Guide to Sonoma Plaza and Wine Tasting
The historic town of Sonoma is home to California's largest town square, Sonoma Plaza, and offers historic buildings, unique restaurants, art galleries and dozens of tasting rooms which can be found on a leisurely stroll.
The Plaza itself is a popular picnic destination, while the day's activities, whether combining shopping with history, or wine tasting with cycling, can be plotted over coffee and a croissant at coffee shops like Basque Boulangerie Café.
Guide to California History in Sonoma
Tucked all around the Sonoma Plaza are reminders of the town's important history, which dates back to the early 1800s. While the Sonoma Plaza was founded in the mid-1800s, there are historic buildings that are even older, including the Mission San Francisco Solano, which borders the plaza, and was founded in 1823. Other important nearby landmarks include Blue Wing Inn, Sonoma Barracks, the Toscano Hotel, the Servants Quarters (the remains of La Casa Grande), and Vallejo's Home. It all makes for a spirited self-guided tour for the history buff.
Although they are in different locations in downtown Sonoma, they are all considered part of the 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 located 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.' Its new location 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 is a unique tasting experience from founder Lloyd Davis. Originally from New York City with a career in finance, Lloyd followed his passion for wine to Sonoma County, where he has been making award-winning wines for years.
Head south on Broadway and peruse the gallery at Bump, a husband-and-wife owned adventure in wine and art. Sonoma Valley Zinfandel.
This high-style wine lounge opened a new perspective on the Plaza wine in 2015, with the renovation of this 1902 building. Private tasting rooms, wine bar, and a variety of seating in this spacious hangout, inspired by Voltaire's Candide.
Headed further down East Napa Street you will find the winery from screenwriter Robert Kamen who penned hits like the Karate Kid and the wine country-themed A Walk in the Clouds. Fun, film-themed t-shirts, and mountain-grown Cabernet.
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 logo is a 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 wine tasters. Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.
Off the northwest corner of the plaza, design, history and wine buffs will find plenty to interest them in the meticulously restored Vallejo-Casteñada adobe, which was originally built of mud and straw bricks circa 1842. Period-style furniture and details; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Rhône-style blend from the Durell Vineyard.
Wander down one of the Plaza's several 'hidden' alleyways and sample Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon in this bright, contemporary-styled tasting room.
That's not all-more tasting rooms may be discovered on the plaza or 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.'
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 Shamhat Rosé should have a civilizing effect on anyone. Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, and Zinfandel.
Adventuresome visitors can tour the vineyards in an open-air Pinzgauer military vehicle, peer in the wine caves, and then order wines from the outdoor bar overlooking the valley, or taste 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.
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 the iconic inn with beautifully appointed guest rooms, a pampering spa, world-class golf, and the award-winning Santé restaurant.
Enjoy privacy, peace, and quiet at this charming, quaint, and little bit quirky 3.5-acre property offering seven unique accommodations, just a five minute drive from the Sonoma Plaza.
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.