Restaurants and Picnic Spots with a View: Sunsets, Vineyards and the Ocean

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Dining in Sonoma County comes with more than great food and wines; it also comes with stunning views. Experience an unforgettable sunset over the Pacific Ocean, picnic above hillside vineyards, or dine al fresco under towering redwood trees.

Whether you pack a picnic from one of dozens of delis and markets, or make reservations at a fabulous restaurant, Sonoma County boasts amazing dining vistas that will fit any budget. Here are several ideas to get you started.

Gorgeous Picnic Vistas

BobDog Wines: Prepare a picnic - and your puppy - for this dog friendly, pastoral spot (31955 Pine Mountain Road, Cloverdale, 707-756-2471) where you're invited to wander and linger. Be warned, it takes a sturdy vehicle to handle the partly gravel roads accessing Sonoma County's highest elevation winery, soaring 2,000 feet above Alexander Valley.

But your effort will be rewarded when winemaker Tim Ward and his wife Kandy Ward invite you to enjoy a hiking tour through the vines, and introductions to their miniature horses, mini-mule, and winery dog. Savor Old Vine Zinfandel, Mountain Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon made from CabSau vines grafted onto Merlot trunks, and be sure to share the charcuterie with the pups.

Alexander Valley vineyards
Alexander Valley vineyards

On a clear day you can see forever, and most days are clear at the South Lake Trailhead at Lake Sonoma . This overlook area is off Stewarts Point-Skaggs Spring Road (southwest of the Visitors Center & Fish Hatchery, 3238 Skaggs Springs Road, Geyserville, 707-431-4533). The trailhead has nice picnic areas with great views of Lake Sonoma in one direction and the Dry Creek Valley in the other. On your way, make a stop at the Dry Creek General Store (3495 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-4171), a popular place for lunch for locals and visitors.

Halleck Vineyard: Owner Ross Halleck is well known for breaking out his stash of boutique Sonoma County cheeses, farm-to-table paté, hand-made-pinot-infused chocolates and fresh breads in the tasting room that is actually his home hidden in the hills. Appointments are a must, and feel free to ask him if he's craving anything in particular with any party-friendly picnic extras you bring with you (or keep it easy, and just spring for his catered box lunches). What views, indeed - the graceful, giant window-clad home sits on a remote hillside 900 feet up, and you can taste Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Dry Gewurztraminer on the back deck overlooking the vines and neighboring horses, or on the front deck right next to the vines (3785 Burnside Road, Sebastopol, 707-829-8170).

Enjoy your lunch on the Vista Terrace at Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards (23555 Highway 121, aka Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-933-1917), in the picturesque Carneros region at the southern end of the Sonoma Valley. Gaze out over sun-drenched estate vineyards while sipping a glass of sparkling wine, perfect with savory Spanish and local cheeses, meats, and other delicacies all available from the tasting room.

Gloria Ferrer Winery
Gloria Ferrer Winery

Or, with a minimum purchase of wine, you can bring your own picnic. Suggested stops to pick up lunch makings include Cornerstone Sonoma (23570 Highway 121, Sonoma) or the Carneros Deli (23001 Arnold Drive, Sonoma).

Cornerstone Sonoma
Cornerstone Sonoma

Another great picnic option in the Carneros region is Viansa Winery & Marketplace (25200 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 800-995-4740). Perfect for larger families and groups, this winery offers a deli with an assortment of fabulous salads, deli meats, artisan breads, pastries, and wine, which you can enjoy on the large terrace overlooking the valley. Parking is ample.

Scenic Restaurant Options

If you prefer to dine out, here are several restaurants with stunning views.

For an awe-inspiring ocean view, go to River's End Restaurant & Inn (11048 Coast Highway 1, Jenner, 707-865-2484), on the coast in Jenner. Perched on a bluff overlooking the mouth of the Russian River where it enters the Pacific Ocean, River's End serves up delicious lunches and dinners with beautiful vistas, but offers especially spectacular views at sunset. During the day, it's often possible to watch seal pups play and sleep on the beach below. Chef Martin Recoder serves up unique and eclectic menus, internationally influenced but using local Sonoma County food products.

Everything tastes even better with the stunning sunset views across the Bay at Lucas Wharf (595 S. Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3522), a large, waterfront restaurant and bar in Bodega Bay. The ocean is right before your eyes, and the chef takes care with the fresh catch, for seasonal specialties like seared ahi with pesto crostini, a fried oyster sandwich, crab cakes, and the stellar seafood stew served steaming in a pot. Sipping a glass of wine or cocktail in front of the huge windows is an extra slice of heaven.

Sonoma Coast Shell Beach
Sonoma Coast Shell Beach

Also in Bodega Bay, the tiny Boat House (1445 N. Hwy 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3495) is almost always packed, with lines spilling out the door, and customers can get downright territorial over the handful of tables inside and on the little porch overlooking the water, where at sunset, the water glitters gold and red. Boathouse owner Captain Rick Powers catches his own rock cod in the ocean right outside the seaside shanty's door, and drags his own crab pots for the crab cake sandwich. You order at the counter, your food is sent out in a plastic basket lined with red-and-white checkered paper, and everything is really, really good, made to order by the nice men at the grill. Mouthwatering favorites include just-shucked oysters, fish 'n' chips, thick and rich clam chowder, a local salmon burger, and fried prawns and scallops.

So it's big and touristy, but the waterfront Tides Wharf Restaurant (part of the Inn at the Tides, 835 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3652) knows its way around superb seafood. Set on the waterfront across the street from the Inn at the Tides, the place is also a fish market and wholesale seafood business. So stock up on the fresh stuff to-go for your own sunset beach picnic, or take a seat in the airy, casual dining room for oysters Florentine, crab cakes, Louie salad, hot or cold whole cracked crab, linguine with clams, a hot crab and cheese sandwich, or zesty cioppino. The setting sun streams in through the windows, bathing everything in romantic light.

Going inland, enjoy spectacular views of the Alexander Valley countryside from the outdoor patio at the Quail Run Buffet at the River Rock Casino (3250 Highway 128, Geyserville, 707-857-2777). Located on the Dry Creek Rancheria of Pomo Indians, the restaurant overlooks sweeping views of vineyards quilting their way to the river, along the valley's rugged mountain edge. Depending on the day and time, Quail Ridge offers a variety of full-course moderately-priced buffets - Asian, Mediterranean, Mexican, Italian, and American.

Nearby, Rustic (300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, 707-857-1485) at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery offers fabulous vineyard views in a relaxing winery resort atmosphere. Sit outside on the patio and watch the sunset over the gentle rolling hills of the Alexander Valley while sipping wines from one of Hollywood's famous directors, and dining on cuisine that embraces both international and traditional Italian dishes, with an emphasis on family-style cooking and seasonal ingredients.

This is just a quick sampling of how to pair wonderful food with amazing views in Sonoma County. Need more ideas? Browse our extensive Sonoma County listings for more wineries and restaurants, or find your favorite picnic spot at one of over 50 state and regional parks in Sonoma County.