Bright green vineyards under a vibrant blue sky at Jack London State Park in Sonoma Valley
Sonoma Valley AVA

Guide to the Sonoma Valley

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The lush Sonoma Valley lies nestled between two mountain ranges along Sonoma County's eastern edge. Abundance is the norm here, offering visitors a delightful mix of beautiful vistas, wine tasting, farm-fresh cuisine, California history, art, shopping, and outdoor adventures.

Known as the birthplace of wine in California, the 17-mile long Sonoma Valley includes an amazing variety of landscapes and microclimates, from flat meadows and valleys to rolling hills, and from cool wind and fog to hot sunshine - sometimes all in the same day, as you move from place to place within the valley.

Because of this rich diversity, there are actually five distinct American Viticultural Areas (AVAs or wine regions) here - Bennett Valley, Carneros, Moon Mountain, Sonoma Mountain, and Sonoma Valley.

There's so much to see and do, it can be hard to know where to start. To simplify things, we've divided this guide into three sections-southern, central, and northern Sonoma Valley.

Southern Sonoma Valley

Begin your journey through the Sonoma Valley at its southern end, and you’ll find yourself in the cool-climate Carneros wine region, just north of the San Pablo Bay. Here, gently rolling, sparsely wooded hills overlook a wide, flat plain. Cool breezes from both the Pacific coast and the nearby Bay keep this area cool and windy, but not too cold. 

Primarily a rural expanse of open spaces and neat rows of vineyards, the southern end of Sonoma Valley also includes several intriguing shops and restaurants, as well as scattered farms and ranches.

Things to Do

Starting in the south and heading north, here’s a quick list of a few of the southern Sonoma Valley’s activities and attractions.

San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Birds sit on a log in the middle of the bay
San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge; photo by Melisa Amato

Hike or bike on the flat and graded Lower Tubbs Island/Tolay Creek Trail, running atop levees in this delightfully open wildlife refuge. Offering bay and tidal marshes, mud flats, wetland habitat, and open water, the refuge is an important stop on the Pacific Coast Flyway, and home to large populations of resident and migrating birds. Learn more about hiking in the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Sonoma Raceway

A racecar zooms past with a blurry background at the Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma County, California
Sonoma Raceway

Cheer on the drivers in the Toyota/Save Mart 350, NHRA Division 7 Drag Races, NHRA Sonoma Nationals, and other exciting raceway events. Or speed around the track yourself by taking a driving class with Sears Point Racing Experience, which trains both pro drivers and motoring enthusiasts.

California Missions Museum

The historic building has a bell on top of it
California Missions Museum

In addition to award-winning wines and amazing views, Cline Family Cellars is home to a small museum displaying scale models of all 21 California missions, carefully crafted by German cabinetmakers in 1939 for the California Pacific Exhibition. The museum also features a life-size figure of Father Junipero Serra, mission paintings by artists Robert Morris and Henry Nelson, and two stained-glass panels from San Francisco’s Mission Dolores.

Sonoma Valley Airport

Often called the Schellville Airport by the locals, the Sonoma Valley Airport is a popular destination for fans of classic and vintage aircraft. Take a flight back in time in one of the restored airplanes at the Vintage Aircraft Co.

Cornerstone Sonoma

A vine-lined arch stands in the middle of Sunset Gardens in Cornerstone Sonoma
Cornerstone Sonoma

Shop, sip, eat, play, and explore this wine country marketplace that offers unique stores, boutique wine tasting rooms, an urban craft distillery tasting room, artisanal foods, art-inspired gardens, and live music. Fans of Sunset Magazine can be inspired by the recently completed Sunset Gardens + Outdoor Test Kitchen.

Wineries

As is frequently the case in Sonoma County, there are too many outstanding wineries in this region to be able to list them all in this guide, so here’s a quick roundup.

Rolling vineyards lead into a valley at Viansa Sonoma Winery
Viansa Sonoma

Enjoy sparkling vintage and wonderful views at Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, which blends vibrant Spanish tradition and casual Sonoma County elegance. The views are also amazing (to match the wines) at the exclusive Ram’s Gate Winery and at Viansa Sonoma, where you can enjoy a glass of wine with lunch on a terrace overlooking the wetlands.

The family-owned Cline Family Cellars and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards are situated on a historic 350-acre Carneros region estate. A bit off the beaten track, you’ll find Larson Family Winery, Robledo Family Winery, Roche Winery & Vineyards, and Schug Carneros Estate Winery. Check in with the tasting room at Schug to pick up a free map, then take a half-mile walk through rows of estate grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Admire gorgeous views of rolling hills and the San Pablo Bay while learning about grape growing in the Carneros region.

A group of people walks through a row of grapevines at Meadowcoft Wines
Wine blending excursion and vineyard tour at Meadowcroft Wines

And you can taste wines from three boutique wineries in their tasting rooms in the Cornerstone Sonoma marketplace — Highwayman Wines, which pours its small-production specialty wines in a chic tasting room decorated with western-inspired art; Meadowcroft Wines, which specializes in handcrafted, European-style wines, produced from small family-owned vineyards, and Obsidian Wine Co., which produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah from their Carneros vineyards. Learn more about the Carneros Wine Region.

And wine isn't the only thing you can taste at Cornerstone Sonoma: Prohibition Spirits is a family-run micro-distillery. Its Cornerstone tasting room features their line of Whiskeys, Rums, Brandies, Liqueurs, Vodka, and Cellos, which are produced and influenced by Sonoma’s world class wine growing area. 

Restaurants

The wide-open Carneros region offers a somewhat limited number of dining options, but it’s all farm-fresh and tasty. Starting in the southern end, look for the red and white cow on the roof of Angelo’s Wine Country Deli, where the sandwiches are made with homemade cold cuts, sausages, and condiments. Fans love the beef jerky, garlic salsa, and garlic mustard.

Also, Carneros Deli offers a wide variety of deli food, plus a small wine tasting bar. Whether you want to grab a breakfast sandwich to start your day, a tasty snack between meals, or salads or sandwiches for a picnic lunch or supper (try the hot chipotle chicken sandwich on sourdough), this is the place.

Two people share a salad at a picnic table
Kivelstadt Cellars Wine Garden & Eatery

To the northeast at the intersection of highways 121 and 12, relax in the half-acre outdoor space, under the shaded patio or in the tree-covered wine garden at Kivelstadt Cellars Wine Garden & Eatery. Focusing on unique wine varietals, undiscovered gems of vineyards, and uncommon winemaking techniques, and rather than pouring tastes of wine from bottles, it serves them from kegs, eliminating packaging waste and wine spoilage.

And a little farther east on Highways 12/121, Lou's Luncheonette offers southern-inspired delights made fresh daily with locally sourced ingredients. Try the Kitchen Sink which features fried chicken, gravy, ham, egg, and biscuit, or perhaps you'd prefer a fried chicken platter with your choice of seasoning (like Nashville style chili oil and spices) with white bread, pickles, and mini-slaw.

Lodging

Enjoy the vintage motor-court ambiance at the Vineyard Inn Hotel, located at the crossroads of Highways 116 and 121. This family-owned, 22-room inn offers a unique sense of rustic elegance.

For a unique group getaway amid the Carneros vineyards, rent A Captain’s House, a spacious 4-bedroom, Civil War-era home at the Larson Family Winery. The home includes two full baths, a gourmet kitchen, and a living room with modern entertainment and a fireplace. The backyard offers a barbecue, and overlooks Sonoma Creek.

If you’re willing to travel a little outside the Carneros region, there are many lodging options in central and northern Sonoma Valley; check our listings of Sonoma County Hotels & Lodging.

Central Sonoma Valley

All that’s delightful about the Sonoma Valley—fine wine, farm-to-table cuisine, beautiful vineyards and hills, California history, and intriguing shops—comes together in its central section, home to the town of Sonoma (pop. 10,648) and, just north of the town limits, a series of neighborhood districts that have been collectively nicknamed The Springs — Agua Caliente, Boyes Hot Springs, El Verano, and Fetters Hot Springs.

Things to Do

There’s so much to see and do in the central Sonoma Valley it’s hard to list them all, but here’s a quick roundup of some of the options, going from south to north.

TrainTown

A little boy has a huge smile on his face as he "flies" in an airplane ride at TrainTown in Sonoma
TrainTown

As you drive up the wide Broadway boulevard (also known as Highway 12) into the town of Sonoma, you may hear the haunting sound of a train whistle off to your right. That’s TrainTown, with a quarter-scale train and four miles of track. The 20-minute ride goes through tunnels and over bridges, and stops to let passengers off in Lakeview, a miniature town and petting zoo. The site also includes six amusement rides.

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

Featuring local, regional, national, and international artists, past exhibits at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art have included everything from student work from local art classes to furniture masterworks from the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and ceramics by Pablo Picasso. The focus of this small nonprofit museum is on the art and ideas of our time, encouraging curiosity and innovation.

Sonoma Plaza

Historic Sonoma Courthouse sits in the middle of the plaza with a palm tree standing in front
Sonoma Plaza

The center of the town of Sonoma, the park-like Sonoma Plaza covers eight acres — one of California’s largest town squares. It was here in June 1846 that American settlers rebelled against Mexican rule and raised the bear flag, declaring an independent republic. Today, in addition to a Bear Flag monument, you’ll find leafy trees, a duck pond, City Hall, picnic tables, and children’s playgrounds. Festivals, farmers markets, fun runs, and other community activities are frequently held in Sonoma Plaza.

Sonoma State Historic Park

Downtown Sonoma is steeped in California history, and this state park is not simply a single location but several sites around the central Sonoma Plaza. It includes Mission San Francisco Solano, the last and northernmost of the Spanish-Mexican missions, and General Vallejo’s Home, a two-story gothic Victorian-style house that is now a museum. For more details, see Exploring California History in Sonoma.

Sebastiani Theatre

A peach-colored vintage theater on the Sonoma Plaza with cars parked in the foreground
Sebastiani Theater

Opened in April 1934 (admission was 34 cents), this regal movie theater evokes a bygone era, with lush red draperies, soaring ceilings, and impressive chandeliers. The building’s distinctive marquee and clock tower are a landmark on the Sonoma Plaza, and have been featured in numerous photographs, paintings, and posters.

Depot Park Museum

The Sonoma Valley Historical Society operates this small nonprofit museum in the old Northwestern Pacific railroad depot a few blocks north of the Sonoma Plaza. Former railroad cars house part of the museum, and permanent exhibits document the history of Sonoma Valley trains, the Bear Flag Revolt, early California life, schools, and Chinese immigrants. Temporary exhibits focus on various aspects of local history.

Wine Tool Museum at Buena Vista Winery

A person in historical dress gives a speech outside of a stone building at Buena Vista in Sonoma. Three flags wave in the distance.
Buena Vista Winery

Tools handcrafted more than a century ago are the stars of a theatrical show with lights, movement, and narration in Buena Vista Winery’s Wine Tool Museum. The museum tours provide an overview of the history of winemaking and of the Buena Vista Winery, along with tasting a flight of wines. The Buena Vista is California’s Oldest Winery.

Ramekins Culinary School, Events + Inn

Several blocks to the west of the Sonoma Plaza, Ramekins celebrates Sonoma County’s culinary abundance by offering both demonstration and hands-on cooking classes. The center also provides catering services and special event venues, and it offers six hotel suites with king size beds and luxury amenities.

Willow Stream Spa

Out in the Springs district, relax and refresh yourself in luxury at the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, a historic resort. Rated among Travel + Leisure’s top 25 spas, the 40,000-square-foot Willow Stream offers endless opportunities to renew yourself, from relaxing by the fireplace to soaking in mineral baths or indulging in a signature treatment.

Wineries

You’ll find more than two dozen wine tasting rooms within walking distance of the Sonoma Plaza, and even more in wineries located just a short distance away.

Red umbrellas stand out against a verdant background at Sebastiani Vineyards
Sebastiani Vineyards

Several historic wineries lie a bit east of the Plaza. In business for more than 100 years, Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery crafts small lots of super-premium Sonoma County wines. Founded in 1857, Buena Vista Winery is California’s oldest premium winery, and offers tastings and tours of its historic wine cellars. 

Head slightly southeast to Gundlach-Bundschu Winery to taste small lots of ultra-premium wines at California's oldest family-owned winery.

Of course, this is just a quick glimpse of the wine tasting possibilities; for more possibilities, read Guide to Wine Tasting in Sonoma.

Restaurants

For coffee and baked delights in downtown Sonoma, Basque Boulangerie Café is well known for its hand crafted breads, as well as its breakfast and lunch menus.

Patrons sit at a window seat at Basque Boulangerie in Sonoma Plaza
Basque Boulangerie

Also on the Plaza, cookbook author Sondra Bernstein’s the girl and the fig restaurant presents innovative country food with a French passion; seating includes an outdoor garden patio. And Oso Sonoma offers urban-cool décor and uncommon but delicious small plates (deviled eggs with crab, or shiitake and kombu-cured salmon with tamari soaked egg and Serrano ham).

Just off the Plaza, Tasca Tasca Portuguese Tapas & Wine Bar also features small plates, but with Portuguese style (“tasca” means tavern or pub in Portuguese); and the Red Grape is popular with locals for its crisp thin-crust pizza, pasta, and salads, in a relaxed and family-friendly atmosphere.

In The Springs district north of Sonoma town limits, the accalimed Santé restaurant uses the freshest local produce, meats, poultry, and seafood to create elegantly simple dishes that let the natural flavors speak for themselves. Santé is the flagship restaurant for the historic Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa.

Lodging

To the east of the Sonoma Plaza, Sonoma’s Best Guest Cottages includes four cozy one-bedroom cottages, each with a queen bed and full kitchen.

A bit west of the Sonoma Plaza, Sonoma Chalet Bed & Breakfast offers private cottages and B&B accommodations on a 3.5-acre estate.

A room with a patterned bed, blue wardrobe, a bowl full of apples at Sonoma Creek Inn
Sonoma Creek Inn

Just outside city limits and slightly off the beaten track, at the Sonoma Creek Inn you can choose from 16 affordable and casual hotel rooms, many with private outdoor patios or porches.

And out in the area known as The Springs, immerse yourself in luxury at the historic Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa.

For more options, check our listings of Hotels & Lodging in Sonoma County.

Northern Sonoma Valley

Two small villages — Glen Ellen and Kenwood — are tucked into the rolling hills, neat rows of vineyards, and wide meadows that make up northern Sonoma Valley, a relatively small region that’s home to more than three dozen wineries.

Things to Do

Here’s a quick list of activities in this beautiful area, starting just south of the town of Glen Ellen and heading north.

Jack London State Historic Park

A log cabin stands in the middle of a forest at Jack London State Park
Jack London State Park

Adventurer and novelist Jack London lived on his beloved Beauty Ranch in Glen Ellen from 1905 until his untimely death in 1916, at age 40. Today, his ranch is a state park, where you can tour the simple cottage where London lived with his wife Charmian, visit their gravesites, or explore historic buildings and ruins. The park includes lush forest, redwood groves, meadows, and hills with breathtaking views. Explore miles of trails that vary from flat and easy to steep and strenuous, including a portion of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

Triple Creek Horse Outfit

We sit from a rider's perspective on a horse overlooking Jack London State Park
Triple Creek Horse Outfit

Take a guided horseback tour of Jack London State Historic Park, which boasts some of the finest riding trails in the world. Ride past acres of vineyards producing grapes for premium wines, through open oak woodlands, and through shady groves of tall redwoods. Triple Creek prides itself on its gentle, well-cared-for horses; tours are available to suit anyone from first-time riders to experienced equestrians.

Transcendence Theatre’s Broadway Under the Stars

A vibrant sunset sky hands over the outdoor theater in Jack London State Park where Transcendence Theatre performs
Transcendence Theatre's Broadway Under the Stars at Jack London State Park

Each summer the beautiful stone winery ruins at Jack London State Historic Park are transformed into an under-the-stars stage, against a stunning backdrop of vineyards and rolling hills. Veteran Broadway and Hollywood performers present award-winning concerts combining Broadway and popular songs in high-spirited, feel-good shows that send everyone home smiling (and often singing). The Transcendence Theatre summer season typically runs from mid-June to mid-September.

Oak Hill Farm of Sonoma

Located just off Highway 12, the 25-acre Oak Hill Farm is a local landmark, selling its own sustainably grown produce, flowers, floral greens, and wreaths.

Magical Massage

Two massage tables stand inside a room with mood lighting at Magical Massage in Glen Ellen
Magical Massage

A variety of relaxing and rejuvenating massage and spa treatments are offered in a truly unique setting—inside a 22-foot wine barrel with a skylight, round cedar walls, and elegant décor. The adjacent Inspiration Gallery features jewelry, adult coloring books, inspirational greeting cards, prayer bracelets and candles, and a full line of organic skin care, aromatherapy, and massage oil.

Jack London Village

This small collection of shops and restaurants occupies a beautiful natural setting where Ashbury Creek flows into Sonoma Creek. Formerly a gristmill and a winery, the property includes an exhibit of Glen Ellen’s early history, winemaking, and the lives of Jack and Charmian London.

Morton’s Warm Springs Resort

Children swim in bright aquamarine water at Morton's Warm Springs, Sonoma County
Morton's Warm Springs

Nestled between forested hills and a lively creek, this 22-acre property includes geo-thermal mineral springs, once sacred to the local Wappo Indians. Today, you can access the spring waters in three mineral pools. The water temperature averages about 82 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pools vary from 4.5 to 9 feet deep, with lifeguards on duty. Typically open each year from May to September, the resort also includes hiking and biking trails, basketball and volleyball courts, a baseball field, croquet, ping-pong, horseshoe pits, a kids’ playground, and plenty of picnic and barbecue sites.

Wildwood Nursery

This five-acre park-like setting for rare and unusual plants from around the world includes more than 250 varieties of Japanese maples; many species of dogwood, ginkgo, and conifer trees; and bonsai-style beech, maple, and evergreen trees. Outdoor sculptures of steel, ceramic, coated resin, and other weatherproof materials are scattered throughout the grounds.

Quarryhill Botanical Garden

A path leads into a verdant wood streaming with sunlight
Quarryhill Botanical Garden

This botanical garden houses one of the largest collections of documented wild-collected Asian plants worldwide. Take a self-guided or a docent-led tour of this 25-acre hillside property. Wander along paths through flowering Asian trees as well as magnolias, dogwoods, roses, lilies, rhododendrons, and other flowers, including many rare and endangered species.

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

A path on a mountain leads through lupine overlooking a valley below
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

Located in the Mayacamas mountains on Sonoma Valley’s eastern edge, this nearly 4,000-acre state park is known for fabulous hiking through tree-covered ridges and a canyon redwood forest. It includes a 25-foot seasonal waterfall, the 2,729-foot Bald Mountain, 47 family campsites, and the Robert Ferguson Observatory.

Swede’s Feeds

The outside display changes from time to time, but as you drive through the town of Kenwood watch for a 10-foot metal dinosaur or giraffe. They’re usually the largest members of the colorful menagerie of animals handmade from recycled metal. Wander through blazing-pink flamingos, multi-colored peacocks, man-sized roosters, and many other colorful critters. Inside you’ll find wine racks, chairs, and tables, as well as chicken coops, bird boxes, gardening supplies, and pet food.

Wineries

You can explore a wide variety of  winery experiences in the northern Sonoma Valley.

A winemaker explains wine concepts to a wine taster in the midst of orange vineyards at harvest time at Benziger Family Vineyards
Benziger

The Benziger Family Winery, a biodynamic wine pioneer, offers tram tours of its extensive vineyards and grounds. Imagery Estate Winery specializes in experimenting with new or little known varietals, and displays a captivating collection of original art used on its wine labels.

Visit not one but two wine “castles” in northern Sonoma Valley. Gothic spires and archways rise above the massive French Normandy-style building at Ledson Winery & Vineyards, set against a background of scenic, rugged mountains. And the gorgeous Mediterranean-style courtyard and gardens at Chateau St. Jean make a lovely contrast to the winery’s buff-colored walls and red tile roof; this place might easily be mistaken for a chateau or winemaking monastery in the French Alps.

A bottle of St Francis chardonnay and squash soup food pairing
St. Francis

To sip and dine in true Wine Country style, enjoy the five-course wine-and-food pairing in an elegant dining room at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards (named by OpenTable as the “Best Restaurant in America”) or the gourmet food pairing (seven reserve wines paired with seven gourmet bites) at the Mayo Family Reserve Room.

This is just a sampling; learn more about the Sonoma Valley wine region.

Restaurants

From great burgers to innovative cuisine, kick back and enjoy farm-fresh food in relaxed and casual settings throughout the northern Sonoma Valley. Here are a few possibilities, starting in Glen Ellen and heading north.

A round, yellow colored morning bun
Les Pascals

At Les Pascals French pâtisserie in Glen Ellen, chef Pascal Merle and his wife Pascale offer croissants, brioche, Khun Amun (a morning bun), and assorted quiches, as well as a variety of other pastries, breads, mini-sandwiches, soups, French cookies, and more. 

Fresh seasonal produce, meats, and seafood are featured in the Nepalese-Indian infusion menu at Yeti Restaurant. And cookbook author Sondra Bernstein’s fig café & winebar serves delicious and seasonal Cal-Med cuisine in a recently revamped artsy space.

Three dishes sit on a table together at Glen Ellen Star
Glen Ellen Star

Chef Ari Weiswasser offers just 24 seats in his Glen Ellen Star, a Cal-Mediterranean bistro where the star of the show is the big wood-fired oven.

Featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives show, Café Citti recreates the delicious food and friendly atmosphere of an authentic Italian trattoria in the heart of Wine Country.

Palooza Brewery & Gastropub provides a variety of American pub fare, including barbecue, burgers, and small plates, plus local wines and 16 micro-craft beers.

For more dining ideas, check our listings of Sonoma County restaurants.

Lodging

There are several possibilities for spending the night in unique style in northern Sonoma Valley.

Stay in an 1892 ranch house and cottage at Beltane Ranch Bed & Breakfast, with breathtaking views and a private tennis court. Or relax on the outdoor porch at the historic Casa Bella vacation rental, a two-acre estate that sleeps up to 18 (nine couples) for corporate retreats, family gatherings, or group getaways.

Originally built as a private home in the late 1800s, Gaige House + Ryokan provides an elegant blend of vintage and contemporary décor in 23 guest rooms thoughtfully appointed with Asian flare.

Deck chairs are arranged around a patio fireplace at Gaige House in Sonoma County
Gaige House and Ryokan

Or, enjoy unique amenities, modern guest rooms, and an exceptional breakfast experience at the Olea Hotel, a small boutique hotel nestled into a hillside and surrounded by oak and olive trees.

Tucked away off Highway 12, Kenwood Inn and Spa offers gracious treatment, lush surroundings, and luxurious accommodations in a Mediterranean villa-style resort.

Located in a quiet, peaceful setting along Sonoma Creek, The Jack London Lodge provides affordable comfort in 22 rooms.

For more options, check our listings of Hotels & Lodging in Sonoma County.