Family Friendly Wineries: Cline Cellars in Sonoma
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 winery 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, thousands of rose bushes, fountains, and even some vintage Pullman railroad cars. In the lawn area to the right of the tasting room you'll find a row of large bird cages that house to a variety of brightly colored exotic pheasants and pigeons.
Behind the tasting room on the other side is are two large ponds that sport tongue-in-cheek warning signs about piranhas and sharks. The ponds are actually home to huge carp—a reminder of Cline's past as a carp farm in the 1800s. You'll see them jumping up to the surface if you wait long enough. But if you don't want to wait, buy some food pellets from the nearby vending machine (only a quarter!) and get ready for a fish feeding frenzy!
The tasting room itself is small, laid back, and usually busy. This is one of the few wineries in Sonoma and Napa that still give you a free tasting of non-reserve wines. You can sample five. The tasting room also houses a small gift shop, and you can buy soft drinks, snacks, and picnic supplies like cheese, salami, and grapes. You're free to take your wine glass and sit out on the porch or wander around the grounds; there are plenty of places to leave your glass for the staff to pick up.
The beautiful shaded grounds at Cline pretty much beg you to stop and have a picnic, whether you pick up food there or pack it in yourself. Dozens of picnic tables abound on the grounds, and I can't imagine a more pleasant spot to take a break and have lunch al fresco on a beautiful Sonoma Valley summer or fall day.
Cline also strives to make a mark as a sustainable and natural winery, avoiding pesticides and chemical fertilizers and using methods like cover crops to maintain soil health and sheep for weed control. Cline owner Fred Cline is also one of the owners of Green String Farm in nearby Petaluma, which also adheres to these sustainable practices.
California Missions Museum
The Cline property was the site of the first camp of founders of Mission San Franciso de Solano in Sonoma, the last of the California missions on the El Camino Real. Cline pays homage to that historical fact by hosting the wonderful California Missions Museum on its grounds, which is housed in a two-story building behind the tasting room.
The California Missions Museums houses accurate scale models—originally created for the 1939 World's Fair on Treasure Island—of every California mission. The Cline family saved these remarkably detailed models from being auctioned off individually, and put them in this museum for all to see.
Other exhibits include a life-size figure of Father Junipero Serra, mission paintings, historic artifacts, and two stained glass panels that were originally housed in San Francisco's Mission Dolores prior to the 1906 Earthquake. There's a small gift shop offering mission- and California history-related books and souvenirs.
You can also go socialize with two adorable miniature Sicilian donkeys, Pudding and Fancy, who live in an enclosure near the museum. They're friendly and will come over to meet you at the fence. Behind the museum, there's a large garden of plants associated with the missions and Spanish/Mexican Calfornia, as well as a tower with a mission bell that kids are welcome to ring.
The California Missions Museum is a must-visit destination if you've got a fourth grader studying California history, and admission is free, too. The museum is happy to host school groups and classes, although advance reservations are required.
If You Go
Cline Cellars is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm. The California Missions Museum is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm; admission is free. You can take a free guided tour of the grounds daily at 11 am, 1pm, and 3 pm. Public restrooms are available, and food is sold on site.
Cline is located at 24737 Arnold Drive (Highway 121) just south of the town of Sonoma. To get there from Marin, take Highway 101 to Highway 37 east, and turn left onto Highway 121 (Arnold Drive) at Sears Point. Follow 121 over the hill past Viansa Winery on your right, and look for the left turn into Cline at the bottom of the hill.
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