Sonoma Coast for families
Not many people in the UK know about Sonoma County. Located only 50 miles north of San Francisco, it’s long been a favourite getaway for city folk wanting to escape the foggy summers.
With a family, Sonoma’s the perfect place to enjoy an active holiday, with kayaking/biking/hiking/fishing or just lazing in the sun. With more than 400 wineries, a bottle of something cool and crisp to go with the farm-to-table foodie culture is never far away.
The younger more down-to-earth sister of neighbouring Napa County, Sonoma boasts more than 50 miles of craggy coastline that rivals Big Sur. From Bodega Bay’s picturesque fishing village (where Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was filmed) to the stunning Jenner Headlands and Russian-inspired Fort Ross all the way up to the peaceful Sea Ranch community and Gualala where you reach the Mendocino border, this county has a surprise around every bend.
If you stay on the Redwood-studded Russian River, which empties into the Pacific Ocean at Jenner, you have the option of river activities as well as exploring the scenic coastal areas. The Sonoma Coast really highlights the best California has to offer, but in its laid back Northern California Sonoma-style way.
11 fun things to do on the Sonoma Coast:
1. Stay in a river rental, borrow some inner tubes and beach chairs and hang out and get wet! Don’t forget the sunscreen.
2. Rent a canoe and leisurely make your way down the river.
3. Zip-line though the redwoods with Sonoma Canopy Tours.
4. Take a hike through Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve and gaze at the towering trees (one is over 1,400 years old!).
5. Collect rocks and seashells at one of the many coastal beaches (just remember to put them back). We highly recommend Goat Rock Beach.
6. Learn about why the Russians were in California at Fort Ross.
7. Kayak with a naturalist in Jenner. Maybe even spot some harbour seals!
8. Whale watch! You can do this on shore at places like Goat Rock Beach or in a cruise. January – May is best – but whales can be spotted migrating throughout the year.
9. Check out the wildlife. From birds, fish, harbour seals, sea otters, and more. The State Beach information centres are often staffed by very knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers.
10. Have a picnic on the beach, or a culinary delight at the Eatery by the Sea, which serves organic and locally sourced food.
11. Oh, and don’t forget the wineries! Did I mention there were more than 400?! Pick one with animals, games, outdoor areas or even a pool so kids can enjoy themselves while you enjoy picking out your favourite wine. (Get more suggestions here).
My 10-year-old’s perspective
We went zip-lining at Sonoma Canopy Tours. It was very fun, exciting and adventurous. I enjoyed it very much, even though I was a bit nervous and scared at first because i really don’t like heights. The guides were really reassuring and nice and I forgot about being scared and had loads of fun instead! There were magnificent views zip-lining through the redwood trees and it was the closest I’ve come to flying.
My 11-year-old’s perspective
Goat Rock is a scenic beach on the Sonoma Coast. It was really fun because it had a mix of rocky shores that are great for rock climbing and sandy beaches that were fun and relaxing. The scenery was really pretty and my sisters enjoyed sketching it. We also saw a paraglider taking off from one of the cliff. It was so cool!
Where we stayed: Russian River Getaways
We stayed in a vacation home in Monte Rio, an eclectic hamlet on the Russian River, which was only 10 miles from where the river empties into the Pacific Ocean at Jenner. Russian River Getaways offers more than 50 self catering vacation rentals. Many allow pets and they have full concierge services (including in home massage), wifi, and keyless entries. Trip Advisor rates them as excellent (always a good sign). There’s also a cool app you can use on your smart phone with useful info on places to eat and things to do in the area.
With some vacation rentals it’s clear that the owners clearly don’t ever stay there. It was obvious that Harmony House’s owners care a lot and have paid a lot of attention to details. Recently updated to high standard, Harmony House is a riverfront home that maintains its original 1930s charm. There’s a large grassy yard, river access & boats. One of the best features is the main living area, which has floor-to-ceiling windows with fab river views and opens to an expansive upper deck. There are two bedrooms and a bathroom on the upper level and on the lower level there’s another bathroom and bedroom, with access to shaded deck. The rear yard is a large grassy area which leads to a short path with steps to the river (seasonal access).
The dinnerware was high quality and mainly matching, and there’s a fully stocked kitchen – even the knives were passable (knives are never good in vacation rentals). There’s a coffee maker with filters, two kayaks, inflatable river rafts, buckets and spades. You could just really hang out here the whole time. Buy some local wine, go to the gourmet grocery in Occidental and create some memorable meals.
You need to be OK with the forced air heating (why California homes don’t have radiators I will never understand), though this one is quieter than my parents house which sounds like an airplane taking off. And I doubt you would need heating in the summer months.
We would definitely come back here – in fact we are just sorting out weeks and are booking for late summer! Harmony House would be awesome in the Autumn, on one of those gorgeous California days when the weather is starting to turn but the sun is still bright. *Dreams*
IF YOU GO:
Sonoma County Tourism. The go-to guide for all things Sonoma. Request the free visitor guide and maps.
Russian River Getaways russianriverrentals.com +1 (877) 869-1098 Russian River Getaways offers more than 50 self catering vacation rentals. Many allows pets and they have full concierge services (in home massage?), wifi, keyless entries and they are rated excellent by Trip Advisor. There’s also a cool app.
Bohemian Market 3633 Main St, Occidental, CA 95465 +1 (707) 874-3312 occidentalfarmersmarket.com Pick up a selection of organic eats and a bottle of local wine, or have them make you a deli sandwich (we had The Monster).
Union Hotel Restaurant 3731 Main St, Sebastopol, CA 95472 +1 (707) 874-3555 unionhoteloccidental.com Originally one of the last stops on the Pacific Railroad, Occidental has several eateries, including the iconic Union Hotel.
Eatery By The Sea Located in the Jenner Inn 10400 CA-1, Jenner, CA 95450 +1 (707) 865-2377 jennerinn.com The restaurant in the Jenner Inn. It is under new ownership, a chef from the CIA in NYC, using only organic ingredients sourced locally.
Jenner By The Sea 10400 Coast Route 1 Jenner, CA, California, 95450, United States firstname.lastname@example.org 707.865.2377
Sonoma Canopy Tours 6250 Bohemian Hwy, Occidental, CA 95465 +1 (888) 494-7868 sonomacanopytours.com
Goat Rock Beach Jenner, CA 95450 Coordinates: 38°26′48″N 123°7′35″W parks.ca.gov Now one of my favourites beaches in California!
Fort Ross 19005 Coast Hwy, Jenner, CA 95450 +1 (707) 847-3437 fortross.org Through in a little Russian/California history. It’s a great place to whale watch too. If it’s daylight hours, and the gates are closed, you can still walk through the gates and explore.
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve 17000 Armstrong Woods Rd, Guerneville, CA 95446 +1 (707) 869-2015 parks.ca.gov Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is a state park of California in the United States established to preserve 805 acres of coast redwoods. The reserve is located in Sonoma County, just north of Guerneville.
Watertreks Eco-Tours Jenner Kayaks Canoe & Kayak Rental Service 10438 CA-1, Jenner, CA 95450 +1 (707) 865-2249 www.watertreks.com Book a kayak tour with Suki Waters, a native American who grew up in the area, for a great guide to the ecosystem.
Our accommodation and ziplining were organised and provided by Sonoma County and their partners. All opinions are my own and my family’s.