There’s a section of Sonoma County that warrants so much more than a fleeting visit on the way to Napa or journeying up the 101. We were recently looking for a family holiday destination and found just that with a few days in Santa Rosa.
With my four-year-old daughter Bailey in tow, along with my parents who were visiting from New Zealand, activities we can all enjoy as a family were our priority and we weren’t disappointed.
Our first stop in Santa Rosa was the Charles M. Schulz Museum, where great art is honored and presented in a way to engage young and old. My parents enjoyed the It Was a Dark and Stormy Night exhibition, exploring Schulz’s love of literature, which he so often brought into his work. Exhibitions are changed every few months to take a different focus and feature new aspects of Schulz’s life and comics.
Bailey was particularly taken with the upstairs classroom, where you can draw your own comic strip, and a theater that regularly screens different Peanuts cartoons. Every parent is concerned with whether their kid will be disruptive in this kind of place, but thankfully, Bailey was able to burn off some energy running around the grounds outside first. She proudly carried out two “strips” she had created herself (which we were careful not to mush up).
Speaking of burning energy, our next stop, Howarth Memorial Park, has got to be a favorite with kids and adults alike. We mostly stayed around the extensive playground area, where Bailey gave everything a test run. There are 138 acres of grounds that also include hiking trails, tennis, pony rides and fishing.
Check-in at Flamingo Hotel was next up, where we had a deluxe suite right next to the swimming pool. This is quite a cool hotel, with a mid-century modern design that forms a circle around the large central pool area. Bailey was practically in her swimsuit before we even reached our room, so we all took a refreshing swim.
With stomachs calling for good food after splashing around, we made our way to the Third Street Aleworks. This might sound like a stop for adult beverages, but it’s actually a friendly environment for kids and even dogs, as we found some seated in the outdoor area. The range of “comfort food” served was received well by all, as were the tap ales for the adults and housemade root beer for Bailey—that made her feel very grown up.
The following day, we wanted to fit some more exercise in and headed to Armstrong Redwoods State Park, where my parents and Bailey were comfortably able to manage the mobility-friendly trail. Everyone was impressed by the massive redwoods, some as old as 1,400 years. It’s a great place to come to just be a little quiet and observe nature.
After a stop by Martin Ray Vineyards, (they have scenic areas for relaxing, and Bailey even got a chance to play on the grass!), we made our way out to Safari West. Here, Bailey brimmed with excitement over the chance to see African animals up close as we rode along in fun open air jeeps. For around two hours, we had close encounters with different animals, including giraffes, gazelles, zebras and ostriches. A walking tour of aviaries, primates, flamingo and other animals followed.
We enjoyed the interaction with our knowledgeable guide, who was happy to answer any questions about the animals. Surprisingly, Bailey paid rapt attention the entire time. Ten points to Safari West for that! We opted to stay for the BBQ buffet dinner, which was plentiful and delicious. I had booked ahead to make sure we could get in on a tour and let them know we wanted to stay for dinner. We even discovered that you can spend the night at Safari West in a yurt!
Our last stop, Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, is practically guaranteed to have something to hold the attention of kids. It says a lot that this place has only been open three years, yet has already received awards recognizing it as a top destination for kids.
Their setup features an amazing range of interactive exhibits and play areas. Bailey was particularly taken with the dentist and doctor’s surgeries, but also loved the scientific demonstrations and the outdoor area, where water play happens within a working model of the Russian River. Even the “big kids” among us enjoyed this amazing facility, where we easily could have spent most of the day.
Museum play led to everyone working up quite an appetite, so we went looking for something quick, yet not too greasy. Amy’s Drive Thru was a pleasant surprise, bringing together the demand for fast food with a healthy, organic vegetarian menu. The adults all went for the “Amy” burger, which was tasty and filling, while Bailey enjoyed the organic mac ‘n’ cheese. This is fast food done well.
Santa Rosa has so much to offer, and it represents the best of Northern California. With everything from the outdoors and culture to good wine, craft beer and a lively downtown, you’re going to need a few extra days.
In the words of Charles M. Schulz himself, “what good is living if you don’t try a few things?”