The historic wine town of Sonoma offers a wide variety of fun activities for families with children. From train rides to plane rides, or glimpsing a bit of entertaining history, here's a quick list of just a few of the possibilities.
Ride the choo-choo
Opened in 1968 as the Sonoma Steam Railroad, TrainTown boasts a quarter-scale railroad that takes passengers on a 20-minute ride through its 500,000-square-foot park, traversing four miles of track that go through tunnels and cross bridges.
Part of the fun is stopping at Lakeview, a miniature town with a saloon, jail, and outhouse, as well as a petting zoo where kids can feed the goats, ducks, sheep, and llamas. There are six amusement rides, too, including a carousel and Ferris wheel.
Admission is free; train tickets are $7.50 per person (age 12 months and older); the train Is handicap accessible; amusement ride coupons (not valid for train rides) are $3.75 each or five for $14.75; and all ages (including babies) must have a coupon on amusement rides.
TrainTown 20264 Broadway, Sonoma, 707-938-3912; open year-round, but closed on rainy days and major holidays.
Explore the wild blue yonder
At Vintage Aircraft Co. a fleet of 1940s Boeing PT-17 Stearmans — known for stability and strength – has been modified to fit two passengers in the front cockpit in side-by-side seating. Kids 48 inches or taller fit safely in the seat belts and sit high enough to enjoy the view with a booster cushion. Children 10 or younger are usually asked to fly with an adult, but exceptions are made on a case-by-case basis. In 30 years, Vintage Aircraft has had a perfect flying safety record.
Vintage Aircraft Co. 23982 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-938-2444; open Saturday and Sunday (no appointment needed).
Visit all of California’s missions at once
A wonderful little museum at Cline Cellars, the California Missions Museum contains accurate scale models of the 21 California missions built between 1769 and 1823.
These models were crafted by a team of German cabinetmakers for the 1939 World’s Fair, held at San Francisco’s Treasure Island. In 1998, the models were scheduled to be auctioned off individually, but the winemaking Cline family saved them from being split up and built a museum to house them.
The museum also features a life-size figure of Father Junipero Serra, mission paintings by artists Robert Morris and Henry Nelson, and two stained-glass panels originally housed in San Francisco’s Mission Dolores. A lovely garden and picnic areas practically invite you to bring lunch.
California Missions Museum at Cline Cellars 24737 Highway 121, Sonoma, 707-939-8051; open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; admission is free.
Walk through history
The fascinating historical attractions that make up the Sonoma State Historic Park (363 3rd St. W., Sonoma, 707-938-9560) are mostly located on Sonoma Plaza. And the plaza itself is a lush, eight-acre park with duck ponds, picnic tables, and playgrounds, surrounded by a wide variety of shops and restaurants.
In the various historic park sites, you can tour buildings important to California’s history, including: the last mission built (in 1823), Mission San Francisco Solano (114 E. Spain St., Sonoma, 707-938-9560); the two-story adobe barracks (Spain Street East and First Street East, Sonoma, 707-938-9560) that once housed the Mexican army troops commanded by General Mariano Vallejo (historical artifacts are on display here); and the Toscano Hotel (20 E. Spain St., Sonoma, 707-938-9560), a 19th century wood-frame building furnished to look much as it did when it was a hotel in the early 1900s.
Also part of the park is General Vallejo's Home (Third Street West and West Spain Street, Sonoma, 707-938-9559), an 1850s Gothic-style house and grounds (see photo above) that is also known as Lachryma Montis. It’s slightly more than a half-mile walk (or a few minutes’ drive) from the plaza.