Mission San Francisco Solano

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.

You Might Also Like

Hamel Family Wines, wine tasting and non-alcoholic tasting

With a massive flood of zero-proof beverages recently hitting the market, it’s become fairly easy to find nonalcoholic alternatives on…

handmade pizza at Glen Ellen Star
Trip Itineraries

As a Sonoma local, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing Sonoma County’s finest offerings and generally end up with the…

Movie Prop Car On Display at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Occidental

As you meander the wee 60-yard block of downtown, strolling its wooden sidewalks past 19th-century, false-front buildings, you’ll feel as…

Winter scenery at Luther Burbank in Sebastopol CA
Outdoor Activities

Lush greenery, foggy coastlines, seasonal harvests and unique wildlife sightings – Sonoma County in winter is a place where visitors…

Hot air balloon ride in sonoma county
Sightseeing & Tours

Without a doubt, Wine Country is one of the world’s most breathtaking regions to travel through whether you are looking…

Girls Getaway in Sonoma County
Food & Wine

Winter might be considered the off-season for many of the world’s hottest travel destinations, but a Wine Country visit between…

Wine tasting at sunset.
Trip Itineraries

Fall is a busy time in Sonoma County — from colorful hikes to the perfect pumpkin patch, discover what locals…

Pig at Charlie's Acres
Sustainable Travel

Need a pick-me-up? These nonprofits offer ways to spend time with cute animals — you could even try some goat…

Yellow wildflowers covering field
Outdoor Activities

Springtime offers a brilliant array of things to see and do in Sonoma County, from wildflower walks to cheese crawls!…

Wingo, California, Sonoma County’s Ghost Town, photographed by @chrisjkam
Outdoor Activities

Traveling mindfully to Sonoma County allows us to have experiences that can be savored in a place focused on and…

See What’s Happening

Share your experience using #SonomaCounty or #LifeOpensUp