family at russian river

Summer Family Road Trip to Sonoma County

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Nothing says summer like a road trip, and a Sonoma County Wine Country road trip is the ultimate summer vacation. Sonoma County has the best of all worlds, including 55 miles of coastline, tons of beaches, meandering rivers, expansive lakes, beautiful state parks, and more. The sun is out, school is out, and the kids are ready to get out and have fun.

A summer road trip to Sonoma County is an easy choice for adults and children alike because there’s so much to do in Sonoma County. Beaches, check. Museums, check. Safari (yes, really), check. These are experiences that everyone can enjoy. Bonus points: Adults have a plethora of wineries, craft breweries, and farm-fresh food at their fingertips. Start planning your family road trip to Sonoma County with this family itinerary.

Kick off your road trip in the heart of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa with a hearty breakfast at Dierk’s Parkside Café. Enjoy American comfort food at its finest with entrees like biscuits and gravy, country benedict, and Grandma Dierk’s Pull-A-Parts, which is a sinfully delicious fried bread dough that's dusted with cinnamon and sugar. They claim it’s better than donuts! For something more grab-and-go, stop into Criminal Bakery, which boasts a large selection of muffins, scones, hand pies, and other pastries. On the healthier side, Criminal has items like quiche and a Warrior Bowl, featuring spinach, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, and artichoke hearts drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

Criminal Bakery
Criminal Bakery

Nature Calls

Safari West, a.k.a. the Sonoma Serengeti, is the ultimate Sonoma County family activity. This 400-acre wildlife preserve is truly a unique and educational experience for the family. Opt for the 3-hour classic Safari tour, where you climb onto one of their custom safari vehicles and get acquainted with giraffes, impalas, buffalos, and many more animals. Your tour also includes a safari walk, where you can visit the beautifully maintained aviary or say hello to the black-and-white colobus monkey. Safari West also has the option to spend the night in their luxurious canvas tents. Thanks to homey comforts, heated blankets, and Canvas tents imported from Botswana, your family will enjoy the luxuries, sights, and sounds of an African safari, but in Sonoma County Wine Country.

Safari West Sonoma County
Safari West Sonoma County

Safari West has their own restaurant, appropriately named Savannah Café, which you can enjoy for a post-safari lunch. Otherwise, head to downtown Santa Rosa to Third Street Aleworks. Third Street Aleworks offers a kid-friendly menu of sliders and pizza coupled with an adult-friendly selection of awarding-winning beer. Alternatively, enjoy lunch al fresco at Bird and The Bottle, featuring small plates and plenty of gluten-free and vegetarian options. Standouts include fried chicken sliders, warm pretzel bread, and the bay shrimp wontons. Adults will be tempted by the wonderfully crafted cocktails like the Easy Rider, featuring a unique blend of bourbon, coffee, and orange bitters. Enjoy all this on their outdoor patio where kids and pets are more than welcome.

Peanuts And The Gang

For a bit of nostalgia, the Charles M Schulz Museum is a great way to spend an afternoon. Here you will learn all about the late cartoonist Charles “Sparky” Schulz, who lived in Sonoma County for 40 years, and his whimsical Peanuts characters. Explore a number of exhibits, visit the adorable souvenir store, and learn to draw your own Peanuts characters upstairs. However, the love for the Peanuts gang is not just seen in the museum; you’ll see 5-foot Peanuts figurines all over Sonoma County. See if you can spot all 55 of these colorful and unique characters.

Charles M. Schulz Museum
Charles M. Schulz Museum

Across the street from the museum, you’ll find Snoopy’s Home Ice. This ice-skating arena is another ode to Schulz’s beloved characters and is the perfect summer activity for the kids to cool down from the heat. This is a family favorite among locals to enjoy recreational ice skating. Be sure to check out the Warm Puppy Café for a classic Peppermint Patty Hot Chocolate and visit the gallery and gift shop on-site.

Food Lovers Rejoice

When you’re ready for dinner, head to Jackson’s Bar and Oven. They offer a kid’s menu with ample portions, while delicious offerings for adults includes wood-fired pizzas, lamb-stuffed flatbread, and juicy burgers. Don’t leave without trying their beignets with chocolate, vanilla, and raspberry sauces. For a more adventurous dining experience, check out HanBul Korean BBQ for authentic Korean dishes. Kids' eyes light up as they watch their food cooked at the table, while the endless side dishes, known as banchan, are a delight to the senses. In addition to the delicious BBQ , you can try other entrees such as bibimbap, which is a Korean blend of mixed rice, vegetables, and meat, or bossam, which is pork belly wrapped with cabbage. 

Jacksons Bar and Oven
Jacksons Bar and Oven

After dinner, be sure to head over to Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar. They offer unique ice cream flavors like Thai Iced Tea or Dutch Cookie, which is basically cookie butter in ice cream form. Sign us up! They also offer a variety of toppings, such as sprinkles, dried rose petals, and Maldon sea salt. Nonetheless, you can’t go wrong with Noble’s ice cream on its own.

If you're not staying at Safari West, the Flamingo Resort Hotel is another great Sonoma County hotel option for families. The Flamingo boasts sustainable rooms, an Olympic-sized pool, live music on the weekends, and a health club and spa. Or, drive to nearby Rohnert Park and check into the family-friendly Doubletree by Hilton or the Oxford Suites.

On Day 2, head north to the cute town of Windsor. Start on the Windsor Town Green for breakfast at KC’s American Kitchen. KC’s American Kitchen features a nostalgic atmosphere, extensive menu, and a great outdoor patio under the oak trees. While you may have trouble deciding what to order, local favorites include their famous potato pancakes, chicken and waffles, or any one of the benedicts on the menu. The portions are hefty, which means there’s plenty to share.

Windsor
Windsor 

Walk off that hearty meal in East Windsor at Foothill Regional Park for a scenic hike with the family. Stroll along the three ponds and enjoy the ridgetop views.  If you want a park with more room to roam, Shiloh Ranch Regional Park is another beautiful park in Windsor. Shiloh Ranch Regional Park has 8 miles of trails, beautiful oak trees, meandering creeks, and great views of Windsor, Santa Rosa, and beyond.  

Foothill Regional Park
Foothill Regional Park

Once lunch time hits, try local favorite Sweet T’s Restaurant + Bar for BBQ and comfort food with southern roots. Try the delicious Memphis BBQ nachos, shrimp and grits, or the unique rib salad. Elsewhere, near the Windsor Town Green is Pizzaleah, which specializes in chef-driven pizzas. May we suggest the award-winning Old Grey Beard, featuring a sweet and savory pizza of sausage, honey, and orange zest, or, for something different, order one of Pizzaleah’s square pan pies. On a nice afternoon, get the pizza to-go and walk over to the Windsor Town Green for a picnic where the kids can enjoy running on the grass.

Sweet Ts
Sweet Ts

While you’re at Pizzaleah, check out Two Dog Night Creamery next door for liquid nitrogen ice cream and endless toppings. Their signature sundaes are a must-try and can easily be shared. For a bit of nostalgia, take the kids to Cravins Candy Emporium. With the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory playing in the background, this candy shop brings back memories of childhood as you browse their classic and hard-to-find sweets.

For afternoon relaxation following a sugar fix, head further north into Healdsburg to Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach on the Russian River.  Open in the summer, the seasonal dam is a relaxing spot for swimming, floating, and soaking up the sun. Staffed with lifeguards, the calm waters offer a safe and fun afternoon activity for the family. You can also rent kayaks or canoes through River’s Edge Kayak & Canoe Trips. The company will shuttle you 5 miles upriver so you can enjoy a relaxing paddle back to headquarters at your own pace.

Russian River
Russian River

While you’re enjoying the Russian River, walk over to Amy’s Wicked Slush, a popular stop for families on a warm summer day. Bringing a taste of Boston to Sonoma County, Amy’s Wicked Slush offers delicious slush and soft serve. Or, combine the two for a split. Every cup is filled past the top with flavors like watermelon, cotton candy, or the classic root beer slush with vanilla soft serve.

When you’re ready for accommodations, drive further north to Cloverdale and check into the Cloverdale Wine Country KOA Camping Resort. Reserve one of their comfortable cabins which includes a separate room for the kids, plus a grill, fire pit, and beautiful views. The whole family will enjoy the spacious property while eating s’mores under the stars. Closer to Healdsburg, in the middle of the Alexander Valley, is Wildhaven Sonoma, situated on the Russian River and offering a number of safari-style glamping tents.

If a hotel is more your family’s style, the Geyserville Inn, which is also in the Alexander Valley, is a AAA-rated inn that blends the comfort of a boutique hotel with the warmth of a bed and breakfast. Kids like it for its outdoor pool, while adults can enjoy a hot tub soak.

For dinner, head out to Cloverdale to Pick’s Drive-in, which has been serving great food since the 1920s. Families enjoy the casual, retro atmosphere and classic eats such as burgers, hot dogs, and milkshakes. Elsewhere, Healdsburg has several family-friendly restaurants, including The Wurst for gourmet sausages, KINsmoke for barbecue, and El Farolito for Mexican food.

Once you wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day, take a little time to enjoy the small town of Cloverdale, Sonoma County’s northernmost town. Grab some coffee and a pastry at Plank Coffee downtown and walk around Main street to explore the shops and galleries for souvenirs to take home. Walk over to Cloverdale City Park and enjoy the 7.4-acre community park, where there are children's play structures, horseshoe pits, and basketball courts. Let the kids get their energy out as you enjoy your morning coffee.

For an afternoon activity, head south to the tiny town of Geyserville. A place with Wild West storefronts and renowned wines, Geyserville is a great place to explore with the family. Spend the day at Francis Ford Coppola Winery, a beautiful and unique property featuring film memorabilia from Coppola’s famous work. Be sure to take a tour of the winery and visit the gift shop for fun souvenirs. Adults savor the time to enjoy wine tasting, but be sure to make a reservation well in advance for their 3,600 square feet of outdoor pool space and cabines. The family will enjoy time in the sun, the poolside café, and a truly relaxing summer day.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Francis Ford Coppola Winery

You can eat at the poolside café or the winery restaurant RUSTIC, which offers a kid’s menu of pizzas and pastas. Another nearby lunch option is popular Italian restaurant, Catelli’s. Enjoy a meal on the patio and order the burrata and prosciutto, the hearty lasagna, or the famous Catelli’s ravioli. If the family is craving delicious pizza, try Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria for their rustic menu that changes daily. Diavola has a wide range of unique pizzas to choose from, including prosciutto and fig, pork belly and peppers, or their creamy four cheese pizza.

For one last family adventure, visit Lake Sonoma Recreation Area for its 50 miles of shoreline. Enjoy recreational activities the whole family will enjoy such as hiking, swimming, or fishing. Lake Sonoma also offers boat and equipment rentals, including pontoons, wave runners, water skis, and wakeboards. Whatever you decide to do, you’re sure to make lasting memories with the family out on the lake.

Lake Sonoma
Lake Sonoma

If you are not ready to go home yet, consider spending an extra day on the beach. Find details about Bodega Bay hotels and lodging.