If you’re familiar with Sonoma County in the USA’s California, chances are that it’s wine you are thinking about. Stretching from the Pacific Coast in the west to the Mayacamas Mountains in the east, Sonoma is home to almost 60,000 acres (24,281 hectares) of vineyards and more than 425 wineries.
While it’s undisputed that the wines are simply sublime and delicious, fun things to do in Sonoma County are also aplenty. Past the glass of the grape, Sonoma is a wonderful blend of nature, wildlife, and adventure. So here’s the top 15 things to do in the county that will see you booking a weekend trip to Sonoma soon. Enjoy!
1. Hike through Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
Nostalgic from the times when primeval redwood forest covered much of Sonoma before logging operations began during the 19th century, the grove of Sequoia sempervirens, commonly known as the coast redwood, is a favourite of every nature-lover and the perfect location for a hike.
Stand under the cooling shade of redwoods where the dense canopy of 250-foot-tall (76-metre-tall) trees may leave you feeling immensely dwarfed, but also gifts you with nature’s majestic beauty and inspiration. With some trees even towering above 350 feet (106.7 metres), it is no wonder that the ancient coast redwood is the tallest living thing on the planet.
Choose to take an easy stroll on the 1.5-mile-long (2.4-kilometre-long) Pioneer Nature Trail that is thoughtfully wheelchair accessible. Alternatively, set out on the Discovery Trail, complete with a handheld rope to follow along, several Braille interpretive panels, and even a tree hugging platform. With picnic facilities including grills, tables, and restrooms situated in the reserve, don’t leave without having a picnic beneath the tall trees and an accompanying view of the sunset.
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
Address: 17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville, CA 95446
Opening Hours: 8:00 am to one hour after official sunset
Contact: (707) 869-2015
2. Whale watch at Bodega Head
A popular whale-watching spot in the county, embark on Bodega Head’s hiking trail network that loops around the headlands for fascinating views of the whales, cliffs, fauna, and the big waves that crash against the coast.
While the migration of whales peaks from January to May, they still remain very much visible throughout the year. The grey whales especially are easy to spot, as the coastal species tends to feed on the krill near the Sonoma Coast.
Bring along a jacket for the ocean breeze can get quite chilly, and a pair of binoculars to spot the giant mammals’ water-spouting-blowholes and flipping flukes. Take some time to explore the area’s rocks and small caves too. There are even picnic facilities if you need somewhere to enjoy your packed lunch.
Address: Bodega Head, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, USA
3. Catch sunbathing seals at Goat Rock Beach
A perfect complement to your Bodega Bay visit, Goat Rock Beach is a humble delight of picturesque coastlines and scenic surroundings. Suitable for a family picnic, a romantic date, and even a solitary walk, the beach is befitting for everyone with its simple charms.
If you are here to catch the sunbathing seals, just walk to the head of the Russian River where dozens of them will be soaking in the sun. Goat Rock Beach is a regular resting ground for the elephant seals and harbour seals so don’t be too startled to see a big group of the friendly giants. Do remember to stand at least 50 yards (45.7 metres) away as some mother seals can be quite protective of their cubs.
Goat Rock Beach
Address: Highway 1 and Goat Rock Rd, Jenner, CA 95450
4. Get up close and personal with Safari West's wildlife
Have you always wanted to experience the fascination of being up close and personal with animals you love, but have mixed feelings when you see them being kept in a zoo’s enclosures? Look no further, for Safari West will be an absolute delight and relief.
Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the safari park actively promotes conservation and environmental education concepts to its visitors. The 400-acre (162-hectare) reserve is enough room for romping giraffes, gazelles, zebras, oryx, antelopes, cape buffalo, wildebeest, and some 900 more animals.
Take the safari’s jeep where curious giraffes come as close as licking-your-face distance, or choose to relax in a luxury safari tent under the star-lit sky. Accompanied by friendly and informative guides, a trip to Safari West is both entertaining and educational, making it suitable for the whole family.
Address: Franz Valley Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95404
Price: from 45 USD upwards
Opening Hours: 9 am, 10 am, 1 pm, 2 pm, 4 pm (Peak Season: April to August)
Contact: (707) 579-2551 or 1 (800) 616-2695
5. Visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum (a must for Peanuts’ fans!)
Housing the largest collection of original Peanuts art work in the world, the Charles M. Schulz Museum will definitely be a hit with Peanuts’ fans. Visitors will be delighted to learn more about the man behind the comic, with exhibitions featuring Schulz’s original comic strips and a recreation of his art studio. Additionally, you can look forward to learning about the art of cartooning along with Schulz’s role in its development, and put your skills to the test with the museum’s own hands-on education room where you can draw your own cartoons! The theatre also screens animated Peanuts specials and documentaries that are guaranteed to make you laugh.
Charles M. Schulz Museum
Address: 2301 Hardies Lane Santa Rosa, California 95403
Price: 10 USD (Adults) / 5 USD (Students & Seniors)
Opening Hours: Weekdays 11 am to 5 pm / Weekends 10 am to 5 pm
Contact: (707) 579-4452
6. Bring your kids to Florence Avenue
The three-block long Florence Avenue is laden with quirky sculptures made from recycled objects and discarded items. A popular spot in Sonoma County where people come to visit the creative work of the local artists, the sculptures possess an eccentric charm that brings out the inner child in all of us – gasping (in awe) at everything. Ran out of ideas to keep your kids entertained? Florence Avenue is your best bet. The colourful hues and cartoon features will fill kids with the utmost wonder.
Address: Florence Ave, Sebastopol, CA 95472
7. Window shop at Sonoma Plaza
Serving as the town’s focal point, the largest plaza in California is a wealth of history. The location where the Bear Flag Revolt took place in 1846, consequently leading to the Mexican-American War, Sonoma Plaza has been preserved as a National Historic Monument. Revered for its picturesque trees, pedestrian paths, historic sites, and Sonoma City Hall, it is additionally home to over a hundred shops, 25 wine-tasting rooms, and 30 restaurants. Hosting many community festivals throughout the year and the Farmer’s Market every Tuesday in the summer, keep yourself occupied here with the array of attractions.
Address: 453 1st St E, Sonoma, CA 95476, United States
8. Wine with a view in Sonoma Valley
Also known as the birthplace of the California wine industry, Sonoma Valley is home to over a hundred wineries, including some of the earliest vineyards and wineries of the state. With beautifully-landscaped vineyards nestled between the Mayacamas and Sonoma Mountains, here’s your chance to sip top-notch wine while admiring the scenic views.
From vineyards off the beaten track to the larger, venerated ones, you’ll be treated to an endless delight of great wine-tasting whether you choose serendipity or to plan ahead.
Other points of interests in the area also include the Quarryhill Botanic Garden, Mission San Francisco Solano, Jack Long State Historic Park, Sonoma State Historic Park, and the Blue Wing Inn of 1840. Additionally hosting a medley of year-round festivals and events, including the Sonoma International Film Festival, Sonoma Valley is definitely not only limited to wine enthusiasts.
Address: 453 First Street East Sonoma, CA 95476 (Historic Plaza)
Contact: (707) 996-1090
9. Pick up a new skill at the Shed
From baking sourdough bread to making fresh sausages, the Shed’s workshops are guaranteed to be of interest to everyone. While it may not be so common to seek a new skill while travelling, what excuse do you really have for turning down learning?!
Encouraging people to come together for a range of activities focused on food and farming, the Shed is a space where anyone can come to learn and share their knowledge. Try your hand at making sausages and Italian food in Angelo Garro’s sausage workshop where the best part of the class has got to be bringing home the freshly made bangers and devouring them afterwards.
Address: 25 North Street, Healdsburg, CA 95448
10. Learn how to make cheese
Add meaning to your trip by not only eating, but going behind-the-scenes of the food-making process! Attend a cheese-making class at Achadinha (pronounced osh-a-deen-a) where the cheese is as good as Sonoma’s wine. While some things may have changed with the way cheese was made in the past, the family-run cheese company retains the rich flavours of artisanal cheese with their family’s traditional methods of preparation from the 1950s.
Learn the ropes of cheese-making as you soak your hands in curds and whey, familiarise yourself with the equipment, and enter the cheese’s ageing rooms. The class not only comprises the hands-on cheese making experience, but also includes a full ranch tour, lunch, salad, dessert, and, of course, wine.
Achadinha Cheese Company
Address: 750 Chileno Valley Rd, Petaluma, Ca 94952
Price: 100 USD
Class Hours: 10 am to 1:30 pm
11. Rope swing at the Scribe Winery
For the young (or young at heart), Scribe Winery is the place for you. Set in the Sonoma countryside, the winery boasts a seamless fusion of vibrant and laid-back energy. Drive past the palm-tree-lined main road into the organic flower gardens and home-grown vegetable fields and eventually find yourself at the tip of the hill where the wine tastings occur. Grab a blanket and laze on the grass or choose to be seated at a picnic table with friends.
Apart from the divine wines, the winery takes advantage of its location overlooking the scenic rolling vineyards by including rope swings. Choose to partake in the role of a cheeky monkey and feel as though you are swinging across the panorama. Do note that the winery only serves with a reservation, so do some planning before heading down to avoid any disappointment.
Address: 2100 Denmark St, Sonoma, CALIFORNIA 95476
12. Boat on Lake Sonoma
Nestled in the coastal foothills of Northern California is the beauty of Lake Sonoma. Located just behind the Warm Springs Dam, the idyllic setting comprises deep blue waters surrounded by lush green vegetation. With a wealth of recreation facilities offered at Lake Sonoma, it is absolutely no question that you should go boating.
Offering rentals of canoes, sailboats, and motorboats, here’s your chance to travel through the scenic lake and fully immerse yourself in nature’s tranquillity. For the more adventurous, some areas of Lake Sonoma are also open for water skiing.
Address: 3333 Skaggs Springs Rd, Geyserville, CA 95441, United States
13. Camp at Salt Point State Park
Take your pick from the two main campgrounds available at Salt Point State Park: Gerstle Cove and Woodside Campground. The former is located atop the coastal bluffs on the ocean side of Highway One and offers 30 family campsites while the latter is located on the east side of Highway One and boasts 79 sites. Each site provides a fire pit, picnic table, and wildlife locker to make your camping trip worry-free.
After exploring the area’s sandy beach coves, steep bluffs, and sandstone cliffs, recline into nature’s lull of panoramic ocean views and open grasslands. With the salty sea breeze and star-adorned night sky, there is no other way to spell a camper’s paradise.
Salt Point State Park
Address: 25050 CA-1, Jenner, CA 95450-9738, United States
Contact: (707) 847-3221
14. Have a family adventure at Spring Lake Regional Park
A myriad of adventures awaits at Spring Lake Park. With activities suitable for the entire family, this attraction will undoubtedly be a crowd-pleaser on your travel list. The spacious 320-acre (129.5-hectare) park is filled with opportunities for hiking, cycling, horseback riding, swimming, boating, fishing, camping, and picnicking. The recently built inflatable water park is also a hit, with its slides, bounce islands, bridges, cliffs, a trampoline, balance beam, and other floating play stations designed for family fun.
The Lakeside Grill rents out kayaks, paddleboats, and canoes if you want to make use of the 72-acre (29-hectare) lake. Alternatively, you can try your luck at fishing with large-mouth bass, sunfish, and catfish abundant in Spring Lake all year round. Boasting 200 picnic tables with barbecues through the park, it seems almost logical to end your day with a picnic – a bonus if you caught anything to eat!
Spring Lake Regional Park
Address: 5585 Newanga Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95405, United States
Opening Hours: 7 am to sunset
Contact: (707) 539-8092
15. Take a hot air balloon ride
There is no better way of taking in the view of the city than with a hot air balloon ride. Treat yourself to a once-in-a-lifetime experience and take in the stunning landscape of Sonoma’s tapestry complete with rolling hills, mountain peaks, vineyards, and ocean views. Getting up early in the morning has never been easier when you are motivated by the sunrise views the ride promises to offer.
With various Sonoma County balloon companies that provide hot air balloon services, the recommended ones are A Balloon Over Sonama, Above The Wine Country Balloons, Sonoma Valley Balloons, and Up & Away Ballooning. The fleet of resplendent hot air balloons assures safety and enjoyment, and is suitable for couples, families and groups.
Pair wine with adventure
Leave the adults to do the drinking, and the kids to do the playing – a trip to Sonoma County really does offer something for everybody. Bond with Mother Nature and the entire family as you embark on the adventure that await you in the county. These memories may make for the best trip yet!
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