As an 18-year-old in Sonoma County, your options for fun activities can seem limited. You can drive, sure, but you can’t take full advantage of the Wine Country culture — the tasting rooms and tap rooms are obviously off-limits because of your age. But with some creativity, and a few good friends in tow, there’s actually a lot to enjoy in Sonoma County that doesn’t involve fancy wine and food.
Consider thoroughly planning your beach day so you don’t take an hour to get there and then leave after 30 minutes. If you're spending some quality time by yourself, bring watercolors and try your hand at painting, then head to Goat Rock Beach for some stellar sunset shots. If you're going to the beach with friends, bring a frisbee, volleyball or soccer ball, cards, blanket and plenty of snacks.
For a beach with spectacular views and free parking, make your way to Bodega Head. For sand dunes (and free parking), spend the day by North Salmon Creek or South Salmon Creek. For more local beaches to explore, check out our guide.
Grab a friend and head to downtown Petaluma to take pictures, spend the day in a great coffee shop, or simply explore the picturesque town. Play tourists and stop by the Petaluma Visitors Center (210 Lakeville St.) for a list of 38 stops (all within a few blocks) on a self-guided tour. If nothing else, visit the chicken mural (226 Petaluma Blvd. N.) and call it a day.
Get a Little Cultural
Enjoy the art and history of Sonoma County at various locations. Museums with free admission include the West County Museum in Sebastopol and the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (free for students 18 and under!). Admission to the Museum of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa is $7 for students; $10 for adults.
Get Some Goat Time on the Calendar
Volunteer with Santa Rosa’s Goatlandia, a sanctuary farm for rescued farm animals such as goats, pigs and chickens. Volunteer regularly (12-week minimum) by applying on their website, or schedule an appointment to help out on a one-time basis. The Santa Rosa sanctuary was evacuated during the 2017 Tubbs Fire and has since opened a second location in Sebastopol to house animals who were displaced during the fire. If you're lucky, you'll meet Leo, an extremely lovable “gentle giant" goat.
Spend a Lazy Day by the River
Even though you’ve probably been to the river before (senior ditch day?), try re-crafting your Russian River outing to make it more unique. Before you go, buy a floatie or inflatable tube. As long as you don’t splurge on the Instagram model swan, you can keep it to around $5. And unless you're there on an unlucky day, the Safeway in Guerneville sells a dozen day-old donuts for $2.
Want to treat your tastebuds to local foods but can't afford to dine out? Head to your local farmers' market. Buying local is just about the best way to spend your dollars and you can meet the people who made or grew your food.
As an added bonus, most of the farmers' markets offer free music performances and other entertainment. If you’re new to the farmers market scene, start with Santa Rosa’s Wednesday Night Market.
Another great way to sample some tasty food while having a lot of fun is the Sonoma County Fair (Aug 4-14). Don't miss the funnel cake!
Window shopping is free, of course, but if you want to do some real shopping (maybe some back-to-school outfits), get thrifty at the many local secondhand stores. There are a lot of fashionable bargains to be made here, from cute clothes to dorm decor. Local favorite secondhand stores include Santa Rosa's Hot Couture, Alphabet Soup in Petaluma and Republic of Thrift in Sonoma.
Dance the Night Away (for free)
Track down a free concert in your area, or explore them all over a few weeks. Opportunities include Tuesdays in the Plaza in Healdsburg, Friday Night Live in Cloverdale, Wednesday Night Market in Santa Rosa and KRSH 95.9 Backyard Concerts in Santa Rosa. Free music is just about everywhere in Sonoma County if you’re willing to look for it.
Catch the Golden Hour
Bike the Willow Creek trail in West Sonoma County (pictured) or hike to the top of Helen Putnam Regional Park in Petaluma for incredible sunset views over golden grassy fields. Other favorite sunset spots include Santa Rosa's Taylor Mountain, Spring Lake (follow Canyon trail to Lake Ilsanjo) and North Sonoma Mountain regional parks.
Written by Grace Yarrow, with contributions from Julia Green