10 Terrific Garden, Vineyard and Winery Tours
Spring is a fine time to stop smell the roses and wildflowers, and Sonoma County winery 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 after admiring the magical gardens.
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 five top ideas on what to see, and five 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.
It's easy to while 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 displaying 600+ rose varieties.
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 events like "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 Company wraps up its season with the "Memorial Weekend Tea in the Rose Garden." Check the company's list of events for more details.
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 also includes a volcanic cave. A teahouse overlooks ponds filled with water lilies, and mountain views abound across the estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. Please note that visits and wine tastings are by appointment only.
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.
Explore an Asian woodland near Glen Ellen in the Valley of the Moon, across 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 can also catch local speakers or other special events at the garden.
Vineyard and Winery Tours
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.
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.
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 a 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 the girl & the fig.
Visit Sonoma Valley wineries in a fun and recreational way on a self-guided bike tour; most people visit between two to four wineries, using a Bike to Wineries Map and a Planning Guide. The self-guided tour includes a bicycle and helmet rental, a delicious box picnic lunch (optionally delivered to a winery along your route), a handlebar bag, bottled water, and van support, including wine-purchase pickup service.
Or choose from the various guided Sonoma Valley bike tours. The popular Classic Half-Day Bike Tour offers a casual pace and frequent stops, with an emphasis on enjoying the scenery and visiting two boutique and family-owned wineries along the way. The Full-Day Sonoma Valley Bike Tour offers the same relaxed, fun approach, visiting three wineries with an average pedal of three to six miles between each winery, plus a catered picnic lunch at a winery overlooking the vineyards.
For more ideas, check our listings of Sonoma County Sightseeing and Tour Companies.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet