48 Hours in Sonoma, California
Immerse yourself in the Wine Country lifestyle in the small town of Sonoma, which takes good wine, good food, the arts, history, and laid-back living and blends it into the ultimate getaway. Pick and choose among the places on this two-day itinerary to craft your perfect 48 hours in Sonoma.
The town is in the heart of the Sonoma Valley, on the eastern border of Sonoma County. There are no superhighways or interstates into or out of the valley, just two-lane state highways and local roads - all the better to slow down and start taking it easy.
From the north, in the city of Santa Rosa take Highway 12 east off of Highway 101, and follow 12 all the way into the town of Sonoma.
From the south, take multi-lane Highway 101 north about 20 miles to Highway 37 east, north on Highway 37 for less than 10 miles, and north on Highway 121, follow it when it turns, then head up Highway 12 into the town of Sonoma. It may sound complicated, but it's an easy, gorgeous drive.
Breakfast on the Plaza
Any exploration of the town of Sonoma has to start on the downtown plaza, an eight-acre tree-filled oasis surrounded by unique shops, restaurants, tasting rooms, and historic sites. The plaza park itself offers lush green lawns, a gorgeous rose garden, two playgrounds, a duck pond, picnic tables, an outdoor amphitheater, and a 1908 City Hall building that was designed with four identical sides so no plaza merchants felt slighted by their view.
Start your day of discovery by choosing between two favorite local Plaza breakfast spots. On the east side of the Plaza, in addition to coffee and tasty breads, pastries, coffee cakes, and muffins, the Basque Boulangerie Café offers breakfast all day, with croissant, roll, and panini breakfast sandwiches, as well as waffles, French toast, crepes, quiche, and more. On the west side of the Plaza, the Sunflower Caffé serves omelets and scrambles, waffles, and eggs Benedict. (Both places also offer lunch, if you want to return later.)
Stretch Your Legs
Sonoma is a delightfully walk-able town, and the best way to start is to discover the history that’s all around. Within the Plaza park you’ll find a monument to the Bear Flag Revolt, one of the first steps leading to California becoming part of the United States, and a bronze statue of town founder Gen. Mariano Vallejo sitting on a park bench. Sonoma State Historic Park consists of multiple locations around the Plaza, including Mission San Francisco Solano, the Sonoma Barracks, and the Toscano Hotel, as well as General Vallejo’s Home just three blocks to the west. For more details, read Exploring California History in Sonoma.
And two blocks north of the Plaza, in a former railroad depot, the Sonoma Valley Historical Society’s Depot Park Museum is filled with vivid displays and artifacts illustrating local and California history.
One of the most striking buildings around the Plaza is the majestic and beautifully restored Sebastiani Theater, which opened in April 1934 (admission was 34 cents). Outside, its distinctive marquee and clock tower makes it a Sonoma landmark, and its interior evokes a bygone era, with lush red draperies, soaring ceilings, and impressive chandeliers.
Of course, history is just one aspect of this multi-faceted town. Interested in the arts? A few steps southeast of the Plaza, the non-profit Arts Guild of Sonoma displays work by its 40+ members, with exhibits changing monthly. And a block south of the Plaza, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art features local, regional, national, and international artists. Past exhibits have included everything from student work in local art classes to furniture masterworks from the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and ceramics by Pablo Picasso.
If a bit of retail therapy is more your cup of tea, Sonoma Plaza is the perfect place to browse and shop. Discover kitchen gadgets and décor at the Sign of the Bear, custom women’s clothing and accessories at Artifax, fair-traded treasures from around the world at Global Heart Fair Trade, novelty and fashion socks for the whole family at Socks on the Square, and yummy candy from your childhood as well as vintage-inspired toys, games, and books at Tiddle E. Winks Vintage 5 & Dime — and that’s just the start of the possibilities. Wander around, and discover the perfect gift or souvenir.
It’s easy to explore downtown Sonoma on your own, but if you’d prefer a more focused approach, Sonoma Food Tour and Gourmet Food and Wine Tours-Sonoma offer guided walking tours, letting you sample the town’s amazing food and wine while gaining an insider’s understanding of local history, architecture, and inner workings.
If you’d rather sit and be served, cookbook author Sondra Bernstein’s the girl & the fig restaurant presents innovative country food with a French passion; seating includes a beautiful garden patio. OSO Sonoma offers urban-chic décor and uncommon but delicious small plates, and a little southwest of the Plaza Tasca Tasca also features small plates, but with Portuguese flair. For more ideas, check our listings of Sonoma County restaurants and click on the city of Sonoma.
Local tip: For a basic but delicious lunch, check out the sandwiches, salads, and soup of the day at Scandia Bakery, located five blocks west of the Plaza (and don’t forget desert — fans rave about their princess cake).
Wine and More
With more than two dozen tasting rooms within easy walking distance, the Sonoma Plaza is the perfect place for wine tasting without driving at all. Located in a graceful brick building on the southeast corner of the Plaza, Highway 12 Vineyards & Winery tasting room shares its space with a home accessories boutique — so you can combine your wine tasting with more retail therapy. If sparkling wines are your thing, check out Sigh, Sonoma’s only “bubble bar.” And Three Sticks Wines pours their Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Rhône-style blend in the meticulously restored Vallejo-Casteñada adobe, with period-style furniture and details.
About four blocks east of the Plaza you’ll find Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery, one of Sonoma’s oldest wineries. And a short drive will take you to Buena Vista Winery, California’s oldest premium winery, and Gundlach Bundschu Winery, California’s oldest family-owned winery. For more options, read Guide to Wine Tasting in Sonoma and check our listings of all Sonoma County Wineries.
If you want to taste further afield but prefer to leave the driving to others, the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley offers six-hour field trips to local wineries in a hand-built replica of an 1890s San Francisco cable car. Or, check our listings of Sonoma County Wine Touring Companies.
Want a bit of afternoon exercise? Sonoma is relatively flat, making it fairly easy to get around on two wheels. Download the Sonoma Bicycle Map. For more challenging routes, take back roads into the hills outside of town. Bicycle rentals and guided cycling tours in the Sonoma Valley are available from Sonoma Adventures, Sonoma Valley Bike Tours, and Wine Country Cyclery.
To stretch your legs a bit while walking through nature, a few blocks north of the Plaza the Sonoma Overlook Trail offers a pleasant three-mile round-trip trail to the top of the hillside, with great views of Sonoma Valley and San Pablo Bay. An offshoot trail takes you west to the trails of the Montini Open Space Preserve, which also provide a variety of beautiful vistas.
And if you’re traveling with little ones, be sure to check out TrainTown, located about a mile south of the Sonoma Plaza. It boasts a quarter-scale railroad that takes passengers on a 20-minute ride along four miles of winding tracks that go through tunnels and over bridges, with a stop along the way at a miniature town and petting zoo. And for other ideas, read What to Do With the Kids in Sonoma.
When you’re ready to check in for the night and unpack, there are several options.
Sonoma’s Best Guest Cottages on the eastern edge of town is an enclave of four one-bedroom cozy cottages with luxuries like beds with goose down comforters and pillows, private gardens, comfy robes, and fully equipped kitchens.
A five-minute walk west of the Sonoma Plaza, Sonoma Chalet Bed & Breakfast (18935 5th St. W., Sonoma) offers private cottages and B&B accommodations on a 3.5-acre estate.
A little further northwest and slightly off the beaten track, at the Sonoma Creek Inn (239 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma) you can choose from 16 affordable and casual hotel rooms, many with private outdoor patios or porches.
And for elegant luxury, there’s the historic and iconic Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa (100 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma).
For even more options, visit our listings of all Sonoma County Hotels & Lodging.
Time to Dine
As you might expect in a foodie town, the dinner options are many and delicious.
Santé, the acclaimed restaurant at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, uses the freshest local produce, meats, poultry, and seafood to create elegantly simple dishes that let the natural flavors speak for themselves.
LaSalette on the Plaza features Cozinha Nova Portuguesa (“new Portuguese cuisine”) celebrating the varied and complex flavors of Portugal, adapting them to fresh Sonoma County ingredients.
Maya Restaurant & Bar serves traditional Mexican food with Yucatan-inspired flavors and California cuisine-like twists, and it’s Tequila Temple includes more than 100 tequilas available as shots or flights.
And that’s just a small sampling of the delights available. Check our listings of Restaurants in Sonoma County.
If you’d like a bit of entertainment after dinner, the Sonoma Speakeasy offers blues, country, and Americana music in its cozy spot in an alley off the Plaza. Hopmonk Tavern and Murphy’s Irish Pub typically feature live acoustic music and a variety of brews in relaxed, neighborhood-pub atmospheres; you can also get that relaxed pub feeling and craft beers at Olde Sonoma Public House and Sonoma Springs Brewing Company.
On Highway 12 several blocks west of the Plaza, Starling Bar Sonoma offers classic cocktails and craft beers in a casual, friendly setting. Or enjoy a quiet nightcap in the sleek 38 Degrees North lounge at the luxurious Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn.
The town of Sonoma lies in the heart of the Sonoma Valley, making it the perfect home base for exploring the valley. Tucked between two mountain ranges and about 17 miles long, the valley includes an amazing variety of landscapes and microclimates. In addition to Sonoma, the valley includes the towns of Glen Ellen and Kenwood, and five official American Viticultural Areas (AVAs or wine regions). From Sonoma, you can choose to head north toward Glen Ellen and Kenwood, or south to the wide open spaces of the Carneros wine region and the San Pablo Bay.
Start the day with delicious croissants, brioche, turnovers, quiche, and more at Les Pascals, an authentic French pâtisserie in Glen Ellen. For heartier, more traditional breakfast fare like waffles, omeletes, and more, check out the popular Garden Court Café.
In the North
Glen Ellen is a great place to start exploring the northern end of the Sonoma Valley: Just a mile east of town you’ll find Jack London State Historic Park. Once the renowned author’s beloved Beauty Ranch, it covers 1,400 acres with more than 26 miles of trails through lush forests, redwood groves, meadows, and hills with breathtaking views. One of the best ways to visit this state park is on a horse. You can bring your own, or the Triple Creek Horse Outfit offers a variety of guided horseback rides in the park.
As you leave the park, stop at Benziger Family Winery, which offers tractor-drawn tram tours through its Biodynamic vineyards (reservations recommended). The 45-minute tour goes through the grapevines, visits the fermentation facility and crush pad, and offers the chance to check out the barrel caves, all capped by a wine tasting.
Ready for a dip in water from geothermal springs? About five miles away, Morton’s Warm Springs Resort offers three mineral spring pools, with temperatures between 85 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit and depths of one to nine feet. The property includes a large lawn area with picnic and barbecue sites, an organic café, and places where the artesian warm springs still bubble forth.
If following winding paths surrounded by amazing plant life appeals, check out Quarryhill Botanical Garden, with 25 acres of mature, flowering plants from Asia. Discover ponds, waterfalls, vistas of the valley, and hidden places to sit and relax.
Next head a few miles farther north on Highway 12, toward Kenwood.
Watch for the turnoff on the right to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Tucked into the Mayacamas mountains on Sonoma County’s eastern border, the park includes the headwaters of the 33-mile-long Sonoma Creek, 25 miles of trails, a 25-foot seasonal waterfall, and the 2,729-foot Bald Mountain
Back on Highway 12, look to your left for Wildwood Nursery, with five lushly-forested acres showcasing more than 250 varieties of Japanese maples, many of them rare. There are also many species of dogwoods, ginkgoes, and conifers, as well as edible plant starts and bonsai-style beech, maple, and evergreen trees.
As you come into Kenwood on Highway 12 it’s easy to spot Swede’s Feeds Pet Garden Gifts—watch for a 14-foot welded-metal giraffe, a 12-foot dinosaur, or perhaps a stagecoach with horses. The menagerie of figures on display changes from time to time, but it’s always eye-catching and colorful at this one-of-a-kind store.
To the South
There’s also quite a bit to discover in the southern end of the Sonoma Valley, where gently rolling, sparsely wooded hills overlook a wide, flat plain. This is the cool-climate Carneros wine region, just north of the San Pablo Bay.
Learn about the Carneros wine region’s influence of wine, water, and terroir while admiring gorgeous views of rolling hills and the San Pablo Bay on a free self-guided half-mile vineyard tour through estate-grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at Schug Carneros Estate Winery.
Wander through the gardens and stores at Cornerstone Sonoma, a wine country marketplace that offers unique stores, boutique wine tasting rooms, an urban craft distillery tasting room, artisanal foods, art-inspired gardens, the Sunset magazine test gardens and outdoor kitchen, and live music.
Nearby, get a truly amazing overview of the valley on a vintage biplane ride from Vintage Aircraft Co. at the Sonoma Valley Airport (often called the Schellville Airport by locals). Both classic and vintage planes are kept at the airport, and are often open for inspection, with owners nearby eager to tell you all about their aircraft.
In addition to award-winning wines and amazing views, Cline Family Cellars is home to the California Missions Museum, which displays scale models of all 21 California missions, carefully crafted by German cabinetmakers in 1939 for the California Pacific Exhibition.
If speed is your thing, take a turn around the Sonoma Raceway track by taking a driving class with Simraceway Performance Driving Center, which trains both pro drivers and motoring enthusiasts. The raceway hosts NASCAR, the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing series, and other exciting races.
To commune with nature, head just slightly farther south to the end of the Sonoma Valley and the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, an important stop on the Pacific Coast Flyway, and home to large populations of resident and migrating birds. Bike, walk or run on the flat and graded Lower Tubbs Island/Tolay Creek Trail, which lies atop levees in this delightfully open wildlife refuge.
Whether you’re in the northern or southern Sonoma Valley when hunger hits, there are many possibilities.
In the north, go international at Yeti Restaurant in Glen Ellen, with a Nepalese-Indian fusion of both cultures and cuisines with fresh seasonal produce, meats and seafood; the also offer local and international beers and an extensive wine list.
Feel like Italian? Café Citti in Kenwood offers the delicious food and friendly atmosphere of an authentic Italian trattoria with Wine Country style. Also in Kenwood, Palooza Brewery & Gastropub features a variety of American pub fare, including barbecue, burgers, and small plates, plus local wines and 16 micro-craft beers.
In the southern end of the valley, the Schellville Grill serves up Texas-style barbecue and Tuscan-influenced wine country fare for lunch, and Lou's Luncheonette offers southern-inspired delights made fresh daily with locally sourced ingredients. Watch for the red and white cow on the roof of Angelo’s Wine Country Deli, where the sandwiches showcase their housemade cold cuts, sausages, and condiments; fans love their beef jerky, garlic sausage, and garlic mustard. The Carneros Deli offers a wide variety of delicious deli food (try the hot chipotle chicken sandwich on sourdough), plus a small wine tasting bar.
What better way to spend an afternoon in Sonoma Wine Country than with a bit more wine tasting? There are many, many choices. In the north there’s St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, Chateau St. Jean, Kunde Family Winery, Deerfield Ranch Winery, and Ledson Winery & Vineyards. In the south, there’s Ram’s Gate Winery, Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards, Viansa Sonoma, Cline Cellars, and Robledo Family Winery. And that’s just a quick sampling. For more possibilities and more details, read Bennett Valley Wine Region and Appellation, Carneros Sonoma Wine Region and Appellation, Moon Mountain AVA, Sonoma Mountain Wine Region and Appellation, and Sonoma Valley Wine Region and Appellation, or check our listings of Sonoma County Wineries.
For more ideas of what to see and do in the town of Sonoma, the Sonoma Valley, and throughout Sonoma County, read Guide to the Sonoma Valley, 10 Must-Dos in Sonoma Wine Country, and 10 Best Highlights.
When it’s time to dine, there are once again many options to choose from. Cookbook author Sondra Bernstein’s fig café & wine bar features delicious, seasonal Cal-Med cuisine in a delightfully artsy space in Glen Ellen. And at the Glen Ellen Star chef Ari Weiswasser offers Cal-Mediterranean bistro cuisine, from a big wood-fired oven. Or, gather with the locals at Salt & Stone, a casual-chic California eatery and oyster bar in Kenwood, serving rustic California Mediterranean cuisine. For more options, check our listings of Sonoma County Restaurants.
Many people find that 48 hours is definitely not enough time to explore the town off Sonoma, the Sonoma Valley, and Sonoma County.
If you want to spend the night in the southern Sonoma Valley, the 22-room Vineyard Inn Hotel offers a unique sense of rustic elegance blended with retro motor-court chic.
In Glen Ellen in the north, the 22-room Jack London Lodge offers affordable comfort in a quite, peaceful setting along Sonoma Creek. The boutique Glen Ellen Inn features seven secret cottages along Calabazas Creek, just steps from the property’s restaurant and bar. And originally built as a private home in the late 1800s, the 23-room Gaige House + Ryokan provides an elegant blend of vintage and contemporary in 23 guestrooms thoughtfully appointed with Asian flare.