Drink-In the Beauty of Sonoma County’s Great Outdoors
In a place known for both idyllic landscapes and world-class beverages, it’s only fitting to combine the two during a single outing. That’s why we’ve brainstormed a few itineraries that invite you to revel in Sonoma County's great outdoors and then reward yourself with a good drink, too. (Obviously, you’ll want to drink responsibly.) Mix and match these route suggestions to discover a taste of Sonoma County … in every way.
Cycling + Cider
Those in the know are already savvy to the fact that Sonoma County is a hub for cycling enthusiasts. With a full calendar of world-class cycling events and plenty of scenic routes, the region draws a great many enthusiasts. You can create a special event of your own by planning a trip along the West County Regional Trail, an easygoing byway linking Sebastopol, Graton, and Forestville.
Feeling ambitious (and fit)? Extend your trip by cycling all the way out Hwy. 116 to Jenner, where you’ll find the Pacific Ocean and Hwy. 1. Check out this and other more challenging routes here.
While the West County Regional Trail is convenient to plenty of vineyards and breweries, we’ve chosen to pair the ride with apple cider in honor of the region’s rich (and often unsung) apple-growing heritage.
The Farmer’s Wife in The Barlow originated as a pop-up cafe at farmer’s markets and festivals, then surged in popularity until it evolved into a brick-and-mortar establishment. Owner Kendra Kolling (who is indeed the wife of an apple farmer) has elevated the sandwich into an art form. Try the brunch melt with honey lavender bacon, egg, chèvre, and marmalade.
Forget your patch kit or bike helmet? Pick up anything you need, including last-minute trail advice, at Sebastopol Bike Center.
Drink-In the Rewards
After you’ve hydrated with good, old-fashioned water, raise a glass of cold apple cider. You’ll find several options back at The Barlow: Eye Cyder serves up innovative twists on traditional cider, co-fermenting organic apples with local ingredients like redwood tips, quince, and blackberry. Nearby, Golden State Cider offers a dozen ciders on tap, along with non-alcoholic options like mocktails and shrubs.
Further on the outskirts of town, discover an heirloom cider from Reichwage, which not only grows grapes for such esteemed wine producers as Ridge and Littorai, but also makes an outstanding heirloom apple cider. Finally, bask in the relaxed vibe at Horse & Plow, with its outdoor seating and selection of organically grown ciders and wines.
Hiking + Cocktails
Did you know there’s a hiking trail with glorious, far-ranging views directly accessible from downtown Sonoma? Many visitors neglect to explore the scenic, three-mile Sonoma Overlook Trail in order to spend all their time on the bustling plaza – but we suggest you do both! Take a short hike up the mountain, soak up sweeping views of the county, then return to town inspired and ready for revelry.
Not in the mood for a heart-pumping hike? Try sauntering along the flat, paved Sonoma City Trail, which runs for a mile and a half through the town’s vineyards and parks.
Kick off the day with sustenance! Sausage Emporium offers a breakfast that’s both hearty and beautifully prepared. Try the delectable Scotch Egg, which comes wrapped in seasoned pork sausage and served with a salad; or enjoy the Crown Burrito Bowl, with its generous serving of eggs, cheese, black beans, and chorizo sausage.
In this small town, your closest supply point for hiking gear (windbreaker, socks, hat) will either be in Petaluma, where you’ll find Dick’s Sporting Goods, or Santa Rosa, where you’ll find Sports Basement and REI. Don’t forget the sunscreen – on this exposed, upper-elevation trail, you’ll likely need it.
Drink-In the Rewards
While renowned for wine, Sonoma is home to highly trained bartenders and has plenty to offer spirit aficionados. Belly up to the bar at OSO for a refreshing Ginger Lime Rickey, or head to El Dorado Kitchen for an Espresso Martini. While several Mexican restaurants on the Plaza offer good margaritas, we like Maya for its top-shelf options.
Curious to sample spirits at the source? Explore the offerings at Hanson of Sonoma Distillery or Prohibition Spirits, each located just outside of the downtown area.
Paddling + Cool-Climate Wines
With a dramatic coastline, meandering creeks, and free-flowing rivers, Sonoma County waterways beckon for exploration. One of the most beloved is the Petaluma River, which is actually no river at all, but a 14-mile tidal slough running through a coastal wetland. Paddling this gentle flatwater is as mellow as it gets, as you’ll keep company with migrating birds and enjoy views of undulating hills.
A popular place to put in your vessel is at the Petaluma Marina, from which point you can either paddle toward bustling downtown or (alternatively) the open hills. If you’re looking for true quietude, drive out Lakeville Highway to Gilardi’s Lakeville Marina, where you’ll find pastoral views. This marina charges $2 per boat (on the honor system) so be sure to bring a couple of dollars in cash.
The line forms early at Hallie’s Diner, an old-school joint that’s kept locals well-fed for decades. A quick glance at the menu explains why folks are willing to wait for a table: Dishes range from the delectable Fried Plantain Rum Souffle Hot Cakes to the hearty Huevos Rancheros.
Looking for a rental? Several outfitters in town can set you up with a kayak or paddleboard, including The Floathouse Petaluma and Clavey Paddlesports. They’ll also give you tips on how to navigate the tides and (if needed) provide transportation to the waterfront.
Drink-In the Rewards
Now that you’ve paddled through the incomparable Petaluma Gap appellation, it’s only fitting that you wind down with cool-climate wines sourced from the region, like those at Keller Estate or Light of Day. You can also find plenty of local wines, along with thoughtful international selections, available at the friendly, long-standing local favorite La Dolce Vita Wine Lounge.
Prefer to keep your day casual? Drop by the beloved country dive Ernie’s Tin Bar, located near the Lakeville Marina – but be sure to turn off your cell phone before you walk in the door. (No, really.)
Written by Amy Bess Cook