Although we’re not new to Sonoma Valley and have tasted our fair share of their wines and walked around their main town square plenty of times, it’s been awhile. During our recent trip to Sonoma County and the surrounding area, we had kids with us, so decided to create an itinerary that combined a blend of nature, adventure and dining. We started out in the Redwoods in Occidental and made our way to all things food and wine which is impossible to avoid in a region loaded with amazing chefs and wine makers. And, it’s a great way to introduce kids to sustainable food and agriculture.
Sonoma Zipline Adventures
If you’re traveling with kids in tow, why not give them a memorable experience of flying through the treetops of the Redwoods?
Positioned off the coast of Northern California and deep in the Redwood forest, Sonoma Zipline Adventures offers two zipline courses, each with a two-and-a-half hour guided eco tour that includes multiple ziplines, sky bridges, a majestic spiral staircase and a thrilling rappel to the forest floor at the end.
We went on their Tree Tops Course, which is their fastest, highest and longest course. Fitted with a specially-designed harness, you’ll reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour along the way as you make your way through seven zips, two sky bridges and a rappel.
Below are a few shots from our Tree Tops tour.
Less advanced than the Tree Tops tour, the Forest Flight offers you the chance to see the Redwoods at 200 feet above the ground. On this tour, you’ll experience seven ziplines, speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, sky bridges and a rappel.
They also have the same Forest Flight Course at night as well, so you can zip through the forest and be able to view the night sky, moon, and stars from their tree top platforms. Wild, right?
If you’re a nature lover, you’ll love the fact that you can get up close to some of the tallest and oldest living trees you’ll ever meet. It’s a wonderful way to teach your kids how to have a deeper appreciation of the forest and for our planet.
They’re located at 6250 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, CA 95465. For more information, visit their website.
Charles M. Shultz Museum
Who doesn’t love Snoopy? Anthony and I always have and grew up with all of the Peanuts characters, so it was enticing when we learned about the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, its official name. The museum is dedicated to the works of Peanuts comic strip creator Charles M. Schulz, which opened two years after he died in 2002.
The facility is truly so much more than a museum as there’s also a research facility, an ice skating rink, a gallery and a gift shop which has tons of products, t-shirts and stuffed animals as well as more unique items like popcorn makers, toasters, statues and notebooks. Super cute for kids and for adults…incredibly informative.
If you grew up in the 1960’s or 1970’s, the Peanuts comic strip was likely part of your life.
Snoopy greets you outside as you enter the property.
One section of the museum is dedicated to an exhibit which changes a few times a year. While we were there, it was about All Things Lucy.
As a feminist icon, Lucy did what she wanted and as Billie Jean King apparently once said, she always “stood up for herself,” which makes a great role model for girls and women who need the inspiration and courage to do the same.
There were various strips in the exhibit which echoed the feminist sentiment over the years.
The museum held a social media campaign asking for words that describe Lucy and although bossy was fairly high on the list, so was brilliant, passionate, strong, smart, inspirational, spunky, independent and resilient. How would you describe her?
Like all brilliant creative geniuses, Shultz wove what he knew best from his daily life into his comic strips, including personal and business relationships, friendships and his own family members. Note the parallel to his oldest daughter Meredith below.
Personally, I was thrilled to visit during the Lucy exhibit because of her connection to feminine empowerment — the world certainly needs more of it to restore balance.
In addition to the exhibits, there’s also an educational and recreational area where kids can practice drawing, sketching and more.
There are comic strips underneath glass as well as plastered on the walls as well throughout the museum. We had a blast and would definitely return as the experience is both informative and engaging.
They have approximately 100 original Peanuts comic strips on view at any given time as well as biological and archival materials with a timeline of Schulz’s life. We also found it fascinating to view a replica / re-creation of Schulz’s studio which houses his original chair, a well-used drawing board and bookcases.
There’s also an ice arena, which we hope to experience at some point in the future. Starting in June of this year, they had a new exhibition which unveiled an unpublished comic strip featuring adults. Adults by Schulz will be on view through January 16, 2022. Until now, all seven strips have never been seen together in person or in publication.
The museum and research center is located at 2301 Hardies Lane in Santa Rosa CA. Feel free to visit their website for more information which of course has their hours and directions as well.
Paradise Ridge Winery
This family-run winery and estate sits on 155 acres but only 15 of them have vines, where they grow Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Off the property, they produce wine from Rockpile near Geyserville for both their Zinfandel and their Elevation Cabernet.
The children of the original owners — Rene Byck and Sonia Byck-Barwick — continue to run Paradise Ridge and despite being hit by fires in 2017, their vineyards and art survived. The native oaks and other natural environs provide a sanctuary for the surrounding wildlife in the area and sustainability is integral to their ongoing decision making.
They use a high-pressure washer for all barrel washing and roughly 30 gallons of water is being saved with each barrel washed which cuts their monthly water consumption by 2,500 gallons. They also use the washer to clean and sanitize their stainless steel tanks which further reduces their water consumption. We learned on-site from Rene that they’ve added baby barn owls from the Sonoma County Bird Rescue Center for rodent control. Other sustainable practices include no netting and using silk labels.
You can schedule a time for a sit-down wine tasting of their latest and greatest wines with a charcuterie and cheese plate.
If you opt for the Charcuterie experience, you’ll have a chance to taste Farmer’s Cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, Mendonca from Bivalve Dairy, Parmesan and Prochini, Finocchiona and Coppa, all from Journeyman Meat Company.
In addition to the sparkling Blanc de Blanc pictured above, what else did we taste? For whites, we sampled the 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, their 2020 Rose (Bridge’s Blush) and the 2018 Nagasawa Chardonnay, the latter of which we purchased for later drinking — it’s our favorite style, so how could we say no? (think: old world French oak). For reds, they offer a couple of Pinot Noirs, a Merlot and five bolder reds from Rockpile, which is roughly 30 miles away from the main property.
Our favorite was the 2017 Elevation, which is 85% Cab, 5% Cab Franc, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. Another unique blend worth mentioning is their 2016 Confessor, which is made up of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre (also from Rockpile).
It’s a beautiful experience especially with the magical views of the Nagasawa Vineyards in the near distance.
Wine making tools from the 1800’s to the 1950’s were brought in (aka Cooper’s Crest) to create a unique piece of art for the wall in one of the main banquet rooms.
This is the final product — amazing, right?
Speaking of unique art, it doesn’t stop there. You’ll find no shortage of statues and creative art installations throughout the property.
As you drive into the property, you’re greeted with massive installations. Apparently their father Walter Byck (now 89 years of age and still drives around the property) is an art lover and prides himself on collecting pieces for the estate. Many of them come from Burning Man — no surprise when you see the grandeur of what they have on-site. Have a look!
There are so many awe-inspiring things to look at during an estate visit that you won’t want to leave for hours.
Also, if you’re interested in using their site for a wedding or another special occasion, they have a great spot for a wedding ceremony and two floors where they can set up round tables (or other variations) for a reception.
They’re based at 4545 Thomas Lake Harris Drive in Santa Rosa CA. For more information, visit their website.
Pascaline Patisserie & Café
After ziplining in the mountains, we headed to Pascaline Patisserie & Café which is a charming French gastronomic gem, nestled among world-class vineyards and Gravenstein apple orchards. Think buttery brioche, croissants, and flakey kouign-amannare rubbing crusts with quiches and tartine. They also serve earthy and healthy salads, gourmet sandwiches, classic Croque Monsieur which was utterly divine and other homemade soups.
If you try them for lunch, we’d strongly encourage that you try one of their traditional French quiches – it’s so so worth it.
We tried all of their salads — our favorite was the mixed salad with their Goddess dressing (above right). Above left is their Cobb and above top is their Ham and Cheese Quiche with a side salad. Oh so yum!
Above, their infamous French Onion Soup
Above, inside the cafe. Below, outside the cafe.
They are also renowned for their cannele, which is a dough-based specialty in Bordeaux. Exquisite, right? And, it tastes as good as it looks.
Their other desserts are pretty tasty as well.
When the weather is good, they offer Pop Up Dinners at the cafe. Each dinner features a different theme from Morocco to Singapore and everywhere in between and they include hors d’oeuvres and a 4 course price fixe menu.
We loved our experience and would definitely return. They’re located at 4552 Gravenstein Highway North in Sebastopol, CA. Visit their website for more details.
Dutton Estate Winery
If you love wine, especially Chardonnay, then Dutton Estate Winery is a must-visit. Tucked in Russian River Valley, this family run winery — across six generations — is committed to sustainable farming.
Their vineyards are located in the heart of Green Valley’s Russian River Valley, which is only 15 miles from Sonoma Coasts’ Pacific Ocean. The philosophies the Dutton’s share with their winemakers is that less is more, something we often subscribe to as well.
The grounds are absolutely exquisite, so before you sit down for a tasting, be sure to walk around the gardens and say hello to the Chardonnay grapes out front.
“It is imperative to create the wine from the vineyard, to preserve the terroir of the site and to express the beauty of the Russian River Valley that surrounds us.” — Bobby Donnell, Consulting Winemaker
Outside, there are tables where you can sample some of their wine or get a cheese and charcuterie board. They’ll start you off with a cider but it’s on the dry side, so more aligned with a Prosecco than a traditional cider — they make it from 200 acres of apple orchids, all of which are organic certified.
The grapes surround you on all sides which only adds to the rich experience. We loved the 2019 Warren’s Collection Chardonnay which is loaded with butterscotch and vanilla. If you tend to love fruit forward wine, then the 2020 Fume Blanc is for you which offers hints of mango and pineapple.
If red is more your thing, then try their 2018 Manzana Vineyard Pinot Noir, a great one to pair with a Wine Country Chocolate from Glen Ellen. Although it’s unusual to find Syrah in this region, they offer a Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah which is from Green Valley along Cherry Ridge Road. This one paired well with the Port Salut Cheese from Loire Valley which they had on-site.
Although they had plenty of local cheese and meats/salami (Journeyman Meat Company), they also had a Moliterno Al Tartufo Cheese from southern Italy and a Red Dragon Cheese from Wales (yes, really). The latter was so unusual and definitely had a kick to it, but paired really nicely with their Chard.
The mood and vibe of the place offers a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.
And, don’t forget to ask for a chocolate tasting with their late Syrah harvest — the pairing is perfect anytime of year.
They hold many events as well that we hope to experience in the fall. For Club Members, they offer exclusive events as well (aka a Mystery Wine Party), or there’s also their Wine Road Wine & Food Affair which is coming up in November. For more information, visit their website.
We recently discovered a unique restaurant “find” just outside of downtown Sonoma called Kivelstadt Cellars — thanks to Ana from Sonoma Tourism for bringing it to our attention.
As you enter, its unassuming and down-to-earth and then it opens up to a large outdoor courtyard area with plenty of picnic tables and round tables, some with umbrellas. Since we were there for a summer brunch, it was a perfect place to hang for a couple of hours.
Since we had kids with us, we opted for a few plates for the table to share, starting with their KC Platter, recommended by their marketing head. It was a combination of local and international cheese, charcuterie, crisp veggies, house pickles and crostini. Also on the plate, you’ll find saffron waxed beans, which had a bit of a kick to them.
For cheese, you’re able to taste a double cream brie and a cheddar that is a mix of cow and goat milk, both from Daphne’s (based out of Petaluma), and a French Blue fourme d’ambert. For meats, they offer the Absinthe Salami from Zoe’s Meats, a Cabernet Salami and an 18 month Prosciutto.
To lighten things up, I had to try their Kale Caesar which they serve with boquerones, baby heirloom tomatoes, foccacia crostini and parm crackle and they toss it in a lemon-anchovy dressing. It was oh so delish!
Next time, we must try their White Gazpacho, a combo I had never seen before on a menu — they make it with green grapes, sweet onion, cucumbers, walnuts, pickled shallots, saba and a parmesan tuille. OMG, right?
So, what did we pair our food with? This is where it gets really interesting. You see, Kivelstadt Cellars offers really unique wines that are very atypical of the region, so if you want to branch out from traditional Napa and Sonoma Valley wines, then you won’t want to miss this experience.
Whenever I have a salad, I typically order a Chardonnay which is my go-to white when I’m not in a more adventurous mood. Here, there’s no Chardonnay on the menu — say what? The closest is something they call Mother of Invention and with a name like that, how can you not try it? It’s a White Rhone Blend, inspired by Italian and French varietals, so it’s much more balanced overall with a 50/50 blend of Marsanne and Roussane.
They also offer a unique Orange Wine (yes, really – unique right?), which they call Wayward Son and a skin fermented KC Labs Pinot Blanc. Our favorites were also quite unusual — the Pinot Noir which is carbonically fermented and something they call Native Son, which is an old vine Charbono.
What’s Charbono you ask? From Eastern France by the Swiss Alps, it won’t taste like your local Zinfandel or Cab. It’s so rare for the region that apparently there’s only 15-20 acres of it left, and you’ll only find it in the Mendocino region.
Organically farmed, their vineyard’s slopes which house volcanic shallow soils and steep terrain forces, are nestled in the hills 4.5 miles northwest of Glen Ellen. They recently replanted a five-acre section that burned in 2017 and voila, there’s Grenache, Mourvedre, and Gamay coming for future wines.
Then there’s a side dish that was so scrumptious that we’d return just to have it again. This Smoked Street Corn from Brentwood is made with Cotija, Tajin, Lime Mist and Mayo and will knock your socks off. And, it’s beautifully presented as well – have a look!
There’s a kids menu as well so if these more daring dishes won’t work for your ten year old’s, then fear not. Another great plate for the table might be their Baby Back Ribs with Vanilla Chipotle. They also have vegan tacos if meat isn’t your thing, seasonable vegetables and a simple side salad. Although their Pork Belly Bahn Mi with sesame mushroom pate sounded awe-inspiring (nom nom), I went with their Skuna Bay Salmon which they prepare with grilled chimichurri and charred lemon. Simply put, it was divine!
Although we were too full for their desserts, the waitress raved about the Ube Cheese Cake made from oreo cookie crust and local honey — we’ll have to try it on our next visit. They’re located at 22900 Broadway in Sonoma, CA. For more information including their latest menu, visit their website.
Ice Cream at Screamin’ Mimi’s
Speaking of desserts, we ended one of our days at Sebastapol-based Screamin’ Mimi’s one afternoon, which offers both homemade ice cream and sorbet.
It was started by Maraline Olson who was inspired to find ice cream reminiscent of her childhood on the east coast. When her husband Kurt tasted her flagship flavor Mimi’s Mud, he suggested she open a shop and since 1995, it has been a hit in the area.
Mimi’s Mud remains their most popular flavor, which combines espresso ice cream, cookies, fudge and chocolate chips.
Other fun flavors are Java Chocolate Almond, Coffee, Peppermint Stick, Mocha, Vanilla Swiss Almond, Cookie Jar, Banana, Strawberry, Butter Pecan, Hazelnut Fudge, Marshmallow Brownie, Cranberry, Watermelon and more.
Then there’s their once-a-year flavor lavender which is what I had, or Bee’s Knees, which is lavender ice cream with chocolate covered honey combour. They also have many sorbet flavors as well, all of which are vegan, gluten, dairy and egg free. (made with fruit, cane sugar and some with coconut milk)
They also offer pints, sammies, milkshakes and pies. You can also get a custom made-to-order ice cream pie, where you have a choice of Oreo or Graham Cracker crust, fudge topping or whipped vanilla ice cream topping. What are sammies? Take a look: yum, right?
For more information, visit their website.
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