Eastern Sonoma County Tour Itinerary


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Eastern Sonoma County Tour Itinerary

Take a tour of eastern Sonoma County, winding your way along two-lane country roads. Enjoy pastoral views of vineyards and valleys as you discover the delights of the Sonoma Valley, a bountiful section of Wine Country farmland cradled between the Mayacamas and the Sonoma Mountain ranges.

This area is a scenic rolling patchwork of vineyards, farms, and 13,000 acres of parkland, interspersed with the towns of Kenwood, Glen Ellen, and Sonoma.

Sonoma Valley

Native Americans were the first to discover Sonoma Valley, also called the Valley of the Moon. The Franciscan monks built a mission here, the farthest north of their 21 missions in California and the only one set up under Mexican rule, independent of Spain.

This area was home to General Vallejo and the site of the Bear Flag Revolt, which 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 (2901 4th St., Santa Rosa, 707-546-6317, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily). This hidden gem is owned and operated by Jeffrey Madura, previously the executive chef for 20 years at the celebrated John Ash & Co. restaurant.

Madura's café serves breakfast and lunch, using local produce, dairy, and meats. The menu changes periodically, but may include fromage blanc blintzes with seasonal berries, or a tofu scramble with shiitake mushrooms. Lunch typically features burgers, sandwiches, salads, and quiche.

Continue east on Highway 12 to the charming town of Kenwood. Near the south edge of town you'll find the family-owned Kunde Family Winery (9825 Sonoma Highway 12, Kenwood, 707-833-5501).

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 fountains. Stop here to experience cave tours and barrel tastings of estate-grown wines. Or, sign 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 (2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, 707-938-5216). 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 (23570 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-933-3010), home to gracious home and garden shops and galleries, a gourmet café, boutique tasting rooms, and gallery-style gardens. Since opening in 2004, these ever-evolving gardens have drawn international acclaim from publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Garden Design magazine. The Sunset Magazine Test Gardens and Kitchens opened in Cornerstone Sonoma in summer 2016, offering cooking and gardening inspiration.   

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.

On the north edge of the plaza you'll find a number of living history sites — the Sonoma Barracks (Spain Street and 1st Street East, Sonoma, 707-938-9560); the Toscano Hotel (20 E. Spain St., Sonoma, 707-938-9560); and the Mission San Francisco Solano (114 E. Spain St., Sonoma, 707-938-9560).

Lodging Suggestion:
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa 

The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa (100 Boyes Boulevard, Sonoma, 707-938-9000) 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. 

Many of the rooms or suites have fireplaces, and all feature color TV, telephones with voice mail, a selection of Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa bathroom amenities, a mini-bar refrigerator, terry-cloth robes, and air conditioning.

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.

Restaurant Suggestion: Santé Restaurant 

Santé Restaurant (100 Boyes Boulevard, Sonoma, 707-938-9000) is the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn’s premier dining room, and it has earned a national reputation for its outstanding food. Condé Nast Traveler 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 explore more sites in each town so it takes more than one day to 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 the Benziger Family Winery (1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, 707-935-3000). This picturesque biodynamic 85-acre ranch is nestled on 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 (Third Street West and West Spain Street, Sonoma, 707-938-9559). 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. The home and 20 acres were acquired by the state in 1933. 

Love cheese? While in Sonoma, check out the Vella Cheese Company (315 2nd St. E., Sonoma, 707-938-3232), 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 (the main trailhead is at the entrance to the Mountain Cemetery, four blocks north of the Sonoma Plaza off First Street West), 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.

Restaurant Suggestion: the girl & the fig

Located in the historic Sonoma Hotel building on the northwest corner of the Sonoma Plaza, the girl & the fig (110 W. Spain St., Sonoma, 938-3634) 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 a lot of options — from spa treatments to race driving lessons, and more.

While at The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, it's a great opportunity to experience the luxurious relaxation treatments available in 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.

Treatments are offered in three categories: Relieve treatments provide a pick-me-up, a simple escape from everyday pressures; Restore treatments help you recover from things like stress, travel, overindulgence, or a hectic lifestyle; and the more intense Results treatments are more therapeutic, and involve processes like detoxificiation, cleansing, or anti-aging.

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 (100 N. Pythian Road, Santa Rosa, 707-538-9463 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 Bryan Jones, 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 lies in an entirely different (and much faster) direction, consider hitting the track at the Sonoma Raceway (29355 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 800-870-7223). This year-round motorsports complex hosts seven major annual events, including the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, AMA Superbike Series, the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series and the IndyCar® Series. The raceway also offers a variety of ways for you to hit the track, whether it's the twisting road course or the quarter-mile drag strip.

The Simraceway Performance Driving Center 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. From March to September, the raceway's Wednesday Night Drags program offers everyone from teen-agers to working professionals a  chance to race their own vehicles on the professional track. And with the drag racing program, Sonoma Drift offers amateurs and professionals a chance to perfect their drift skills, sliding sideways through a marked course.

Restaurant Suggestion:  Schellville Grill

For a casual change of pace, try the Schellville Grill (22900 Broadway, Sonoma, 707-996-5151). This California-style roadhouse serves Austin-style barbecue and Tuscan-influenced Wine Country fare. It's a laid-back, local restaurant with a large outdoor seating area, located south of the town of Sonoma, at the intersection of Highways 12 and 121.

Updated by Sonoma Insider Patricia Lynn Henley.