Start with a great playground, add a lake for boating, fishing and feeding ducks, a carousel, a train ride, a petting zoo, a bounce house, pony rides, a real digging machine you can operate, and a splash pad and you’ve got a park your kids might just never want to leave. Visiting California Wine Country with kids and looking for a great place to burn off some extra energy? Or for a wonderful reward for hanging in there while you went wine tasting? You just found it! Howarth Park has everything a kid could want in a park and lots for grown ups, too!
The upper parking lot at Howarth Park is right next to Lake Ralphine. With ducks and geese galore, you’ll have no shortage of hungry mouths to feed if you bring along some food. There are tree shaded picnic benches right next to the parking lot and beside the lake, making for a relaxing and easy to reach picnic spot. Boat rentals are available for paddle boats, kayaks, canoes, sailboats and rowboats. On the other side of the parking lot, at the head of the paths that lead to the rides and playground, there is a snack stand that is open when the rides are and a bathroom that is open year-round.
The playground at Santa Rosa’s Howarth Park is enormous. Filled with unique climbing structures, there are different areas for children ranging from toddlers to spaces that will challenge far older children. Miniature town store fronts invite your child to make pretend visits to the bank – and to jail! There is a wet sand area (complete with a concrete pig to oversee it) and a dry sand area (complete with “dinosaur bones” to dig up). Never fear, though. Once your children are completely covered in dirt from head to toe, send them over to the splash pad to get cleaned off. Separate from the main play area, a secondary one (further down toward the tennis courts) features a rock climbing wall, additional swings (toddler and regular) and two train tables complete with hills and tunnels.
As if all that weren’t enough, from the beginning of May through the end of October the rides at Howarth Park are open. Opening hours are 11-5, (weekends only between Labor Day and the end of October). Tickets are $2 each, 10 for $17 (good that day) or 25 for $40 (good for one year from date of purchase). While these certainly aren’t rides that would thrill a teenager, young children will enjoy the train ride. The track runs in a loop through trees and the drivers recite some cute stories about alligators (fictional) and monkeys (stuffed) that riders will find along the route. The carousel (merry-go-round) is right next to the train depot. Just past the carousel, you’ll find the bounce house. It’s just an average sized one, but does feature a slide inside. Down below, on the way to the playground, are the ponies. They rest under trees while they wait for their next young rider. You have a choice between a one loop ($3) and a two loop ($5) ride. The path is lined with trees, which makes for a much more natural, peaceful setting. Continuing down the path to the playground, you’ll find the digger off to the left, and the petting zoo just to its right. (The petting zoo is run by 4H kids, and therefore is only open during school summer holidays). For little kids, (and their parents) the closeness of all the rides makes for a relaxing visit to this area of the park. Halloween brings a trick-or-treating event to the park, and the last chance of the year to ride the rides.
Howarth Park also offers walking (running/biking) trails – both paved and unpaved. If its own attractions weren’t enough to entice you to visit, the paths actually connect up to those at Spring Lake. From the parking lot at Howarth Park, a paved path runs 3.7 miles (5.95km) through trees, around Spring Lake and back. Benches are sprinkled along the length of the path and there are several bathrooms along the route, as well.
So, if you’re visiting Wine Country with kids, or if you’d just like a chance to relax and spend some time out on the waters of Lake Ralphine, head over to Howarth Park and enjoy one of the treasures of the area.