This weekend, we paid another visit one of our favorite outdoors spots in the Bay Area, Jack London State Historic Park. Located in the small Sonoma Valley town of Glen Ellen, it's about a 45-minute drive north from Marin and a great destination for a family outing.
The park is made up of land that was at one time the Beauty Ranch owned by renowned writer, social reformer, early sustainable agriculture advocate, and rabble-rouser Jack London (1876–1916), author of classic adventure tales like The Sea Wolf,The Call of the Wild, and White Fang. Jack London State Historic Park is always a destination for us in winter and early spring—the wildflowers are in bloom, the weather is cool and clear, and it's breathtakingly beautiful.
One of our must-do family tradions during the holidays is to visit Snoopy's Home Ice, as well as the Charles M. Schulz Museum right next door. The arena was a gift to the North Bay community from the late Santa Rosa resident and Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, and has been going strong since 1969.
I always consider an outing here a holiday tradition, especially since I grew up watching A Charlie Brown Christmas every year, and attended a few holiday ice shows here over the years, too. It was always a treat to see Charles Schulz himself sitting in the audience, enjoying the show and chatting with visitors.
Don't miss the annual Lighting of the Snowmen Holiday Festival at Cornerstone Sonoma
One of the benefits of living in the North Bay is having the Wine Country of Sonoma and Napa right in our own backyard. It's a short trip from Marin but a world away, especially during the holidays, when the area does itself up in style.
Here are some selected family-friendly holiday events and happenings in Sonoma and Napa, as well as a few of our favorite places to visit in the Wine Country. There's nothing quite like taking in the Wine Country scenery (and maybe a glass of pinot noir) on a crisp and clear December day! Some of these events require tickets or advance reservations, so make sure you check for availability before you go.
Victorian Christmas Crafts Workshop
General Vallejo's Home, Sonoma
Sunday, November 20, 11 am–3 pm
Craft handmade, affordable historical gifts or stocking stuffers at General Vallejo’s Home. Meet a special holiday guest. Free admission for ages 12 and under (accompanied by an adult), $2 for ages 13–17, and $3 for adults. Rain or shine. More information
Many families in Marin and the North Bay have fond memories of visiting the popular pumpkin patch at Cardoza Ranch outside Petaluma. In 2005, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District and the Sonoma County Regional Parks Department acquired Cardoza Ranch, also known as Tolay Lake Ranch, turning its 1,737 acres of farmland into a county park.
McClelland's Dairy is a family-run, certified organic dairy farm located just west of Petaluma, and their annual Halloween pumpkin patch just keeps getting better and better every year. McClelland's offers a lot of fun for families, especially if you are looking for a genuine farm experience. If you haven't been there yet, it's definitley worth putting on your fall family itinerary. Attractions and activities here range from a farm animal petting zoo and into the dairy's milking barn to a giant slide and an air-powered pumpkin cannon. You can hang out here and play all day!
The entrance to McClelland's can sneak up on you a little, so keep an eye out for their signs as you head down Bodega Road into the Two Rock area west of Petaluma. Turn into the dirt driveway and parking it to your immediate right. On your left you'll see their big pumpkin patch, where you're welcome to go pick that perfect Halloween pumpkin off the vine. All pumpkins here are organically grown.
Wouldn't it be great if you could take your family on an amazing African Safari adventure, but still have the convenience of being in the Bay Area? Safari West, a wildlife preserve and private zoo located near Santa Rosa offers just that!
Tour this 400-acre preserve in Sonoma County's rolling hills and get up-close-and-personal with giraffes, rhinos, zebras, monkeys, cheetahs, and a huge variety of birds and African antelopes. Not only can you tour Safari West, but you can stay overnight in one of their luxury "glamping" tent cabins. We had a chance to stay over at Safari West and take one of their Classic Safari tours, and it was an unforgettable experience.
Where can you spend the day walking under ancient oaks following your nose from food booth to food booth (featuring frying apple fritters or slices of four-inch high apple pie), taking in terrific acoustic music, and experiencing the sights and sounds of a turn-of-the-century barnyard? At the annual Gravenstein Apple Fair, of course!
Sonoma County's summertime jewel takes place in Sebastopol's Ragle Ranch Park this weekend, August 13 and 14. 2016's event is the 104th Gravenstein Apple Fair, which showcases the best in arts, crafts, food, wines and beers, games, entertainment, and farm life activities.
The Gravenstein Apple Fair is produced by Sonoma County Farm Trails, and celebrates Sebastopol's iconic sweet and tart apple variety. While the fair in days past was a massive agricultural and food processing showcase, the modern version features family friendly fun like arts and crafts vendors, an artisan tasting lounge, chef demonstrations, live music on two stages, a petting zoo, animal displays, a chance to experience a taste of farm life, a hay maze, artisan booths selling handmade goods, performances by "Circus Waldissima" each afternoon, and of course apples!
In case you missed or just didn't get enough of the Marin County Fair, you'll be happy to know that the 2016 Sonoma County Fair starts Friday, July 22 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, and runs through Sunday, August 7. It's worth checking out if you've never been: it's bigger and a lot different than Marin's smaller, more intimate fair, and has more of an agricultural focus, which is natural for a more rural county like Sonoma. The Sonoma County Fair also features the largest themed flower show in the country, which is usually pretty stunning—this year's theme is "Sonoma Cinema".
The fair includes a kids' area with free age-appropriate entertainment and activities with the theme "Let's Put on a Show!" Young fairgoers can take part in a show three times a day, which might feature pirates, clowns, astronauts, or even dinosaurs. There’s plenty of lawn and shade as well as a parents rest station with changing tables and chairs for nursing. The Kids Area is open from 11 am to 8 pm, with activities and entertainment from noon to 6:30 pm.
One of our must-visit Wine Country family destinations is CornerstoneSonoma. It's a fun, family-friendly place where you can explore, play, and take in the beauty of their six acres of gardens and art installations. Of course this being Sonoma you can shop, dine, and wine taste here, too. We always make a point of visiting whenever we head up to the Wine Country. It's constantly changing, and there's always something new to see. Best of all, admission to the gardens is free!
You'll find Cornerstone just outside the town of Sonoma, across from the Gloria Ferrer winery on Highway 121, so it's easy to get to. Look for the long white picket fence and Big Blue Chair on your right as you head towards Sonoma, and you'll know you're there.