Thursday, October 22, 2015

Redwood trees, Wine and Beer, Oh My!!

Tackling wine country with kids can seem intimidating, but when planned properly, it can be really fun for the entire family. We have taken several trips to Sonoma County this past year, some included wine or beer tastings, while others just took advantage of the amazing food and parks. All of them were really enjoyable, relaxing and memorable outings that have left me wanting to explore more of the area. 

Our most recent trip started with a visit to Armstrong Redwoods park in Sonoma County. We had a more adult oriented afternoon of beer and wine tasting planned, so we wanted to give the kids a chance to run free for a little bit. We arrived a little after 9 in the morning and easily found a spot in the parking lot next to the visitors center. After a quick look at the map, we planned out a nice loop and headed on our way!

I'm not sure how long this stage will last for our kids, but they are wonderfully entertained by adventures like this. We set out in search of the largest tree in the park, frequently stopping to walk on fallen trees, pick up sticks and give out a few hugs to particularly large trees. With the exception of a handful of other groups, we had the trail to ourselves, which was a treat since our kids aren't exactly quiet observers of nature.

There are several options for easy hikes and we settled on a 1 mile loop that took us by both the tallest and oldest trees in the park. The trails are wide and level, with small barriers along the perimeter to keep you on the path. There is also a road that winds through the park which had very light car traffic and looked perfect for riding bikes. I was definitely envious of the families I saw exploring the park on bike - what a peaceful ride that must be!

After our hike in the Redwoods we packed up and headed down the road to Sebastapol, where we met up with my husband's parents at The Barlow. How I didn't come across this place when researching our first trip to the area is beyond me. Formerly an apple cannery, the area has been re-purposed into a collection of local retailers, restaurants and tasting rooms. I am in love with this concept and very much appreciate the ability to experience the local flavors and products without having to drive to a dozen venues with kids in tow. The Barlow reminded me a lot of the Swift Street Courtyard in Santa Cruz (a re-purposed brussel sprout packing plant), but on a larger scale.

I can't say enough about the charm of The Barlow. All of the shops and restaurants had such a beautiful and cohesive aesthetic. Most of the storefronts had industrial garage doors or sliding glass panels that allowed the venues to open up to private dining patios or the sidewalk, resulting in very inviting spaces. A perfect example of this open concept was Vignette Pizzeria, where we settled in for a delicious lunch. The kids were able to transition from our table to running around the neighboring plaza, making for a very enjoyable and relaxed meal!

After lunch we went around the corner to Subzero Ice Cream, which makes ice cream from scratch with the help of liquid nitrogen. The kids enjoy the "magic" of watching the ice cream emerge from a cloud of liquid nitrogen and I have to say that it tastes pretty darn good too!

Next on the list was wine and beer tasting! This is where I cross my fingers and hope that the ice cream somehow results in extra good behavior. Our first stop was MacPhail Family Wines, where you can buy wine by the glass or experience one of their tasting flights. I opted for a glass of wine and enjoyed it on the outdoor patio with the kids. The venue was kid-friendly (there were multiple families with young kids sitting on the outdoor patio) and overall very enjoyable.

After wine tasting, we made the short walk down to Woodfour Brewing for some beer tasting. We were able to snag an outdoor table and quickly settled in for some beer flights. One thing that I particularly appreciated was that in addition to their reasonably priced beer flights, they offered both 8oz and 16oz pours, a perfect compromise if you aren't up for a full tasting.

Although our visit to The Barlow was several hours long, there is still so much more I want to see on our next trip. Circle of Hands toy store was a favorite for the kids and coffee at Taylor Maid Farms and pastries from Ultra Crepes are just a couple of places that will likely be a part of our next visit. Whether you are looking for a full day of entertainment or just a quick pit-stop, I highly recommend making The Barlow part of your Sonoma County itinerary.

What are your favorite spots in Sonoma County?

Here are a few other ideas if you are spending time in the area;

The details: Armstrong Redwood State Natural Reserve is about an hour and a half from Berkeley  (Sebastapol is a bit closer at about an hour from Berkeley). Parking along the street and in the lot by the visitors center is free, but you will want to arrive before 10am for best parking availability. If you choose to enter the park gates with your vehicle, there is an $8 fee per car. Pizza at Vignette Pizzeria ranged from $13-$19. A kids scoop at Subzero was $3.75 (and it's a generous scoop). Tastings at MacPhail Winery start at $20, with glasses ranging from $8-$14. Beer flights at Woodfour were $8/5 beers, or $5 for a pint, $3.50 for a half pint.


  1. Hi! Found your blog while researching Armstrong Redwoods on yelp, and decided to come by your blog. :) My husband, his father and I are visiting the Russian River area later this month from East Bay, and I am trying to narrow down to my top spots to experience, Armstrong seems like a top contender. We are all craving to be submerged in nature, and have a fabulous looking cabin along Austin Creek rented, I have a feeling we are going to fall in love with the area. Beautiful pictures, your girls are so adorable! Glad I came by!

    1. How fun! I'm sure you will have a great time. We really enjoyed our visit to Armstrong. It looked like a really fun place to ride a bike as well. We just spent a long weekend in Jenner (about 30 minutes away on the coast) and I would also recommend maybe renting kayaks and exploring the Russian River. The waters are really calm and if you kayak to the mouth of the river (where it meets the Ocean), there is a sand beach covered with Harbor Seals. Cafe Aquatica is also a nice spot on the water (in Jenner) to grab a coffee or light lunch. Enjoy your trip and thanks for visiting the blog!