Guide To Sonoma
Sonoma County stretches from the Mayacamas Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. More than 60 grape varieties thrive here.
When you hear Sonoma County, you think wine, right? I don’t blame you!
Sonoma has 19 distinct American Viticultural Areas, including the famous Russian River Valley, Dry Ceek Valley, Sonoma Coast and the brand new West Sonoma Coast. The diverse range of terroirs and microclimates is celebrated for the rich array of wines it produces, from rich Pinot Noirs and sunny Cabernet Sauvignons, to light and bright Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs.
And while it’s true that there are more than 425 wineries there, there’s so much more to Sonoma than award-winning wine. The vast 1,768-square mile space also offers some of the most pristine vistas of the Pacific coastline, an abundance of redwood forestland, valleys, mountains and unique towns brimming with farm-to-table restaurants, unique boutiques and so much more.
Today, more than 10 million visitors explore Sonoma County, intent on hunting down their favorite wines, but also keen to pair their wine with explorations of the amazing, untamed wild spaces that define the mountains and valleys, fantastic dining and cultural experiences, and the inspiring and unique towns that pepper the county, each with their own array of offerings and draws.
Parks and Green Spaces
Sonoma County’s Park System encompasses more than 50 parks with 60,000 acres to wander.
These parks, campsites, trails and open spaces are located throughout the entire county. Best of all, entry to most parks (and events) is free.
If you’re a frequent visitor, you can become a park member for $69 ($49 for seniors, $29 for those with permanent disabilities) to waive the $7 parking fee. Whether you want to hike to the top of the mountain or enjoy stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, this is an excellent way to take in Sonoma County’s natural wonders. It’s impossible to pick our favorites, but there are a few standouts we would be remiss to not mention.
Riverfront Regional Park is a favorite for locals, and visitors will quickly understand why. Just minutes from downtown Windsor and Healdsburg, with views of vineyards, a picnic area in a redwood grove, and two lakes for fishing, kayaking, and canoeing, it’s a great place to pop into or spend a day wandering.
There is a two-mile Lake Trail looping Lake Benoist, which includes an offshoot to a small gravel beach on the banks of the Russian River.
You may not have read White Fang or Call of the Wild, but Jack London is synonymous with adventure, and so is Jack London State Historic Park.
This park is a must-see for the stunning views alone; visitors will quickly understand how the famous author used the space to inspire his timeless classic. Jack London State Historic Park is, after all, the original home of the legendary author.
Step back in time and find out what led London to expand his ranch to 1,400 acres in the early 20th century, and learn how he spent his years in the area. Located on what was originally Coast Miwok territory in Glen Ellen, the park is home to historic buildings, a museum, and offers plenty of opportunities to walk, hike, picnic, ride horses, or simply relax and enjoy some of Northern California’s finest views.
It’s a guaranteed hit for history buffs, bibliophiles and nature lovers alike.
If you can’t leave Sonoma without spending time with its iconic trees, head over to the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. You’ll be awestruck by the ancient, towering redwoods spanning 805 acres. The oldest tree (named Colonel Armstrong) is over 1,400 years old, and the tallest (Parson Jones) is over 310 feet tall.
That’s taller than the Statue of Liberty, almost as tall as Big Ben and nearly as long as an American football field! Book a guided Segway tour, hike or drive around the park to enjoy this gorgeous slice of California coastal living.
Perhaps you’d like to check out Sonoma on wheels?
If so, head out and drive the Sonoma Coast, with its miles and miles of pristine Northern California coastlines. Enjoy spectacular views in Sonoma Coast State Park, including Bodega Bay, Goat Rock, Bodega Head and more. You can camp in the state park, but be aware that Sonoma beaches are dangerous for swimmers.
Instead, enjoy wading, whale-watching, exploring hidden coves or hiking the numerous trails nearby. Pick up local food, wine and beer from a proliferation of local gourmet markets, restaurants and food stands for the ideal beach picnic. Don’t forget to bring a kite—or buy one at one of the small kite stores in Bodega Bay—to take advantage of the often breezy weather!
From the scenery to the salty sea air, it would be a shame to miss this slice of California coast.
If you’d prefer a highly curated experience in nature, head to the Sonoma Botanical Garden.
The unusual, spectacular plants offer something for everyone, and it’s easy to find. The Sonoma Botanical Garden is located in Glen Ellen, in the heart of Sonoma County. This lush, shady garden features the Jiang Entian Chinese Heritage Rose Garden, which is dedicated to the strong influence Chinese roses have on our modern gardens.
Don’t miss Stewartia Grove, named after a volunteer who loved the gardens so much that he left the bulk of his estate to support its upkeep. Chances are, if you love beautiful plants, quiet walks and being surrounded by nature, you’ll know exactly what inspired his gift. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for children over 12/active military.
Experiences, Tours, Music, Shopping
People live in and visit Sonoma to enjoy the laid-back fun-loving vibe. There are so many ways to stay entertained, and so many things to do, you really can’t go wrong. But if the array of choices is too much, here are a few can’t-miss places to pop into.
Music lovers, visit the Green Music Center. If music be the food of love, play on!
Nothing could be more romantic—and enriching—than a visit to the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University. You can enjoy world-class programming year-round, including the Sonoma State University Music Department, the Santa Rosa Symphony, and Sonoma Bach. Performances take place at Weill Hall, which boasts 1,400 seats and a rear wall that opens to lawn seating for summertime shows.
Smaller performances are hosted in Schroeder Hall. This performing arts center is committed to providing diverse and unique artistic displays, and welcomes everyone from students and families to first dates and solo music lovers.
If you want to stretch your legs and see some sites, head over to Sonoma Valley Bike Tours. Explore the great outdoors on two wheels when you take a Sonoma Valley bike tour.
Guided bike tours are led by local tour guides, eager to point out all of Sonoma’s many charms. You’ll visit wineries, explore stunning scenery, eat a delicious lunch and taste fantastic wine. It’s the perfect option for the outdoorsy, the active and the adventurous—with plenty of breaks for lunch, photos and local insider info. Whether you’ve been to Sonoma County many times before, or this is your first visit, treat yourself to a tour like no other.
If you’re obsessed with roses, you’re not alone. The Russian River Rose Company is a hidden gem in Healdsburg.
With a two-acre display garden showcasing over 650 different kinds of roses, this is a rose lover’s haven. You’ll see everything from ancient Roman varieties to modern hybrids and mini-roses to shockingly large breeds. If you live in Northern California, pick up a baby rose bush from the nursery to take home—they specialize in varieties that grow well in our climate. Not a rose person? Check out their iris garden, butterfly garden, and hummingbird wall.
Before you go, don’t forget to buy a bottle of their proprietary rosewater and rose oil, so you can enjoy the scents of Sonoma County long after you get home.
Some people can’t go on vacation without hitting the greens; when your idea of relaxation involves a nine-iron and endless green fields, Sonoma County has exactly what you need.
Enjoy one of California’s top golf destinations any time of year, thanks to the temperate climate. Sonoma County’s 18 golf courses are peppered throughout stunning natural scenery like beaches, redwoods and vineyards. (The Links at Bodega Harbor boasts seaside views: don’t miss it!) Best of all, you’re never far away from a delicious meal, a glass of fine wine and a cozy boutique hotel.
Whether you hit one course or try to visit them all, you’ve never golfed in a place like this before. We bet you’ll be scheduling a trip back before you even leave the fairway.
If you want to dig into the history of Sonoma’s most famous scribbler, head straight to the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
Peanuts is as classic and American as apple pie—and cartoonist Charles Schulz called Santa Rosa his home. Children and adults alike will be charmed by the Charles M. Schulz Museum, which hosts the largest collection of original Peanuts artwork, including original comic strips.
You’ll also get the opportunity to visit a recreation of Schulz’s art studio, watch some of your favorite animated Peanuts specials and documentaries and draw your own cartoons. If you love Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and the rest of the crew, take a few hours out of your day to visit this one-of-a-kind museum. Don’t miss the Snoopy doghouse, labyrinth and the Kite-Eating Tree.
Exhibition galleries change every six months, so every visit will reveal new delights.
Eating and Drinking
Sonoma County wine is matched in passion, precision, and diversity with its array of foods.
If you’re feeling thirsty, fret not. That’s what wine tours are for! What’s a trip to Sonoma County without taking a wine tour? Whether you’re visiting for a weekend or have lived here your whole life, there are more than 425 wineries producing world-class libations.
Stop in at boutique, family-owned-and-operated wineries, or discover why internationally recognized producers are critically acclaimed. Kendall-Jackson, Korbel, Gloria Ferrer, and Francis Ford Coppola Winery are a few of our perennial favorites. With hundreds more wineries located in Sonoma County alone, you’re sure to find the perfect varietal for your tastes—and have a great time trying, too.
If you want a highly personalized and curated wine tour, try Bin 415’s private wine tasting tour. A Bin 415 private winery tour will offer you access that you can’t get otherwise, to specific wineries, and with highly specific goals in mind, from a focus on one variety, to rare wines, and more.
This hospitality company customizes tours to your exact preferences, so you can experience premium wineries with the help of a certified sommelier, and you can relax and leave the driving to them. Plan ahead to ensure availability.
Hungry? Time for a food tours. Everyone knows Sonoma County for the wine, but not enough people appreciate the culinary offerings! Cheese aficionados can’t miss the California Cheese Trail.
If you really want the full experience, you can take a cheese making class—starting with milking a goat or cow—with the Epicurean Connection. Tour a farm on the Farm Trail or get a renowned Sonoma County chef to teach you how to cook a new dish. Pick up food gifts for loved ones (or yourself) at local markets, like local olive oil, olives, honey, lavender, jams, pies and even spirits.
If you want to make sure you don’t miss a single, delicious bite, a food tour is your locally-guided best bet.
Love Sunday brunch? If yes was your answer, visit Costeaux in Healdsburg. This Healdsburg bakery has served Sonoma County since 1923, although their operations have expanded considerably over the last century.
Feast on French favorites like lox-avocado toast, pain perdu, quiche and omelets in their appealing café and bakery. Costeaux, working along with the Windsor Certified Farmers’ Market and Windsor High School culinary arts program, once set the Guinness World Record for the largest pumpkin pie ever (over 418 pounds), and you can still see the giant pie tin on display year-round.
Don’t miss this charming Sonoma County favorite, or your tastebuds will never forgive you!
If the food has to come with wine, try the five-course food and wine pairing at Ram’s Gate Winery. We do once a year at least!
This $160 tasting menu will get you a selection of five wines chosen by Director of Winemaking, Joe Nielsen. Executive Chef Stacey Combs creates seasonal dishes to bring out the nuances of each wine for a truly spectacular experience.
Ram’s Gate is located at the gateway to Wine Country. Whether you stop there on your way into Sonoma County or make it your unforgettable last meal in the area, you’re guaranteed to enjoy the best food and wine Sonoma has to offer. (Unfortunately, guests under 21 and pets are not able to join in the festivities.)
If you want to curate your own dining and sipping situation, swing by Cornerstone Sonoma. This wine country marketplace has everything you need to get the Northern California Wine Country experience.
When you visit Cornerstone Sonoma, you’ll have the opportunity to shop for the perfect, elegant souvenir, dine on artisanal foods, walk through lush gardens and, of course, sip some of the finest wines that the world has to offer. It’s the perfect way to spend a relaxed afternoon and evening. Stop by for a spectacular introduction to Sonoma County, or visit at the end of your trip to make sure you got the full experience.
Bring the ocean and sea together with oysters and chardonnay pairings at the Vallejo-Casteñada Adobe: If you love oysters and chardonnay, don’t miss the pairings at Three Sticks Wines.
Three Sticks Wines is dedicated to creating tasting experiences that highlight their high-quality wines, local foods and the spirit of Sonoma County. Located in the Vallejo-Casteñada Adobe, this winery offers seasonal food and wine pairings in a richly historical setting. When you book the oysters and chardonnay pairing, you’ll savor three kinds of fresh molluscs, perfectly matched to a selection of their single vineyard chardonnays.
Experience their epicurean vision in the Vallejo-Casteñada Adobe, a historic building just off Sonoma Plaza. Established in 1842, it’s the oldest occupied residence in Sonoma, and is one of the last remaining buildings from California’s Mexican period.
Every town in Sonoma has its own personality. Here are a few of the ones we regularly gravitate toward in certain moods.
Sonoma for Inspiration: A stroll around Sonoma’s delightful Sonoma Plaza is a great introduction to the area’s small-town charm and fascinating history.
From vintage and antique stores to clothing, kitchenware and home furnishings, you can pick up souvenirs for everyone on your list—and you’ll probably find something perfect for yourself, too. Stop in at one of the dozens of tasting rooms to enjoy some local wines, then sate your appetite at any of the delicious eateries nearby, including the renowned The Girl & The Fig, located inside the Sonoma Hotel.
Walk around the square to enjoy historical buildings, then cozy up in one of the boutique hotels. It’s the perfect start to a Sonoma vacation.
Glen Ellen for Escape: When we find ourselves aching to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we visit Glen Ellen.
With a population of just 700+ people, this tiny town is located in the heart of Sonoma Valley. During your visit, you can stay in Jack London Lodge, perched upon the green banks of Sonoma Creek—or opt for one of the historic hotels, boutique inns, B&Bs and vacation rentals.
During the day, stop off for organic produce and picnic supplies at the Oak Hill Farm Red Barn Store and Glen Ellen Village Market. Take your bounty to Jack London State Historic Park for a day of nature and history. In the evenings, visit tasting rooms and wineries or explore the many gourmet local dining options. In the summer, you’ll love Transcendence Theatre’s Broadway Under the Starsproductions, in the state park’s old winery ruins.
Healdsburg for Arts & Crafts: A charming small town where you can while away a day or two, Healdsburg is a perfect example of all that Sonoma County has to offer.
It’s located right in the middle of three of Sonoma County’s renowned wine growing regions. Spend your day shopping in vintage shops and art galleries, wine tasting at one of the local rooms, enjoying delicious eateries or sipping cocktails at a local bar. Whatever’s on your shopping list, you’ll find it here: thoughtfully curated books, local art, antiques and collectibles, toy shops for humans and pets alike, flowers, clothing, and shoes.
At the end of the day, wrap it up in one of the town’s B&Bs, luxury hotels, or vacation rentals.
Kenwood for Views: You’re never far away from spectacular wine and gorgeous views when you’re in Kenwood, a small town in the eastern part of the county.
Visit Sugarloaf Ridge State Park nearby, which hosts the Robert Ferguson Observatory, Bald Mountain, a waterfall, and miles of trails. Or soak up some charming history, relaxing at the Kenwood Plaza, a lush, tree-shaded 5-acre park set with an old-time gazebo, picnic tables, and play area for the kids.
When you’re ready to head indoors, there are dozens of wineries, tasting rooms, fine and casual dining restaurants and charming shops to try—and plenty of cozy lodging.
Downtown Petaluma for Sophistication: No trip is complete without a walk through downtown Petaluma.
The heart of the town offers plenty of opportunities to dine, sip on craft beer and cocktails and local wines, shop and enjoy entertainment.
Shop for plants, clothing, athletic equipment, artisan crafts, fine art or books, visit the Helen Putnam Regional Park just west of downtown for six miles of hiking trails and fishing ponds, shoot some pool at McNear’s Saloon & Dining House, and add to your art collection from works of more than 40 local artists at Riverfront Art Gallery. Explore historic buildings, enjoy casual or fine dining and catch a film at the Mystic Theater.
There are plenty of lodging opportunities nearby, so you’ll never be too far from a comfortable bed at the end of the day. It’s great for a casual day of shopping and dining, or a quick stop on your way to one of the many local attractions nearby.