For a Charming July 4th, Think Sonoma, California


Hi Wendy,

Can you suggest a fun family vacation on the West Coast for the 4th of July?  I’m looking for a cute town that’s not so popular.


—Elena S.



My husband won’t be happy I’m sharing this, since he wants to keep it a secret (he grew up in the next valley over), but the best July 4th we’ve found is in Sonoma, California. Independence Day parades and fairs are held throughout Sonoma County, and they ooze small-town Americana and charm.

The Old-Fashioned 4th of July Parade in Sonoma itself winds around the town’s historic plaza and ends with a celebration in the plaza park, complete with children’s activities, rides, and arts and crafts.  My own family can’t go to Sonoma without grabbing a picnic from the Sonoma Cheese Factory and an ice cream from The Chocolate Cow, riding the old-fashioned steam train at TrainTown, and stopping by Viansa Winery—a tasting room and large shop that the whole family can enjoy, what with the spacious grounds to run around in. The last time we were in Sonoma for July 4th, I even took a biplane ride at Vintage Aircraft Co.

Yours Truly about to take off in a biplane at Vintage Aircraft Co. in Sonoma.

Here’s the trusty pilot who sat behind me.

For an even folksier parade, head a few miles north to Kenwood, where the annual Fourth of July Kenwood Hometown Parade gives new meaning to the term “rural Americana.”  There are about as many people in the parade as there are watching it.  There’s a pancake breakfast at 7 a.m. at the Kenwood Community Church before the parade, and jazz in the park afterward, with plenty of homespun family fun as well.

The other thing my family likes to do on July 4th is the evening symphony concert and fireworks spectacular on the Sonoma State campus. Last year, sadly, the fireworks didn’t go off as planned, thanks to a computer glitch. My then-11-year-old, Charlie, was actually quoted in the local paper as saying it was “like Halloween without candy.” Given last year’s snafu, this year locals are anticipating a spectacular that truly is.

A ton happens in Sonoma County before and after July 4th too. Just check out the tourism site for a list of events and fireworks. On July 3rd there’s community fun and fireworks  in Sebastopol. Every year, Monte Rio Beach hosts the Big Rocky Games and “Water Curtain” (you’ve got to see it to believe it), as well as fireworks over Bodega Bay. And there’s the Penngrove Parade, which my kids have been in every year since they were five and three. It might not be as refined as Sonoma’s parade or as adorable as Kenwood’s, but it’s great homespun family fun nonetheless. There’s even an apple-pie contest in Penngrove Park afterward.

My kids getting ready to march in the Penngrove Parade, Penngrove, California.

Elena, one final tip: When you’re in Sonoma County with kids, don’t miss the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa. We always go ice skating next door at Snoopy’s Home Ice and grab lunch at its snack bar, The Warm Puppy, where you can get your burger in a dog bowl. Kids love it. Enjoy your holiday weekend!