One of childhood's time-honored rituals is heading down to a local pond and feeding leftover bread to the ducks. Not only is it fun for small children, but it helps get ride of that leftover bread in your pantry, too. Feeding the ducks is something my kids always loved to do, and even still enjoy, and there are a few great places in and around Marin County where hungry ducks are plentiful.
Of course feeding the ducks isn't without its risks—pesky and aggressive gulls and Canada geese often try to elbow their way into the action, and they're pretty much ubiquitous in the Bay Area these days. We always try to make sure the ducks get their fair share and try to find a way to outwit the avian interlopers!
The Marin Civic Center
The Marin Civic Center in San Rafael is home to a large pond that's home to numerous waterfowl. There's also a new playground, nice paved walking paths, lawns, picnic tables, and even an island. It's fun to go feed the ducks after an outing to the nearby farmers market on Thursdays and Sundays.
We love to visit the Sonoma Valley, especially during the fall. The weather's usually great, and it's a fun Wine Country destination for families, with family-friendly wineries, historic sites, and more. If you're up for an easy hike with the kids while you're there, check out the Sonoma Overlook Trail in the north end of town. With sweeping views of Sonoma Valley and interesting things to see along the way, it's well worth seeking out.
The trailhead is adjacent to the entrance to the Sonoma Mountain Cemetery at the end of 1st Street West, just north of the Sonoma Plaza. It's well marked, and there's a kiosk with trail maps and information. Make sure you pick up a brochure to take with you on your hike so you can learn about the plants and animals that live in the area.
The round trip is approximately three miles, although shorter hikes are possible. While the Sonoma Overlook trail winds uphill with a considerable change in elevation, there are plenty of gently sloped switchbacks which make the climb easy for anyone. In fact, you don't really realize how far you've climbed until you come into a clearing that offers a spectacular vista of the valley below.
It's been a while since we've been to TrainTown, the fun and fantastic miniature railroad located in the town of Sonoma, so we decided recently that it was time for a return trip. It's been around since before I was a kid, and it's the kind of place that takes you back to a simpler time.
Sonoma Train Town offers train-related activities that are fun for everyone from toddlers to gradeschool kids (and adults, too), as well as a selection of carnival-style rides. It's also a short drive from pretty much anywhere in Marin, which makes TrainTown a must-visit attraction for North Bay families.
When we're looking for something fun for the family to do in the Wine Country, we often head to CornerstoneSonoma to explore and play in the gardens. Located just outside the town of Sonoma off Highway 121 (Arnold Drive), across from the Gloria Ferrer winery, Cornerstone is unique complex of gardens, art, galleries, shops, and tasting rooms—and best of all, it's free.
For us, Cornerstone is all about their Gardens. Every time we go to Cornerstone, my kids have a fantastic time exploring the 20 different innovative installations, each with a different theme and each designed by a world-famous landscape architect. Gardens include plants, trees, natural materials, water features (often with fish), and various architectural elements. Wandering through the gardens can be a magical experience for both children and adults, and many of the installations include some sort of hands-on interactive or participatory feature.
If there's a winery out there that strikes the perfect balance of Wine Country sophistication and family-friendliness, it's Cline Cellars. Located on the south end of Sonoma Valley on Highway 121, Cline is a kind of wonderland that has a ton of things to see and do for wine tasters and children alike!
Cline looks pretty unassuming from the highway, where most of the grounds are obscured by vineyards and a low fieldstone wall. Turn into the entrance and you'll realize the expansiveness of the place, which is sited on 350 acres. Park around back or up front by the tasting room, which is housed in an cute 1850s farmhouse. You'll probably want to take a moment to walk around the park-like grounds, which feature lawns, six spring-fed ponds, paths, rose bushes, fountains, and even some vintage Pullman dining cars.
In the lawn area to the right of the tasting room you'll find large bird cages housing a number of brightly colored exotic species of pheasant and pigeon. Behind the tasting room on the other side is a large pond filled with huge fish—you'll see them jumping up to the surface if you wait long enough. There's a machine back there near the pond that dispenses fish food that you can toss to them, if you like.
Remember back before you had kids when you used to head up to the Wine Country for a day of fun and wine tasting? You'll find that there are plenty of family-friendly wineries up in Sonoma and Napa counties, so don't stop just because you have kids in tow. Kid friendly wineries are also great places to take out-of-town family and other visitors, especially during the holidays.
What do we look for in a family-friendly winery? First and foremost, there has to be something that kids can do, other than just hang out in the tasting room and wait for mom and dad. Second, the winery should be openly child-friendly and relaxed, both for the comfort of families and for other grownups who probably don't want the disruption of kids to interfere with their Wine Country experience. Last, there should be plenty of space and somewhere to relax and have something to eat, whether you pack it in yourself or buy it on-site.
One of the best things about being a dad is getting to take my own children on the kinds of outings I did with my dad way back when I was kid. One of the things we did was to head out into the wild of Northern California in search of cool machinery to look at, especially airplanes. It's fun, exciting, noisy, fascinating, and in many cases free. After all, what kid doesn't dream of flying, especially in an open-cockpit biplane? One of my favorite local spots for an airplane-watching outing is Sonoma Valley Airport, also known as the Schelleville Airport, located just south of the town of Sonoma. The romance of the Golden Age of Aviation lives on in this small airport, and one weekend a month the planes' owners put them on display for visitors to come see.
The Sonoma Valley Airport holds these "display days" on the second weekend of every month, where the owners of the vintage aircraft open their hangars and show off their planes. Schelleville aiport is home to numerous different historic planes, making it a living aviation museum of sorts. This month's display days are this weekend, May 14 and 15, from noon to 4 pm. Feel free to wander the hangar rows and check out the planes on view. The