Sonoma Wine Country with Tweens
A fun weekend for parents and tweens – with plenty of wine for Mom and Dad
My husband and I love to visit the wine country – I think it’s safe to say that it’s our most frequent destination when we have a chance to get away. For years I’ve thought about how to craft a wine country visit that would work with the kids, and last October we made it happen! The wine country is definitely a fun and relaxing choice for a weekend getaway with tweens and teens.
From where we live in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, there are actually several wine tasting areas within a couple of hours drive. We’ve spent a lot of time in the Napa and Livermore areas, and we’ve checked out some of the wineries in the Santa Cruz mountains and the Sierra foothills. They are all enjoyable, but our favorite destination is the Sonoma Valley. I love it because it is beautiful, with a quiet, rural vibe. There are rolling hills and lots of open space, with tiny towns sprinkled throughout, and a couple of bigger towns including Sonoma and Healdsburg. One of our favorite spots is a tiny town called Kenwood, and that is where we decided to stay with the kids.
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Where to stay
I think for a trip like this, a home that you rent works SO MUCH BETTER than a hotel. If you are traveling with tweens, teens, or kids of any age, a home allows your family to have a lot more space to breathe. Plus, it can be such a money saver.
You can bring or buy some food to feed your family instead of having to head for a restaurant for every meal. You can just get something simple to do quick breakfasts before heading out for the day, or you can be like us and get supplies for cooking dinner in the kitchen or having a fun BBQ in the backyard.
The place we chose had a pretty yard with a bocce ball court, so we had a fun family evening outdoors for barely any money. And don’t forget, having a glass of wine in the evening is much less expensive when it’s a bottle you bought rather than a glass purchased at a bar or restaurant. In my experience, that bottle costs about the same as one glass out.
Renting a home can also allow everyone to have some alone time when they need it. I think that one of the secrets for making a trip with tweens and teens work is to make sure that they have some time in their day to do what they want. They need some time to read a book, watch YouTube, or catch up with their friends. Or if it’s a weekend trip during the school year (like our trip was), they might need some time to do homework. The house we rented had a piano, so my son was even able to do his piano lesson practice!
Our family also really appreciates having a place for some quiet together time. We like to play board games or cards, or watch a movie together. A house provides a lot more space for those types of activities. You could even bake some cookies or paint your nails with your daughter – whatever you’re into, having more space makes more possible. PLUS with a house you can have…drumroll please…more than one bathroom. In my opinion, that is ESSENTIAL if you want your family vacation to be pleasant.
We chose to stay in Kenwood. Kenwood is a nice place to stay because it has some of the best wineries as well as some good restaurants. We had dinner at the Palooza Brewery and Gastropub. Great atmosphere, service, and food! They have gourmet burgers and pizza, and our kids talked us into the amazing deep dish cookies for dessert.
Santa Rosa, a small city that is about a 20-minute drive from the Kenwood area, also has lots of nice homes to rent as well as hotels. You also could stay in the city of Sonoma, which is south of Kenwood.
Our favorite winery in Kenwood is VJB. We have been wine club members there for several years. If you are going to visit the wine country with tweens, this is definitely a good choice for an afternoon’s activity. The winery is owned by an Italian-American family, and they specialize in Italian varietals of wine. Their Barbera and Primitivo are soooooo good, and the Rosso Family Blend is a great choice for not much money.
Not only is their wine good, but they have turned their wine tasting room into a fun family-friendly destination by adding a pizza oven, Italian deli, and a lovely piazza where you can enjoy life (especially if you like your life to include wine and pizza). There’s also gelato! Nothing helps kids put up with wine tasting better than a little ice cream.
Chateau St. Jean has a beautiful property across the highway from VJB. They have a large gift shop and deli, and pretty grounds where you could enjoy a picnic. It wouldn’t work to well to bring small children here, but if you have tweens and teens that can be trusted to be on their good behavior, it would make for a nice afternoon.
If you like red wine, you have to visit St. Anne’s Crossing. They have the most amazing portfolio of Zinfandels. I’m going to be honest here – I’ve taken off my mom hat and put on my wine-enthusiast hat. St. Anne’s isn’t the best place for kids – it’s a bit tiny. We just left the kids at our rental house and walked there on our own. Hey, that is one of the benefits of having tweens and teens, right? They are old enough to stay alone for a bit. I’m sure though you COULD bring them – just have them bring their devices or a book and they could sit in the corner or on the patio for a bit and play while you try some FANTASTIC Zinfandel.
Sonoma Plaza and Mission
There are several interesting places to see as a family in the Sonoma area. Kids in California spend time studying California history in the fourth grade, which consists largely of learning about the missions established in California by the Spanish in the 1700s and 1800s. I think it’s great to visit places that help kids’ learning come alive.
The historic Sonoma Plaza in the town of Sonoma features a mission, the Mission San Francisco Solano. It was the last, northernmost mission built. It’s now part of the Sonoma State Historic Park. For your $3 entrance fee, you can visit not only the mission but also five more historic sites located nearby. There are barracks and several other buildings you can check out nearby. The barracks building houses the gift shop and book store, and there is an exhibit that explains about the original bear flag and the bear flag revolt that took place in this very spot as California became a republic for 25 days. To learn more before you go, check out this article about the Bear Flag Revolt.
After checking out the mission and barracks, you can head over to General Vallejo’s estate. It’s about a mile’s walk through a park to get there. The estate consists of a couple of buildings that have historic furnishings so you can see what life was like for the rich in 1850’s California.
Now, to be honest…this is not the most exciting thing for a tween to see. But it only takes an hour or a bit longer to see the whole thing, and it’s a pleasant walk and a chance to make some California history come alive. If your aim is to have some nice family time, see the world a bit, and relax, it’s a good choice. Plus, when you are done you are back in Sonoma Plaza with some delicious restaurants just waiting to feed you lunch.
Sonoma Plaza is home to the Sonoma Cheese Factory, an amusing store with lots of yummy cheese samples, a deli where you can purchase the makings of a picnic, and lots of souvenirs. We had fun poking around in there. According to their website they have been closed for winter and are planning to remodel before opening, so check before you go.
If you are a cheese lover, there are more great choices in Sonoma County. Check out this article about the cheese trail in Sonoma County. We haven’t visited these places, but I hope to someday.
For lunch (or breakfast before your activities), I would recommend the Sunflower Caffe, which is right there on the plaza. They have all-day breakfast including waffles for the kids and veggie scrambles for mom, as well as soups, salads, and sandwiches.
Charles M. Schulz Museum
For our second day of activities, we headed to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa. Charles Schulz is the creator of the Peanuts comic strip featuring Snoopy. It is open most days
The museum has exhibitions that vary. We checked out what was on display, and then spent some time trying our best to draw the characters using the instructions that they supplied. There is also a theater that plays various Peanuts cartoons all day.
Next door to the museum is Snoopy’s Home Ice, a skating rink that Schultz designed. You can ice skate, or visit the Warm Puppy Cafe for lunch or a hot chocolate with a view of the ice. We had our lunch there and then headed to Snoopy’s Gallery and Gift Shop which has an impressive collection of Snoopy items to buy or just admire. We bought a Peanuts jigsaw puzzle and Mad Libs, and of course, our daughter talked us into Snoopy earrings and a shirt with the Peanuts gang on it.
If you are in Santa Rosa, I highly recommend Rosso Pizzeria. We have friends who live in Healdsburg, and they suggested we meet at Rosso for dinner. I kid you not – it was the best pizza I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a lot of pizza.
Our trip was short, and that was all we had time for. However, if you have more time, I have a few more recommendations for you in the Sonoma County area:
- The Spacetime Travel Agency in Sebastapol is an escape room recommended for ages 14+. It has great reviews on Trip Advisor.
- Epicenter Sports and Entertainment is a massive complex that includes a sports bar, bowling, laser tag, an arcade, a trampoline park and more.
- Sonoma Valley Regional Park is a nice place to go to get some exercise and enjoy the outdoors. There are a variety of hiking trails, and there are also trails available for biking and horseback riding. Picnicking is also a pleasant option.
- Sonoma Coast State Beach is another choice for hiking, picnicking, and enjoying nature.
- Safari West is a taste of Africa in Sonoma County. They have African animals that you can see by taking a safari just as you would in Africa. You need more time for this one. If you are there for longer, check it out. We have friends who have visited and had a fantastic experience.
Whichever you choose, the Sonoma Valley wine country is a lovely place for a relaxing vacation with tweens and teens. If you would like some general tips for having a fun vacation with tweens and teens, check out my article Traveling with Tweens and Teens.
Have you been to the wine country with tweens? Do you have any suggestions for where to go or what to do? If so, comment below!Search VRBO to find the perfect property for you
To check out my guest post on the Carpe Travel website on the same topic, click here.
Did you enjoy these tips? If so, read my article about having a great vacation to Amsterdam with tweens and teens!
We’ve been to Napa Valley and absolutely enjoyed it. They wineries are so beautiful and wine tasting is so much fun!
Yes, Napa is beautiful! If you ever have the chance to come back to California, I highly recommend the less-touristy Sonoma Valley.
Oh yes. First of all let me proudly say that I LOVE wine and after that let me also add that I like cheese as well! This would be my kind of place!
Nice day out, in the nature and amazing landscapes. Great post!
Thanks for sharing I enjoyed reading this and will definitely add it to my list of things to do in the area
Is this near Paso Robles? I went to Paso Robles but I don’t think Sonoma is the same. Next time I’ll go there. Thanks for the tips.
Great question – Paso Robles is further south, near the Central Coast of California. Sonoma is north of San Francisco, not far from the Napa Valley. They are about 250 miles from each other.
It’s nice to learn about some good family activities other than wine that are available!
Wine is still the best part – but family fun makes it even better!
I really enjoyed this blog post! I have actually been looking at where to go, around this area so you’ve helped a lot! Thank you
You’re so welcome! It’s a beautiful place, and the wine is divine.