photo by Sean Howard

photo by Sean Howard

Back in your pre-parent days, you probably never considered wine-soaked Sonoma a family destination, but think again. Even though organic milk may the beverage of choice in your household these days, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy a day trip or weekend hanging out around the square. This charming little town is packed with activities for kids, and wine tasting is still permitted (and in some places, encouraged) even with kids in tow.


Play: Your first stop should be the historic Sonoma plaza. This culinary and retail hub of Sonoma is known by locals simply as ‘The Plaza,” and with two playgrounds, a duck pond (don’t forget to bring bread) and ample tables and trees for shade, it’s loved by locals and visitors alike. On the north side is Mission San Francisco Solano, the last of California’s 21 missions, built in 1823,  and just one block north of the Plaza is Depot Park with a Historic Railroad Station, history museum, bocce ball courts and sweet little playground.

Sebastiani Vineyard and Winery is walking distance from the Plaza—grab a picnic and find a shady spot on the lawn. The large water fountain and surrounding grounds keep the kiddies entertained while you sample the zins, chards, and more. If you arrive midday, sign up for of the open air trolley tour, which includes a spin through the Plaza and a visit to neighboring Cherryblock Vineyeard.

If it’s trains your kiddos are into, then a visit to Train Town is a must.  The ‘grand’ scale railroad, charming carousel, and other train themed rides and attractions are a blast for any little engineer. Be sure to check the website for hours of operation.

At Larson Family Winery, it’s all about great wine and family fun.  Anything but stuffy, the tasting room and grounds have a ‘down home’ vibe—there are pet goats, bocce ball courts, an expansive lawn for picnicking, and vineyard horseback rides.

Making your way north on Hwy. 121, just before Sonoma, you’ll find a gargantuan blue Adirondack chair and the craziest white picket fence you can imagine.  It may look like something out of the Twilight Zone, but it’s actually Cornerstone Gardens.  Here kids can explore totally unique gardens designed by the world’s most innovative landscape architects, all for free! Our favorite is the 1,800 square foot garden made exclusively of colored pinwheels! Guided tours are also available by appointment.

Even a town attracting foodies from around the world boasts several family-friendly restaurants. Just a half a block from the Plaza is The Red Grape, serving excellent thin crust pizza, pasta, and salads.  Dine al fresco or in the colorful, festive dining room.

Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack, the popular San Francisco restaurant, has recently opened a second location in Sonoma, and the cool, funky vibe would make the hippest kid feel right at home.  Besides her signature Spaghetti, Emmy’s seasonal menu features steak, salads, and seafood as well as a full bar and nightly guest DJ’s,  Be sure to check the website for a calendar of acoustic music on the patio on weekends.

Watch your kids’ eyes light up at the pastry counter at the Basque Boulangerie Café.  This local fave also serves great sandwiches, salads, and of course some of the best bread in Wine Country.  Located on the Plaza, this is a perfect spot to pick up breakfast or lunch for your picnic.

It doesn’t get much easier than Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn, located just a block and a half from the Sonoma plaza. This mid-range priced hotel boasts refrigerators in all the rooms, a swimming pool, and washer and dryer (just in case!).

The beautiful Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa is a full-service resort with a gourmet restaurant (including a kids menu), spa, and casita-style accommodations perfect for families.  To top it off, it’s just across the street from Traintown (don’t worry, the whistle doesn’t blow until at least 10am!)

If you are dreaming of playing house amongst the vineyards, then you might want to splurge with a villa stay.  Beautiful Places has a collection of homes complete with pool, tennis courts, even playgrounds for your little ones. Want to bring your nanny? You can opt for a villa with a private guest cottage.

— Lisa Bolger