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Santa Rosa, California, for the Family

by Irvina Lew

Jun 5, 2019

Safari West

Destinations / North America

Santa Rosa, in mid-Sonoma County, is located about 55 miles north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge between Sonoma and Healdsburg, in the Russian River Valley wine country. The county seat is a vibrant small city, with theater, arts and a multitude of outdoor activities. Although better known for its wines and even breweries, it’s family-friendly, particularly for youngsters in the 4- to 7-year age range.


Even if you don’t fly into the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, it is immediately apparent the world-famous cartoonist who created Peanuts is the iconic local hero. In fact, artists created individualized sculptures depicting Lucy, Peanuts, Snoopy, Woodstock and even one with Snoopy sleeping atop his dog house, strategically placed all over town.


The Schulz Museum is a definite must-see, with its outdoor Snoopy Labyrinth, its 7,000-pound Snoopy wood sculpture by Yoshi Otani, its 100-seat theater with Peanuts animated specials, story time hours and even a Museum Mondays program for ages 1–5. The stunning C. David Robinson-designed museum building — with its use of light and various local Redwoods — is adjacent to the Swiss Alps-style Snoopy Home Ice at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Plan time to skate en famille and enjoy the Warm Puppy Café. Nearby, The Children’s Museum of Sonoma County offers a myriad of activities for little ones inside and out: from its pint-sized kitchen, to an organic garden and miniature versions of a helicopter, John Deere equipment and even the Russian River.


The second local hero is Luther Burbank, the famed botanist/horticulturist memorialized at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, at Luther Burbank banks, schools and at the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. The small estate attracts garden aficionados, but I saw youngsters joyfully skipping among the giant (spineless) cacti, sniffing the roses and walking the garden paths, intrigued by the poppies, fruit trees and vegetables. (If they could have climbed the grand old trees, I’m sure they would have.)


Downtown, a happening outdoor plaza, Courthouse Square, is the centerpiece for local community events, including the finishing line for marathons and the Half Ironman races. It’s surrounded by restaurants, retail establishments and businesses and will soon be home to an upscale hotel. We dined in two of the restaurants facing the plaza: Perch & Plow — a high-ceilinged, contemporary space serving small plates, best burgers or oversized portions of farm-to-table dishes; and Bollywood Bar & Clay Oven, a stylishly exotic Indian restaurant with authentic chili and tamarind seasonings, garlic-studded Naan bread, samosa, curries and tandoori dishes.


Nearby, at Historic Railroad Square, the former train depot, circa 1904, houses the Santa Rosa Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the California Welcome Center and sits among refurbished stone and brick, turn-of-the-20th-century buildings. This Old Town district includes Antiques Row and eateries, from breakfast and coffee shops to ethnic restaurants: French, Italian, Mexican and Thai.


Safari West in Santa Rosa, California. Photo: Safari West

Safari West in Santa Rosa, California. Photo: Safari West


Some of the hundreds of wineries in the area are dedicated to family visits. The resort-like Francis Ford Coppola Winery is the most family friendly; advance reservations are a must for a cabine at the 3,600-square-foot pool deck around two swimming pools. The day package includes a cabine (with a shower), four chaises, towels and amenities, plus a server for poolside wine tasting. At the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens, a chateau-like tasting room and boutique is the centerpiece among the vineyard and gardens. Even if you can’t attend the fabulous Harvest Celebration, the Tour de Fox charity bike ride or a farm-to-table dinner, you can book a Wine & Food pairing or enjoy a tasting. Plus, almost every child who likes to eat, grow things or see things grow will be delighted to walk through the culinary garden to see the beautiful produce and herbs and the display of vines, each with its own variety positioned around a beautiful gazebo. At Korbel, the historical tour tells the always relevant story of an immigrant entrepreneur who comes from afar to struggle and make it in America. It’s fun to pick up a boxed lunch at Korbel and take it down the road a bit to eat at a picnic table set under the towering trees at Armstrong Redwood State Natural Reserve.


Safari West in Santa Rosa, California. Photo: Safari West

Safari West in Santa Rosa, California. Photo: Safari West


In the rural outskirts of the city, Safari West is an ecological preserve dedicated to conservation that offers daytrips, even for toddlers and tikes, who can view birds in the aviary or reserve a private Jeep safari for the family. At about the age of 6, they’re eligible for the Jeep ride into rugged back country tour to see antelope and giraffes.


Accommodations run the gamut of taste and purse. The historic, mid-century Flamingo Resort & Spa, with its Vegas-style sign and oasis-like pool, is slated for a soon-to-start $20 million upgrade. A day fee provides hotel guests with entrée to the adjacent Montecito Heights Health Club and Spa, with its clubhouse, fitness facilities and classes, lap pool, tennis courts, kids activities and spa (child care for little people and treatments from age 16). Downtown, the name-brand hotels include a Hyatt Regency and Marriott; The Sandman is a two-story, pool-studded, roadside motor lodge and Safari West offers tented lodgings.


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