Wine and Food Lover's Getaway to Sonoma, CA
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I have lived in the SF Bay area for over 20 years and as a wine and food lover (dare I say snob?), I consider Sonoma to be a favorite one-day or weekend getaway (especially given its proximity to San Francisco). Its rolling, vine-covered hills, Mediterranean climate, history, and (oh yes) its wine and food(!) make it an easy and entertaining getaway. Sonoma’s town center is perfectly manageable on foot for an afternoon of exploring and is filled with wine tasting, boutique shopping, historical landmarks and terrific food options. If you are willing to explore a bit farther, there are wineries, hiking trails and galleries to fill your itinerary, as well. Sonoma is a charming and historic destination and a place of extraordinary beauty.
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Where to stay in Sonoma, California
Kenwood Inn & Spa
Set in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country, this Mediterranean-inspired resort is known for its calming atmosphere, comfortable rooms and full-service spa.
Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
Luxury wellness inn nestled in Sonoma County boasting a full-service spa with mineral baths, a seasonal outdoor pool and a fitness center.
MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa
Set in an 1850s manor house, this Victorian-style luxury hotel is surrounded by lush gardens and appointed with spacious and comfortable rooms.
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Things to do in Sonoma, California
Shopping in Sonoma is what you hope for in a small town: unique, area-centric and fun! There are stores that range from high-end jewelry and photography to kitchen gadgets, beautiful home goods and western wear (one great dive bar, too).
I love getting lost in The Kitchen Store; the windows will put a smirk on your face with funny kitchen towels and knick-knacks. The store has a vast selection of kitchen tools and appliances, ranging from basic utensils to high-end cookware. The staff at The Kitchen Store is friendly and knowledgeable - it's a great place to kill half an hour! I never leave empty-handed.
Sonoma Square is home to a number of other great shopping spots such as The Olive Press, a store specializing in olive oils and other gourmet food products (they have a tasting bar), and The Sonoma General Store, a quaint store offering a variety of souvenirs and gifts. If you are an art lover, there are several galleries with rotating artists which are always interesting for a pop-in visit.
There are, as you can imagine, many wineries in the area, but some of the most picturesque (read: best picnic spots) are:
Bartholomew Park Winery (part of the Bundlach-Gundschu family) is a must. This hidden gem of a winery, set on a 110-acre estate, offers tastings of their award-winning wines as well as guided tours of the property and a small on-site museum explaining the ins and outs of wine and its terroir. The winery also has a beautiful outdoor terrace, where you can relax and take in the breathtaking views of the surrounding vineyards.
Matanzas Creek Winery is located in the Bennett Valley region of Sonoma County and has a beautiful and peaceful setting with gardens and a historic stone mansion. In lavender season it is a delight for the senses. (Check the calendar for dining events).
Scribe Winery is a small, family-run winery in Sonoma, California located in the heart of the Sonoma Valley. It specializes in producing small-lot wines with a focus on low-intervention winemaking. The winery's atmosphere is relaxed and inviting, with a tasting room that offers stunning views of the surrounding hillsides.
Hanzell Vineyards is located in the heart of Sonoma Valley, on a hill overlooking the valley. It has a historic stone mansion which dates back to the 1950s, a stunning example of mid-century modern architecture, with clean lines, large windows and a sleek, minimalist design. It has a mix of mid-century modern and rustic elements, and a number of artworks and antique furnishings that give it a sense of history and character.
For a more boutique and personal experience, MacLaren has some prizes to share in a small, blink-and-you-will-miss-it location, free from the “drop-in” crowd. The owner and winemaker is a charming Scot who loves to talk about his craft. Call for an appointment.
There are many, many more and unlike Napa, most do not charge tasting fees and have a more laid-back, less touristy and more authentic setting. I recommend sticking to two-three winery tastings per day. Pick a designated driver or hire a limo/car company for help getting around. Or just stick to the square and explore it on foot.
Sonoma has a rich history dating back to the 18th century when Spanish missionaries established 21 missions in the region. Sonoma’s was the last of them, founded in 1823 and is a well-maintained example of Spanish colonial architecture. It is now a state historic park and open to the public for tours; visitors can learn about the history of the mission and the role it played in the development of the region. It is right on the square and hard to miss.
A personal favorite for places to visit, especially in the morning before wineries are open (and to work off that big breakfast), is Jack London State Park. Located in Glen Ellen, it is now home to several hiking trails, including the Marshall Ranch Trail and the Valley of the Moon Trail, which both offer beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.
During the time Jack London called Sonoma home, he wrote some of his most famous works there. The park contains the remains of London's home, Beauty Ranch, as well as a museum dedicated to his life and work. London had a significant impact on California farming, as he was a pioneer in the development of modern and organic agricultural techniques. The museum, which is full of mementos from his adventures around the world, highlights the role of his wife, Charmian, his life partner, who was an adventurer and writer in her own right.
Day Trips from Sonoma, CA
You may want to explore more of wine country. If so, Napa, Glen Ellen, Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga and Healdsburg are all a short drive from Sonoma.
A note from Jody
A Note on Hotels:
Kenwood Inn and Spa is known for its serene and peaceful atmosphere and is a quiet, off-the-beaten-path destination for travelers looking to relax and unwind. The setting will make you feel as if you have stepped into a picturesque, vine-covered, European village, and the cozy guest rooms feature luxurious amenities, such as fireplaces, private balconies and deep soaking tubs. The hotel's full-service spa offers a wide range of treatments and therapies, and the on-site restaurant serves delicious cuisine in a beautiful setting.
Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is a luxury hotel located only a short drive from the town square. The hotel features a full-service spa and wellness center, as well as an on-site restaurant and bar. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens and offers a fitness center, swimming pool, hot tub and very popular spa (also available for day visits).
Macarthur Place is a luxury, boutique hotel located in the heart of Sonoma not far from the main square and which was remodeled and upgraded during Covid. The hotel is set on beautifully landscaped grounds, including a life-size chess set, and features elegant, Victorian-style architecture. The guest rooms are spacious and well-appointed, with many featuring fireplaces and private balconies or patios. Its restaurant, Saddles Steakhouse, serves locally-sourced cuisine in a sophisticated, airy setting, and the bar area is a comfortable area to lounge. The hotel also features a full-service spa and wellness center, as well as a swimming pool and hot tub.
Places to eat & drink in Sonoma, California
One must-try restaurant in Sonoma is The Girl and the Fig on the square - this is my personal and usual go-to spot. This charming French bistro, with its rustic décor and outdoor patio (yes, it has heaters) serves up delicious and creative dishes using locally sourced ingredients. The menu changes seasonally, but favorites include the Fig and Blue Salad, Mussels Provençale and (my fave) the tower of cheeses. Their cocktails are some of the most interesting around, often using seasonal, local ingredients. (Their bathroom door decoration will make you smile).
Another personal favorite is Café La Haye, located just steps from the square, which has a cozy and intimate atmosphere, which is perfect for a romantic dinner or a special occasion. The menu features a variety of dishes that are inspired by classic French cuisine, including Beef Bourguignon and Coq au Vin, but be sure to ask for their daily surprise and check out their desserts! Café La Haye is also known for its extensive wine list, which features a variety of wines from local wineries.
The General's Daughter is a stylish restaurant located in a historic home one block from the square and features high ceilings, exposed brick walls and large windows that allow natural light to flood the space. The interior décor has a mix of industrial and rustic elements, with comfortable seating and a cozy fireplace, as well as an outdoor area. The General’s Daughter serves up American cuisine with a focus on locally sourced ingredients, including wood-fired pizzas, grilled meats and fresh seafood. The restaurant also has an extensive wine list, featuring wines from local wineries.
For Italian food, I enjoy the warm and welcoming, family-run Della Santina's. It has a cozy and intimate feel, with low lighting and comfortable seating (great for families and family events), as well as a back patio for warmer days. The decor is rustic and charming, with exposed brick walls, wooden beams and colorful Italian artwork. The open kitchen adds to the atmosphere, giving diners a glimpse of the chefs at work. This cozy trattoria serves up delicious pastas, pizzas and other classic dishes using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Next door to Della Santina is a cozy bar, which is a great spot for a pre-dinner drink or a nightcap - its wine list is one of the most interesting I have seen in a while.
The Taub Family Outpost coffee shop and restaurant is a relative newcomer to Sonoma and a great choice for a casual breakfast, lunch, dinner or for a quick caffeine fix. The downstairs coffee shop offers pastries, sandwiches, and salads; the restaurant upstairs features dishes inspired by classic American cuisine, such as wood-fired pizzas, grilled meats and fresh seafood. The establishment also has an extensive wine list, featuring wines from local wineries.
If you care to venture out of the immediate area, Salt and Stone is an inviting place for an outside lunch next to a lily-covered pond. Its atmosphere is relaxed, yet sophisticated, with a focus on fresh and locally sourced ingredients. The creative menu features a range of small plates, with selections such as tempura squid, charred octopus and smoked beef tartare. The main dishes include filet mignon, pan-seared halibut and wild mushroom risotto.
Need to Know
If you are interested in other Bay Area culinary or wine explorations, I have several other guides:
Guide to Napa Valley: Wine & Dine in Yountville, Napa Valley.
Guide to Carmel-by-the-Sea: Local's Guide to a Weekend in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Guide to San Francisco: Local's Art & Culinary Guide to San Francisco.
Guide to Pacifica, California: Where to Stay, Eat & Explore in Pacifica, California.
If you are interested in international travel and wine, don't miss my guide to Bordeaux: Things to Do on a Culinary & Cultural Adventure in Bordeaux.
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