As spring is in full bloom, it’s a fine time to stop smell the roses. Sonoma County gardens beckon with special events, tours, and promises of abundance. It’s also a perfect time to stretch out in the sun, with a vineyard stroll and wine tasting.
So why not build an entire day around the adventure? And for the easiest, most carefree way to explore, we suggest you relax in luxury, and leave the details and the driving to others by reserving a private tour with a local guide/chauffeur.
Your guide will have recommendations on whatever you're looking for, such as wineries with spectacular gardens, or great gardens all on their own. They can suggest gardens and wineries with beautiful art collections, too.
The touring company specialist will listen carefully and put together a day that matches your desires. As you drive along the byways of Sonoma County, your driver can answer questions about the sights you see, the wineries you visit, and the wines that interest you.
And when you leave the driving to a professional in wine country, there’s another great advantage: safety. That’s because your driver refrains from wine tasting throughout the tour.
Here are 5 top ideas on what to see, and 5 top ways to see them.
This gorgeous destination features five acres of diverse gardens that, in 1987, took founder Rhonda Carano 16 months just to plan and complete the initial planting. Each area has its own mood, starting with the Italian/French parterre style of the master garden showcasing classic, geometric shapes.
The enclosed garden at the front of the estate has a more relaxed park-like setting abundant with trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. You can spend hours leisurely strolling the meandering paths and foot bridges along a rippling stream, waterfalls and fish-filled ponds, discovering more than 2,000 species of trees and shrubs conveniently marked with identification tags.
Enjoy bronze sculptures from world-renowned artists, and don’t miss the full acre show garden with massive flower plantings in the fashion of Butchart Gardens in British Columbia.
For spring: More than 10,000 tulips and daffodils burst through the earth for a lavish carpet of color. There’s even a tulip hotline (707-433-5349), to track the best bloom times.
Details: Ferrari-Carano Winery, 8761 Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg.
Russian River Rose Company
It's easy to wile away a morning or afternoon meandering through these gardens nestled among the vineyards in Dry Creek Valley. Immerse yourself in hundreds of rose varieties, and stroll the Rose Allée featuring eight huge rose-covered arches.
On specific dates, Thursdays to Sundays in April and May, take a Perfume Rose Harvest Tour, where you can pick the petals and learn about the scents of the rose’s classic perfumes. You can see special demonstrations at the “Happy Rose Garden How-to” or “Fragrant Roses to Fill Your Senses.”
You can also take docent led tours of “Lovely Iris and Early Blooming Roses” or “Glorious Climbing Roses.” Moms are in for a special treat on Mother’s Day at the “Mother’s Day Open Garden.” Russian River Rose Co. wraps up its season with the “Memorial Weekend Tea in the Rose Garden.” Check the company's calendar of events for more details.
Details: Russian River Rose Company, 1685 Magnolia Drive, Healdsburg.
Hans Fahden Vineyards
Take a winding drive into the hills north of Santa Rosa to explore this lush garden inspired by Monet’s paintings of his gardens at Giverny. Stroll through the flowers, with a profusion of roses in spring, and get lost in an Impressionist painting while enveloping yourself in springtime blooms.
Located on the eastern edge of Sonoma County and owned by the Fahden family since 1912, this 100-acre property includes a volcanic cave as well as the Monet garden setting. A teahouse overlooks ponds filled with water lilies, and mountain vineyard views abound. Book a tour to visit and for a wine tasting of their mountain estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon.
Details: Hans Fahden Vineyards, 4855 Petrified Forest Road, Calistoga
Explore an ever-changing series of gallery-style walk-through gardens, showcasing new and innovative designs from the world's finest landscape architects and designers. Each garden is unique; some are architectural, some more plant orientated, and all encourage interaction and contemplation.
Cornerstone is also home to a collection of independent and unique shops and galleries, as well as tasting rooms and a deli/café. Festivals and other events are held on weekends, and Sunset Magazine opened its Test Gardens and Kitchens in Cornerstone Sonoma in summer 2016.
Details: Cornerstone Sonoma, 23570 Highway 121, Sonoma.
Quarryhill Botanical Gardens
Explore an Asian woodland near Glen Ellen in the Valley of the Moon. Quarryhill offers 25 acres of mature, flowering Asian trees along with magnolias, dogwoods, roses, lilies, rhododendrons, and other flowers. Many are rare and endangered species.
As one of the pre-eminent Asian botanical gardens, Quarryhill features one of the largest collections of documented, wild-collected Asian plants in the world. Follow the verdant paths and you’ll find relaxing places to sit and take in the season.
You’re welcome to picnic at designated areas. Ponds, waterfalls, and views of Sonoma Valley enhance the peaceful effect. Self-guided tours are available daily or you can arrange docent-led tours by calling two weeks in advance. If your timing is right, you could catch local speakers or other special events at the garden.
Details: Quarryhill Botanical Gardens, 12841 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen.
Vineyard and Winery Tours
Pure Luxury Transportation
This full-service transportation company operates one of California’s largest chauffeured fleets, ranging from hybrid sedans, Lincoln Navigators, and stretch limos to 56-passenger motor coaches. It can handle everything from airport pickups and wedding celebrations to large corporate group events, including putting together customized private tours.
“Our tours are unusual,” said Chief Operating Office Jennifer Buffo. “The experiences our guests have range from private meetings with winery owners or winemakers to visiting a winery that’s not open to the public. They have an experience they can’t have somewhere else.”
There are also standard limousine package tours for groups of six to eight people. These are typically about five hours long, and explore a specific area or issue – the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley, or sustainable farming practices.
Details: Pure Luxury Transportation,4246 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma
Beau Wine Tours
With a large fleet of new Mercedes and Cadillac sedans, SUVs, limos, vans, and buses, Beau Wine Tours can handle transportation needs for everything from a couple on their honeymoon, to a corporate conference.
Perhaps you want to explore the Russian River wine region, or Sonoma Valley. Wine knowledge is a particular specialty of the staff here, as guides create wine country experiences that will both educate and entertain their guests, customized to people who are new to wine tasting, intermediate, or connoisseurs.
You can opt for one of the many private tour packages, as well — the four-hour and six-hour Sonoma Valley wine tours, for example. You’ll be picked up in a private stretch limousine and taken to some of Sonoma Valley’s finest wineries, or you can make your own selection.
Details: Beau Wine Tours
Cody and Cheyenne are big, beautiful blond tour guides – and okay, they are Belgian draft horses, but they still love flirting with their guests. The ride is slow and smooth, in a wagon outfitted with padded seats and a shade top, on a five-mile tour through rural Healdsburg, featuring stops at top wineries including Soda Rock, Sausal, Hanna, and the dark, gorgeous caves of Alexander Valley Vineyards winery. The horses can stroll through the actual vineyards, letting you out for barrel tasting, cave tours and chats with the winemakers (who will want to pet the horses), while your coachman guide shares local lore and insider’s tips. Nibble a Wine Country picnic along the way, like crusty baguettes, artisan cheeses, herbed meats, assorted olives, French chocolate truffles and organic strawberries, plus wine if you choose.
The views can be even more magical through open-air windows, and the journey becomes almost as much fun as the destination. While this trolley car is an authentic, old-fashioned replica of vintage 1890s San Francisco cable car, it has modern appointments like an iPod dock and rockin’ sound system, meaning six hour, four-winery tours can become rolling parties. The tour guides tend to be playful, cracking jokes and keeping everyone laughing, all the while pointing out landmarks and sharing Sonoma County stories. Tastings are at boutique retreats like Tin Barn, plus bigger favorites like Imagery Estate Winery, and a French picnic lunch is catered by girl & the fig.
Details: Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley
Partial day or one day tours are available, with a relaxed trip of three to six miles between winery stops, and lunch. But go for the gusto and indulge in a Three-Night Sonoma Valley Vacation Package that includes preferred pricing at top hotels.
The classic tour, for example, includes a custom bike fitting on day one, a low-key, low-pedaling tour to three wineries, a midday picnic, and a leisurely ride back to your hotel.
Day two offers more adventure, with a mountain bike journey through the picturesque rolling hills of the Carneros District. The ride ventures off-road and literally through the vineyards, with pauses to learn about the vineyard growth cycle and local farming practices. Then, it’s time for a picnic lunch, followed by a to two wineries.
Details: Sonoma Valley Bike Tours
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet