Wine Country

Santa Rosa's Howarth Park Is Worth the Trip

June 11, 2012

Howarth Park in Santa RosaWe don't find ourselves up in Santa Rosa all that often, but when we do, we make it a point to stop by Howarth Park and play for a while. This large park on the east side of town is packed with attractions and things to do, and it's well worth a visit if your in the area; it might even merit a special trip up north.

Howarth Park has been a Sonoma County fixture since the 1950s. Not only does the park boast a large, modern set of play structures, it has plenty of other attractions as well. Kids can take a trip on a miniature train, ride a carousel, meet some animals at the barn, take a pony ride, and even rent a boat to sail on adjacent Lake Ralphine.

The main "Land of Imagination" play area is divided into several sections, each suitable for different age groups. At the center of the play area is an Old West town where kids can indulge in creative play. A Native American village area is also part of the playground. An additional playground on the other side of the parking area features swings and a rock climbing wall structure.

Family Friendly Wineries: Larson Family Winery in Sonoma

November 28, 2011

Larson Family Winery in SonomaRemember back before you had kids when you used to head up to the Wine Country for a day of fun and wine tasting? You'll find that there are plenty of family-friendly wineries up in Sonoma and Napa counties, so don't stop just because you have kids in tow. Kid friendly wineries are also great places to take out-of-town family and other visitors, especially during the holidays.

What do we look for in a family-friendly winery? First and foremost, there has to be something that kids can do, other than just hang out in the tasting room and wait for mom and dad. Second, the winery should be openly child-friendly and relaxed, both for the comfort of families and for other grownups who probably don't want the disruption of kids to interfere with their Wine Country experience. Last, there should be plenty of space and somewhere to relax and have something to eat, whether you pack it in yourself or buy it on-site.

The Pie's the Thing at Mom's Apple Pie in Sebastopol

September 5, 2011

Mom's Apple PieWhen we're travelling around the Bay Area, we always keep on the lookout for family-friendy (and budget-friendly) places to grab a bite to eat. We find ourselves in the west Sonoma County town of Sebastopol every fall and winter for apple picking, pumpkins, and Christmas trees, and one of our go-to places for a quick lunch or snack is Mom's Apple Pie, located on the north side of town at 4550 Gravenstein Highway North.

To be honest, the lunch part is just an excuse to go to Mom's and chow down on what she's famous for—homemade apple pies. As you might have figured out by its name, Mom's is all about the pie. Fresh baked, handmade apple pie takes center stage here. I think it's probably the best I've ever had, anywhere, and if you visit Mom's at the right time of year (August through November only) you can get apple pie that's made with Sebastopol's own Gravenstein apples. To make things even better, the Gravenstein apples come from the trees growing right behind the shop. The rest of the year the pies are made with Granny Smiths—but the Gravenstein pies are a special treat.

Pick Your Own Organic Apples at Gabriel Farm

September 4, 2011

Picking apples at Gabriel Farm in GratonStarting in 2012, you need to be a member of Gabriel Farm's CSA to participate in apple picking at the farm. You can sign up for a membership at the farm; the share consists of a case of six half-gallon bottles of the farm's Asian pear juice ($35). Non-members can still visit the farm store.

Late summer and early fall are apple season, and plenty of the tasty fruits can be found north of Marin in western Sonoma County, particularly in the area around Sebastopol, which is famous for its apples. Early every September, we head up there for a visit to Gabriel Farm, a family-run, certified organic farm on fourteen acres in the Graton area on the north side of Sebastopol. Gabriel Farm is especially fun to visit at this time of year because you can head out into the orchard and pick your own apples!

Gabriel Farm is open for apple picking on weekends from late August or early September through October from 11 am to 4 pm. (They're open this Monday, Labor Day, too.) Keep in mind they close at 4, so if you want to spend some time picking apples on the farm, count on arriving no later than 3:30 pm. Gabriel Farm also offers weekday visits and school group or group tours by appointment; call them at (707) 829-0617 to make arrangements.

Day Out in Sonoma, Part I: Picnic on the Plaza

May 16, 2011

Sonoma Plaza and old City HallOne of our absolute favorite family day trips is to the town of Sonoma. Sonoma is a fantastic wine country destination for either a family outing or a weekend getawaty. About a half-hour’s drive from northern Marin, Sonoma is not as busy or as up-to-the-moment trendy as the Napa Valley, its flashier Wine Country neighbor to the east, but it manages to be at the same time both quaint and sophisticated, with a clear sense of tradition and history. Above all, Sonoma is a great place for families, since the Wine Country isn’t necessarily all about wine.

One of our favorite things to do is to stake out a place in Sonoma’s historic downtown Plaza, and have a picnic. Once the parade ground for the Mexican soldiers stationed here in the 19th century, the Plaza is an expansive park in the heart of Sonoma, with lush green lawns, two playgrounds, fountains, a pond with ducks, and plenty of shade. It’s the perfect place for families to relax and play. There's often something fun going on here, too, like art shows, a farmer's market, and even an annual ox roast celebration.

Day Out in Sonoma Part II: Explore California's History

May 16, 2011

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, CaliforniaIn our last look at the town of Sonoma—one of our favorite places for a family outing—we focused on the historic Sonoma Plaza, picnicing, and places to pick up lunch supplies. The Plaza itself is surrounded by the historic remains of the old Mexican town of Sonoma, which dates back to the founding of Mission San Francisco Solano by Father José Altamira in the 1820s. Sites include the mission itself, the remains of General Mariano Vallejo's Casa Grande, the Sonoma Barracks, the Blue Wing Inn, the Toscano Hotel, and Lachryma Montis, Vallejo's Victorian home, which is located a short distance from the Plaza.

The historic buildings in Sonoma, all part of Sonoma State Historic Park, are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm and admission is inexpensive (just $3 for adults and $2 for kids), so you should definitely plan a visit with your family. The park is a great way to learn about California history, especially since Sonoma was the site of the 1846 Bear Flag Revolt that proclaimed the California Republic and marked the beginning of the end for Mexican rule of the Alta California, as well as the creation of California's iconic state Bear Flag.

Day Out with Dad: Sonoma Valley Airport Display Days

May 10, 2011

Curtiss P-40N at Sonoma Valley AirportOne of the best things about being a dad is getting to take my own children on the kinds of outings I did with my dad way back when I was kid. One of the things we did was to head out into the wild of Northern California in search of cool machinery to look at, especially airplanes. It's fun, exciting, noisy, fascinating, and in many cases free. After all, what kid doesn't dream of flying, especially in an open-cockpit biplane? One of my favorite local spots for an airplane-watching outing is Sonoma Valley Airport, also known as the Schelleville Airport, located just south of the town of Sonoma. The romance of the Golden Age of Aviation lives on in this small airport, and one weekend a month the planes' owners put them on display for visitors to come see.

The Sonoma Valley Airport holds these "display days" on the second weekend of every month, where the owners of the vintage aircraft open their hangars and show off their planes. Schelleville aiport is home to numerous different historic planes, making it a living aviation museum of sorts. This month's display days are this weekend, May 14 and 15, from noon to 4 pm. Feel free to wander the hangar rows and check out the planes on view. The

Dino-Mania at the 2009 Sonoma County Fair

July 28, 2009

Sonoma County Fair 2009In case you missed or just didn't get enough of the Marin County Fair, you'll be happy to know that the 2009 Sonoma County Fair starts today at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, and runs through Sunday, August 9. 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 a famous annual flower show, which is usually really worth seeing.

This year's theme is "The Fair Before Time", so there are plenty of dinosaur-themed attractions on hand, including three-dozen life-size dinosaur replicas sited througout the fair and Dinosaur Island, where aspiring paleontologists can dig for dinosaur skeletons, build volcanoes, and paint on a mural. Dinosaur identification, imitation, and look-alike contests will be held, and the flower show this year has been dubbed "The Garden that Time Forgot"! The Fair also holds a daily parade, which this year features two special guests: a 10-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus Rex and a 20-foot-long Stegosaurus.

Father's Day Gift Idea: Vintage Aircraft Flight

June 12, 2007

For dads with a streak of daring we’ve found the perfect Father’s Day gift: a ride in a historic airplane over the Sonoma Wine Country! The Vintage Aircraft Company, located a short distance from Marin at Sonoma Valley Airport (also known as the Schellville Aerodrome), offers rides in restored World War II-era PT-17 Stearman biplanes and a World War II SNJ/AT-6 Texan warbird.

Biplane flights include sedate 20-minute tours over the vineyards for $150.00, and a 40-minute jaunt—where you choose the direction: north to the Wine Country, west to the Pacific, or south to San Francisco—for $295.00. For an extra $50.00 add an aerobatic package to dad’s flight, with maneuvers including the barrel roll, the hammerhead, the loop, and the infamous Cuban eight! You can add a second person to any flight for $95.00; the Stearmans have been modified to hold two people in the front cockpit.

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