Courtesy of Safari West

Unexpected family fun in wine country.

December 11, 2012

Set 55 miles north of San Francisco, Santa Rosa is the largest city within Sonoma County, best known for its more than 200 wineries. But if you think this is just an area to pass through on the way to the “real” Sonoma, think again. In such a grown-up setting, the city has a real family-friendly side, with access to nearly 60 nearby parks, several museums, and a planetarium.

Safari West

This 400-acre wildlife reserve is about a 90-minute drive from San Francisco, and seeks to replicate an African Safari-style experience in the "Sonoma Serengeti." Unlike a traditional zoo, Safari West is a natural habitat that allows visitors to take a two-to-three–hour tour over rugged terrain to see more than 500 animals, including giraffes, buffalo, lemurs, and zebras. Open and close-top aviaries also house hundreds of exotic birds from Africa, New Guinea, and South America. Lodging is available in heated, fully furnished tents, and the Savannah Café serves fire-pit cooked meals. 

Charles M. Schulz Museum

Dedicated to the creator of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, the exhibits can be a bit scholarly, but the Kite-Eating Tree and the ice-skating rink aren’t.adults $8, kids $5

Don Taylor's Omelette Express

Open since 1977 and located in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, this breakfast and lunch spot is known for its generous portions. The menu has over twenty omelets, each served with home fries and sourdough toast, with the option to create your own omelet as well. Other breakfast dishes and lunch items, including hamburgers, sandwiches, and salads, are also available. The dining room, which is decorated with mismatched wooden chairs, a large train mural, and classic car grills, is limited in size, but service is quick, minimizing table wait times.

Union Hotel Restaurant

While there's a history of Union Hotel restaurants dating back to 1879, this Mission Boulevard location (built in 2006) is housed in a free-standing, ochre-colored stucco structure built to resemble an Italian farmhouse. Inside, the Tuscan colors continue, along with rustic stone accents and dark wood furniture. Tables are arranged family-style for large celebrations in some rooms and spread out in others. The menu boasts a range of brick-oven pizzas, as well as pastas, salads, and antipasti. Most the wine list covers Italian or local Sonoma varietals.

Flamingo Resort

A 1950s hotel with a modern makeover, the Flamingo holds onto some of its old-time glamour: look to the rounded entryway awning and entry sign pole with retro neon lettering. But it offers up-to-date amenities, including an extensive fitness room, spa services, outdoor hot tub, and on-site dining (both indoors and at an outdoor terrace overlooking the pool). Guest rooms are outfitted with dark wooden furniture and neutral-colored walls and linens. The long, low layout of the building gives a feeling of spaciousness to the hotel and lends an air of privacy to all of the rooms.

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