You know the drill. No sooner is the Memorial Day barbecue consumed than you turn your fantasies to summer — all those fantabulous things you’re going to do with the hot days and nights lingering ahead. Then, suddenly, it’s September, and we find ourselves staring down a dull plate of Nothingburger on Labor Day, cursing the summer that once again got away from us.
That doesn’t have to be your fate. Wherever you find yourself on the calendar, vow to turn it around now. We’ve sifted through a multitude of options to come up with these ideas for making this your best summer ever in Sonoma County.
Celebrate the 4th: The Summer at the Green concert series opens with a bang on July 4 as the Santa Rosa Symphony joins forces with the Transcendence Theatre Company for an evening of sassy show tunes and patriotic classics. The popular Independence Day event at the Green Music Center offers an array of old-fashioned family fun, including kids’ activities, picnicking on the lawn and a fireworks spectacular at dusk. Families are encouraged to arrive at 4:30 p.m. to take advantage of the Kids Zone and to set up their picnic spread. Concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30-$60; lawn tickets for kids under 12 are half price. 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park, 707-664-4246
Ride the River: Floating the Russian River is a summertime must, but how best to approach a float trip is a matter of some debate. Our best bet? Kicking the day off at Forestville’s Steelhead Beach and ending at Sunset Beach. While the 2-mile stretch doesn’t look like much on a map, at the river’s sluggish summertime pace, the route takes a good four hours. To avoid full parking lots or the need to leave a car at each beach, take the Regional Parks River Shuttle, which costs $5 for an all-day shuttle pass and travels from Santa Rosa to Forestville. Don’t forget the sunscreen, and be sure to bring enough liquids to stay hydrated. 9000 River Road, Forestville
Hit the Bar at Stumptown: Looking for a beer or a burger after that Russian River float trip? There’s no better place to quench your thirst than Stumptown Brewery in Guerneville. Just outside of downtown, the bar features a patio with a river view and access to the beach below. In the summertime, it opens up its beach bar, and patrons are welcome to bring their dogs, so long as they remain on leash. It’s cash only, so come prepared. 15045 River Road, Guerneville, 707-869-0705
Slurp Your Slush: Amy's Wicked Slush has become a summer requisite featuring Boston-style slushes in a rainbow of colors and fruity flavors. Though cherry and lemon are classic for the dessert that’s something between shaved ice and a Slurpee, Amy’s keeps things fresh with additions like grapefruit, ginger ale, cotton candy and sour raspberry. The original store is located just across from Memorial Beach in Healdsburg, with outposts in Ukiah and Petaluma and mobile locations at summertime events. 13840 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-431-9253
Feast at the Fair: Whether you’re here to show a goat, ride the Ferris wheel, eat a corndog, or some combination of all three, the Sonoma County Fair is part of every summer. There’s no shortage of ridiculously fattening food options, roller coaster adventures, animal-petting opportunities and fist-pumping music — but nothing beats finding a comfortable spot in the shade and watching the fairgoers stroll by. August 4-14 (closed Aug. 8). Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa
Rock Out in the Woods: You will not find a music event more enshrouded in nature than the Old Grove Festival in Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve. On a stage dwarfed by giant redwood trees, folk, bluegrass and rock bands serenade the wildlife once a year. In 2022, Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums and Dirty Cello share the bill. July 16. Tickets are $36-$85 for adults, $8-$10 for children and free for children under 12. 17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville
Drink Sangria Under the Stars: The enclosed dining space behind Healdsburg tapas restaurant Bravas certainly isn’t a secret, but it’s become a sanctuary for locals who snap up the best seats on summer nights for drinking sangria, eating plates of Iberico ham and enjoying the casual vibe. 420 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-433-7700
Share in Some Squeezebox Love: Polka may be dead, but the accordion lives on. Every summer, fans of the squeezebox pile into La Plaza Park to play their hearts out at the Cotati Accordion Festival. The event commemorates the late Jim Boggio, who played with Polka King Frank Yankovic for years. Students, amateurs and pros are all as welcome as the many curious passersby. The event ends with everyone joining in for a group round of “Lady of Spain.” Aug. 20-21, tickets $19-$32, free for children 15 and under.
Join the Pool Party: Pair a pool day with wine tasting at Francis Ford Coppola Winery, which sports a spacious tasting bar and two luxurious (and family- friendly) swimming pools. The best plan is to go early, get your swim on, then linger all day. You can order food from the onsite restaurant, slip inside to check out movie memorabilia and do a tasting, then head back outside for bocce or a nap. The oasis fills up quickly on weekends so consider a weekday visit. As of 2021, pool access is only obtained through the rental of a cabine (starting at $220). 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, 707-857-1471
Daydream Among the Dahlias: A far corner of Petaluma erupts into bejeweled color every July, marking the beginning of dahlia season. The Happy Dahlia Farm maintains a seasonal farm of dazzling field-grown flowers, a magnet for Instagrammers and plein-air painters that is an only-in-summer treat. Growers Kate Rowe and Omar Duran invite visitors to dilly-dally among more than 400 varieties of premium dahlias, available for sale. July to October. 2478 E. Washington St., Petaluma, 707-338-9478, thehappydahliafarm.com
Play Beach Bum for the Day: Just driving along Highway 1 on a hot summer day, windows down and music on, is enough to make anyone’s day. But even better than that? Pulling off into one of Sonoma Coast’s many beach coves, picnic in hand. Our favorite is Russian Gulch, just north of Jenner. Rip currents are strong here, so swimming isn’t recommended, but the dramatic 120-foot cliffs bookending the beach make for a nearly unparalleled view. For easier access (and a beach option with sand), we recommend Wright’s Beach to the south. 18794 Shoreline Highway, Jenner
Bliss Out in a Vineyard: The concert series at Gundlach Bundschu Winery is a year-round specialty that’s best enjoyed in the summertime. While crowds come from near and far for the Huichica Music Festival in June, the concert series offers a more intimate experience. The unique venue — a century-old redwood barn — draws big names like indie rockers Mac DeMarco and Built to Spill. Several acts are lined up for September 2022, including Cat Power and Broken Social Scene. Bring a blanket, grab a bottle of wine from the barn stand and bliss out in the vineyard under the summer sky. 2000 Denmark St., Sonoma, 707-938-5277
Plunk Down in a Park: On six Sunday evenings in summer, enjoy Live at Juilliard, a series of free concerts from 5 to 7 p.m., this year starting on July 17 and ending Aug. 21. In the golden light of dusk, show up and plunk down on the grass, get dinner from one of the food trucks, lie back and soak in the season. With a mix of family clans, retirees in lawn chairs, kids running around with streamers and dancers up near the stage, it’s a one-size-fits-all summer ritual. 227 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa
Take the Waters: Morton's Warm Springs in Glen Ellen is a true summertime gem. To be clear: This is not a hot springs spa, but it's a wonderful place to spend a sunny afternoon. The property features two mineral pools, a wading pool for kids, picnic and barbecue sites, plus lawn games and ping pong. Day-use fees range from $6-$12. (Note: Due to a replastering job on the pools gone awry, the regular 2022 guest season with the pools will be closed until further notice.) 1651 Warm Springs Road, Glen Ellen, 707-833-5511
Take a Flying Leap: What’s the best view in Sonoma County? From the door of an airplane, 9,000 feet up. Celebrate that summertime freedom by free-falling with Cloverdale’s Norcal Skydiving. As you fall, you’ll take in views stretching from the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Sierra Nevada (if you can focus on the view, that is). If you’re going to jump out of a plane, it might as well be on a clear summer morning over Wine Country. 220 Airport Road, Cloverdale, 888-667-2259
Catch a Wave: The best way to experience the picturesque water along the Sonoma Coast is to dive right into it. And doing that is made so much simpler with a little help from the folks at the Bodega Bay Surf Shack. Visitors can choose between a group lesson ($109) or a private session ($145), with both lasting about 2.5 hours. The shop also rents skimboards, boogie boards, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. 400 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3944
Elevate Your Ice Cream Flavors: If you’ve never had a mangonada, hibiscus paleta or elote ice cream, you’ve missed out on one of the best things Wine Country has to offer. La Michoacana (18495 Highway 12, Sonoma) serves up frozen treats like spicy mango slushies, fresh fruit popsicles and dozens of flavors of ice cream inspired by the Mexican state of Michoacan. Find other great ice cream spots here.
Sip and Listen at Lagunitas: The beard and beer set know all about the Lagunitas Amphitheater, an intimate show space on the unlikely industrial grounds of Lagunitas’ brewing facility in Petaluma. The lineup in 2022 includes Valerie June, Big Freedia, Dan Deacon and more. Tickets in years-past were free, but this year, tickets will be $10 per person, and 100% of the proceeds from most shows will be donated to the Best Friends Animal Society in honor of the concert series' 10-year anniversary. Tickets go on sale three weeks before each show at 4:20 p.m. 1280 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma
Look Up: When darkness falls on Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, things are just getting started at the Robert Ferguson Observatory. With the nonprofit’s summer night sky classes, there’s no better excuse to head up the mountain. Classes can be taken individually or as a series, and are designed for all levels of stargazer. Each presentation lasts about 90 minutes, during which attendees will learn about different summer constellations and their associated myths. After class, check out the stars through the observatory’s telescopes. 2605 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood, 707-833-6979
Climb into a Shell: Fitting yourself snugly into your rowing shell, you and your hardy crew set off, gliding inches from the water’s surface with each coordinated stroke. Seated in front, a coxswain keeps the rhythm. In no time, everyone has worked up a sweat. Rowing is a terrific cardio and upper-body workout — and few places are better suited to the sport than the Petaluma River. The North Bay Rowing Club offers learn-to-row programs for adults and camps for kids. Private lessons and equipment check-out for the more experienced can be booked year-round. 699 Second St., Petaluma, northbayrowing.org
Make a Splash on Spring Lake: Throughout the summer, an inflatable playground gently floats on the surface of the lagoon at Spring Lake — that is until hordes of kids start jumping, bouncing and climbing on the slippery maze of trampolines, bridges and slides. If all that bouncing isn’t your thing, there are areas for swimming, paddleboarding and wading for the tots. Parking is $7, admission to the water park is $10 and admission to the lagoon for swimming is free. One-hour rentals for kayaks and paddleboards are $12 per rental, and online reservations are recommended. Spring Lake Regional Park, 393 Violetti Road, Santa Rosa
Get Sporty: Looking for a more active outing on the Russian River than the classic float? Try Kayaking and Stand Up Paddleboarding. Burke’s Canoe Trips in Forestville is the go-to option for your kayak and canoe rental needs, but several outposts catering to stand-up paddleboarding have sprung up. Try Rubicon Adventures or SUP Odyssey in Forestville — or Russian River Paddle Boards in Windsor for those interested in spending a day upriver.
Cool Down in a Cave: When the mercury climbs above 90, swan dive into a wine cave. The natural earth walls keep the temperature poised between 55 and 60 degrees in the 12,000-square-foot cave at Hamel Family Wines in Sonoma. The cave is a highlight of three tastings and tours, including a chance to sample unreleased wines from the barrel, taste current vintages with a culinary accompaniment, or savor your sips in a private room within the cave. The tour is $75 per person, or $150 ($125 for members) if you reserve a personalized experience. By appointment. 15401 Sonoma Highway 12, Sonoma
Savor the Sunset: Paradise Ridge Winery’s Fountaingrove location reopened just in time to continue on with the winery’s traditional Wednesday night parties: "Wine & Sunsets." Every Wednesday through July (with the possibility of more events to be scheduled), guests are invited to the winery’s hillside amphitheater for a night of music, wines by the glass (or bottle) and gourmet food trucks. Tickets are $10-$25. 4545 Thomas Lake Harris Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-528-9463
Go Glamping: AutoCamp Russian River, a “glamping” resort in a Guerneville redwood grove, marries a wilderness escape complete with barbecue pit to the indulgence of a boutique hotel with spa-like bathrooms and luxe linens. Accommodations range from nostalgic Airstream trailers to luxury tents scattered around a midcentury modern clubhouse stocked with board games, morning coffee and a cozy fireplace. 14120 Old Cazadero Road, Guerneville, 707-604-6103
Take In a Show Alfresco: Set in Jack London State Historic Park, Transcendence Theatre's Broadway Under the Stars brings the world of Broadway to the heart of Sonoma Valley for an evening of song, dance, food and — of course — wine. This summer’s remaining lineup includes: “Let’s Dance,” a reimagining of Broadway’s best showstoppers; “Hooray for Hollywood,” where 15 performers will revive themes from Hollywood classics and top blockbusters; and the annual “Gala.” Before every Transcendence Theatre show, there’s a massive picnic where guests can enjoy local food, wine and live music. 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen
Watch a Flick Outdoors: As part of downtown Santa Rosa’s free Summer On The Square series, movies will be played on a massive LED screen in Courthouse Square starting at 6 p.m. on select Thursday nights through Sept. 1. Movie snacks, beer and wine from local producers will be available for sale, and attendees are encouraged to order take-out from a local restaurant to enjoy during the movie. This year's movie lineup includes: Encanto (July 7), Luca (July 14), a double feature of The Goonies and Ghostbusters (Aug. 4), and Back To The Future (Sept. 1). Summer On The Square also includes a music series at 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays and family activities and entertainment on select Fridays. Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa
Outdoor Films for the Kiddos: Windsor kicked off its free Family Movies on the Green series in early June, featuring children’s movie screenings on the Town Green that will continue every Tuesday (except July 5) through Aug. 9. The movie lineup includes Ratatouille, Moana, Hook, Zootopia and more. Films start 15 minutes after sunset. For more information and movie dates, head to townofwindsor.com.
Start Your Engines: Whether you drive a Camaro, a Ford Focus or a Volvo wagon with a baby seat in back, you too, can be a smoking badass on the asphalt. You don’t need a muscle car for "Drags and Drift" at Sonoma Raceway on Wednesday nights. Just show up and take your lane for a shot of hot adrenaline delivered with screeching tires, a slip with your time and speed, and maybe a trophy. You can also test your drifting skills sliding sideways through a special course or take a spin at the Donut Pad. $15-$60. 29355 Arnold Drive, Sonoma
Tent in the Perfect Spot: Between the secluded ocean cove west of Highway 1 and the fern-filled redwood canyon that beckons from the east, the 210-acre Stillwater Cove Regional Park is a gem. The park’s 23 inland campsites offer quick access to the sheltered beach, a popular spot for kayaking, picnicking and tidepooling. More than three miles of trails include a blufftop walk and vista point, as well as lushly forested Stockhoff Creek and Canyon Trail loop options. Reservations required. 22455 Highway 1, Jenner
Let Loose for a Good Cause: What started over a decade ago as a simple gathering of Burning Man sculptors, DIY boat racers and local folk musicians has evolved into the full-fledged fringe festival known as Rivertown Revival. You can get married, showcase your ship-building skills, listen to local music or just dress up as your favorite mariner. The event is a fundraiser for Friends of the Petaluma River. Wear comfortable shoes. Corsets optional. July 23-24. Steamer Landing, Petaluma
Take to the Town Green: Every Thursday from June to September, folks bring their chairs early to reserve a spot on Windsor’s quaint Town Green for the annual Summer Nights on the Green concert series. As summer heats up, so do the music, farmers market and family-friendly lawn games. Vendors have food, booze and cool lemonade to keep you full and hydrated until dusk. 5-8 p.m. 701 McClelland Drive, Windsor
Send the Kids to Camp: It’s a Santa Rosa rite of passage to send your kid to Camp Wa-Tam for a week of old-fashioned fun canoeing on Lake Ralphine, learning ridiculous camp songs, making lanyards, eating popsicles, and getting good and dirty. Popular with the elementary-school set since the 1950s, the program has kept to its simple roots, making it a wonderfully anachronistic portal for kids more familiar with Snapchat than their own backyards. In Howarth Park, through Aug. 12, srcity.org. (Note: If Camp Wa-Tam reaches capacity, there are a wealth of other summer camps available for kids.)
Make a Great Ascent: For a quick, lung-punching mountain bike loop in Trione-Annadel State Park, leave your car in the Newanga Avenue parking lot and head east on the fire trail that follows the path of Spring Creek. At the first bridge, keep right to stay on the wide trail; cross the second bridge and you are now on Canyon Trail that leads to Lake Ilsanjo. Keep the lake on your left and take Canyon to Warren Richardson Trail, which will bring you to the Channel Drive parking lot. Channel Drive Trail runs parallel to the road — ride it until the trail ends at the ranger station. Back on the road, take a hard left up Violetti Road and a quick right into Spring Lake Regional Park, returning to the parking lot. Finish off your day with a beer and bite at nearby bike pub, Trail House Santa Rosa.
Appreciate Nature with the Kids: Nonprofit LandPaths offers fun and easy ways for the family to get in tune with nature, such as its "Let's Read Outside" series where kids (geared towards children 5 and younger) and their families can read bilingual, nature-themed books together in the garden at LandPath's Bayer Farm in Santa Rosa. Reading sessions are held 10-11:30 a.m. every Friday through summer (except July 1). Kids can also play in the garden, make nature-themed arts and crafts, and learn about earth's various critters. In partnership with Redwood Empire Food Bank, LandPaths distributes free lunch for youth 18 and younger through August, noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. LandPaths also offers plenty of summer camps for kids and teens.
Up Your Grilling Game: The bounty of Sonoma County’s fertile fields and coastal waters require just a kiss of heat to bring them to perfection at the summer table. And what better way to add that heat than to fire up the grill. Any one of the region’s renowned cooking schools can help you hone your grilling skills; this summer, consider a visit to Ramekins Culinary School in Sonoma for a public, private or corporate team building cooking class. No classes have been scheduled yet for the summer of 2022, but you can call or email [email protected] to book a private class. 450 West Spain St., Sonoma, 707-933-0450
Mosey Through a Magical Museum: While the Charles M. Schulz Museum is a favorite destination year-round, it’s an especially nice spot to cool off during the dog days of summer. This season, you can join in the fun with the “Peanuts” gang as the museum exhibits fond, sun-soaked memories of summer camp in the Strip Rotation Gallery. Other summer exhibits include: “Spark Plug to Snoopy: 100 Years of Schulz,” “Good Grief! Peanuts and the Art of Feelings” and “Li’l Folks, Big Laughs!” 2301 Hardies Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-5794452
Spruce Up Your Tuesdays: For an evening of food, music and community spirit, check out Healdsburg's Tuesdays in the Plaza, 5-8 p.m. every Tuesday through August. Local food vendors will be on-site to provide delicious fare, and an eclectic array of bands, spanning genres from folk rock to electric soul, are lined up to perform each week. A complimentary bike valet service will be available each week for concert goers. Healdsburg Plaza, ci.healdsburg.ca.us
Written by Meg McConahey, Heather Irwin, Christi Warren, Matt Villano, John Beck, Corinne Asturias, Derek Moore, Diane Peterson, Mary Callahan, and Kerry Benefield