Don't miss the annual Lighting of the Snowmen Holiday Festival at Cornerstone Sonoma
One of the benefits of living in the North Bay is having the Wine Country of Sonoma and Napa right in our own backyard. It's a short trip from Marin but a world away, especially during the holidays, when the area does itself up in style.
Here are some selected family-friendly holiday events and happenings in Sonoma and Napa, as well as a few of our favorite places to visit in the Wine Country. There's nothing quite like taking in the Wine Country scenery (and maybe a glass of pinot noir) on a crisp and clear December day! Some of these events require tickets or advance reservations, so make sure you check for availability before you go.
Victorian Christmas Crafts Workshop
General Vallejo's Home, Sonoma
Sunday, November 20, 11 am–3 pm
Craft handmade, affordable historical gifts or stocking stuffers at General Vallejo’s Home. Meet a special holiday guest. Free admission for ages 12 and under (accompanied by an adult), $2 for ages 13–17, and $3 for adults. Rain or shine. More information
While there are plenty of awesome pumpkin patches to choose from in Marin and southern Sonoma counties (see our list of those here), you can find other great places to pick up pumpkins and other Halloween and autumn treats throughout the greater Bay Area. Maybe you're headed on a road trip to the south bay, or bound for the grandparents' house in Sacramento this October—there's probably a pumpkin patch on the way. Here are a few out-of-town pumpkin patches, in Solano, Contra Costa, and San Mateo counties, that we've visited at one time or another or had recommended to us.
Western Railway Museum Pumpkin Patch Festival
5848 Highway 12
(707) 374-2978 www.wrm.org
Saturdays and Sundays, October 8–23, 10 am–5 pm
The Western Railway Museum in rural Solano County holds its celebrated annual Pumpkin Festival every Saturday and Sunday from October 8–23. Ride a vintage electric express train to the pumpkin patch at Gum Grove Station for pumpkins, tractor rides, games, music, a hay fort, a pumpkin launcher, and pumpkins for sale, of course. Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors 65+, and $10 for children 2–14. Admission includes museum entry, unlimited train rides, picnic area use, and parking. Reservations are not accepted.
Looking for a great family day trip this summer? Try heading to the Wine Country town of Glen Ellen for a day of swimming fun at Morton's Warm Springs Resort. Morton's Warm Springs is a family resort famous for its geothermally heated pools filled with natural mineral water. Long thought to have healing benefits, these spring waters have lent their name to numerous communities in the Sonoma area, including Boyes Hot Springs, Agua Caliente, and Fetters Hot Springs.
Is your child a Thomas the Tank Engine fanatic? If so, your chance to experience all things Thomas & Friends and even take a ride on a train drawn by Thomas the Tank Engine himself is coming this summer! Tickets are on sale now for Day Out With Thomas: The Ready, Set, Go Tour 2016, which takes place over two long weekends, July 29–31 and August 5–7, at Roaring Camp Railroads in the Santa Cruz Mountains town of Felton.
One of San Francisco Bay's most prominent landmarks, Angel Island has played a considerable role in the history of California and is now one of the Bay Area's favorite spots for hikers, tourists, history buffs, and anyone who just wants to get away from the busy life on the mainland. It's a great place for a family day trip, with plenty of opportunities to picnic, hike, ride a bike, learn, and just take in the surrounding natural beauty, plus there's a boat ride involved, too!
We took the Angel Island–Tiburon ferry over to the island this past weekend and had a great time. The ferry ride there is quick and efficient, and it's half the fun of the trip. After the short 12-minute trip, you disembark at Ayala Cove and get ready to explore the island.
Point Reyes Station is the social and cultural hub of West Marin, and a fantastic destination for a day out with the family. While the railroad that gave this small town its name is long gone, Point Reyes Station has become something of a tourist mecca in recent years, with a focus on sustainable agriculture, locally produced artisanal and organic foods, outdoor activities, and art. On weekends, the main street of this quaint and charming gateway to Point Reyes National Seashore bustles with West Marin locals, Bay Area day trippers, bicyclists, motorcyclists, hikers, and visitors from around the world.
Who doesn't like Jelly Belly jelly beans? You probably knew that they come in practically every flavor imaginable, but did you know that they're made just up the road in the Solano County town of Fairfield? Did you know you can tour their factory for free? The Jelly Belly factory offers a fun, tasty, and informative tour daily that's a perfect outing for families and groups.
The Jelly Belly Visitor Center is open every day (except for New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas) from 9 am to 5 pm, and guided tours of the facility operate daily from 9 am to 4 pm. No reservations are required—just show up at the factory at 1 Jelly Belly Lane in Fairfield. Tours leave every 10 to 15 minutes and last about 40 minutes or so. Typically, you'll have to wait for about 15 minutes for a tour, but during really busy periods like holidays, spring break, and Christmas vacation, you can expect to wait for an hour or more.
When we're in San Francisco, one of our favorite spots for an afternoon of shopping and dining is Japantown. A trip to Japantown, which is located in the city's Western Addition neighborhood, is a great way to take in Japanese culture, and it's certainly less effort than taking the family on a trip to Japan! San Francisco's Japantown is the largest and oldest Japanese neighborhood in the United States.
Japantown, or Nihonmachi, was established in its present location following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, and flourished in the early years of the 20th century. After suffering a downtown during World War II and the internment of Japanese Americans, the area was rejuvenated in the 1950s and '60s. The centerpiece of this six-square-block enclave is the Japan Center Mall. It and the surrounding area are home to numerous Japanese restaurants, shops, and grocery stores.
The Japan Center Mall is a fun place for a family outing, especially if the weather is cold or rainy (not a rarity in San Francisco). The mall is anchored by the large concrete Peace Pagoda in an outdoor plaza, where it also hosts popular local events like the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, held over two weekends in April, and the Nihonmachi Street Fair, which takes place in August.
When I was a kid, I thought that Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds was one of the scariest movies ever. Not only was the idea of thousands of birds randomly attacking people frightening, but the fact that it all took place in the small Sonoma County coastal town of Bodega Bay, just north of Marin County, made it hit pretty close to home.
Of course now I know that Bodega Bay is great place to visit (and that a mass bird attack is really pretty unlikely). Since it's the 50th anniversary of The Birds, it's a great time to visit to check out locations from the movies and to have some family fun, too. It's one of our favorite places to visit.
Unlike the relatively unspoiled wilderness of Point Reyes National Seashore, Bodega Bay and its surrounding areas are more developed and commercialized, and have much more of that "classic beach town" atmosphere. You'll find kite shops, salt water taffy and ice cream stands, and restaurants in abundance, and many of the restaurants in Bodega Bay get their seafood from the fishing boats that tie up right alongside them.
Bodega Bay Beaches
You'll find several stretches of beach in Bodega Bay. When we're there, we like to visit Salmon Creek Beach. Part of the Sonoma Coast State Park, it's located about five minutes north of town. (Look for the sign and the parking area.) Located where Salmon Creek spills into the Pacific Ocean, this broad expanse of beach is popular with families. It's also a great place to look for shells and sand dollars, especially at low tide. Salmon Creek Beach can get really busy on weekends, so be prepared to scamble for a parking spot.