A weekend getaway to Napa or Sonoma County used to mean leaving the kids with Grandma. But times have changed and California’s Wine Country isn’t just for grown-ups anymore. Kids may not want anything to do with those funny looking grapes, but that doesn’t mean they won’t savor their vacation just as much as you. An area whose claim to fame is first class wine can also claim fabulous food, unforgettable parks, and quite simply some great outdoor spaces where kids can run around and be… kids.
What kid doesn’t like firefighters? The small but beautiful Firefighters Museum will make everyone in the family smile. Chock full of antique fire memorabilia, staring at the horse-drawn hose cart will take you back in time. You’ll also find fire hydrants, extinguishers, firefighting toys, and a collection of photos and newspaper clippings from around the world. The museum is staffed solely by volunteers, so call first to double check someone’s on duty and the doors will be open. An added perk: The museum’s located in downtown Napa where there’s plenty of parking and you’re close to shopping and restaurants.
If you want the kids to think you’re a hero, your next stop should be Playground Fantastico. Don’t be surprised if they leave you in the dust and go running for the castle-like play structure. The only thing that might slow them down is the huge cement iguana they pass by on the way. Water play, shade, musical instruments—this park has a little bit of everything. It’s a sure bet someone in the family’s hungry by now, so throw a blanket down on the grass or take advantage of one of the shady tables next to the playground and enjoy a picnic lunch.
Save the leftover bread crusts from lunch and head to Connolly Ranch to feed the ducks and geese. This 12-acre farm is less than ten minutes from the playground. Throw that first piece of crust and you’ll have the their full attention. All the ruckus will probably attract the attention of the miniature horse and miniature donkeys. Keep walking around the perimeter of the farm and check out the goats and sheep. My nine-year-old daughter easily spends an hour saying hello to all the critters every time we visit.
OK, I know what you’re thinking. My kids have no interest in seeing any gardens as well. But these aren’t just any gardens at CornerStone Sonoma. Designers from all over the world were given parcels of land to do what they do best. The result is nine acres of gardens your kids will love. They can run through knee high grass, play miniature golf, or maybe they’d like to write a wish on a shiny strip of ribbon and help decorate a garden. Plan to spend at least an hour—realistically closer to two—exploring the grounds. The kids will happily munch on a treat from the café while you enjoy a wine tasting or wander through the handful of shops and art galleries.
Peanuts & Ice Skating
Your kids can get in a quick nap in the 30 minutes it takes to get to Santa Rosa. Head straight to the Charles M. Schulz Museum. The museum has a great collection of Peanuts comic strips, photographs, books—anything and everything that has to do with Snoopy and the gang. Not in the mood for a museum? Schultz loved ice skating and hockey so much he built the Redwood Empire Ice Arena right across the street from the museum. Take a few glides around the ring, or enjoy a warm cup of hot chocolate (extra whipped cream please) while you watch others make it look easy. Need souvenirs? Snoopy’s Gallery and Gift Shop has something for just about every Peanuts fan.
Peanuts on Parade
While you’re in town be on the lookout for Santa Rosa’s fun tribute to Schultz: Peanuts on Parade. It started in 2005 when dozens of 4-foot statues of Charlie Brown were scattered around the city. Since then, Woodstock and Snoopy have joined in the fun. And this summer Lucy is stealing the show. Each statue is painted and designed by a Sonoma county artist, so no two statues are alike. You’ll find a few at the museum and ice rink.
If you want to escape the crowds, head to Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve and be awed by the tallest living things on the planet. Some trees have been known to live more than 2000 years and rise above 350 feet. There are plenty of trails, and you can decide how hard and how long of a walk your family has the energy for. An added little perk all parents should know about: Armstrong Woods is close to Korbel’s Champagne Cellars, where there’s plenty of sparkling apple juice for the kids.
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