Sonoma County Regional Parks: The Insider’s Guide to 23 Local Outdoor Activities
If you Google, “Sonoma County Regional Parks,” you’ll find a ton of information about all of the 62 parks, trails, beaches, and marinas in the area.
But if you really want to find the most incredible and unique outdoor activities in Sonoma County, your best bet is to ask a local expert.
And there aren’t many people better informed about Sonoma County’s outdoor activities than Melissa Kelley, Executive Director of the Sonoma County Parks Foundation.
So, we asked her to share her insider tips for the best, most unique, and most underrated parks, hikes, viewpoints, and more.
Here’s what she told us.
The Most Underrated Outdoor Activities in Sonoma County
Looking for something a little different? Here are Melissa’s recommendations for the most underrated attractions and outdoor activities in Sonoma County.
Location: Western base of Taylor Mountain, at the Petaluma Hill Road entrance to the Taylor Mountain Regional Park & Open Space Preserve (2080 Kawana Terrace, Santa Rosa)
Why go? Enjoy a nature-inspired play area for families, with landforms, vegetation, and play features constructed of natural materials.
Why Melissa loves it: “It’s actually an all-ages playground. If you have a blended family with children and teens, there’s kind of something for everyone. It has an embankment slide, a slide built into the side of the hill, that people of all ages go down. You can use it as a starting point to adventure up Red Tail Trail and into the park.”
Location: 5000 Pressley Road, Rohnert Park
Why go? Have some fun and try out the on-site 18-hole disc golf course.
Why Melissa loves it: “If you’re in SOMO Village and you’re someone who likes to bike to the places where you want to go, you can very easily bike to Crane Creek Regional Park, which is a really sweet little park. It’s a 20-minute ride or, just down the road from SOMO Village, and you can play disc golf at the park.”
Location: The entrance of the Coastal Prairie Trail, 2255 Highway 1, Bodega Bay
Why go? Explore this off-the-beaten-track spot for beautiful vistas and coastal walks or hikes.
Why Melissa loves it: “Many people don’t know this, but there’s a touching story behind this park. A local family was on vacation in Italy, and the craziest thing happened—they got caught up in a robbery attempt and a chase. Heartbreakingly, their little boy, Nicholas Green, lost his life during the course of this tragedy. His family ultimately donated his organs, which was unheard of in Italy at the time. It became this enormous new story and people all over the country were inspired to sign up and become organ donors. There was a whole movie about this called ‘The Nicholas Effect.’ And as a result of all this, the people of Italy mailed the Green family these beautiful bells. Eventually, a Bay Area sculptor created this beautiful tower covered in bells. A lot of people don’t know the story, and it’s really sweet. You can go, park, and walk right up to the Bell Tower and hear the bells. It’s right by a trail where you can hike out towards the ocean.”
The Most Unique Sonoma County Hikes
After exploring many of the trails in the region, here are Melissa’s recommendations for the most unique options to try.
Location: 5297 Sonoma Mountain Road, Santa Rosa
Why go? Hike a beautiful eight-mile trail through two of the most beautiful Sonoma County parks.
Why Melissa loves it: “If you’re somebody who likes a long, vigorous, beautiful hike, then you can do a thru-hike here. First, you need to drive two vehicles to Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen and leave one vehicle there. Then drive to North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and park at the parking lot there. Hike through North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and into Jack London State Park to the vehicle you left. I think it’s about an eight-mile hike with spectacular redwoods and views of Bennett Valley.”
Location: Park in the parking lot at Pinnacle Gulch along Mocking Bird Road in Bodega Bay. The trailhead starts after 40 stairs down to the main trail.
Why go? Enjoy a beautiful coastal trail along the beach.
Why Melissa loves it: “This one involves paying very close attention to the tide tables. You have to go online and look at the tide tables for the day and find out when the minus tide occurs. At minus tide, you can hike Pinnacle Gulch Trail out to the coast, walk along the beach, and then take Short Tail Gulch Trail back to the parking lot. The coastal views are spectacular. If you aren’t there at minus tide, you can still hike Pinnacle Gulch Trail to the beach and then take the same trail back.”
The Best Dog-Friendly Parks in Sonoma County
Want to bring your dog out for a day at the park? There are lots of great options.
As Melissa explains, “Most Sonoma County Regional Parks are dog-friendly. With the exception of Sonoma Mountain or Shiloh Ranch Regional Park, you are welcome to bring your dog on-leash to any other regional park. State parks in California, however, typically do not allow dogs on trails.”
Location: Spring Lake Swimming Lagoon, which is separate from the lake, at Spring Lake Regional Park (393 Violetti Road, Santa Rosa)
Why go? Join in for this unique fundraiser event, taking place on September 9-10, 17, 23-24, and 30-October 1. It’s one of the most unusual outdoor activities in Sonoma County that opens up the swimming lagoon for dogs to enjoy off-leash swimming and fun times. The lagoon is filtered and lightly chlorinated so it is safe for dogs to enjoy.
Why Melissa loves it: “If you have a dog that is a swimming dog, this is like heaven for them. I love going to this event. The dogs have such a fantastic time. I’ll go and work at the event and the dogs will line up eagerly because they know it’s time to go in!”
The Most Scenic Viewpoints in Sonoma County
Not only are there many outdoor activities in Sonoma County, but there are many scenic viewpoints and vistas when you just want to relax. Here are some of Melissa’s favorite spots.
Melissa’s insider tip: “If you’re trying to get up for the sunrise or stay for sunset, remember that Sonoma County Regional Parks open at 7:00 a.m. and close at sunset. Plan accordingly!”
Location: 5297 Sonoma Mountain Road
Why go? Take in all the beautiful views of Bennett Valley with a variety of hiking trails to choose from.
Location: 5750 Faught Road, Windsor
Why go? Marvel at spectacular views out over the Santa Rosa plain.
Location: 411 Chileno Valley Road, Petaluma
Why go? Enjoy the amazing views of rolling hills as you look out west towards the coast. This park is great for hiking, walking, or biking.
Accessible Walks, Parks and Sonoma County Hikes
Sonoma County Regional Parks strive to be accessible for all people, and there are many suitable options for people in wheelchairs, with mobility limitations, strollers, or young children. Here are some of Melissa’s top picks for accessible outdoor activities in Sonoma County:
Location: South entrance at 5585 Newanga Avenue, Santa Rosa; North Entrance at 393 Violetti Road, Santa Rosa.
Why go? Explore one of the most popular parks in the heart of Santa Rosa. There are 2.3 miles of paved trail, making it accessible for wheelchairs or strollers. There are also kayaks and paddle boards for rent at the lake and a separate swimming lagoon.
Why Melissa loves it: “During the summer, the swimming lagoon hosts a Water Park, which is like a big blow-up bounce house on the water. It has a plastic slide and kids can jump on it—it’s just so much fun. I had my niece and nephew up here from San Francisco and they thought it was just fantastic.”
Location: 13631 Highway 12, Glen Ellen
Why go? Have fun with your whole family at this park with a long paved trail that make it accessible for wheelchairs, strollers, and kids on bikes. It’s a fairly quiet area and not as busy as other parks.
Location: 6303 Highway 12, Santa Rosa
Why go? Take an hour to complete this flat, gravel trail, one of the more accessible trails in the region.
Location: 7821 Eastside Road, Healdsburg (close to Windsor)
Why go? Go for a picnic or enjoy a short and relatively flat trail around the lake.
Location: 201 Doran Beach Road, Bodega Bay
Why go? Bring out the kayaks! This park has an accessible kayak launch in addition to a large stretch of beach and picnic areas.
The Best Lakes and Beaches in Sonoma County
If you enjoy a day at the water, there are plenty of options in Sonoma County parks. The region has both lakeside beaches and oceanside beaches—take your pick! Here are Melissa’s highlights:
Location: Inside Spring Lake Regional Park, 393 Violetti Road, Santa Rosa
Why go? Enjoy a day in the water at the filtered and chlorinated swimming lagoon, which hosts an inflatable playground with floating slides, jumps, and more. Unlike the river and coastal parks, Spring Lake Regional Park offers ample parking (free with annual Regional Parks membership, or $7 per day for non-members).
Location: The river runs from Cloverdale in northeast Sonoma County and heads southwest to the Pacific Ocean. There are many Sonoma County Regional Parks along the river, such as Sunset Beach, Mom’s Beach, and Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach.
Why go? Spend a day at the river, with lots of things to do, including swimming, picnicking, floating, boating, and more.
Melissa’s insider tip: “Parking can be hard to find, so I would recommend taking the river shuttle operated by the Sonoma County Regional Parks. If you decide to float down the river to the next beach down, you can get out and take the river shuttle back to where you parked.”
Location: 13839 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg
Why go? Relax at the beach and enjoy the popular swimming area created by a temporary dam in the summertime.
Location: 201 Doran Beach Road, Bodega Bay
Why go? Make the most of your day at this beautiful coastal beach. It’s perfect for overnight camping, walking, playing in the sand, and windsurfing at the sheltered lagoon area.
Why Meslissa loves it: “By far the most popular [coastal beach] is Doran Regional Park. People love to go out to Doran—it’s on a big spit of land. There’s overnight camping, picnic areas, incredible bird watching, surfing, and breath-taking ocean views. The rock jetty is popular for kids to explore or for fishing. Like the River Parks, it fills up early, so the insider tip is to go early, go on a weekday, or have a backup plan of somewhere else to go if parking is full.”
Location: 22455 Highway 1, Jenner
Why go? Get lost exploring the many hiking trails through the redwood forest and along ocean bluffs. It is less busy than Doran Park and also offers overnight camping.
Location: 42401 Coast Highway 1, Gualala
Why go? Choose this spot if you’re looking for a coastal park that is quieter than other beaches and rarely crowded. It is a great spot for hiking, beachcombing, and picnicking.
The Best Picnic Spots in Sonoma County
There’s nothing better than a picnic out in nature with your friends and family. Including Spring Lake Regional Park, mentioned earlier, here are Melissa’s favorite spots to go for a picnic. If you’re bringing a large group, consider making a reservation on the Sonoma County Regional Parks online booking system.
Location: 500 Ragle Road, Sebastopol
Why go? Bring out your family to this kid-friendly park that is a great spot for small or large picnics and easy walking trails. They also have a playground, tennis courts, soccer fields, and sand volleyball courts.
Location: 5869 Cannon Lane, Petaluma
Why go? Explore this off-the-beaten-track park, which is a great spot for picnics and large group gatherings.
Why Melissa loves it: “It’s a really interesting park. The landscaping and the habitats are quite a bit different from the other parks. I’ve heard it described as a savannah. Personally, what I really enjoyed doing there is mountain biking. It’s not steep or technical, and I love the feeling of being able to ride for long distances without having to fight with cars and traffic.”
Location: 7821 Eastside Road, Healdsburg
Why go: Enjoy a day at the river at this accessible picnic spot, perfect for large groups.
Why Melissa loves it: “I talked about Riverfront for the accessible walking, and it also has a lovely picnic area. It’s under a redwood grove, which means it’s nice and cool. Even in the summertime, you’ve got these huge trees and it’s just really comfortable. There’s a volleyball net, so bring your volleyball! It has an outdoor cooking area, so you can cook your food and use the ample tables. You can reserve it for large groups—I’ve even seen people reserve that one for wedding receptions.”
So, what Sonoma County regional park are you adding to your summer itinerary today?
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing spot for a family picnic, a high-energy bike ride or hike, or just somewhere to take in the views, there’s a spot for you.
And if you’re looking for a community that prioritizes outdoor recreation, community, and sustainability, download our project brief to see if SOMO Village is the right place for you.
About Melissa Kelley
Melissa is the Executive Director of the Sonoma County Parks Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for Sonoma County Regional Parks and the programs that take place in the parks. Some programs that their funding supports include youth or senior-focused initiatives and increasing access to parks for all people.
The Sonoma County Parks Foundation is a separate entity from Sonoma County Regional Parks, which directly runs the parks and programs. Melissa and her team are, instead, devoted to raising money for the parks to maintain the wonderful system here in Sonoma County.
As an avid outdoor enthusiast herself, Melissa enjoys hiking, biking, picnicking, and taking walking meetings in the many outdoor spaces throughout Sonoma County.