Eastern Sonoma County Tour Itinerary
On this tour of eastern Sonoma County, wind along two-lane country roads as the delights of the Sonoma Valley unfurl before you. Cradled between the Mayacamas and Sonoma mountain ranges, this bountiful section of Wine Country is a gently rolling patchwork of vineyards, farms, and 13,000 parkland acres that weave throughout the popular towns of Kenwood, Glen Ellen, and Sonoma.
Native Americans of the Miwok, Wappo, and Pomo tribes were the first to settle Sonoma Valley, which they called the "Valley of the Moon." In 1823, Franciscan monks built a Mission here, the farthest north of their 21 Missions in California and the only established under Mexican rule, independent of Spain.
Also in the early to mid-19th century, the area was home to Mexico's famed General Vallejo and the site of the Bear Flag Revolt, which forcibly transferred California from Mexican rule to a U.S. territory. Early pioneers of the California wine industry planted vineyards and built wineries in this valley.
Today it is home to many of the award-winning wineries that have made Sonoma County's Wine Country famous.
If you only have one day:
Start on the east side of the city of Santa Rosa, just north of the Sonoma Valley. Fuel up with a hearty breakfast at Jeffrey’s Hillside Café, a local favorite owned and run by Jeffrey Madura, former executive chef at the celebrated John Ash & Co. restaurant.
Madura's café serves breakfast and lunch using local produce, dairy, and meats. Lunch typically features burgers, sandwiches, salads, and quiche, but the periodically changing menu may include fromage blanc blintzes with seasonal berries, or a tofu scramble with shiitake mushrooms.
The tasting room — a replica of the original Kinneybrook Ranch cattle barn, which stood on this land for more than a century — is surrounded by estate vineyards, a shaded picnic area nestled under majestic valley oaks, a reflecting pool, and burbling fountains. Stop here to experience cave tours and barrel tastings of estate-grown wines. Or consider signing up for a Mountain Top Tasting, an Eco-Green Tour, or a Hike & Taste in the Vineyard. Private tours are available.
Continue east (south) on Highway 12, then west (right) on Arnold Drive to the sleepy little village of Glen Ellen.
Where the road bends first right and then left in the middle of town, take a right on London Ranch Road and wind your way through the foothills to Jack London State Historic Park. It was here that author and bohemian adventurer Jack London lived and wrote at his pristine Beauty Ranch.
The park's 1,400 acres include more than 26 miles of trails, stunning views, a museum, the ruins of a 19th century winery and farm buildings, a 2,000-year-old redwood tree, the cottage where London wrote, the remains of London's dream home that burned before he and his wife Charmian could move in, and more.
After you've explored the park, head back down London Ranch Road and south (right) on Arnold Drive. Slightly south of town you'll find Jack London Village, where shops and restaurants are housed in the disused concrete fermentation vats of the old Glen Ellen Winery.
About 10 miles farther south on Arnold Drive is Cornerstone Sonoma, home to gracious home and garden shops and galleries, a gourmet café, boutique tasting rooms, and gallery-style gardens. The Sunset Magazine Test Gardens and Kitchens is also here, offering inspiration to cooks and gardeners.
Heading back up Arnold Drive, go east (right) on Leveroni Road, and then north (left) on Broadway. This wide boulevard leads to the heart of the town of Sonoma, the picturesque Sonoma Plaza. An early-20th-century, two-story city hall sits in the center of this lovely park, which is lined by shops, restaurants, and tasting rooms.
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is the ultimate elegant oasis, blessed by natural mineral hot springs. The property offers rooms to suit every taste, from restored Fairmont Heritage rooms to signature suites.
Guests can participate in daily complimentary hike and bike adventures; and each afternoon they can partake of complimentary wine tasting in the lobby, showcasing a different local winery each day.
Santé Restaurant is the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn’s premier dining room, and it has earned a national reputation for its outstanding food. Condé Nast Traveler has said, “it’s worth a special trip just to eat here,” and Gourmet Magazine called the food “the best of the new Wine Country style.” Only the freshest local produce, meats, poultry and seafood are used to create elegantly simple dishes that let the natural flavors of the food speak for themselves.
If you have two days:
If you're lucky enough to have a bit more time to explore this beautiful valley, you can either visit new sites as you make your way from Santa Rosa to the Sonoma Plaza, or double back and visit a few of the places you passed on your first go-round.
If you're into hiking and outstanding views, while you're in the Kenwood area head east on Pythian Road (a bit north of Kenwood) to try the rugged trails at Hood Mountain Regional Park & Open Space Preserve; or go east on Adobe Canyon Road (slightly north of Kenwood) to visit the family-friendly Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, where the headwaters of Sonoma Creek run through the gorge and canyon, and across the meadow floor.
And while in Glen Ellen on your way to or from Jack London State Historic Park, consider dropping in at Benziger Family Winery. This picturesque biodynamic 85-acre ranch is cradled by the slopes of Sonoma Mountain. Visitors can enjoy a tour of the vineyards on a tram, wine tasting, a gift shop, estate gardens, and a picnic area among the trees.
In Sonoma, check out the historic General Vallejo's Home. Known as Lachryma Montis (mountain tear) because of the property's fresh-water spring, this two-story, wood-frame house was built in 1851 and 1852, in a gothic Victorian style. Vallejo and his wife lived here for more than 35 years, and the home and its 20 acres were acquired by the state in 1933.
Love cheese? While in Sonoma, check out the Vella Cheese Company, housed in a historic stone-walled building just east of the Plaza, and featuring its carefully nurtured and aged Dry Jack Cheese, along with many other varieties.
If you want to stretch your legs a bit while in Sonoma, try the Sonoma Overlook Trail, a footpath that winds up a hillside to meadow that offers spectacular views of the town of Sonoma, the Sonoma Valley, and the Bay Area. This gently graded trail has a loop at the top, and is slightly less than three miles round trip. A side trail leads to the Montini Open Space Preserve, which also offers beautiful views of Sonoma Valley.
Located in the historic Sonoma Hotel building on the northwest corner of the Sonoma Plaza, the girl & the fig offers "country food with a French passion." Owned and operated by cookbook author and celebrated restaurateur Sondra Bernstein and acclaimed chef John Toulze, the girl & the fig features an antique bar with French aperitifs, unique and traditional cocktails, an award-winning Rhone-alone wine list, a seasonal menu, cheese and charcuterie platters, and outdoor garden patio seating.
If you have three days:
Sonoma Valley is a great place to indulge yourself. Depending on your interests and how you like to relax, there are lots of options — from spa treatments to race car driving lessons, and more.
While at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, you might want to revel in the luxurious treatments offered by its Willow Stream Spa. For hundreds of years, ancient thermal mineral waters have graced this site; today, this is one of the only luxury spa resorts in the country with its own source of thermal mineral water.
Inspired by bathhouses throughout the world, all spa packages include an exfoliating shower, a warm therapeutic bath, a hot pool with Jacuzzi jets, a mega shower, an herbal steam room, a traditional dry sauna, and a relaxation room.
If indulging in outstanding food and wine is more your style, consider the five-course Wine and Food Pairing at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards at the northern entrance to the Sonoma Valley. In a relaxed, fun, and unforgettable Sonoma Wine Country experience, guests gather at a shared table, to enjoy an assortment of small dishes created by executive chef Peter Janiak, paired with hand-selected artisan wines.
Trip Advisor called it "the best Wine & Food Pairing we've ever experienced," and Bite Club Eats said the small plates "rival the kitchen of any Michelin-starred restaurant." Each seating is hosted by a friendly wine expert, and the dishes change daily to reflect seasonal markets.
However, if your idea of a really great time moves at a faster pace, consider hitting the track at the Sonoma Raceway. This year-round motorsports complex hosts several major annual events and includes both a twisting road course and a quarter-mile drag strip.
The Sears Point Racing Experience offers world-class instructors and a state-of-the-art facility, as well as its modern and extensive fleet of high-performance and racing machines.
Enjoy a wide range of small bites or full size entrees while you sip on a glass of wine overlooking the wine garden at Kivelstadt Cellars Wine Garden & Eatery. The menu reflects a new wave of California food and wine. It is meant to be enjoyed and thoughtfully crafted, but never taken too seriously.