From the moment you set foot in Charles M. Schulz County Airport, the lasting legacy of the Peanuts cartoonist is clear: an Airport Helper kiosk à la Lucy’s Psychiatric Help booth awaits your questions; the airport’s logo includes Snoopy in his Red Baron helmet and scarf, astride his red doghouse.
The city of 170,000 – the largest in Sonoma County and famous for its wineries – was the home of Schulz and is the site of the Schulz Museum and Research Centre. Families will find this small but well appointed museum a perfect way to spend a few hours.
To visit the Schulz Museum is to wash yourself in nostalgia, especially if you’re of an age. It would be enough that you can sit all day in a comfy theatre and binge-watch all the animated TV specials, an A&E Biography on Schulz and his interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose. But there’s more. An entire wall in the museum is dedicated to A Charlie Brown Christmas, the first animated Peanuts TV special, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
You can see original pieces of animation celluloid (cells) from the show, learn more about its backstory and pore over hundreds of comic strips (the selection changes often). On the second floor, Schulz’s office (he was known by all his friends as Sparky) is lovingly recreated. You can watch videos of him drawing with that remarkably economical and steady pen line.
If you’re lamenting that kids today aren’t as familiar with the gang of large-headed kids as you are, fear not. A feature-length film produced by Blue Sky Animation (Ice Age, Rio) has just been released, introducing Snoopy to a whole new audience. The Peanuts Movie was written by Schulz’s son and grandson, ensuring the characters’ authenticity. A new permanent exhibit pays homage to the movie.
While Schulz spent most of his adult life in Santa Rosa, he was born and raised in Minnesota and loved hockey. Next to the museum you’ll find the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, also known as Snoopy’s Home Ice. Schulz built it when the old arena fell into disrepair. Rent a pair of skates and glide beneath the Austrian-style rafters in what is the prettiest indoor arena I’ve ever seen. Then sip hot chocolate by the fire at the Warm Puppy Café.
While you’re there, visit the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, newly opened in 2014. This museum is designed for children under 10 and offers interactive experiences that focus on art, nature and science. There is also a large nature education garden.
In the town of Occidental (about 30 minutes away) Sonoma Canopy Tours offer breathtaking zipline adventures. There are two courses to choose from, and you need to book ahead. (Minimum age is 10 and minimum weight is 70 pounds.) Very knowledgeable guides escort your group through the tall redwoods and carefully clip you from one zipline or bridge to the next. Don’t look down.
For a slightly less adventurous look at more impressive redwoods, drive about 45 minutes north to Armstrong State Redwood Preserve in Guerneville. People of all ages and abilities can handle the Pioneer Trail, roughly an hour walk from the parking lot (which is free). Eat lunch at the picnic area at the halfway point. The 1,000-year-old redwoods are simply awe-inspiring and kids will love crawling in and out of the hollowed out beauties. Wear good walking shoes.
For animal lovers, a visit to Safari West is well worth it. Book your tour ahead of time for this guided walk and tour through a 400-acre preserve of exotic animals, including zebras, giraffes, cheetahs, white rhinos, monkeys and more than 65 kinds of birds. Tours last about three hours and riding atop the safari vehicle offers a terrific view, especially when coming nose to nose with a giraffe. Safari West also offers luxury tent accommodations for those who wish to sleep with the fauna squawking and whooping around them. The lunch upgrade is worth it.
About an hour due west from Santa Rosa is the town of Bodega, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds. The famous school house is still standing. From there it’s a short drive to Bodega Bay and then north along Highway 1, which winds and wends its way along the Pacific coast. Several public beaches dot the shoreline between there and the town of Jenner.
Family friendly wineries may sound like an oxymoron, but Sonoma County has embraced the idea. Eight wineries have joined Sonoma Vineyard Adventures and offer self-guided tours of the vines. Just follow the arrows through the rows.
At Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, kids can explore an enchanting sculpture garden. Enjoy the view from the Ridge of the rolling rows of vineyards. Wednesday evenings, families can bring a picnic or get dinner from a local food truck on site for “Wines and Sunsets”. ($8 per person, includes live music). And yes, there is wine to be sampled. The self-guided tour of the vines is rated easy and only 400 metres.
Movie buffs will appreciate the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, about 20 minutes from Santa Rosa, which besides offering wine tasting, also features memorabilia from some of the director’s most famous movies: The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and Tucker. A day pass gives access to the beautiful pool, then dance under the stars and twinkly lights in a recreated set from the Godfather II’s wedding scene. When kids get tuckered out, they can read books or play board games in the teepee nearby. The walk through the vines is rated “challenging” and clocks in at two kilometres. Book your pool pass ahead.
Where to eat
Pizzerias and craft breweries abound in downtown Santa Rosa. The Russian River Brewery is a beer hall style restaurant that includes a kids menu and made-to-order pizza if what you like isn’t on the menu. Around the corner is the 3rd Street Ale House. Don’t let the sports bar atmosphere fool you, this is seriously good brew. So too is the house brewed root beer. Try it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a sweet finish to your meal. Mary’s Pizza Shack is a large and bustling spot on the main drag (4th Street). The open kitchen provides a perfect view for kids to watch pizza makers at work. In an unassuming plaza not too far from the strip is Rosso Pizzeria. The wood-fired pizza oven turns out delicious and unique pizzas and boasts a fantastic wine selection. Kids can turn pizza dough into their own appetizer while they wait. Top your meal off with a cone at Shuffle’s Magical Ice Cream Shoppe. This place combines two of my family’s favourite things: ice cream and magic. Where else can you watch some mind-blowing card tricks while enjoying a scoop of house made ice cream? A full menu of burgers and dogs and other favourites is also on offer. Owner JP Sciraca, aka The Brooklyn Kid, performs for kids Saturday mornings at 10:30, as well as other times during the week.
Where to stay
The Flamingo Resort is a restored treasure from the ’50s, complete with a rotating pink neon flamingo perched atop a four-storey stack. (Easy to see when you’re arriving at night!) Families will love swimming in the huge pool, which is encircled by the two-storey hotel (some rooms open on to the pool). There’s a spa, a well equipped fitness club with a lap pool for lengths, and five tennis courts. Those looking to relax can enjoy a number of spa treatments. Eat at the Terrace Grill next to the pool. Continental breakfast (lots of fresh fruit, baked goods, oatmeal and cereal) is especially convenient for families.
By car: Santa Rosa is located at the junction of Highways 101 and 12, about 90 kilometres north of San Francisco.
By plane: Fly to Los Angeles (LAX) and then take a connecting flight to Santa Rosa (STS). Or fly to San Francisco and drive north to Santa Rosa along Hwy 101 until Highway 12.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November/December 2015.