Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- Safari West
- Ways to Experience Safari West
- Wine Tasting at St. Francis Winery and Vineyard
- Charles M. Schulz Museum
- Children’s Museum of Sonoma County
- Downtown Santa Rosa
- Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
- Cheese Trail
- Outdoor Activities Near Santa Rosa
- Where to Stay in Santa Rosa: Flamingo Resort
- Rooms at the Flamingo Resort
- Bottom Line on the Flamingo
Santa Rosa, California is in the heart of the Sonoma County wine country. But there’s still plenty of family fun to be had — even at the wineries. From a Charlie Brown museum to a family friendly winery, here are our favorite things to do in Santa Rosa with and without kids.
Just 50 miles north of San Francisco and 30 miles from Napa, Santa Rosa, California, is its own wine country. It’s a fantastic northern California getaway and even works as a day trip destination from San Francisco. I headed to Santa Rosa on a 48-hour girl’s getaway from Los Angeles.
We found fun things to do for ourselves and for families with kids of all ages.
TravelingMom Tip: Check the itinerary suggestions in Sonoma County’s guide. We found the guide to be super useful.
Whether you love animals or admire them from afar, an open air jeep ride through 400 acres of Serengeti-like terrain is a fantastic family event.
Safari West is a responsible habitat for animal conservation. You will see terrain-appropriate wildlife (as opposed to seeing a polar bear). There are nearly 900 animals from rom cheetahs to lemurs, giraffes to wildebeest at this non profit sanctuary.
The guides are well trained and have an interest in animal health and welfare. Our guide described every animal we saw in detail and was able to answer our questions.
We learned that there are several types of zebras. And we learned that a group of zebras is appropriately called a Dazzle.
The caretakers know the wildebeasts by name and each one has a distinct personality.
Eating lunch or dinner at Safari West requires reservations and the menu is fixed, with few options. Lunch is $13 for kids and $19 for adults. Dinner is $35.
Ways to Experience Safari West
There are several ways to enjoy Safari West:
Day Group Tour. This is a 3-hour guided tour around the property via a custom safari vehicle. It includes a safari walk through the Amani Oasis Aviary (wear closed toe shoes). Children must be at least 4 years old to take one of these group tours and be at least 45 inches tall to take a turn sitting in the top seat.
Private Tour. Book a tour just for your family, little ones included. Private tours do not have age requirements.
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Behind the Scenes Tour. Limited to groups of 6 or less, this walking tour gives you the chance to feed the porcupines, giraffes, warthogs and birds.
Glamping. Thirty tent cabins have a solid frame and canvas walls, indoor plumbing but no central heat or A/C. The decor is casual chic and very cozy. A huge benefit of staying on property is waking up to giraffes roaming around the area and the trail access during your stay. Bring a flashlight for a night time walk to see the nocturnal critters.
Note: Temperatures can drop to 30 degrees at night in Santa Rosa and can heat up to 100 during the day in the summer.
Wine Tasting at St. Francis Winery and Vineyard
Family friendly and wineries don’t always go together but in Santa Rosa, they do. St. Francis Winery and Vineyard welcomes kids of all ages and has ample grounds for roaming. The grounds are elegant but the atmosphere is casual.
That family-friendly feel starts with the people who work there. You feel like you can hang out – go for walks, relax in the tasting room, watch the kids play in the grass. During the summer months, live music is added to the wine pairings.
Their award-winning wine maker, Katie Madigan, has been there for 28 years. St. Francis was originally known for reds and more recently, whites. Katie has introduced some very popular Zins.
If the “kids” are 21 or older, I highly recommend the pairing menu. At $70 per person, it is a tasty educational adventure into wine and food. The dessert pairing taught me to never judge a wine by the thickness of its grape skin.
I generally prefer a good bourbon over an expensive wine and a red over a white wine. That is until Marina, our server (who has worked at St. Francis for 16 years), brought out the 2018 St. Francis Extended Age Chardonnay to sip with chipotle rubbed prawns. Oak-barrel aged 18 months, creamy but not buttery, light, delicious, well…to sum it up, I bought 6 bottles.
The next course showcased St. Francis’s Pinot with short ribs.
The big surprise and aha moment for me was the dessert pairing. Instead of serving a sweet dessert wine with the decadent tahini brownie (an original Marina creation). We were served a petit syrah, made from a thick-skinned grape. It cut through the sweetness of the brownie with a complementary bold red flavor.
TravelingMom Tip: Do make a reservation – you will need reservations for any winery visit. And remember, not all wineries welcome kids under 21.
Charles M. Schulz Museum
This section was written by Rebecca Lindland, a grown up.
Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip is an iconic American classic. It’s only fitting there’s a beautiful museum, research and family activity center, even a skating rink, right next door to the Children’s Museum. After all, Santa Rosa is Schulz’s hometown.
The fun starts the minute you pull up to the front door. There’s a delightfully Instagrammable Snoopy doghouse at the entrance. Inside the museum, you’ll find all the favorites, Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and Lucy. Of course, there’s the obligatory gift shop with well-priced museum-specific goods. But keep in mind there’s a wider selection of items available at Snoopy’s Gallery and Gift Shop.
Known as “Sparky” to his friends and family, the cartoonist was not shy about producing dialogue-heavy comic strips. Perusing the offerings on display can keep a Peanuts devotee busy for hours. Kids might prefer the video nook and sitting at Lucy’s “The Doctor is In” psychiatrist stand.
Upstairs, get a look at Schulz’s studio and life and spend time perfecting your own cartooning skills.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of the museum, make your way across the street to the charming chalet-style Snoopy’s Home Ice skating rink.
Grab a bite to eat at the Warm Puppy Café while you watch the skaters glide around the indoor ice rink. Skate rentals are also available. The café offers a variety of fresh salads, sandwiches, and homemade soups and skate-friendly flooring.
Children’s Museum of Sonoma County
If you happen to be traveling with kiddos ages 10 or younger (which I wasn’t), this is a must-do stop. It is right next door to the Charles M. Schultz Museum. The hands-on museum has all of the standard children’s museum fare, including water play areas, trains and a treehouse. But it also some fun spots like the crocodile dental clinic and a magical fairy world.
Downtown Santa Rosa
Downtown Santa Rosa is quaint and funky with several unique shops and restaurants, most of which are locally owned.
Plan your own walking tour of downtown including the Railroad Square historic district, the original downtown Santa Rosa. Stop at the visitor’s center for more information.
Don’t miss the 19th century homes along Cherry Street or the DeTurk round barn in the west end of town.
On Wednesday nights in the summer, look for the farmers market and street faire around Old Courthouse Square. That’s also the place to find family movie nights, community yoga, and other public events.
Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
The Luther Burbank Home and Gardens was home to renowned horticulturalist Luther Burbank and his wife, Elizabeth. The widow donated the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens to Santa Rosa in 1977.
Get the kids excited about walking among the flowers with a garden scavenger hunt. Look for Luther in ugly Christmas sweaters. There are 30 of them throughout the gardens. Find 20 and fill in this Google Docs form or print out this pdf to receive a small packet of sunflower seeds, hybridized by the garden’s curator over the last several years. You also can download and print a free coloring book – Luther Burbank: the Man Who Could Make a Flower.
The gardens are free and open Sunday, Monday and Wednesday from 8am to dusk and Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 1pm to dusk. You can listen to narration via your cell phone. Guided tours that include a peek inside the house also are available for a fee.
Note that the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens is in downtown Santa Rosa while the Luther Burbank Center for the performing arts is just north of downtown.
Talking about wineries without mentioning cheese is like talking about burgers and leaving off the fries. Drive 12 minutes west of Santa Rosa to Sebastopol and discover the historic Joe Matos Cheese Factory or head south about 20 miles to Petaluma, also in Sonoma County, and find several cheesemakers in the area.
Plan ahead – not all cheese makers are open to the public. Some require an appointment.
Outdoor Activities Near Santa Rosa
Sonoma county boasts 50 miles of coast line plus 11 state parks and scores of regional parks. It’s a big county so plan your drive times.
- 15 minutes east: (Sonoma Valley) Horseback riding, mountain biking, boating, kayaking and other outdoor activities are among the top things to do at Spring Lake Regional Park and Trione-Annadel State Park. If you are there in April or May, the wildflowers will be at peak season.
- 30 minutes north: Greet 1,000-year-old redwoods at the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.
- 90 minutes north-ish: Search the 20 miles of hiking trails at Salt Point State park for the pygmy forest.
Where to Stay in Santa Rosa: Flamingo Resort
The Flamingo Resort experience begins when you spot the fabulously kitchy neon “FLAMINGO” tower from the road. Only 10 minutes from downtown and recently renovated, the Flamingo’s roots go back to Vegas and Sinatra.
The property includes 20,000 square feet of private and communal gathering space, 170 sanctuary rooms including 14 suites, the Lazeaway Club Restaurant, fitness center and spa, two swimming pools, a hot tub and an ice bucket shower.
When we stayed, we found the ideal combination of locals and tourists.
The $29 resort fee includes parking, wifi and access to the Montecito Heights Spa and Health Club on property. The health club is open to local members and hotel guests. It offers tennis, weight rooms, a variety of daily exercise classes, spa services and fun extras like movie nights for kids (open to members and guests). I attended a lovely meditation and yoga class taught in the Poppy Room by local, Jenson Curtiss. The class was full and the vibe was welcoming. I did not feel like I crashed a local party.
The lobby and rooms are mid-century modern chic, with a ginormous pool at the center of the complex.
The mid century architecture and decor is very fun and zen but it’s the pool that is the main attraction. It’s kid friendly, with a retro camper trailer snack bar and more than one guest dressed the part in a 1960s inspired one piece suits and cat-eye sunglasses.
TravelingMom Tip: Pack light. There are no elevators in most buildings. You will be schlepping your luggage up and down the stairs.
Rooms at the Flamingo Resort
Room layouts vary and it’s important to find out which room you are reserving. Our two-bedroom suite had a huge living room space with a pull-out couch, a king bed in the master and a double bed in the smaller bedroom – a good set up for a family or girlfriend getaway.
However, if you are traveling with a family, take note the bathroom is disproportionately small for the room. There is one shelf that is too small to hold toiletries because it is below the sink, where the towels and hair dryer are stored. There is one hook for wet towels. One. That would be a lot of shared space and not enough hooks for my family of 5. The shower is enclosed by a ½ shower wall, which means you will get wet when you turn it on and the floor will be soaked when you get out.
The small bedroom has no closet, no dresser and no side table. A chair in the room is the only place to unpack clothes.
To get ventilation in the room, you have to leave the door open because the windows do not open and there are not vents, defeating the purpose of privacy. If you are traveling with young kids, the open door will limit the use of the living room after the kids’ bedtime.
The coffee maker is set up in the master bedroom, even though there is plenty of room for it in the living room space.
Bottom Line on the Flamingo
It may sound like I am complaining but I’m not. Just pointing out some oddities that need to be known upfront.
Would I stay here again and/or recommend it to friends? You bet. The nostalgic environment evokes the neighborly feeling of the mid-century era. The pool is incredible. The restaurant is worth a visit on its own and the health club access gives it a full resort feel. That is why at least one family I know of has returned every year for 41 years for a reunion.
I would just choose my room carefully.