ave. in Downtown Petaluma
The corner of Petaluma Blvd. and Western Ave. in Downtown Petaluma

Down south is Petaluma, one of the state’s oldest cities, formally founded by white settlers in 1851. Filled with beautiful Victorian homes and impressive iron front commercial buildings, the downtown area is on the National Register of Historic Places. (There's great shopping and dining here, too.) 

Duncans Mills
Duncans Mills

Far to the west, the tiny town of Duncans Mills will likely be just as you remembered it. Demolished in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, it was faithfully restored in the 1960s and '70s to the charming shopping and dining village it is today, complete with a vintage train car and museum. 

Fort Ross State Historic Park
Fort Ross State Historic Park 

Overlooking the northern coast, Fort Ross State Historic Park commemorates Fort Ross' history as tsarist Russia’s southernmost outpost in North America from 1812 to 1841. Faithfully reconstructed buildings recall a once-thriving colony, including a Russian chapel, barracks, a cemetery, a windmill, and a historic orchard that still contains fruit trees from the Russian era.

The House of Happy Walls at Jack London State Historic Park
The House of Happy Walls at Jack London State Historic Park 

Head east on California Highway 12 to the town of Sonoma, and you'll find a trove of spots that remain much as they've always been. Just to name a few: Sprawling Jack London State Historic Park was once the ranch and home of famous adventurer and best-selling writer Jack London; Mission San Francisco Solano is the northernmost and last (built in 1823) of the state's 21 missions; and the Depot Park Museum features a windfall of area historical photos.

Re-create Family Photos

For many of us, family photos taken on childhood vacations to Sonoma County are some of our most treasured souvenirs. So why not keep those memories alive by recreating your favorites?

This is a great opportunity to get your siblings involved, re-enacting iconic poses and outfits in photos from your youth against Sonoma County backdrops that are likely still just as they were. You also might encourage your own kids — and even your parents — to re-create photos from their own younger years. 

We'd love to see the photos you and your family — by birth, choice, or lucky circumstance — re-create together here in Sonoma County. When you post them on your social media accounts, be sure to tag #SonomaCounty on Instagram (@sonomacounty) and Facebook (@sonomacountyca)!