Steeped in California history and natural beauty and a central hub for winemaking and farm-fresh cuisine, the town of Sonoma (pop. 10,648) lies in the heart of the lush Sonoma Valley, on the eastern edge of Sonoma County.
Whether you bring your own vehicle or rent a car, driving is the most independent and flexible way to get around the Sonoma Valley and the town of Sonoma.
There are no superhighways or interstates in the Sonoma Valley, only two-lane state highways and local roads. The main north-south thoroughfares through the valley are Arnold Drive and State Highway 12. South of the town of Sonoma, State Highway 116 and State Highway 121 run east-west, and State Highway 37 runs east-west across the southern end of the Valley, along San Pablo Bay.
When navigating the town of Sonoma, in the heart of the lush Sonoma Valley, it helps to remember a bit of history. Back when California was part of Mexico, Gen. Mariano Vallejo laid out the town’s streets along a strict grid. Streets to the east of the central Sonoma Plaza are First Street East, Second Street East, and so on. To the west are First Street West, Second Street West, and so on.
The area just northwest of the city limits — the neighborhoods of El Verano, Fetters Hot Springs, Boyes Hot Springs, and Auga Caliente, known collectively as The Springs — was populated after California became part of the United States. It was developed as resorts and summer cabins for visitors and San Francisco, with no overall plan. The result is a winding maze of streets that can be confusing in spots.
You can download maps of downtown Sonoma and other areas of the Sonoma Valley.
Tours and Private Transport
If you prefer to leave the driving and the details to others, there are several options, including ride shares and taxis for short jaunts. Sonoma is a small town with not one but two taxi companies — Sonoma Taxi and Vern’s Taxi Company.
And Sonoma County tour companies provide a multitude of options, whether you want to go wine tasting, strolling under the redwoods, exploring small towns, or just taking in the incredible coastal views. A wide variety of tour transportation is available, including vans, buses, luxury cars, and stretch limos — but you can also see Sonoma County from a motorized trolley, an open air Jeep, a vintage biplane, and other unique vehicles.
Plus, there are designated driver services that will take you on customized tours in your own car or your rental vehicle.
Buses and Trains
From Sonoma’s downtown Plaza, you can catch Sonoma County Transit buses that travel locally around Sonoma, or to downtown Santa Rosa, where you can transfer to other SCT bus routes, Santa Rosa CityBus services, or Golden Gate Transit buses to San Francisco. Sonoma County Transit provides tips for using its bus service, including how to find the best route in Sonoma.
SCT buses will also take you to Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train stations. Sleek, energy-efficient, clean-diesel SMART trains run along 43 miles of track starting near the Charles M Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in northern Santa Rosa, and heading south to Marin County. For a roundup of attractions, hotels, and restaurants near each of the six SMART train stations in Sonoma County, read our Guide to Exploring Sonoma County by SMART Train.
NOTE: One of the best ways to pay your fare on SMART, Sonoma County Transit, or Golden Gate Transit is to use a Clipper Card, which is accepted by more than 20 transit agencies in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Francisco ferries. You load money on your card, and then just swipe it to pay your fare. You can buy a Clipper card online or at participating local retailers.
Airports near Sonoma
Three major carriers offer daily flights from Santa Rosa’s Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport (STS). The airport offers a choice of rental car services, ride sharing, taxis, and other ground transportation options, and is located slightly more than a mile west of the SMART train station. Transportation options between the airport and train station include Sonoma County Transit buses, taxis, or ride sharing services.
Airport Express runs buses between STS and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Oakland International Airport (OAK), with stops in Sonoma County, including the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Rohnert Park, and the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds in Petaluma.
The town of Sonoma is relatively flat, making it fairly easy to get around on two wheels. A few roads may have somewhat heavy traffic at times, but it’s usually possible to find less-busy alternate routes. There are several short bicycle-pedestrian trails throughout town where you can get completely away from traffic. Download the Sonoma Bicycle Map.
And it’s possible to combine biking with public transportation. Each Sonoma County Transit bus includes a rack that can fit two or three bikes, and each two-car SMART train has spaces for up to 24 bikes.
For more challenging routes, take back roads into the hills outside of town. Bicycle rentals and guided tours in the Sonoma Valley are available from Sonoma Adventures, Sonoma Valley Bike Tours (which posts its Top 5 Rides for Avid Cyclists), and Wine Country Cyclery.
For biking options countywide, check our listings of Sonoma County Bike Rentals and Tours, and read the “By Bike” section of our Guide to Food and Wine Tours, our Guide to Cycling in Sonoma County, and Popular Bike Itineraries: Cycling through Wine Country. Plus, the nonprofit Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition sells a waterproof cycling map ($12) showing primary and secondary road routes, paved and unpaved bike paths and trails, and cycling-related services and facilities throughout Sonoma County.
Walking and Hiking Trails
The compact downtown makes walking a natural choice, especially strolling around the Sonoma Plaza. The plaza is surrounded by shops, restaurants, and California history.
Gourmet Food & Wine Tours-Sonoma and Sonoma Food Tour offer guided walking tours that let you taste your way around the Sonoma Plaza, getting an insider’s culinary tour while learning about local history and trends.
If you want to stretch your legs a bit more, the city’s bicycle paths are also pedestrian-friendly. North of town, the Sonoma Overlook Trail offers a pleasant three-mile trail to the top of the hillside, with great views of Sonoma Valley and San Pablo Bay. An offshoot trail takes you west to the trails of Montini Open Space Preserve, with a variety of beautiful vistas.
And a bit northwest of Sonoma, the 1,400-acre Jack London State Historic Park offers more than 30 miles of hiking trails, with many stunning vistas.
For more ideas about where to go and what to do in Sonoma and throughout Sonoma County, read Guide to the Sonoma Valley, 12 Tour Ideas for Exploring Sonoma Wine Country, and Guide to Food and Wine Tours.