Vineyard Hopping for Families – Healdsburg, California

Genie Davis February 14, 2011 No Comments

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The vineyards near Healdsburg, CA offered vintage fun for the kids!

The vineyards near Healdsburg, CA offered vintage fun for the kids!

 

The Northern California valley is lush and green, the sunset is rosy over the hills, and the vineyards stretch as far as the eye can see. We’re not far from Napa in miles but far from the crush of wine buyers and tasters and expensive boutique hotels that accompany it. It’s a bucolic view from the rich, ripe hills around Healdsburg. There are over a hundred wineries in the area around this pristine small town that offers excellent dining and a charming town square. And while you select a vintage or two for yourself, what will the kids do? Enjoy themselves. 

I’ve taken my children along to winery visits since they were babes in arms; picnicking under a decades-old oak and enjoying hillside views and grassy expanses has always seemed to me a better environment for the little ones than a fast food stop. As we progressed from the diaper stage to the running-around-burning-off-steam phase, vineyard visits made even more sense, offering a lovely and secure environment to stretch the legs. Near Santa Maria in the middle of the state we frequented wineries with old wagons to scamper over; near Paso Robles we found a vintner with herb gardens to explore and friendly felines to pet. But Healdsburg offers even more child-friendly bounty, from accommodations in a charming hotel to the vineyards themselves. 

We stayed at the welcoming Hotel Healdsburg. The hotel is well laid out and has a calm and congenial atmosphere. The rooms are pleasant, large, and have large tubs in the updated bathrooms. The double queen room had enough space for us all to spread out, and the balcony offered a lovely view of the hills beyond town. But what did the room matter when our kids were presented with pinwheels to spin while we checked in, and we were invited to share some lemonade on the broad hotel porch and either watch or join in a game of croquet on the manicured lawn. Next to the hotel is a family friendly restaurant, the Dry Creek Kitchen, with plenty of options for both carnivores and vegetarians. The restaurant will deliver right to the hotel’s courtyard tables, and has a delicious peach pie on the desert menu and a good range of local wines to taste, too. 

One of those vintages is sure to come from the nearby Iron Horse Vineyard located in Sebastopol. The tasting room is open air and open to all – kids are welcomed with fresh grape juice to sample as adults take their own tastings. And there’s plenty of room on three hundred acres to admire the mountain top of Mount Saint Helen. In season, there are also apple trees that offer u-pick-’em fruit. 

With wine, juice, and maybe some fruit in hand, you’ll want to find a place to picnic, and that would be Lake Sonoma, not far from Healdsburg proper. In fact, it’s close enough to swing back into town for a visit to a store my kids could’ve spent hours exploring, and which offers a full range of picnic supplies to supply a lake front feast. The Jimtown Store is also a great place to get post cards and fun souvenirs like stuffed sock monkeys and old fashioned kaleidoscopes. But the food is perfect – lunches to go include delicious veggie sandwiches, three-cheese specials, and local bar b q. 

When you’re done with feasting on the banks of Lake Sonoma, you might consider renting a boat or taking your children on one of the easy and well marked paths around the lake. 

 

 

Speaking of easy paths, we also enjoyed a drive closer to Guerneville, and a stroll along a less than two mile trail through the Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. We saw the fourteen hundred year old Colonel Armstrong Tree, and were rewarded to hear that tree was apparently even older than I am. 

We also made a stop at California’s Old Faithful Geyser, which is a smaller sized version of Old Faithful in Yellowstone without the strong sulphuric scent. The shallow pool erupts with steam and bubbles and then the gush of, according to the site’s brochure, “thousands of gallons of water.” While I can’t vouch for the actual amount, it’s a fun and impressive attraction with a lovely mountain backdrop behind the water show. The kids loved the hissing, steaming, bubbling water brew. 

The Russian River runs through Healdsburg

The Russian River runs through Healdsburg and offers a great afternoon family stroll.

Back in Healdsburg, we enjoyed another stroll along the Russian River. The sunlight dappled water runs through town, and you can rent a canoe, swim, or kayak in the spring, summer, and fall as well as simply enjoying a walk along the river banks. 

And no trip to the area is complete without tasting some of the regions crops beyond its famous wines. You can taste plenty of fresh and local organic produce at the Healdsburg Certified Farmers’ Market on Saturday’s or Tuesday’s. If you’re a summer visitor, June brings a fragrant lavender festival to the farmer’s market, July a town birthday celebration, and August a zucchini festival which includes a zucchini contest. In the fall, there’s arts and crafts on display. Our kids missed these special dates but still very much enjoyed tasting the region’s olive oils, apples, pears, and corn. Who knew fresh, uncooked corn could taste so sweet? Or that there are over sixty different flavors of olive oil from rosemary basil to orange created in the Sonoma area. 

Like the better known wine trail maps the region offers, Sonoma County Farm Trails offers visitors a view of sustainable agriculture in the area. We were able to taste tomatoes straight off the vine and sample some Sonoma cheese curds at a local dairy, before beginning our long drive back to SoCal. And where did we stop for breaks en route? Wineries outside of Salinas and San Luis Obispo – where the kids were welcome to enjoy the flower gardens and green lawns.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

Tags: Reviews, Travel Excursions

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