This is our round up of the best things to do in Sonoma with kids, including a selection of family-friendly wineries in Sonoma Valley, a visit in Traintown and outdoor family friendly activities in Sonoma county, California.
One of the many reasons that made us choose the Bay area, for a summer family vacation, is the abundance of activities for adults and kids in the area. The city of San Francisco with its stunning museums and vibrant art was a huge magnet for us but I also heard the alluring call of the northern California coats and beautiful wine country.
So, on a bright summer day, we got the kids ready, left Berkeley and drove to gorgeous Sonoma.
These are our itinerary, impressions and tips to make the most of a day trip to Sonoma with kids
Day trip San Francisco to Sonoma with children
Sonoma county lies to the North East of San Francisco. It is a wine region famous for the beauty of its landscape and of course its delicious wine, produced in the over 400 local wineries!
I know I wanted to go to Sonoma the moment I learnt it was close to San Francisco, but I had a few doubts: can you visitwineries with kids? Are kids allowed in Sonoma wineries at all, is there anything else to do in Sonoma with kids?
After a lot of research and the priceless help of our home exchangers, my insecurities dissolved. (If you are interested in the home swapping experience as a family, you can read how we do it here)
There is plenty to do in Sonoma for kids and this includes kid-friendly wineries but also many non-alcoholic pursuits that suit kids and non- drinkers of all ages.
There are, however, a few things to consider before heading out for the day.
The dos and don’ts of visiting Sonoma with kids
Do get your geography right
The first thing to know about Sonoma is that its name can be confusing and it is useful to get your vocabulary right.
Sonoma county is a county in Northern California.
Sonoma is the old town giving the country its name, so when we said we wanted to to go to ‘Sonoma’, without additional specifications, this is where locals understood we were going.
Sonoma valley is the geographical feature of the South East of Sonoma county which, confusingly is also where many Napa Valley wines come from, since it covers part of Napa county!
You see? I told you it was confusing! For the purpose of this post, I will clarify that when I say we went to Sonoma with kids, we went to Sonoma town and its immediate surroundings.
Don’t be a drunk driver
The best way to reach Sonoma, especially with kids, it so drive there. The drive from San Francisco to Sonoma is easy ad short but poses a problem: how can you drink and drive? The answer is of course: you can not and must not.
The safest way to visit Sonoma by car and taste wine is to have a designated driver who will simply refrain from drinking. My husband volunteered for the job and while it seemed unbearably cruel to get him to observe me while I was sipping away delicious Californian wine, he got an extra serving of wine in the evening, from the very best bottle I picked during the day and brought home! He also got to sleep in the morning after so it is definitely possible to find a compromise and stay safe.
The other option is to book a wine tour or a private guide to the area. There are many several options, offering all types of tours and in all types of vehicles from horse drawn carriages, to minivans and ‘wine trolley’!
I have found many providers, many offering good prices on Get your Guide (click HERE for the full list)
Do stay the night
We were in the Bay Area with a home exchange and drove back home a the end of the day. However, the area of Sonoma is so rich of activities and so pleasant, I would recommend to spend there at least a couple of nights.
The area is full of family friendly accommodation options, catering for several budgets: you can find a good list of places on booking.com who provided us with this handy search box (we are their affiliate, you can read more about what this mean at the bottom of this post)
Don’t just show up
Wineries have different ways of catering for visitors: some accept walk-ins and others require you to book in advance.
Wineries in the area have excellent websites and the booking is straightforward: some offer tours of the actual winery while others offer tasting, so make sure you specify what you are expecting from the day at the time of booking and do give the age of your kids ,if under drinking age, so they can get the juice ready for them!
Booking in advance can also result in great deals: you can find ideas on how to visit this expensive area without blowing the budget here
One day in Sonoma with kids: our itinerary
We left San Francisco in the late morning and made it to Sonoma just before lunch time. The drive from the city is short and interesting and displays how varied the Northern Californian landscape is.
When we left San Francisco, the view was a rugged coast under a blue sky with scattered clouds and a pleasant 20 degree temperature. Soon, however, the landscape became dryer, mountainous and about 10 degrees hotter!
Starved of sunshine after the long Irish winter, we welcomed this change and congratulated ourselves for wearing proper summer clothes and copious amounts of sun cream.
Sonoma town centre
Our first stop was Sonoma town centre.
Sonoma in an old, heritage town, developing around a central square. The first building we noticed was the Sonoma town all, which you find right in front of you as you enter the town.
We left the car on the mail square (parking is pay and display) and the kids quickly saw the playground in its centre. The playground is cute and it has lovely picnic benches in the shade.
We had a nice rest there as the kids ran around and then we were ready for lunch. Sonoma is famous not just for its wine but for a strong farm to table culture and we quickly discovered how amazing the local food tastes.
Our choice fell on a restaurant and grill on the main Sonoma square ( I believe it was called B&V Grill) and the meal was lovely. We got their signature burger, which was juicy and just perfect while the kids had an abundant kids menu to choose from: they got mac and cheese and a burger and the generous potions meant they were full for the day.
Visiting Sonoma mission with kids
Just in front of the restaurant there was Sonoma mission, our next stop.
I had never visited a mission before and didn’t know much about their history either and the visit is interesting. The mission has many informative panels and a very impressive chapel that made us feel we had crossed the border into Mexico!
The mission is small enough and can be visited quite quickly, but it is worth a visit: you get the ticket at the front office and this includes entrance to other local attractions too so it’s a good purchase if you intend to explore the area.
This was one of our favourite things to do in Sonoma CA so we highly recommend you include it into your Sonoma itinerary!
Winery visit n 1: visiting Sebastiani winery with kids
It was now time to visit our first winery and we picked one that was just a short walk away from the mission: Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery
Sebastiani doesn’t cater specifically for families but it is a lovely estate and kids can run around the front garden while you sip under the shade of their gorgeous trees.
I tasted 5 wines, bought one bottle and we chilled in the garden with great satisfaction. It felt like being in Tuscany, with a distinctive Californian touch – my type of heaven.
Children’s paradise in Sonoma Valley: Traintown
After my type of heaven we moved to the kids’ type of heaven and went to visit Traintown. Traintown is immediately outside Sonoma and it is a small theme park on the theme of trains.
It is a gorgeous spot for kids and one they adored: it has a vintage, heritage feel to it, with a little ‘steam’ train going around the park (suitable for very young kids) and rides.
The rides are not scary and the whole place is designed with little kids in mind: our two loved it and even for adults it was a nice stop.
Traintown has a small shop selling drinks and snacks and souvenirs and it was the perfect antidote to the more grown up pleasures of wine visits.
Bike rentals in Sonoma Valley
Almost in front to train town we saw a bike shop and enquired about hiring bikes.
Sonoma is great for cycling and has several cycling paths for all abilities. Since we were travelling with 2 young children, we needed family bikes with either a eat or a trailer: sadly, our disorganisation meant when we made it to the shop they had no trailers available and we had to archive the plan.
If you do want to cycle, which I believe would be absolutely lovely in the area, make sure you book in advance the kids’ gear: general bikes, on the other hand, were readily available in many sizes without notice even in the afternoon.
Please note that Sonoma gets really hot in summer so only cycle if you think you can take it!
Winery n 2: visiting Cline wine cellars with kids
At this point it was late afternoon and we got back in the car to get to the last winery: Cline Cellars.
We went there following the recommendation of our home exchangers and it is a lovely place.
They have gorgeous tables both in the front and the back yard and a garden with almost a mini bird ‘zoo’, which the kids loved.
The main attraction for kids here however was the big fish pond: the pond is packed with fish and they are very, very, friendly: beside the pond you can buy fish from a small dispenser and the fish literally jump out of the water when they see you approaching!
The kids had the best time and spent hours, looking at the round mouth of those fat and happy fish!
Cline cellars also has a mission museum which is a lovely introduction to the history of the area since it has a historic display of all 21 California missions, built to scale in 1939 for the California Pacific Exhibition.
By the time the kids deemed themselves satisfied with the fish feeding and I had sampled the local wine, the day was starting to fade and the sky assumed the pale pink colours I so love in that part of the world. We got back to San Francisco that night and, without anymore driving to be done, shared the bottled I had so lovingly chosen: i was a good ending of a good day.
We had a lovely time in Sonoma and we all truly enjoyed this beautiful part of the country. I highly recommend visiting Sonoma with kids and I hope we can go back there one day for more train and wine fun!
More family friendly things to do in Sonoma county with kids
Visit Sonoma historic park
The many buildings of Sonoma State historic park are mostly located around Sonoma plaza and can be easily visited by the whole family.
The Mission San Fracisco Solano, which I mentioned above, is part of it but more historical buildings include Adobe barracks, General Vallejo’s home and the historic Toscano hotel which now houses the park headquarters and interpretive center
Get active in Russian River
Russian river is an area of Sonoma county famous for outdoor activities, such as canoeing, paddling and hiking
Explore Armstrong woods
Located just north of the Russian River in a canyon two miles from Guerneville’s Main Street, Armstrong Redwood is a natural reserve where with the tallest and oldest living thing on the planet: redwoods!
In the forest you can have a picnic, relax or ride. All info here
Fly on a vintage aircraft
‘Vintage aircraft Co.’ offers ride in open cockpit bi-planes over Sonoma wineries. We didn’t take this activity but the website specifies children are welcome (with some restrictions) and it sounds like an activity flying enthusiasts will love.
Visit Cornerstone Sonoma
Cornerstone Sonoma defines itself as ‘a wine country marketplace featuring a collection of world-class shopping, boutique wineries and tasting rooms, artisan foods, art-inspired gardens, live music’.
It comes highly recommended for kids thanks to its many gardens with unusual and colourful designed and installations, some of which are interactive.
More kid friendly wineries in Sonoma valley and surrounding area
Since we only had one day in the area we were somewhat limited in our explorations.
If you have more time, you can also explore behind the area of Sonoma town and enjoy the rest of the Valley. Here are some of the kid friendly wineries in wine county.
Please note: these wineries and cellars are listed for information purpose only. Please check directly with them for family prices and availability
Francis ford Coppola winery. The Francis Ford Coppola winery is born as a pace for families. The director wanted to create a space where families could spend time together and came up with the perfect space: a winery with pools! Advanced booking is necessary, it can be done online via their website.
Larson family winery: described as homey, casual and great fun, Larson family winery comes recommended for a family picnic thanks to an extensive garden at the back. They have toys, scooters and animal pens.
St Francis: This winery offers wine and food tasting and families recommend it because of the extensive loan, perfect for running around. They are also commended for offering juice to the kids while you taste the wine, which is less common a practice than I was expecting.
Cline is a favourite for families (see above) for their nice garden, the fish pond and the small aviary. They also have the California mission museum which is interesting for adults and kids
Bezinger is a well know family friendly wine offering something pretty special: a vineyard tram tour open to under 21 too. They also have a playground for little kids.
I would love to go back to Sonoma and explore little more. Have you been? Would you consider visiting Sonoma with kids?
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