When you think about going to wine country, you usually don't imagine going there with your kids, right? You think about a girls weekend or a romantic getaway with your husband (who even gets those?!). But I am here to tell you that not only can it be done but that it can be fun! Yes, you too can explore California's wine country with your kids and not lose your mind.
We first got the idea to visit Sonoma when a film I was in was playing at their film festival, the Sonoma International Film Festival. We were in two festivals over the same weekend, one in Florida and one in Sonoma. Even though we lived on the east coast and Florida was closer, I volunteered to go to the one in Sonoma ;) And since it fell on my kids spring break, we decided to make a family trip of it and then visit LA after (can you tell that I have always been drawn to LA?). Then, because we liked it so much the first time, we went back again this summer for my son's 11th birthday.
Anyway, I feel in love with the town. I mean, what's not to love?! The delightful town square with shops and restaurants around it, beautiful hills all around you, and SO MUCH good wine! It is kind of like heaven to me. Of course I loved it but what was there for my kids to do? Well, it turns out, plenty.
The town itself is very family friendly, with big grassy fields in the square and playgrounds for the kids to run around on. Every Tuesday in the summer, the square hosts the Night Market, a farmers market with food trucks and fruit stands, live music, and, oh, did I mention wine? You can bring your own or buy from one of the local vineyards (apparently they take turns every week). The square is full of people with blankets having picnics and kids running all around. We had a blast dancing to the live music, drinking wine, eating ice cream, playing on the playground with the throngs of other children. It was something that I definitely would like to go back and do again and, that if I lived in Sonoma, would do every week.
Ok, so what is a trip to wine country without tasting good wine?! Well, lucky for us, there are plenty of family friendly wineries in Sonoma. We visited two different ones on our last trip there, the Larson Family Winery and Kunde, but plenty more offered family tastings, in the square and outside of town. At Larson Family Winery, the family's three dogs are almost as much of a draw as the wine (and they even have a wine called the Three Lab Cab, which is delicious). My kids love dogs so they were thrilled to walk in and find them laying on the floor. Then they went outside where there were sheep and goats and a bocce court! They are very kid and dog friendly at Larson, and you really feel comfortable letting your older kids go explore the grounds while you enjoy the different wines. The same could be said at Kunde, where there is a pond and corn-hole and breadsticks that my kids would not stop eating! Now, I understand that my kids are a bit older (11 and 6), and therefore able to run around by themselves a bit more and entertain each other. But I do think it is possible and fun to go wine tasting with younger kids. If they won't sit through a whole tasting, you always have the option of buying a bottle and some food and having a picnic in the vineyard. Just make sure one of you is able to be the designated driver ;)
The other thing that we did that my kids absolutely loved was the Safari West. This is a wildlife preserve with over 400 acres of land and plenty of wild animals! My daughter is obsessed with giraffes so this was a must do on our list. The place is really cool, with Jeeps that take you through the wildlife enclosures, allowing you to get up close and personal with all kinds of wild animals like giraffes, zebras, rhinoceros, gazelles, antelope and more. It is about a 45 minute drive from the town square but well worth it. You can even stay in cabins there! We didn't get to this trip but hope to when we go back.
I am firm believer that kids can have fun anywhere. It doesn't have to be Disneyland every time (even though I do love Disney). Sometimes a place that sounds like it is more for the grownups can end up being just as fun for the kids! Sonoma is just that kind of a place.
More pictures of our Sonoma trip here.
More to explore in Sonoma:
*The Chocolate Cow - My daughter is obsessed with giraffes but my son is obsessed with cows so this place was his favorite. An adorable ice cream shop right in the town square with plenty of sweets to choose from. How could you go wrong??
*Train Town - We didn't get to visit Train Town but it looked like lots of fun and was recommended to us by several parent friends. My son would have especially loved it when he was younger and very into trains. They have train rides, a petting zoo, a miniature town and several other amusement rides.
*Sonoma Raceway - My son loves cars, especially fast ones, and was super bummed when we were heading out of town and saw that a race was happening that very weekend at the Raceway. Needless to say, another trip to Sonoma has been promised so that he can go to a race (while Lola and I go to a spa;).
*Sunflower Caffe - A great place for breakfast and lunch, with seating outside on the square, inside and in the back garden. Reasonably priced, fresh local ingredients and dog friendly, a must for breakfast!
*El Molino Central - Our favorite tacos in Sonoma. It isn't close to the square but is close to the Fairmont and on the way to most of the vineyards. Definitely worth a stop!
*The Girl & The Fig - We had a delicious dinner on the back patio of this restaurant. Is a little on the pricey side but very, very good.
* The Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn - This was the best Best Western I have ever stayed at! It is right off the square, just about a 5 minute walk, with good, clean rooms that look out onto the pool. Our room even had a balcony that opened up right to the pool! Kids and parents agreed that it was great!
*The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa - Well, this place is fancy and fun! We stayed here when we were out for the film festival and because I was able to get a good deal on a room through hotels.com but otherwise would probably be out of our price range. It is super nice though! Beautiful salt-water pool and grounds that are immaculate.