One of the most historic cities in California, Sonoma was the site of the June 14, 1846, Bear Flag Revolt, which marked the end of Mexican rule.
A few weeks later, on July 9, United States Navy Lt. Joseph Revere — grandson of Revolutionary War patriot, Paul Revere — raised the Stars and Stripes in front of the Sonoma Barracks. Three years later came the Gold Rush and, in 1850, California became a state.
The Barracks and many other buildings known by Revere still stand on Sonoma’s plaza and nearby streets. But while Sonoma retains a small-town feel, it’s also home to exceptional restaurants, excellent wineries, and a lively community.
Here are five fun things to do when you visit Sonoma:
Explore Sonoma State Historic Park
California’s founding took place on and around Sonoma’s historic plaza — which is where most of this park’s compelling attractions are located.
You’ll tour buildings that figure hugely in the state’s history, including the last mission ever built, Mission San Francisco Solano (1823); the two-story adobe barracks that once housed the Mexican army troops commanded by General Mariano Vallejo (historical artifacts are on display here); the Toscano Hotel, a 19th century wood-frame building furnished to look much as it did when it was a hotel in the early 1900s; and, a short walk from the plaza, Vallejo’s 1850s Gothic-style home and grounds, Lachryma Montis.
In addition to the historic sites, the Sonoma Plaza is also surrounded by art galleries, clothing boutiques, wine tasting rooms, and restaurants, where you can browse, dine, and relax.
Sonoma State Historic Park, 707-938-9560
Chill Out in Thermal Hot Springs
For centuries, Sonoma’s Boyes Hot Springs were a meeting place for Native Americans, and from the late 1800s until WWII they attracted devotees from around the nation. Today you can enjoy the legendary waters in the pools and Jacuzzi of the Willow Stream Spa, which is located at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa (originally built in 1927 in the style of California’s early missions).
Water temperature varies from pool to pool: the Watsu pool is kept at body temperature; the indoor Jacuzzi is somewhat warmer; and the main pool hovers around 85°F.
There are day use fees for non-hotel guests to use the bathhouse, but these fees are waived if you schedule a same-day salon treatment.
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, 100 Boyes Blvd, Sonoma, 707-938-9000
Choo-Choo with the Kids at Traintown
An extremely popular family attraction, TrainTown’s quarter-scale railroad takes passengers on a 20-minute ride through its 500,000-square-foot park.
In the process it travels over four miles of track that wend through tunnels and cross bridges. Most people disembark for a while at Lakeview, a miniature town with a saloon, jail, outhouse, and a petting zoo where kids can feed the goats, ducks, sheep, and llamas.
TrainTown — whose other rides include a carousel and ferris wheel — is open year-round, but closed on rainy days and major holidays.
TrainTown, 20264 Broadway, Sonoma, 707-938-3912
Go Wine Tasting (and leave the car behind)
With more than two dozen wine tasting rooms located on or near Sonoma Plaza, you can sample an amazing selection of local wines by merely walking a few steps. Each location has a distinct personality, ranging from elegant (Kamen Estate) to bubbly (Sigh sparkling wine bar), and just about anything else you can think of.
Some have comfy couches to curl up in; others offer tantalizing outdoor patios. Most are single-winery rooms, but a few offer tastings that cut across multiple wineries (Centre du Vin, Enoteca Della Santina, Sonoma Wine Shop).
In between tastings, hunker down on a park bench in the plaza to watch ducks cavort in the stream, grab a table at one of the fine eateries that ring the plaza, or browse galleries and shops for an only-in-Sonoma souvenir.
Take a Hike
Downtown Sonoma is framed against a beautiful hillside backdrop, and you can explore that hillside on the Sonoma Overlook Trail. The main trailhead and lower portion of the trail are being rebuilt and are therefore closed through winter 2019, but the upper portion of the trail is accessible through the Toyon Trail, with a trailhead on Toyon Road inside Mountain Cemetary. At 1.5 miles round trip, Toyon Trail takes you quickly to the top of the hill, where it loops around a meadow. Several benches let you relax and enjoy spectacular views of the town of Sonoma, the Sonoma Valley, and (on a clear day) the San Francisco Bay Area. (Dog, bikes, and horses are not allowed on the trail.)
However, parking is limited at the Upper Loop Trailhead, and the cemetery gate closes at 4 p.m. Another option for enjoying the spectacular views at the top of the Sonoma Overlook Trail is through the adjacent Montini Open Space Preserve, heading east across Norrbom Road for a hike of up to four or five miles.
Covered with oak woodland, large rock outcroppings (including a for,er rock quarry), and open grasslands, the Montini Preserve also offers trails with gorgeous views, and is worth hiking for its own sake. Two trailheads are at the base of the hillside on First Street West and Fourth Street West; a portion of the trail from Fourth Street West is ADA-accesible. Dogs, Bikes, and horses are not allowed on either the Sonoma Overlook or Montini trails. More details and maps of both properties are available at OverlookMontini.org.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.