Spending the holidays in Sonoma Wine Country promises great fun. Wineries are decked out for the holidays, and many magical events and activities await visitors of all ages. With shopping, sipping, skating and more, here are a few ways to celebrate. You'll also find more current festivals and events on our Sonoma County Calendar of Events.
The official lighting ceremony is 5 to 8 p.m. Nov. 12, but the Holidays in Sonoma festivities continue through December at the Historic Sonoma Plaza. Attractions include 8+ acres of 100,000 sparkling lights, periodic musical performances, hot cider, hot chocolate and cookies.
What fun, to watch the animated classic A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on the big screen, while the kids help prepare a re-creation of Snoopy’s Thanksgiving meal of toast, popcorn, and jelly beans. Little ones can play with hands-on crafts, and other fun family activities, too. Please bring two cans of food to donate to the Redwood Empire Food Bank, and get one free child's admission.
This gathering from Wine Country Walking Tours is so popular that it’s now become an annual event (view the calendar for all seasonal tour options). At the heart is a four-hour guided Fine Wine and Foodie Walking Tour beginning at the festive tree lit Healdsburg Plaza, voted as one of the Top 10 Plazas in America according to Travel & Leisure. Then, you stroll the decorated tree lined streets throughout downtown, stopping at restaurants, tasting rooms and boutiques to savor freshly baked artisan breads, delicious chocolates and Ports, warm holiday spiced teas and delectable bites paired with wines all along the way. Day and evening tours are available.
Deck the halls with lots of wine, at this annual event showcasing nearly 20 wineries hosting festive open houses from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. More than just tastings, each destination offers unique food and wine pairings, live music, arts and craft shows, and insider specials like barrel, reserve, library and new release tastings. This is a great time to stock up on holiday meal wines and gifts, with event-only pricing on retail purchases, too. Plan your weekend around a variety of experiences, ranging from larger properties like Chateau St. Jean Winery or St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, to boutique stops like Muscardini Cellars or Ty Caton Vineyards.
Pretend you’re a Pilgrim, landing at Plymouth Rock, as you enjoy a turkey feast at Bay View Restaurant in Bodega Bay. An elaborate a la carte menu celebrates the season with appetizer specialties like Dungeness crab cake, or spinach and ricotta ravioli in cream tomato sauce. Entrees tempt with roasted turkey with savory apple and prune stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, acorn squash and sweet potatoes with maple syrup and green beans; or filet mignon with bleu cheese butter, mashed potatoes and sautéed rapini. Dessert is that all-American staple of pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream, among other selections. Prices vary, with discounts for children.
Madrona Manor knows how to put on holiday feast, and how. Michelin-star executive chef Jesse Mallgren wows each year with a six-course menu that includes delicacies like Osetra caviar, crab soup with smoked potatoes and seaweed butter, pumpkin white truffle risotto, and slow roasted turkey with all kinds of adornments such as pearl onions with black truffles, celery root, chervil and pain perdu.
The elaborate buffet menu from chefs Bruno Tison and Andrew Cain goes on for two pages at Santé at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. Against a backdrop of live music., you’ll enjoy table after table of appetizers like house made pâté de campagne wrapped in Hobbs applewood smoked bacon; house made terrine of Liberty duck and organic pork in pastry; charcuterie; local and artisan cheeses; and caviar blinis. There are salads, soups, and the showstoppers - carving stations featuring roasted all natural Diestel free range slow roasted turkey with black truffle panade, brioche and sage stuffing, turkey giblet gravy and cranberry sauce; and Niman Ranch prime rib of beef with horseradish cream sauce.
Healdsburg chef Mateo Granados draws from his Yucatan heritage, adds some French finesse, then powers it all up with the best boutique Sonoma ingredients. So an annual holiday meal at his Mateo’s Cocina Latina is like non-other, resplendent as a prix-fixe that changes each year. Past years have found mouthwatering choices like an appetizer of White Crane greens and local Dungeness crab salad with Crispy Drakes Bay oyster and spicy mayonnaise, or Dungeness crab casserole with wild mushrooms and Meyer lemon-soy cream sauce over Costeaux Bakery ciabatta. Entrees might be Relleno Blanco de Pavo of Diestel Farm turkey, hard boiled egg centered embutido, white gravy “Mayan K’ol,”Soda Rock Farm tomato sofrito and baked Calasparra rice, or oven roasted Fort Bragg albacore tuna with Napa cabbage, bacon and braising cream sauce. Wrap it up with delights like a blue corn taco filled with 3 Twins vanilla ice cream, seasonal fruit salsa and sea salt.
The Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa is fun all year long, but this weekend is even more whimsical, as cartoonist and storyteller Joe Wos performs his magical “Once Upon a Toon” skits. Kids of all ages can take part in cartoon workshops with Wos throughout the weekend, too.
Guerneville’s Korbel Champagne Cellars is known for its elaborate gift shop, gourmet deli and gardens, and gift packs like the popular combo of 3 bottles of Korbel Champagne, 2 Champagne flutes, and a box of Champagne truffles. Through the three-day spree, the winery will offer special sales, Christmas carolers from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and an appearance by Santa Claus from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Immerse yourself in the holidays festival-style at the brand new Wine Country Winter Festival at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. It'lll be a unique holiday show, with fine art, food, live music, entertainment, wine, beer, and seasonal fun galore. Shop beautiful art and crafts from local purveryors - glass, sculpture, jewelry, wearables, and more. Over 50 wine, beer, spirit, and cider makers will be pouring throughout the weekend. Enjoy a fantastic variety of food, all perfect for this time of year. Three stages of entertainment will delight with rock, folk, country, and world music from favorites including David Luning, Frobeck, the Bootleg Honeys, Easy Leaves, and others, as well as jugglers and comedians. Be sure and find the Holiday Hall where Santa and his elves will be hanging out with carolers, gingerbread house makers, and cookie decorators.
See Snowmen (Dec. 3, 2016)
The annual Lighting of the Snowmen once turned into the launching of the snowmen, when the plastic characters were hurled across the highway by a slingshot into a vineyard. Another time, they were blown from a cannon. But it’s all in fun, for the hundreds grinning fellows set up at Cornerstone shops and garden center in Sonoma. Gather at 4 p.m. for a live music performance, an assortment of kids' holiday crafts and games, wine and beer tasting, food, and, of course, to learn what will happen to the snowmen this time around
Have a Dickens of a Christmas (15 performances starting Dec. 8, 2016 and continuing through Christmas Day)
The Dickens Dinners are a highlight of the year at Madrona Manor, when carolers wander the dining rooms, dressed in period clothing of Olde 19th Century England, and The 12th Night Singers pause for private a-cappella serenades of “Jingle Bells” (complete with theatrical cracks for the whips) and breathtaking hymns. Even more delicious: Michelin-star executive chef Jesse Mallgren prepares a five-course celebration of new and old holiday traditions, paired with wines.
Santé at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa puts together one of the most elaborate Christmas dinners to be found, in a lavish buffet made even more elegant with live music. The menu from chefs Bruno Tison and Andrew Cain goes on for two pages, with table after table of appetizers like house made pâté de campagne wrapped in Hobbs applewood smoked bacon; house made terrine of Liberty duck and organic pork in pastry; charcuterie; local and artisan cheeses; and caviar blinis. There are salads, soups, and the showstoppers - carving stations featuring roasted all natural goose with spiced cranberry, apple and raisin relish; Niman Ranch beef tenderloin Wellington with mushrooms duxelle and sauce financière; and roasted marinated leg of venison with sauce poivrade. Other temptations include braised veal sweetbreads, roasted lamb shoulder à la Provençale, and dozens of hand-crafted desserts from pastry chef Dave Blom.
Take a Hike (all winter long)
The Armstrong Redwoods State National Reserve spans 805-acres, in lush groves of 500 to 2,000 year-old trees towering to 350 feet (that’s taller than a football field is long). Breathe deep and savor the velvety quiet and solitude; the massive trees are often shrouded in mystical fog with swords of sunlight piercing through. For one of the easiest way to navigate, take the mile-and-a-half long round trip Pioneer Nature Trail over mostly flat terrain. Tip: dogs are not allowed on trails, though they can join you in the developed picnic areas.
Find more things to do over the holidays on the Sonoma County's calendar of events.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.