Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, CA
Mission San Francisco Solano

5 Fun Things To Do in Sonoma

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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

A historic building on the Sonoma Plaza
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. 

Chill Out in Thermal Hot Springs

The mineral water pool is surrounded by trees
Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa

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 spa 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 spa 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.

Choo-Choo with the Kids at Traintown

A yellow, miniature steam engine

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.

Go Wine Tasting (and leave the car behind)

Bottles of wine displayed horizontally on the shop's wall
Enoteca Della Santina

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 (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 trailhead is at the entrance to the Mountain Cemetery, just a few blocks north of the Sonoma Plaza. The hike is 3 miles round trip, and a gently graded trail takes you 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.  Docent-led hikes are available for students and adults many weekends.

Another option for enjoying gorgeous views is the adjacent Montini Open Space Preserve. Covered with oak woodland, large rock outcroppings (including a former rock quarry), and open grasslands, the Montini Preserve 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-accessible), and there's a trail connecting Montini with Sonoma Overlook.

Dogs, bikes, and horses are not allowed on either the Sonoma Overlook or Montini trails, and both properties are open to the public for walking during daylight hours.

Written by Sonoma County Insider Suzie Rodriguez.