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Getting Around Sonoma County

With 1,500 square miles of gorgeous scenery and charming communities, there’s quite a bit to see and do in Sonoma County, and several options for getting around.

Highways and Back Roads

Driving, of course, is the most common (and flexible) choice for getting around Sonoma County, whether you bring your own vehicle or rent a car. Located about 60 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Sonoma County is shaped a bit like a triangle, with the Pacific Ocean along its western edge, Mendocino County to the north, and the Mayacamas Mountains in the east. The main corridor through Sonoma County is the multi-lane Highway 101, a dynamic lifeline stretching up the center of the county from Petaluma in the south to Cloverdale in the north.

Almost everywhere else in Sonoma County, you’ll find yourself on two- or four-lane roadways.  A few are fairly urban, in big cities like Santa Rosa, or suburban, as in Rohnert Park or Cotati. However, there are also many, many rustic back roads that are a delight to explore, from the iconic Highway 1 in the west, stretching along more than 50 miles of stunning Pacific Ocean coastline, to the two-lane highways and local roads that crisscross the county, taking you from cities and towns to farmlands, vineyards, rolling hills, or along the lazy river to the coast.

Tours and Private Transport

Sometimes the best way to enjoy getting around Sonoma County is to let someone else handle the details and the driving. For short trips, you can use ride sharing services or local taxis (and many taxi companies also offer longer trips, local tours, and other services). But perhaps you want to go wine tasting, strolling under the redwoods, exploring small towns, or just taking in the incredible coastal views. If so, there’s a Sonoma County tour company that can provide just what you need. Tour transportation of all types 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.

For an overview of the options, read 12 Tour Ideas for Exploring Sonoma Wine Country and Guide to Food and Wine Tours, and check our listings of Sonoma County Transportation.

Trains and Buses

It’s easy to explore central Sonoma County sans automobile by boarding a SMART train. Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit runs sleek, energy-efficient, clean diesel trains 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.

Near each train station, you’ll find bus stops for Sonoma County Transit, which offers both local bus routes within Sonoma County’s communities and town-to-town service. Sonoma County Transit provides tips for using its bus service, including the routes that connect to SMART stations.

And Golden Gate Transit buses run from Santa Rosa to San Francisco; an online trip planner helps you plan your trip.

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 order a Clipper card online or at participating local retailers.

Airports in or near Sonoma County

Three major carriers offer daily flights from the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport (STS), in Santa Rosa. 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.

The Sonoma County Airport Express runs buses between STS and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Oakland International Airport (OAK), with stops in Sonoma County, including the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds, the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, and the Petaluma Fairgrounds.

Bike Trails

With lightly traveled back roads and a growing system of bike trails and lanes, Sonoma County offers great routes for bicyclists, from beginners to dedicated cyclists. Sonoma County Regional Parks lists popular bike trails and biking itineraries within and near its parks, and the Santa Rosa Cycling Club describes Ten Great Rides throughout Sonoma County. It’s possible to combine cycling with public transportation by taking your bicycle with you on Sonoma County Transit buses and SMART trains. Each county 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 ideas about how to explore Sonoma County on two wheels, check our Guide to Cycling in Sonoma County and Popular Bike Itineraries: Cycling through Wine Country.

If you’d prefer to leave the details to an expert and ride with a local guide, read the “By Bike” section of our Guide to Food and Wine Tours. And whether you want to plan your own route or follow a guide, check our listings of Bike Rentals and Tours.

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 the locations of a variety of cycling-related services and facilities throughout Sonoma County. 

Walking and Hiking Trails

Most Sonoma County communities include a downtown area that’s a delight to explore on foot. You can also stroll through vineyards on the Sonoma County Vineyard Adventures free self-guided walking tours, or take a hike in one of more than 60 state and regional parks. Get an overview of the possibilities by reading our Guide to Hiking in Sonoma County.

And since Sonoma County is known for its fine wine and delicious cuisine, you can explore them both on foot with a guided walking tour, and learn a little local history at the same time. For ideas, read Food Tours in Sonoma County.

Learn more about Things To Do, Hotels and Lodging, and Food & Wine in Sonoma County.

 

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