Scenic Sonoma wine country (Photo: mark sebastian/Flickr)
North of San Francisco, Napa Valley is rightly world famous as a scenic wine-producing region and as a great destination for a weekend trip from the city. But Sonoma County is more than a match for its better-known neighbor as a spot for a weekend wine getaway. Sonoma County spans westward from Napa across farmlands, mountains, and an expansive seashore, covering an area the size of Rhode Island, with more than 400 wineries and 16 different wine appellations growing in “more soil types than all of France.” Sonoma County encompasses both the Sonoma Valley wine area and the city of Sonoma, so visitors need to be aware of which “Sonoma” they’re trying to get to. Sonoma Airport is a little-known but highly convenient gateway into the area from a number of West Coast cities, making it an easy weekend getaway anywhere from Seattle to San Diego.
Wine, wine, wine
Where the wine starts (Photo: Maureen Didde/Flickr)
With so many wineries spread over such a large area, one needs to be strategic during a Sonoma winetasting weekend. A good way to tour Sonoma’s widespread wineries, particularly if you’re new to the area, is in the comfort of a chauffeur-driven van, bus, or limo. Not only do you avoid the problem of drinking and driving, but also the tours often have special access or reduced admission costs for their target wineries. Beau Wine Tours, Valley Wine Tours, and Platypus Wine Tours are among the best. But even on your own with a little research, you can visit some of Sonoma’s nearly 50 wineries with free tastings. (Note: Call ahead or check winery websites to see if appointments or new fees are required.)
Wine-related events occur year-round in Sonoma, from the upcoming Wine Road Barrel Tasting to the annual Sonoma Wine Country Weekend event over Labor Day — a charity event that gathers more than 200 Sonoma County winemakers and chefs for a very delicious tasting day at a vineyard, and also hosts a wine auction and other food and winery events throughout the county. Sonoma also has a host of harvest events, including the Sonoma Valley Reserve festival.
Winetasting in Sonoma doesn’t have to be a passive activity, though. For those seeking a little exercise with their wine and cheese, how about a Sonoma Wine Country bike tour, complete with a wine bottle carrier on the bike? Enjoy the scenery, but just be extremely careful about how much you’re consuming at the tastings. Or take a free self-guided hike through some of the eight wineries that have opened up their vineyards to visitors, finishing it off with a few sips in one of their tasting rooms (usually not free).
Eat, eat, eat
A meal from Terrapin Creek Cafe (Photo: Terrapin Creek Cafe)
Travel to enough Sonoma wineries, and you’re sure to get “palate fatigue,” meaning everything starts to taste the same. That’s where Sonoma’s fine food scene comes in — because what’s a good wine without a food pairing to go with it? Among its 600 eateries, Sonoma has three Michelin-star restaurants, Madrona Manor in Healdsburg, Terrapin Creek Cafe in Bodega Bay, and the Farmhouse Inn Restaurant in Forestville, all of which pour the best of Sonoma’s wines with your meals. But Sonoma isn’t just about the fancy meals, it has every variety of roadhouse, diner, pizza shack, and pub grub you could imagine. Stop at the roadside Carneros Deli for great sandwiches (and a bottle of Bonneau Wine), try the tasty tacos and filling burritos at Sonoma’s Tortilleria Jalisco, or slurp down a savory bowl of noodles at Petaluma’s Cafe Zazzle. Another way to max out your tasting experience and minimize the price is to participate in Sonoma County Restaurant Week, March 9 to March 15, when more than 100 restaurants serve three-course, prix-fixe lunches from $10 to $20, and dinners from $19 to $39.
Fun non-wine things to do
Safari West in wine country (Photo: Safari West/Facebook)
Bordered by 55 miles of coastline, filled with hills and forest, Sonoma County is a destination for all sorts of outdoor activities (aside from picking grapes): hiking among redwoods, road and mountain biking, sea-kayaking, and whale-watching from the cliffs at Bodega Head. You can even visit the “Sonoma Serengeti” in the 400-acre exotic animal sanctuary of Safari West.
All visitors to Sonoma should make a pilgrimage to Charlie Brown’s house, or rather the Charles M. Schulz Museum, which honors the creator of the Peanuts cartoon series, who lived and worked in Sonoma for decades. A recreation of his drawing workshop looks just like he left it on his last day of work. The nearby hockey rink Schulz sponsored reflects his Minnesota upbringing.
Places to stay
Olea Hotel (Photo: Olea Hotel/Facebook)
Sonoma has a variety of lodging, from quaint bed and breakfast establishments and inns and high-end hotels like Olea Hotel, the Inn at Sonoma, and the Honor Mansion, to the the highly rated Petaluma KOA campground (which aside from befitting the area’s agricultural heritage, also has cozy cabins and a giant trampoline and pool, as well as a popular petting zoo, where they say their dwarf goats “baa” sadly when there are no kids around to pet them). Or go big and rent a six-bedroom villa on a 7-acre winery estate. And there’s always a handy Motel 6 by the highway if your wine weekend is getting the best of you, and you just need a place to sleep it off.
Sonoma by Bike (Video)
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