Itinerary: Experience Sonoma Wine Country
There's magic in acres of vineyards stretched over rolling hills, the fruity aroma of freshly crushed grapes, and the pale golds or dark reds of fine wine flowing out of the bottle. Experience it all, from vineyard to glass and everything in between, on a Wine Country escape to Sonoma County, just an hour north of San Francisco. Go wine tasting. Horseback riding. Learn about local history. Blend your own wine. Indulge in gourmet wine & food experiences. Meet a winemaker and learn about growing and blending.
This is the place for people who want to immerse, engage, and connect - with the earth, with nature, and, most importantly, with each other. Whether it's just the two of you, a getaway with friends, or some other combination of the folks in your life, discover the magic of Sonoma County, where life opens up.
Here is a suggested itinerary for immersing yourself in the Wine Country experience.
Begin your adventure on Sonoma County’s eastern edge, where the lush Sonoma Valley offers a delightful blend of wine, history, arts, fine food, and scenic views. Wander around the eight-acre central plaza in the town of Sonoma, exploring the nearby shops, galleries, tasting rooms, and delicious eateries.
History is everywhere you look, from the statues in the plaza to the neighboring Sonoma State Historic Park, which contains a number of sites, including the last and northernmost of California’s missions. At the north end of the valley, Jack London State Historic Park beckons with more than 26 miles of trails across 1,400-acres, once the home of acclaimed author and adventurer Jack London. Hop on one of the gentle, well-cared-for horses from Triple Creek Horse Outfit and let the knowledgeable local guide lead you on a trail ride suited to your abilities. Ride past acres of vineyards producing grapes for premium wines, through open oak woodlands, and through shady groves of tall redwoods.
To explore on your own two feet, the extensive trail system offers amazing views, and connects to part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Local volunteer docents often lead hikes and tours of the park; if interested, check the park’s Calendar of Events. Visit the simple cottage where London and his wife Charmian lived, pay your respects at their gravesites, and learn more at the recently updated House of Happy Walls Museum. Ready for a bit of quintessential Wine Country pampering? In the nearby town of Glen Ellen, Magical Massage founders Carolyn Manzi and Martha Paul provide massage, skin care, and body therapy inside an elegantly decorated 22-foot wine barrel.
Located at the juncture of three prime winegrowing regions — the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley wine appellations — the truly charming northern Sonoma County town of Healdsburg is a wine and culinary epicenter. Plan to spend some time here, first exploring the downtown area with its art galleries, antique stores, boutiques, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms, and then venturing out into the gorgeous surrounding countryside.
More than 100 world-class wineries and tasting rooms are just a short drive away, or a fun bicycle ride. Explore the area on two wheels on the Healdsburg Wine Country Cycling Tour with Ace It Bike Tours, or on the Sip ‘N Cycle Tour by Getaway Adventures. Or glide your way to two beautiful boutique wineries on the Russian River Vineyards DeLuxe Tour by Segway of Healdsburg. From here, you can explore the Russian River resort area all the way to the coast, or head north to the charming communities of Geyserville and Cloverdale.
Walking Through the Vines
Stroll through a vineyard, seeing up-close how the vines are pruned and what the different varietals look like on a free self-guided vineyard walk. Coordinated by the Sonoma County Winegrowers, the trails in the Sonoma County Vineyard Adventures program are no more than a mile long and relatively easy to walk. Just ask for a free guide at the participating winery’s tasting room, and you’re all set. Displays along the pathway explain each area’s unique terroir, sustainable farming practices, and agricultural legacy. Check the Vineyard Adventures map for participating wineries.
At BobDog Wines (reservations required), winemaker Tim Ward walks you through the vineyard, which is Sonoma County’s highest at 2,000 feet elevation. Enjoy panoramic views of the Alexander Valley, learn about all aspects of grape growing and wine making, and then sit on the back deck and taste some of the winery’s ultra premium Bordeaux style wines.
Join Alice Sutro for the signature Nature Walk & Tasting at Sutro Wine in Alexander Valle. Visit the 25-year-old Cab vines and terraced Merlot block, and then stroll through oaks with views of the Russian River on the historic Warnecke Ranch, which has been family owned and operated since 1911.
And at Kunde Family Winery in the Sonoma Valley, fourth generation winegrower Jeff Kunde, his wife Roberta, and their dogs Cooper and Kalie lead a Dog Hike through the vineyards, oak woodlands, native grasslands, and chaparral; the hike ends with a wine tasting and lunch. Or, the four-hour, moderately strenuous Estate Hike (without your dog) through the 1,850-acre estate, seeing sustainable winegrowing practices at work while taking in the spectacular scenery.
Riding Through the Vines
Learn about Biodynamic farming practices while riding through the vineyards in a tractor-drawn tram at the Benziger Family Winery in the Sonoma Valley. The popular tram tour includes visiting the winemaking facilities and exploring the wine cave as well as a wine tasting.
Let two big, beautiful Belgian draft horses take you on a five-mile wagon ride through the Alexander Valley with The Wine Carriage. Go through vineyards in a wagon outfitted with padded seats and a shade top, stopping at family-owned wineries and enjoying a picnic lunch along the way.
Go horseback riding through vineyards on a private working ranch at Rollin F Ranch outside Sebastopol in western Sonoma County. Owned by four generations of the Fiddler family for more than 100 years, the ranch grows Pinot Noir and Petite Sirah grapes as well as organic apples and wild blackberries, with vegetable and flower gardens scattered through the property.
Harvest is a busy season throughout Sonoma County, with harvest festivals everywhere you turn during the months from August to November. One of the largest is the Sonoma County Harvest Fair each October. This three-day event features vintages from more than 100 wineries, craft beer and cider tastings, food pairings, chef demonstrations, seminars by wine experts, and a grand gala.
Sample grapes for sugar, pH, and taste at West Wines, where husband and wife team Bengt Akerlind and Katarina Bonde host a series of Harvest Tours each year. Some take place in the lower vineyard next to the tasting room while others are held at the West Crest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard, with beautiful views of the entire Dry Creek Valley. Afterward, enjoy a wine tasting and a final check of your grape samples.
And this is just a brief sampling of the harvest activities, events, and dinners available throughout Sonoma County; consult our Calendar of Events for more ideas.
At Gundlach Bundschu Winery in the Sonoma Valley, six generations of the Bundschu family have grown grapes and crafted wines since 1858, making it California’s oldest family-owned winery. Experience an underground cave wine tasting, or tour the hillside ranch on a six-wheeled Pinzgauer (an Austrian military vehicle).
Also in Sonoma Valley, Buena Vista Winery is the state’s oldest premium winery and the birthplace of California’s wine industry. In addition to tasting fine wines in the tasting room, you can sample wine from barrels in the historic champagne cellars, learn about winemaking history through the Wine Tools Museum, or get hands-on experience in the art of blending wine.
A bit north, the gorgeous Mediterranean-style courtyard and gardens at Chateau St. Jean make the perfect setting for tasting a flight of their award-winning wines. Try the classic tasting, one paired with gourmet bites, a private tailored wine experience, or the Wine Country Escape Room, where you have 60 minutes to solve a variety of puzzles and riddles to escape (with wine along the way, of course).
Be transported to the Italian countryside at Ferrari Carrano Vineyards and Winery, with its stately rose-pink villa and more than 1,500 acres of certified sustainably farmed vineyards and lush gardens outside Healdsburg. More than 10,000 tulips and daffodils bloom here each spring. Taste classic and limited release wines in the Villa Fiore Wine Shop, in the Enoteca wine bar in the underground cellar, or on Il Terrazzo, an outdoor terrace overlooking the vineyards.
Explore movie memorabilia (including the desk from “The Godfather” and a couple of Oscar awards), relax poolside, dine on Italian and international cuisine in the full-service onsite restaurant, and take a behind-the-scenes tour of the state-of-the-art bottling facility at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Dry Creek Valley.
Reservations are required for the intimate tasting experiences at Jordan Vineyard & Winery, a 1,200-acre estate in the foothills of the Alexander Valley. Take the Estate Tour & Tasting, a three-hour, farm-to-table excursion showcasing foods grown on the property as well as its award-winning wines and the property’s breathtaking views.
Immerse yourself in all things wine country at Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa. Surrounded by 92 acres of lush vineyards, this intimate, elegant retreat offers deluxe guest rooms and suites, a state-of-the-art full-service day spa, and delicious dining at onsite restaurants, John Ash & Co. and River Vine Café.
Stately antique furniture, elegant décor, and feather-soft linens set the tone at Madrona Manor Wine Country Inn & Restaurant, a beautiful 1881 Victorian mansion surrounded by eight acres of wooded and landscaped grounds. Enjoy a candlelight dinner in the onsite restaurant, which earned a Michelin Star every year for the past decade for the farm-fresh and seasonal menus crafted by chef Jesse Mallgren.
Owned and operated by two generations of the Christensen family, the serene and beautiful Geyserville Inn blends all the comforts of a modern hotel with the charm and service of a small country inn. Located in a vineyard and offering beautiful mountain views, this local inn makes a perfect headquarters for the quintessential wine country getaway.