9/23/2012: T1:PC: Elijah Finley, 10, of Healdsburg watched as 11,000 vaux swifts fly into a chimney on the campus of the Rio Lindo Academy on Tuesday night. At sunset, as the bugs the birds feed upon stop flying, the swifts suddenly form a giant vortex and head into the chimney at a pace of birds per minute. The ones that don't make it it curve back around to join the swirling mass for another run. The 11,000 birds finally managed to all make it to bed after about 30 minutes. The tiny birds weigh less than an ounce, and cling to the sides of the chimney pressed against each other for the night.

Family staycations - Keeping the kids busy and amused

There's no greater anticipation for kids than the first day of summer vacation. For parents, there may be no greater anticipation than the first day of school. Somewhere in between is roughly three months of free time that is perfect for traveling, summer camps and lounging by the pool. To make the most of it, explore your own home town, acting as a tourist on a staycation in Sonoma County.

Here are some of the events you can look forward to, as well as a few places to visit before you pack up the pool toys and sharpen your pencils to send the kids back to school.

Every Friday from 2-4 p.m., the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory offers drop-in tours to the public for groups of less than 10 people. A volunteer docent leads groups of all ages, teaching marine science while displaying local fish, anemones and other marine life in aquariums and tidepools. It's a tricky way to incorporate learning during the study-free months of summertime. During a visit, your family can discover new things about sea creatures and their habitats, as well as get a chance for an up-close interaction with safe-to-touch sea life. The Bodega Marine Laboratory is located at 2099 Westside Road, Bodega Bay. Info: 875-2211,

The library is the perfect place for kids of all ages to hang out, particularly in these dog days of summer. Each Sonoma County location hosts something different almost every day of the week. Tweens in grades 4-6 can join a book club at the Healdsburg location. Beginning readers can read to a dog in just about every town's library. The Petaluma Library hosts Family Storytime, and Rincon Valley has a fun Family Night planned on Aug. 21. Even the youngest members of the family can have fun at the Wee Read or Wiggle Time events in Sebastopol. Info:

Keep the kids unplugged this summer by taking them to the bowling alley. All summer long, AMF Bowling in Petaluma is offering kids two free games every day of the summer. Shoe rental isn't included, but that's a small price to pay for an afternoon of cheap fun away from the house. Visit to sign up and start bowling today. AMF Bowling is located at 1100 Petaluma Blvd. S., Petaluma. Info:

Since 1989, a large flock of Vaux's Swifts, a type of small migratory bird, travels home from northern South America and roosts in the chimney of Rio Lindo Adventist Academy in Healdsburg. This avian phenomenon begins as early as the first week of August, with birds trickling in for the evening. But by mid-September, the number of birds swarming the private school each night can reach a count of 10,000 or more, taking on the orchestrated shape of a dark, moving cloud. The public is invited to pull up a lawn chair around sundown and observe this magnificent event. But campus school rules, including a ban on alcohol or cigarettes, still apply. Rio Lindo Adventist Academy is located at 3200 Rio Lindo Ave., Healdsburg. Info: 431-5100,

At least once a month, the Robert Ferguson Observatory in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park is open to the public, allowing visitors to explore the wonders of the sky through the observatory's large telescopes. During the day, they offer safe viewing of the sun through their solar telescopes. But once nightfall occurs, that's when the Star Party begins. Multiple telescopes are set up outside the observatory, as well as the three main observatory telescopes, offering an expansive scene of the night sky. The next date for observing the sun and stars at the observatory is Saturday, Aug. 10. Daytime observing is free, and the evening Star Party is $3 for adults and free for kids under 18. A parking fee of $8 applies. Info:

The Charles Schulz Museum is a family favorite in Sonoma County, offering a glimpse into the life and work of beloved cartoonist Charles Schulz and keeping his characters alive through past and modern comics, ongoing events and workshops. Through Aug. 16, the museum is offering day classes for kids that include building Snoopy a doghouse out of graham crackers, cool summer fun with ice cream and ice skating, and hands-on art lessons. On the last Monday of each month, kids ages 1-5 are invited for Museum Mondays, afternoons of stories, games, active play and more at a cost of $5 per child. And on Thursday, Aug. 8 from 5-8 p.m., the Charles Schulz Museum is not only offering free admission, but also serving free ice cream cake from Coldstone Creamery. The museum is located at 2301 Hardies Lane, Santa Rosa. Info: 579-4452,

(Crissi Langwell writes about families and entertainment. You can reach her at

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette