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The drive to Sonoma County’s wine country from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge takes about an hour, winding through the cityscapes, fields and scenic vineyards of Northern California. Home to more than 400 wineries, this stretch of NorCal may not be the first spot that comes to mind when planning a family vacation, but mixed in with those award-winning grapes are Peanuts (the comic, not the legume), redwood forests, a sandy stretch of coast and a wild side that some folks refer to as the “Sonoma Serengeti.”
The adrenaline rush kicks in right before the first step from an elevated platform at Sonoma Canopy Tours, located deep in rural Sonoma County. The panoramic treetop course includes seven ziplines, two sky bridges and a photo-worthy spiral staircase before the grand-finale rappel back to the forest floor. Children must be at least 10 years old and weigh 70 pounds to participate. After the tour, families can enjoy having their feet back on solid ground while exploring the nearby tiny town of Occidental. Grab a bite to eat at the Union Hotel Restaurant, a popular Italian eatery, complete with traditional red- and white-checkered tablecloths.
Afterward, head to the beach. Just a 30-minute drive from the restaurant, Sonoma Coast State Park stretches 17 scenic miles that are perfect for strolling and playing in the sand. Leave your swimsuit at home, though, the surf here is rough and cold. At Goat Rock Beach in Jenner, harbor seals sometimes outnumber people, and from March through June, protective seal moms line the sand with their pups.
If the sea air has the kids’ stomachs grumbling again, head inland and make a pit stop at Betty’s Fish & Chips, a small hole-in-the-wall fish-fry joint. Stay long enough to enjoy the homemade pie for dessert, then make the 20-minute drive to Safari West. Spread out on 400 acres, the wildlife preserve is home to cheetahs, giraffes and more than 900 exotic mammals and birds. Explore the area on an Africa-style safari, and settle in for the night in nicely equipped African tents. Just like kids on vacation, critters are known to carry on a bit in the evening, but think of the chatter as a local lullaby.
Families will wake up raring to go and excited about the chance to meet up with Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang at Charles M. Schulz Museum. Watch the iconic animated specials in the 100-seat theater, read comic strips and maybe even discover how to become a cartoonist in the hands-on Education Room. Just across the street from the museum is Snoopy’s Home Ice rink. Kids can go for a twirl on the ice or watch others make it look easy from the Warm Puppy Cafe while sipping hot chocolate served with a generous topping of whipped cream.
With more than 40 wines produced on-site, Francis Ford Coppola Winery is the perfect spot for parents to get a taste of what wine country has to offer, all while keeping the kids happily entertained. The property has two seasonal pools, bocce courts and a tepee filled with children’s books. Movie buffs will appreciate the Academy Awards trophies, film props (including a Tucker car on a revolving stage) and costumes on display.
Nearby Quivira Vineyards and Winery makes full use of its land to teach visitors of all ages about wine growing. Open for all to wander and explore, the 1-acre estate garden includes raised vegetable beds, a beehive, chicken coop and a small pond.
Finally, families can swing through the air with the greatest of ease on a flying trapeze, set in a secluded forest. TrapezePro does not have an age minimum or maximum, so grandma can tag along, too.
WHEN TO GO
Sonoma County has a Mediterranean climate. Temperatures rarely drop below freezing during the rainy winter season. During the summer, very warm days are typically followed by cool nights thanks to coastal fog. Weather can vary from the coast to inland areas, so layers are a good idea any time of the year.
San Francisco International Airport and Oakland International Airport are both about a 2½-hour drive from Sonoma County. However, Alaska Airlines offers direct flights to Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, and all flights originating from the small airport include a case of wine as part of the free luggage allowance. Regardless of airport choice, travelers should plan on renting a car.
Charles M. Schulz Museumwww.schulzmuseum.org
Francis Ford Coppola Winerywww.francisfordcoppolawinery.com
Quivira Vineyards and Winerywww.quivirawine.com
Snoopy’s Home Icewww.snoopyshomeice.com
Sonoma Canopy Tourswww.sonomacanopytours.com
Sonoma Coast State Parkwww.parks.ca.gov
Union Hotel Restaurantwww.unionhoteloccidental.com
Warm Puppy Cafe at Snoopy’s Home Icewww.snoopyshomeice.com