fun to do kids sonoma california   Travel for Kids
  | California | Wine Country | Sonoma Valley


Sonoma is well-known as a wine country destination, but it's very much at the center of 19th century California history. Seven flags have flown over Sonoma – flags from Spain, England, Russia, Mexican Empire, Republic of Mexico, Bear flag, and flag of the United States. Visiting Sonoma, kids can see a replica of the Bear Flag, flown over Sonoma Plaza, when a group of settlers declared the "Republic of California" and independence from Mexico.

Sonoma Photo Album

Sonoma Plaza – Sonoma Plaza is an oasis on a hot summer's day. Relax on the grass under leafy shade trees, on park benches and outdoor tables, or in two large playgrounds with climbing structures and swings. The duck pond is fun for little kids, especially the baby ducks. (If you're picnicking on the grass, look out for ducks waddling your direction, hungry for handouts.)

      You never can tell what you'll find at the plaza. On the weekends you might see a beautifully groomed two-humped camel (the owner will let you pet it), an ox roast picnic, or vintage cars. On July 4th, a big old-fashioned celebration with parade, Tuesday night is farmers market May to October.

Sonoma State Historic Park

Sonoma Mission
    Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma – The Sonoma Mission is the 21st and last California mission, situated along El Camino Real (the "Royal Road") that starts with the first mission in San Diego. Mission San Francisco Solano was founded on July 4, 1823, and functioned as a working mission until 1834. Originally, besides the mission quadrangle – the church, living quarters and workshops – there were orchards, vineyards, pastures for livestock.
      The entrance to mission is through the padre's quarters, where you can see a diorama of the mission quadrangle (it was considerably bigger than the buildings you see now), paintings of all the California missions, and artifacts of mission life, the mission bell, a tallow vat, a grinding wheel.
    The chapel was built in the 1840's as the local church for the Mexican soldiers and their families. The chapel, made with adobe bricks, was constructed on the site of the original wooden mission church. The plaster-walled interior of the church is painted with the Stations of the Cross and on either side of the altar are life-size figures of Mary and Jesus. Although the chapel has been restored, it's typical of an early 19th century California church.
      Wander out into the outdoor courtyard, complete with beehive-shaped bake ovens, a fountain and shady spot to rest under the olive trees, and huge clumps of prickly pear cactus (the nopal cactus is edible and was planted for food).
sonoma mission childrens day
    Events - Children's Day at the Mission – Kids can step into 19th century activities: make candles, rope, corn husk dolls, shell and bead necklaces, learn how to weave baskets, cattle roping, branding, watch Native American dancing, listen to storytelling, pet farm animals, taste cornbread made in the wood burning bake oven. Highly recommended.
      Also as part of Children's Day, at the Barracks across the street, cannon firing, learn how to become a barracks soldier, and Jr. Ranger program.

Sonoma Barracks – In 1836, General Vallejo, the commander of the presidio in San Francisco, sent in a contingent of Mexican soldiers to keep an eye on the Russian colony at Fort Ross. The soldiers wore blue uniforms with red trim and dashing wide black hats, carried pistols, swords, muskets, and rode horses with vaquero style saddles. One room in the barracks is a re-creation of the soldiers' living quarters and lifestyle. Don't miss a copy of the California Bear Flag, a hand sewn flag raised in 1846 as a declaration of the "California Republic."


On weekends, you'll see volunteers wearing soldiers' uniforms. Also, usually the second Saturday in the month, and for special events, watch a cannon firing demonstration, usually around noon or 1, and 3pm (times vary, ask at the Barracks).

      Toscana Hotel – Next to the Barracks, poke your head into the lobby of the Toscana Hotel, which dates back to 1852. Charming Victorian setting, an upright piano, pot-bellied stove, upholstered armchairs, and tables set up for a poker game.
    Vallejo Home – General Vallejo, a Mexican commander, created a lovely family home with his wife and daughters here in Sonoma, preserved amidst acres of open land today. The house, called "Lachryma Montis" ("tears of the mountain," named for a spring on the land), has a spiffy parlor, dining room (note the baby's high chair), and study on the first floor. Upstairs are bedrooms, and a nursery with porcelain dolls and doll houses.
      Outside the house is lovely shaded picnic area – bike to the house and bring your lunch.
      Tip: Admission to the Mission also includes the Barracks and Vallejo Home.
Rent bikes – Rent bikes and go for a bike ride around town and into the surrounding countryside. Near the plaza you can rent bikes at Wine Country Cyclery on West Napa Street or Sonoma Valley Bike Tours on Broadway.

Our favorite bike route: From the plaza, bike east on Lovall Valley Rd. to Castle Rd. to the Bartholomew Park Winery. Bring a picnic lunch (picnic tables under the trees). Bike back down to the Sonoma Valley Bike Trail, and bike west, past Depot Park and Vallejo Home, to Maxwell Farms Regional Park.

      There's more bike routes around town, such as the Nathanson Creek Trail (also can combine with the Sonoma Valley Trail). Pick up bike maps at the Visitor's Bureau in the plaza.
      Mini golf – Next to Maxwell Farms Regional Park, stop into Sonoma Fun Center for 18 holes of mini golf. One hole is decorated with the Sonoma Mission, play the ball through door.

Depot Park – Depot Park surrounds the old Sonoma train depot, now a small museum. The unused tracks are still there, and a rust red caboose and dusty orange freight cars sit out front.

      In the Depot Park Museum, kids can ring a train bell, try their hand at Morse code, punch a ticket, listen to an antique music box. Check out exhibits of 19th century life in Sonoma: Victorian kitchen, dining room, schoolroom, parlor, and don't miss the a hunting souvenir – grizzly bear feet! Museum is open Fri - Sun., 1pm - 4pm, and is free.

The park also has picnic tables and barbeque grills, toddlers can play in the small playground.


Sonoma Overlook Trail – From Sonoma Plaza, take First Street north, in five minutes you're at the parking lot for the Sonoma Overlook Trail. Several easy trails wind up the hillside and through oak trees, manzanita, with panoramic views of the Sonoma Valley. In spring are seasonal wildflowers – lupine, California poppies, buttercups, "gold nuggets," lilies.

      We took the Overlook Trail to the Upper Loop Trail (perfect spot for a picnic along the way), and Montini Preserve - Valley of the Moon Trail to Two Goat Point.
Train Town
TrainTown (on Hwy 12, south of Sonoma Plaza) – Take a 20 min. ride on the Sonoma TrainTown Railroad, a pint-size steam train that rolls through a 10 acre park, past a waterfall and small lake. Along the way, there's a stop at the petting zoo, where you can feed fluffy llamas, goats, sheep and rabbits. Train Town also has amusement rides, perfect for little ones, and carousel, and ferris wheel.
    Bartholomew Park WineryYou'd never guess that a five minute drive from the plaza in Sonoma, you'd find yourself on a hilltop, surrounded by vines and wooded hillsides, as far as you can see. These vineyards were first planted in the 19th century, with zinfandel vines brought from Europe.
      Along with wine tasting of course, the park has lots of wooden picnic tables shaded under the oak trees, and three miles of hiking trails. Just follow the Trails signs from the picnic tables, to the gate in the fence. From there you can take a three mile (round trip) along the creek, through the redwoods and manzanita, with views and a lake. This is particularly nice in spring, with the wildflowers, yellow mustard, and fruit trees in bloom.
harvest festival cornerstone sonoma
  Cornerstone Gardens & Marketplace (Arnold Rd.) – We first visited Cornerstone gardens for an October harvest festival (see video).
    Each garden is different. In the Sonoma Children's Garden are little houses with a tiny chair inside, and rows of vines inviting kids to run through. Humming bees land on colorful flowers in the Pollinator Garden. This is a great spot to relax with a picnic lunch (picnic tables are available), there's also a cafe in the marketplace on weekends.
      November to January, sometimes an ice skating rink, fun for the whole family, and charming display of plastic snowmen and penguins, under bright sun and blue sky on a winter day in wine country.

Fun food


Valley of the Moon Farmers Market – In Sonoma Plaza, Tuesday nights, plan on a picnic supper, stock up on local goodies, and listen to music. May to October 5:30pm - dusk.


Sonoma Valley Farmers Market – Locally grown fruits and vegetables, breads and baked goods, everything you need for a picnic. Fridays 9:00am – noon (year-round), in the Arnold Field parking lot, across from Depot Park.

family hotels sonoma california
Travel for Kids has lots of fun things to do with kids in Sonoma, but you'll need a fun place to stay.

Here's our own Travel for Kids hand-picked list of family hotels in Sonoma Valley and West County, all styles and price ranges, near to places you'll want to explore:

Sonoma Valley family hotels
sonoma vacation rentals

A house rental has lots of advantages for families – full kitchen and dining area, swimming pool, washer and dryer, and more.

Sonoma County family vacation rentals
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