Guide to Sonoma Plaza and Wine Tasting
The town of Sonoma is home to California's largest town square, Sonoma Plaza, which is surrounded by historic buildings, great restaurants, art galleries, and dozens of winery tasting rooms—all of which can be found on a leisurely stroll.
The Plaza itself is a popular picnic destination, while the day's activities can be plotted over coffee and a croissant at the Basque Boulangerie Café.
Guide to California History in Sonoma
Sonoma Plaza is surrounded by several reminders of the town's important history, which dates back to the early 1800s. Arguably the most significant is the Mission San Francisco Solano, founded in 1823, while other nearby landmarks include the Blue Wing Inn, Sonoma Barracks, the Toscano Hotel, the Servants Quarters (the remains of La Casa Grande), and General Vallejo's Home. It all makes for a spirited self-guided tour for the history buff.
Although these monuments are spread throughout downtown Sonoma, they are collectively part of Sonoma State Historic Park, and can be visited in an easy day of walking, with plenty of stops for snacks and wine tasting in between. Find details on how to explore Sonoma's historic buildings here.
Wine Tasting Around the Sonoma Plaza
With more than two dozen wine tasting rooms and several wine bars set on or near Sonoma Plaza, you can sample an amazing selection of local wines by merely walking a few steps. Here are a few to explore.
Start the day on West Napa Street with sparkling wine, as we call the bubbly stuff, and imported Champagne at this stylish "bubble bar." It sports a central bar, window nook, and cushy lounge area.
Across the street, check out Jeff Cohn for bold, flavorful Zinfandel. This small winery offers Rhône-style wines, as well.
On the southwest corner of the Sonoma Plaza, Corner 103 has been named 2020's best tasting room in America by the readers of USA Today. It's the brainchild of Lloyd Davis, who left a New York City career in finance to follow his passion for wine to Sonoma County. In addition to wines from most of the American Viticultural Areas in Sonoma County, Davis' own award-winning wines are poured here.
Head south on Broadway and peruse the Sonoma Valley Zinfandels and gallery at Bump, a husband-and-wife-owned adventure in wine and art.
Set in a renovated 1902 building, this spacious, high-style wine lounge includes private tasting rooms, a wine bar, and a variety of seating, all inspired by Voltaire's Candide. They pour their own wines, which include mountain-grown Sonoma Valley Cabernets and Anderson Valley Pinot noirs.
Headed further down East Napa Street, you'll find the winery from screenwriter Robert Kamen who penned hits like "The Karate Kid" and the wine country-themed "A Walk in the Clouds." Taste through mountain-grown Cabernets and check out the fun, film-themed t-shirts for sale.
Based on the Italian concept of an enoteca as a place to sample, drink, and buy wine from local producers, this wine bar and shop dedicates its 250+ "wine wall" to showcasing hard-to-find gems from both Sonoma winemakers and the world at large. Wines are offered by the flight, glass, or bottle, and you can order Tuscan soul food from the Della Santina's restaurant located right next door.
The winery's logo is an outdoor lounge chair, and you can't help but relax with a glass of winemaker Erich Bradley's sumptuous Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.
On the north side of the plaza, the cozy brick and half-timbered cottage serves to showcase Pinot Noir from around the West Coast. Contemplate a glass of Gap's Crown Pinot Noir under the redwoods out back or in the front yard.
A few steps off the plaza in a little house with shaded, front yard seating, this is a favorite with those who love Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot noir, and Merlot.
Off the northwest corner of the Plaza, fans of design, history and wine will find plenty to interest them in the meticulously restored Vallejo-Casteñada adobe, originally built of mud-and-straw bricks, circa 1842. Here you can revel in mid-19th-century furniture and architectural details, as well as Pinot noir, Chardonnay, and a Rhône-style blend from the famed Durell Vineyard.
On Church Street, one of downtown Sonoma's seemingly hidden alleyways, you can sample Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon in this bright, contemporary-styled tasting room.
More tasting rooms may be discovered on the Plaza or just a few steps down side streets!
Vine Alley in Sonoma
On the south side of Sonoma Plaza, the Sonoma Court Shops, aka "Vine Alley," evokes a European scene with its fountain, pastel stucco walls and tiled walkway. Look for the tasting room signs and the little Bacchus statue at 27 E. Napa St., then pass under the greenery-fringed archways and begin exploring. You can make it a round trip by following the narrow passageways that lead back to the street.
An art gallery and tasting room with a sense of whimsy, Adastra offers Carneros Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from certified organic grapes and affordable Ed's Red - which pairs well with mammoth, they say.
This recent addition, opened in June 2016, plays to the Pinot Noir crowd. Compare wine from appellations to the north and south of Sonoma County with top local vineyards like Gap's Crown.
Triathlon-competing entrepreneur brings high energy style to this new tasting lounge, where the top offering is a "super Syrah."
The Sbragia family name has been associated with Dry Creek Valley winegrowing for more than a century. Taste Chardonnays and Zinfandels from the winery’s own vineyards and big, distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from well-known vineyards across Sonoma County and Napa Valley.
Sosie is French for “twin” or “spitting image,” illustrating this winery's affinity for French-style winemaking. To make its red, white, and sparkling wines, Sosie sources its grapes from different sites across Sonoma and Napa that all share pronounced cooling influences.
Instead of a walk-up bar, expect an informative, guided tasting with table or sofa seating at this out-of-the-way little salon. Estate wines from the biodynamically farmed Annadel Gap vineyard include Syrah, Pinot Noir, and rare Counoise.
Wine Tasting in the Sonoma Neighborhood
These notable wineries are located within walking distance, bicycling distance, or a short car trip from Sonoma Plaza.
At the end of Old Winery Road, you'll find a very old winery, indeed. Legendary vintner 'Count' Agoston Haraszthy founded Buena Vista in 1857. In recent years, Jean-Charles Boisset restored the 'Champagne cellars' and created an engaging exhibit that features wine tools.
Mythology buffs will enjoy the reference to wild man Enkidu, the wingman to King Gilgamesh in the ancient epic, while the winery's Shamhat Rosé—as well as Syrah, Pinot noir, Cabernet, and Zinfandel—should have a civilizing effect on anyone.
Adventurous visitors can tour the vineyards here in an open-air Pinzgauer military vehicle, then peer into the wine caves. A wide array of reds and whites can be ordered from the outdoor bar overlooking the valley, or tasted in the stone cellar.
A pleasant walk a few blocks east of the Mission San Francisco Solano leads to one of Sonoma's oldest wineries, Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery. Wines here include Sonoma County-sourced Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay, as well as Moscato, Pinot Grigio, and more.
Where to Stay in Sonoma
With all this exploring you might want to stay the night. Staying in Sonoma wine country at one of the legendary Sonoma hotels is a great way to relax and experience the best of Northern California. Choose among boutique hotels, cozy bed & breakfasts, inns, vacation rentals and a 5-star resort.
Relax in historic luxury at this iconic inn, which features beautifully appointed guest rooms, a pampering spa, world-class golf, and the award-winning Santé restaurant.
A five-minute drive from Sonoma Plaza, enjoy privacy, peace, and quiet at this charming, quaint, and quirky 3.5-acre property offering seven unique accommodations.
For the budget-mined, this reasonably priced, 16-room hideaway offering colorfully decorated rooms with private outdoor patios or porches, flat screen TVs, Keurig coffee makers, and mini-refrigerators is a great choice.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.