Fun Things to Do in Santa Rosa California with and without Kids

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things to do in santa rosa - Flamingo Resort
Enjoy a stay at the quaint Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Santa Rosa, California is in the heart of the Sonoma County wine country. But there’s still plenty of family fun to be had — even at the wineries. From a Charlie Brown museum to a family friendly winery, here are our favorite things to do in Santa Rosa with and without kids.

Just 50 miles north of San Francisco and 30 miles from Napa, Santa Rosa, California, is its own wine country. It’s a fantastic northern California getaway and even works as a day trip destination from San Francisco. I headed to Santa Rosa on a 48-hour girl’s getaway from Los Angeles.

We found fun things to do for ourselves and for families with kids of all ages.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Check the itinerary suggestions in Sonoma County’s guide. We found the guide to be super useful.

things to do in Santa Rosa - Safari West jeep
Ready to roll and see some animals! Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Safari West

Whether you love animals or admire them from afar, an open air jeep ride through 400 acres of Serengeti-like terrain is a fantastic family event.

Safari West is a responsible habitat for animal conservation. You will see terrain-appropriate wildlife (as opposed to seeing a polar bear). There are nearly 900 animals from rom cheetahs to lemurs, giraffes to wildebeest at this non profit sanctuary.

The guides are well trained and have an interest in animal health and welfare. Our guide described every animal we saw in detail and was able to answer our questions.

We learned that there are several types of zebras. And we learned that a group of zebras is appropriately called a Dazzle.

The caretakers know the wildebeasts by name and each one has a distinct personality.

Eating lunch or dinner at Safari West requires reservations and the menu is fixed, with few options. Lunch is $13 for kids and $19 for adults. Dinner is $35.

things to do in santa rosa - Safari West cabin
You could stay in this cute cabin at Safari West. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Ways to Experience Safari West

There are several ways to enjoy Safari West:

Day Group Tour. This is a 3-hour guided tour around the property via a custom safari vehicle. It includes a safari walk through the Amani Oasis Aviary (wear closed toe shoes). Children must be at least 4 years old to take one of these group tours and be at least 45 inches tall to take a turn sitting in the top seat.

Private Tour. Book a tour just for your family, little ones included. Private tours do not have age requirements.

Behind the Scenes Tour. Limited to groups of 6 or less, this walking tour gives you the chance to feed the porcupines, giraffes, warthogs and birds.

Glamping. Thirty tent cabins have a solid frame and canvas walls, indoor plumbing but no central heat or A/C. The decor is casual chic and very cozy. A huge benefit of staying on property is waking up to giraffes roaming around the area and the trail access during your stay. Bring a flashlight for a night time walk to see the nocturnal critters.

Note: Temperatures can drop to 30 degrees at night in Santa Rosa and can heat up to 100 during the day in the summer.

things to do in santa rosa - st. francis winery
Cheers! Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Wine Tasting at St. Francis Winery and Vineyard

Family friendly and wineries don’t always go together but in Santa Rosa, they do. St. Francis Winery and Vineyard welcomes kids of all ages and has ample grounds for roaming. The grounds are elegant but the atmosphere is casual.

That family-friendly feel starts with the people who work there. You feel like you can hang out – go for walks, relax in the tasting room, watch the kids play in the grass. During the summer months, live music is added to the wine pairings.

Their award-winning wine maker, Katie Madigan, has been there for 28 years. St. Francis was originally known for reds and more recently, whites. Katie has introduced some very popular Zins.

If the “kids” are 21 or older, I highly recommend the pairing menu. At $70 per person, it is a tasty educational adventure into wine and food. The dessert pairing taught me to never judge a wine by the thickness of its grape skin.

I generally prefer a good bourbon over an expensive wine and a red over a white wine. That is until Marina, our server (who has worked at St. Francis for 16 years), brought out the 2018 St. Francis Extended Age Chardonnay to sip with chipotle rubbed prawns. Oak-barrel aged 18 months, creamy but not buttery, light, delicious, well…to sum it up, I bought 6 bottles.

The next course showcased St. Francis’s Pinot with short ribs.

The big surprise and aha moment for me was the dessert pairing. Instead of serving a sweet dessert wine with the decadent tahini brownie (an original Marina creation). We were served a petit syrah, made from a thick-skinned grape. It cut through the sweetness of the brownie with a complementary bold red flavor.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Do make a reservation – you will need reservations for any winery visit. And remember, not all wineries welcome kids under 21.

things to do in Santa Rosa - Charles M. Schulz museum
Get Psychiatric Help from Lucy at the Charles M. Schulz museum. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Charles M. Schulz Museum

This section was written by Rebecca Lindland, a grown up.

Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip is an iconic American classic. It’s only fitting there’s a beautiful museum, research and family activity center, even a skating rink, right next door to the Children’s Museum. After all, Santa Rosa is Schulz’s hometown.

@thekimorlando

Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa,CA is an awesome place for road tripping grown ups and of course, kids. #shebuystravel #shebuys #sensoryplayforkids #sensoryactivities #santarosa #charlesshulzmuseum #whattodoinsantarosacalifornia #sonomacounty

♬ Storytelling – Adriel

The fun starts the minute you pull up to the front door. There’s a delightfully Instagrammable Snoopy doghouse at the entrance. Inside the museum, you’ll find all the favorites, Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and Lucy. Of course, there’s the obligatory gift shop with well-priced museum-specific goods. But keep in mind there’s a wider selection of items available at Snoopy’s Gallery and Gift Shop.

Known as “Sparky” to his friends and family, the cartoonist was not shy about producing dialogue-heavy comic strips. Perusing the offerings on display can keep a Peanuts devotee busy for hours. Kids might prefer the video nook and sitting at Lucy’s “The Doctor is In” psychiatrist stand.

Upstairs, get a look at Schulz’s studio and life and spend time perfecting your own cartooning skills.

Once you’ve gotten your fill of the museum, make your way across the street to the charming chalet-style Snoopy’s Home Ice skating rink.

Grab a bite to eat at the Warm Puppy Café while you watch the skaters glide around the indoor ice rink. Skate rentals are also available. The café offers a variety of fresh salads, sandwiches, and homemade soups and skate-friendly flooring.

things to do in santa rosa - Children's Museum of Sonoma County
Kids will have a blast at the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County. Photo courtesy of Children’s Museum of Sonoma County

Children’s Museum of Sonoma County

If you happen to be traveling with kiddos ages 10 or younger (which I wasn’t), this is a must-do stop. It is right next door to the Charles M. Schultz Museum. The hands-on museum has all of the standard children’s museum fare, including water play areas, trains and a treehouse. But it also some fun spots like the crocodile dental clinic and a magical fairy world.

Downtown Santa Rosa

Downtown Santa Rosa is quaint and funky with several unique shops and restaurants, most of which are locally owned.

Plan your own walking tour of downtown including the Railroad Square historic district, the original downtown Santa Rosa. Stop at the visitor’s center for more information.

https://youtu.be/c8VqNLYteLU

Don’t miss the 19th century homes along Cherry Street or the DeTurk round barn in the west end of town.

On Wednesday nights in the summer, look for the farmers market and street faire around Old Courthouse Square. That’s also the place to find family movie nights, community yoga, and other public events.

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens

The Luther Burbank Home and Gardens was home to renowned horticulturalist Luther Burbank and his wife, Elizabeth. The widow donated the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens to Santa Rosa in 1977.

Get the kids excited about walking among the flowers with a garden scavenger hunt. Look for Luther in ugly Christmas sweaters. There are 30 of them throughout the gardens. Find 20 and fill in this Google Docs form or print out this pdf to receive a small packet of sunflower seeds, hybridized by the garden’s curator over the last several years. You also can download and print a free coloring book – Luther Burbank: the Man Who Could Make a Flower.

The gardens are free and open Sunday, Monday and Wednesday from 8am to dusk and Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 1pm to dusk. You can listen to narration via your cell phone. Guided tours that include a peek inside the house also are available for a fee.

Note that the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens is in downtown Santa Rosa while the Luther Burbank Center for the performing arts is just north of downtown.

Cheese Trail

Talking about wineries without mentioning cheese is like talking about burgers and leaving off the fries. Drive 12 minutes west of Santa Rosa to Sebastopol and discover the historic Joe Matos Cheese Factory or head south about 20 miles to Petaluma, also in Sonoma County, and find several cheesemakers in the area.

Plan ahead – not all cheese makers are open to the public. Some require an appointment.

Outdoor Activities Near Santa Rosa

Sonoma county boasts 50 miles of coast line plus 11 state parks and scores of regional parks. It’s a big county so plan your drive times.

  • 15 minutes east: (Sonoma Valley) Horseback riding, mountain biking, boating, kayaking and other outdoor activities are among the top things to do at Spring Lake Regional Park and Trione-Annadel State Park. If you are there in April or May, the wildflowers will be at peak season.
  • 30 minutes north: Greet 1,000-year-old redwoods at the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.
  • 90 minutes north-ish: Search the 20 miles of hiking trails at Salt Point State park for the pygmy forest.
things to do in santa rosa - flamingo resort patio
Enjoy the beautiful patio and pool at the Flamingo Resort. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Where to Stay in Santa Rosa: Flamingo Resort

The Flamingo Resort experience begins when you spot the fabulously kitchy neon “FLAMINGO” tower from the road. Only 10 minutes from downtown and recently renovated, the Flamingo’s roots go back to Vegas and Sinatra.

The property includes 20,000 square feet of private and communal gathering space, 170 sanctuary rooms including 14 suites, the Lazeaway Club Restaurant, fitness center and spa, two swimming pools, a hot tub and an ice bucket shower.

When we stayed, we found the ideal combination of locals and tourists.

The $29 resort fee includes parking, wifi and access to the Montecito Heights Spa and Health Club on property. The health club is open to local members and hotel guests. It offers tennis, weight rooms, a variety of daily exercise classes, spa services and fun extras like movie nights for kids (open to members and guests). I attended a lovely meditation and yoga class taught in the Poppy Room by local, Jenson Curtiss. The class was full and the vibe was welcoming. I did not feel like I crashed a local party.

The lobby and rooms are mid-century modern chic, with a ginormous pool at the center of the complex.

The mid century architecture and decor is very fun and zen but it’s the pool that is the main attraction. It’s kid friendly, with a retro camper trailer snack bar and more than one guest dressed the part in a 1960s inspired one piece suits and cat-eye sunglasses.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Pack light. There are no elevators in most buildings. You will be schlepping your luggage up and down the stairs.

things to do in santa rosa - flamingo resort room
Stay in a cozy suite at the Flamingo Resort. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Rooms at the Flamingo Resort

Room layouts vary and it’s important to find out which room you are reserving. Our two-bedroom suite had a huge living room space with a pull-out couch, a king bed in the master and a double bed in the smaller bedroom – a good set up for a family or girlfriend getaway.

However, if you are traveling with a family, take note the bathroom is disproportionately small for the room. There is one shelf that is too small to hold toiletries because it is below the sink, where the towels and hair dryer are stored. There is one hook for wet towels. One. That would be a lot of shared space and not enough hooks for my family of 5. The shower is enclosed by a ½ shower wall, which means you will get wet when you turn it on and the floor will be soaked when you get out.

The small bedroom has no closet, no dresser and no side table. A chair in the room is the only place to unpack clothes.

To get ventilation in the room, you have to leave the door open because the windows do not open and there are not vents, defeating the purpose of privacy. If you are traveling with young kids, the open door will limit the use of the living room after the kids’ bedtime.

The coffee maker is set up in the master bedroom, even though there is plenty of room for it in the living room space.

things to do in santa rosa - Flamingo Resort bathroom
Bathroom in our 1-bedroom suite. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Bottom Line on the Flamingo

It may sound like I am complaining but I’m not. Just pointing out some oddities that need to be known upfront.

Would I stay here again and/or recommend it to friends? You bet. The nostalgic environment evokes the neighborly feeling of the mid-century era. The pool is incredible. The restaurant is worth a visit on its own and the health club access gives it a full resort feel. That is why at least one family I know of has returned every year for 41 years for a reunion.

I would just choose my room carefully.

Kim Orlando, founder of SheBuysTravel, is a lifelong traveler, an entrepreneur and a sought-after social media and marketing consultant. She has made hundreds of appearances on TV and in digital and print media, sharing advice and tips built on decades of travel experiences. Hailing from the hills of Kentucky and taking her story to New York, Los Angeles, and beyond, Kim built an online platform, the original TravelingMom, that has reached millions of moms and empowered them to explore the world with their families. Today, TravelingMom has evolved into SheBuysTravel. Kim has been featured on “News Nation,” “Today,” “Good Morning America” and on numerous satellite media tours. She has contributed travel guidance to outlets including The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal and more. (Read more about Kim’s media appearances here) Her travel mantra is simple: All travel counts. “You don’t have to go far. Leaving your home is travel,” Kim says. “Wherever you go, even just to the next town over, you can learn something new, see someone and something you haven’t seen before. “It’s good for the brain and good for the soul.” An epiphany in early parenthood started Kim on the journey that led to SheBuysTravel. She’d been a fan of a newsletter for women travelers, and she saw an opportunity. “I thought something like that for moms could be extraordinarily helpful,” she said. “I was traveling for work, traveling for fun, and I was looking for support.” That seed grew into the award-winning website TravelingMom, created as a resource for traveling families of all stripes. Today, TravelingMom has evolved into SheBuysTravel, with an expanded mission to serve women travelers at any stage of life. Millions of readers have visited the site for trip planning help, travel secrets, destination information and gear recommendations. What sets SheBuysTravel’s content apart, Kim says, is its foundation in real-world experience. “Our writers and editors have actually gone out there and done this stuff,” she says. “They’ve booked the flights, tried the tour, tested travel clothing, visited that new hot spot to see if it’s worth the hype. It’s all real.” Memorable Adventures A 2022 tour Kim guided to Bhutan was a particularly standout experience. “Bhutan sounds so exotic, of course,” she said. “But the part where my heart just glows and warms is thinking of the people we met – amazing women doing amazing things in Bhutan.” Their ranks included a former police officer whose ventures into food science helped mitigate food insecurity for residents of Bhutan’s highlands. Top Tips Planning for travel can be daunting, Kim acknowledges. “I always say: Go anyway. No trip is going to be perfect. There’s always going to be something you didn’t expect, something that doesn’t go the way you pictured or planned it. And that something is what’s going to make it a great trip.” And on a practical note: “Go early! Getting to the airport or hitting the road just an hour earlier relieves so much stress.” Kim’s Background Kim, a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, holds degrees in finance and entrepreneurship and has deep experience in developing and running businesses. Her previous work includes developing and running communications workshops and overseeing document management for corporations. SheBuysTravel hits a sweet spot where Kim’s two loves of travel and entrepreneurship meet. “The longer I work in this field, I only want to do more,” she says. “I find the travel world so exciting – not just the trips, but the whole online world of travel. There are still so many opportunities.” The World Awaits “The ‘best trip ever’ probably won’t be the same for an empty-nester or mom of three versus a single woman celebrating a bachelorette party with her friends,” Kim says. “We want to keep it real for traveling women, no matter what their age, life stage, where they came from or where they’re going. “We want to inspire women to travel in any shape or form.” In her free time, Kim enjoys visiting her adult kids, creating trips and traveling with her BFFs to explore the world. Her most recent adventures can be found on InstagramFacebook and LinkedIn.
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