Countdown to Christmas: 22 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays Sonoma County-Style

Santa himself pays a visit to Sonoma County, taking in the beauty of the Sonoma County vineyards.

It may not snow in Sonoma County, but the region becomes its own special winter wonderland as the holidays approach. Below are some the best things to eat, drink and do.

Say hello to Santa: Santa sure knows how to make an entrance. In Wine Country, he likes to arrive by different modes of transportation: tractor, boat, train — even helicopter. However he arrives, make sure to catch him over breakfast at Costeaux’s Bakery in Healdsburg. 

A young man and woman serving food at a shelter

Spread holiday cheer: ‘Tis the season for eating lots of food, exchanging gifts and getting together with friends and family. But the holiday season can also be a difficult time for many, including those who are alone or struggling to make ends meet. This year, spend some time helping those in need: Feed the hungry at the Redwood Empire Food Bank, volunteer at Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), or support seniors in Sonoma County through the Council on Aging. More volunteer opportunities here

Posada Navidena by Calidanza

Be dazzled by a Mexican posada: Celebrate the culture and traditions of Mexico with Posada Navideña by Calidanza (Dec. 8), held at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. Las Posadas are traditionally celebrated over nine nights, ending on Christmas Eve; they tell the biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter during the first Christmas. This performance takes the audience to various regions of Mexico, showcasing holiday festivities and traditions through vibrant costumes, dynamic choreography and joyful music. 

Watch a lighted boat parade: Put on a parka, gather the family and pick your spot on the Petaluma River for one of the most charming holiday parades you’re ever likely to see. A flotilla of decorated, lighted vessels — from canoes to stately yachts — gathers at Petaluma Turning Basin on Dec. 9 for a graceful glide into Petaluma’s historical downtown district. More info can be found here

Say feliz navidad, god jul or joyeux noël: Nothing tugs at our heartstrings like the foods of Christmas past. Whether it’s mom’s pecan pie, abuela’s tamales, Swedish pickled herring or a bûche de Noël, we all crave a little taste of our heritage during the holidays. Find holiday foods from around the world at Sonoma County’s restaurants and bakeries. For example, Stockhome restaurant in Petaluma serves a traditional Swedish glögg. 

See a Christmas card church: Bodega’s Saint Teresa of Avila, a white New England-style church with a tall steeple, looks like something out of an old-fashioned Christmas card. And just before Christmas, it is lit up around the door and decorated inside with garlands. The great photographer Ansel Adams immortalized the church in a photograph that became one of his favorites and it was famously featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Snoopy's ice rink in Santa Rosa

Lace up those skates: There may not be snow, but icy winter fun can be had at Snoopy’s Home Ice. Morning, midday and evening public skating sessions are available. 

Hear the fireplace roar: Contrary to popular belief, it can get cold in Sonoma County. While we’ve all pretty much mastered the art of layering, there’s nothing like a fireplace to warm you up after a day spent outdoors — or freezing in your office cubicle. Several local restaurants serve up ember-enhanced meals and drinks sure to get you into the holiday spirit; a few favorites include Catelli’s in Geyserville, John Ash Front Room and Stark’s Steak & Seafood in Santa Rosa and El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma. 

Warm up with a hot drink: While we’re on the topic of staying warm, how about a hot drink with a spoonful of childhood nostalgia? At The Warm Puppy Café in Santa Rosa, order a Peppermint Patty Hot Chocolate, then cozy up by the fireplace before you consider putting on those skates. For a more grownup version, try the Aztec Mocha with double espresso, Valrhona chocolate and chilies at Flying Goat Coffee in Healdsburg. 

Shop local: Swap the dreaded mid-December mall experience for a wholesome old-school event. Shop along Sonoma County’s Farm Trails and peruse locally owned shops in Sonoma County’s small, quaint towns. This is sure to get you into the holiday spirit!

Dog wearing a red christmas sweater.
Dog wearing a red christmas sweater.

Shop for Fido: If your dog has been a good boy or girl, head to Fideaux in Healdsburg for a sweater, toy or treat. This boutique carries everything from Pendleton dog beds and Molly Mutt duvet covers to collars, leashes, doggie jackets and pet wall art (including Dogs of Duke’s advent calendars). Lots of treats are available, from Kongs to doggie ice cream. And for the discerning Wine Country dog, choose from a fully-stocked bar of stuffed toys, like Woof Clicquot or Pinot Grrr. 

Get cracking in Healdsburg: At Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg, see rows of whimsical, militarily-precise nutcrackers stand ready for inspection. Their ranks are arrayed on shelves installed just for the holidays and spill over into every nook and cranny of the bakery. There is even an extra tall version to greet you as you walk through the bakery’s open gates. The nutcracker view is best enjoyed with pain perdu and a Ghirardelli chocolate mocha before holiday shopping on the plaza.

Make your own wreath: Join local floral designer Tali Bouskila of Flower Casita in Petaluma for a workshop designing artistic holiday wreaths. Bouskila and her team prefer to work with local growers and unique foraged finds. “We’re inspired by what already happens in nature. We find the shape of each stem, we find the colors; we like to look at things for what they really are and emphasize their natural beauty, as opposed to manipulating them into a tight, ball-like design,” she explains. Wreath-making classes are $100 per person; five-person minimum. 

Visit hotels for the holidays: If you’ve always wanted an enormous Christmas tree but are perhaps a bit short on ceiling space, make your way to Hotel Petaluma, where a 12-foot evergreen towers in the building’s courtyard. In years past, the hotel has even made it “snow” in the courtyard — fingers crossed for that happening again this year. More local hotels are helping guests and visitors get into the festive spirit with special events, treats and holiday decor. 

Get sparkling: For celebratory sparkles for the holidays, head to SIGH Champagne bar in Sonoma. No reservations needed. If you have teetotalers or beer drinkers in your party, this is a great tasting room option. They also offer draft beer, regular wine and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as snack-sized bites, both savory and sweet.

After a sip of bubbly, Sonoma Plaza offers holiday cheer and attractions for history buffs, from the Sonoma Mission to the barracks and Toscano Hotel, all within two blocks. There’s a big parking lot behind the barracks on First Street East.

Immerse yourself in holiday decor: Brewsters Beer Garden in Petaluma is transformed into a winter wonderland come Christmastime as it is decorated with thousands of merry tchotchkes. The kitschy decor is paired with holiday dishes like brisket with house-made pickles and cocktails infused with spiced apple cider, cinnamon cognac and other seasonal flavors. Check out the restaurant’s Miracle Market, too. Tables are set with holiday gifts like Santa pants mugs and ugly sweaters. 

Take a quiet winter hike: Shady forest groves are a respite from the flurry of the holiday season. Located just off Highway 1 in Jenner, the entrance to Stillwater Cove Regional Park is easy to miss. This hidden gem features three miles of trails surrounded by lush ferns and towering redwoods and is a popular spot for beach picnics. Parking is available at the day-use lot east of Highway 1.

Attend a holiday event: Sonoma County is bursting with festive events throughout December and into the new year. Check out our calendar of events for information. 

Written by Sonoma Magazine Staff

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