10 Must-Dos in Sonoma Wine Country
Located just 45 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Sonoma County provides a wide variety of entertaining getaways. Here are 10 insider tips for enjoying a quick escape to Sonoma Wine Country.
#1 - Sip and Nibble
Savor the Sonoma Wine Country lifestyle by sipping premium vintages deliciously paired with farm-to-table delights designed by the winery's chef. Wine-and-food-pairings make the perfect way to sample the best that this area has to offer.
For example, stunning vineyard views and fine dining blend beautifully in the multi-course Wine & Food Pairing at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards off Highway 12 in Santa Rosa; Open Table named this luncheon pairing the number 1 restaurant in all of America. Or get the ultimate inside look at Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Healdsburg, on its Estate Tour & Tasting.
For more options, read "Wineries with Food Pairings" and "Luxury Wine and Food Experiences in Sonoma County." Learn more about Sonoma County's 18 Wine Regions, and check our listings of all Sonoma County Wineries.
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#2 – Go For the Brews
With at least two dozen operating breweries, close to a dozen cider producers, and more than a dozen distilleries, Sonoma County is a craft beverage paradise.
Early each year, the crowds line up when the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa releases its award-winning Pliny the Younger for just two weeks. But there are many other options – follow the Sonoma County Craft Beverage Map to find your favorites.
If you don't want to taste and drive, North Bay Brewery Tours and On Tap Beer Tours offer fun and entertaining guided tours to local breweries and distilleries. For those who love both craft beers and mountain biking, Dirt Gypsy Adventures offers four- and six-day treks that visit the region's best trails and craft breweries.
#3 – Get Down on the Farm
Small farms flourish in the rolling hills and lush pastures of rural Sonoma County. Follow the Sonoma County Farm Trails Map to experience life on the farm with cows, sheep, llamas, honey bees, and more. Chat with local cheese makers and sample their distinctive, hand-crafted wares at the sites listed on the California Cheese Trail map.
Or browse the county's agricultural bounty and artisan crafts at one of the year-round farmers markets, held Tuesdays in Petaluma, Wednesdays and Saturdays in Santa Rosa, Fridays in Sonoma, and Sundays in Rohnert Park and Sebastopol, plus multiple seasonal markets countywide. For more visit-the-farm options, read "Agri-Tourism, Farm Tours Offered Throughout Sonoma County."
The gray whale migration along the Sonoma County coast peaks in the winter months, and Bodega Head is one of the county's top whale-watching spots. About four miles long and one mile wide, this small peninsula juts well out into the ocean, providing great views of these magnificent creatures spouting water through their blowholes, displaying their tails as they dive in search of the tiny shrimp (krill) that they eat, or just swimming by.
On weekends from January to May, volunteer docents are on hand at Bodega Head to help would-be whale watchers. There are several other sites along the coast to watch for whales, and several companies offer whale watching boat trips. To learn more, read Whale Watching Along the Sonoma Coast and see all the options in our Whale Watching listings.
#5 – Savor the Bounty of the Sea
Enjoy a culinary tour of the small town of Bodega Bay on the annual Chowder Day each January. It can take three to four hours to meet the chefs and sample all the delicious offerings at participating sites in this celebration of all things chowdery. And, of course, you can sample the local chowders year-round in the area's many delicious restaurants.
But chowder is just one of the many coastal options. During crab season you'll find these delicious crustaceans on menus at restaurants all along the coast. On select Fridays each winter, the Tides Wharf Restaurant hosts special reservations-only crab feeds. Or if you're in a do-it-yourself mood, you can pick up live, freshly caught crab at the Spud Point Crab Co., or buy their crab sandwiches or crab cakes and eat at their outdoor picnic tables.
#6 – Go on Safari
Ride in an open-air vehicle, catching sight of gazelles, zebras, cheetahs, antelopes, giraffes, cape buffalo, and other exotic animals at Safari West Wildlife Preserve & African Tent Camp. Located in the rolling hills on the eastern edge of Santa Rosa, this 400-acre preserve houses about 700 animals, in conditions close to their natural African habitat.
Watch them socialize, eat, and play. After enjoying the day tour, you can choose to spend the night sleeping in a luxury tent imported from Africa. Pale green canvas walls enclose plush beds, hot showers, and rustic but elegant trappings. It's glam-camping at its finest.
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#8 – Enjoy Live Performances
From small venues to large, the performing arts are blossoming in Sonoma County.
Renowned musicians of all styles perform in both the 240-seat Schroeder Hall and 1,400-seat Weill Hall at Rohnert Park's Green Music Center, a world-class performing arts center in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country.
In Santa Rosa, the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts presents an eclectic mix of music, theater, dance, comedy, lectures, and family shows on its newly renovated stage in the 1,625-seat Ruth Finley Person Theater.
And in a 120-year-old cannery building in downtown Santa Rosa, the 6th Street Playhouse offers music, drama, laughter, and tears in live theater performances.
#9 – Appreciate Art
Sonoma County's pounding surf, rolling hills, neat rows of vineyards, and dynamic communities inspire artists to create towering sculptures, handcrafted pottery, cool watercolors, vibrant paintings, and one-of-a-kind jewelry. Everywhere you look, you'll find artistic visions brought to life. In almost every town you'll find a thriving arts center.
Experience the dynamic art scene in the quirky river town of Guerneville on its First Friday Art Walk, when art galleries, art studios and merchants host receptions from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Visit Healdsburg, with some two dozen art galleries within walking distance of its downtown plaza, for example the Paul Mahder Gallery (see photo). Follow sculpture trails in the towns of Geyserville and Cloverdale in northern Sonoma County, or enjoy the whimsical art made from recycled materials on three-block-long Florence Avenue in Sebastopol. For more options, read "Walking to Art in Sonoma County" and "Discover Amazing Art in Sonoma County: 3-Day Itinerary."
#10 – Explore the Great Outdoors
Home to 11 California State Parks, more than 50 Sonoma County Regional Parks, miles of trails, and acres of pasturelands and vineyards, Sonoma County offers a multitude of delights for nature lovers. Explore vineyards on free, self-guided walking tours. Stroll under towering trees at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.
Hike along beaches and rocky bluffs on coastal trails. Climb the rugged path to Gunsight Rock in Hood Mountain Regional Park on a clear day, and be rewarded with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. Discover even more possibilities by reading "Guide to Hiking in Sonoma County" and "Guide to Cycling in Sonoma County," or check our Outdoor Activities Listings.
Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Lynn Henley.