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6 Fun Activities in Wine Country

Take a cooking glass, paddle down a river, marvel at redwoods, admire great art, and more

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Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center

Peanuts characters are alive and well at this Santa Rosa institution, which celebrates the life and legacy of Snoopy creator Charles M. Schulz. The museum was founded in 2002 by Jean Schulz, the cartoonist’s widow, and today it houses the largest collection of original Peanuts artwork in the world. Permanent exhibits include a look at some of Schulz’s original comic strips, as well as a recreation of his art studio. There’s also a tile mural composed of 3,588 different comic strips. Temporary exhibits change throughout the year. The museum also has an outdoor area with sculptures that depict iconic moments from the cartoons (such as Charlie Brown with a metal kite stuck in a real tree) and a theater that screens documentaries on a loop. If you’re traveling with children, the best part of the museum is the laid-back-but-hands-on education room, where docents help visitors learn how to draw specific characters. Also worth exploring with kids: the Redwood Empire Ice Rink, located across the street. Schulz loved skating at the rink, which is open to the public. Skate rentals are available, and a café serves breakfast and lunch daily.

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

Grays and greens abound in this public conservation tract in the tiny town of Guerneville along the Russian River. The area predates logging in the northern part of the state, so the preserve is home to some of the oldest and tallest trees in Sonoma County—one, the Parson Jones Tree, is more than 310 feet tall. Not coincidentally, the park is also a popular place for weddings; go on a weekend and you’re practically guaranteed to see one. As far as public parks are concerned, Armstrong Redwoods is more accessible than most. The main sections of the reserve are relatively flat, and there are ample picnic areas for hikers of all abilities. There’s also a self-guided nature trail just behind the visitor center. On foggy summer mornings, the damp pathways inside Armstrong are great places to spot banana slugs—just one of a few attributes that makes the park kid-friendly. With more than 30 miles of trails, the park offers plenty of longer hiking or running options, too. When you’ve had your fill of nature, head down the hill to downtown Guerneville for an ice cream cone at Nimble & Finn’s, inside the Guerneville Bank Club.

CIA at Copia (The Culinary Institute of America)

Consider the Culinary Institute of America at Copia the center for continuing education about food and wine. The facility—which in its first iteration was bankrolled by the late Robert Mondavi—offers to the public a host of cooking classes, wine and beverage explorations, chef demonstrations, and more. Situated next to the Oxbow Public Market on the east side of the Napa River, CIA at Copia also has expansive chefs’ gardens and an on-site restaurant. Most of the programming involves education, with classes ranging from demonstration-style to hands-on. Some, such as one on how to make ice cream, are family-friendly. Others, like sabering a bottle of champagne, are geared distinctly toward grown-ups. Private classes for groups of 10 to 20 people are also available. Throughout the year, CIA at Copia also hosts a number of regular events such as a seminar series, as well as the popular Easter Egg Hunt, Bud Break Festival, Summer Luau, Ciderfest, Oktoberfest, and Holiday Marketplace. There’s even a store on-site, which is stocked with kitchen tools, hard-to-find ingredients, cookbooks, and housewares.

The Hess Collection

Yes, the Hess Collection in Napa makes wine and sells it under the same name. But really, the brand is about something equally wonderful in entirely different ways: modern art. Owner and entrepreneur Donald Hess began collecting art in the 1960s, and the collection on display at the Mount Veeder winery and tasting room represents a small portion of the pieces he’s amassed since then. The three-story gallery is open to the public for free and displays work from artists Franz Gertsch, Francis Bacon, Leopold Maler, and others. Despite the high caliber of work on display, the Hess Collection gallery is relaxed and without pretense. Visitors can take self-guided strolls through the collection or sign up for a formal docent-led tour. This latter option provides guests with insider information about the art, and follows the tour with a private tasting of Hess Collection wine. Housed in a circa-1903 stone winery originally constructed by Colonel Theodore Gier, the building evokes the grandeur of yesteryear—especially in summer, when ivy covers the stone walls of the gallery.

Round Pond Estate

Yes, this Rutherford-based agricultural operation sells wine. But what sets Round Pond apart from just about every other Napa Valley winery is its olive mill. Through tours and tastings, visitors get an intriguing behind-the-scenes look into the world of olive oil. Tours wind through the olive orchard while guides explain the process of harvesting. Tastings take place inside the mill; you smell the oil first and then taste it with different vegetables, breads, meats, and cheeses. With the exception of a few reserve samplings, most wine tastings at Round Pond occur on the second-story tasting lounge and covered terrace, a space with panoramic views of the estate and the palm-lined driveway. To combine both sides of the house, try the Il Pranzo tasting, which includes wine and food on the winery side and olive oil and food on the olive mill side. What’s more, for an unparalleled winery visit, book a spot at the weekly garden-to-table brunch, a four-hour experience that includes a tour, a harvesting session in the winery garden, a cooking class, and a farm-to-table meal served in the garden itself.

Napa Valley Paddle

Napa Valley Paddle (NVP) rents kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and inflatable paddleboards by the hour, day, and weekend. But the company—based on the Main Street Dock at Riverfront Plaza—also offers guided tours that offer a completely different perspective on a part of wine country that so many visitors see only by land. There are four such trips, including a two-hour paddle around the Oxbow River in downtown Napa; a four-hour fishing excursion from downtown Napa to the top of San Pablo Bay; and a day-long adventure through the marshlands south of Napa and the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge (both are prime spots for bird-watching). Tours include all equipment (including a personal flotation device and a waterproof bag to keep wallets and cell phones dry), as well as a brief safety lesson. NVP can also orchestrate casual “unguided” tours of downtown, complete with maps and gourmet picnic lunches, or family-friendly excursions on inflatable stand-up paddleboards that are big enough for six paddlers at once. All tours and rentals are subject to weather conditions, so it pays to call ahead.

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