Perfect Winter Saturdays in Sonoma County

Salt Point State Park in Jenner, the only legal spot in Sonoma County to forage for mushrooms. (Gary Saxe/Shutterstock)

Winter is an incredible time to visit Sonoma County, with so much going on for the holidays … and beyond! Plan ahead with our weekend-by-weekend, month-by-month collection of popular experiences — from festive events in December to mushroom expeditions in January and February. Your expert guides? Sonoma County writers who offer insider knowledge with pride.

For other ideas, check out our calendar of events.

December

Lake Sonoma in Sonoma County
Lake Sonoma

Lake Sonoma

It’s too hot a hike for the summer, but early winter is perfect for the solitude of Lake Sonoma. The 4-square-mile reservoir has several options to take you along the water or into the beautiful coastal foothills. The Little Flat trailhead to Bummer Peak, which climbs nearly 1,000 feet, will give you the full lay of the land and water. You’ll likely meet some equine friends — maybe even some feral pigs — along the route. From the lake, it’s just 15 minutes via Canyon Road to downtown Geyserville, where the vintage-styled Geyserville Gun Club has oysters, buttermilk fried chicken wings, and top-notch cocktails. -Bryce Martin

Swedish Holiday

For anyone who wants to find out what “smorgasbord” really is about, try the real deal at Petaluma’s Stockhome. In December, the restaurant offers the sublime Swedish Christmas Smorgasbord, with dishes that Swedes know and cherish. Reserve ahead to sit in the afternoon winter sun and eat your fill of housemade rye bread, pickled herring, cured salmon, sausages, meatballs, and rice pudding, accompanied by julmust, or Yuletide soda. The meal takes two hours from start to finish, so be sure to come on an empty stomach. After, stroll through the holiday-decorated streets of downtown Petaluma before settling in for a long session at Copperfield’s Books. Only books for Christmas, please. -Annika Toernqvist

Santa Rosa With Kids

Keeping an active toddler (or young relatives visiting for the holidays) happy during the year’s coldest, darkest month can be a challenge, but there’s a two-block smorgasbord of kid-friendly destinations in Santa Rosa that goes a long way to filling the day with fun. At the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, the tot zone has a tree house with a slide and oodles of soft stacking blocks to pile up and knock down. For slightly older kids, the air maze and the ornithopter (a decommissioned helicopter repurposed as a play structure) are tops. From the museum, it’s just a short walk to Snoopy’s Home Ice for skating and hot chocolate at the Warm Puppy Cafe. After, nearby Sea Noodle Bar has spicy beef noodle soup and pad Thai, plus plain noodles with chicken for tots. -Charles Swanson

Winter Coast Loop

Sonoma County’s dramatic coast is a welcome destination during those quiet days before the New Year’s holiday. Head west on Highway 12 toward Bodega Bay for a beachfront hike in the chilly winter air. The Bodega Head trail is the popular one, but I like the less crowded loop to Pinnacle Gulch and Shorttail Gulch. Along the drive out, Freestone’s Wild Flour Bread is a must-stop for coffee and scones — try the pear-hazelnut-cardamom — cooked in a wood-fired oven. After hiking in Bodega Bay, head north on Highway 1, then loop east on Highway 116 to the hamlet of Duncans Mills for boutiques like The Poet’s Corner Book Shop and Duncans Mills Tea Shop. A stop for clam chowder or salmon fish and chips at the nearby Blue Heron Restaurant & Tavern carries forward the feel of the coast. -Bill Swindell

Bakery Hopping

It’s the rare soul who doesn’t indulge in sweet treats at the holiday. Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg gets in the spirit with enough holiday specials for all your little reindeer, so to speak, plus a collection of more than 500 nutcrackers on display. Also right in town, Quail & Condor has exquisite holiday cookies, while Downtown Bakery & Creamery makes traditional Italian panettone and British-style mincemeat tarts. Take a beautiful egg salad sandwich to go from Troubadour Bread & Bistro and head out Westside Road to DaVero Farms & Winery for the new release of its olio nuovo, the extra-peppery seasonal olive oil. Loop back to town the long way, via West Dry Creek and Dry Creek Road, to take in the quiet season in the vineyards. –Abigail Peterson

January

Lake Sonoma in Sonoma County
Artisans Co-Op in Bodega, California

A Classic Drive

The two-lane stretch of Sonoma Highway, 22 miles from Santa Rosa to downtown Sonoma, provides the setting for a perfect Saturday afternoon. The drive encapsulates the beauty and the breadth of Sonoma County: Our vineyards and wineries (a tasting inside the wine caves at Deerfield Ranch is perfect on a misty winter day); roadside shops and restaurants (including Salt + Stone in Kenwood, one of my favorites). The drive is a bucolic break from the everyday that soothes the spirit and settles the mind. -Richard A. Green

Bodega’s Hidden Galleries

In the compact town of Bodega, a few minutes inland from the coast, the Sonoma County Artisans’ Co-op Gallery shows 50 local artists — some newbies, others widely known, including Carolyn Jarvis’s plein-air seascapes and Randy Snyder’s raku pottery. The historic Bodega Art Gallery, once an 1850s blacksmith shop, offers a rotating display of artists’ work, as well as jewelry, antiques, and the requisite Alfred Hitchcock T-shirts and Tippi Hedren posters. Chef Mark Malicki’s Casino Bar & Grill, which isn’t a casino at all, is the place to eat. -Kathleen Coates

Winter’s Bounty

At Salt Point State Park in Jenner — the only legal spot to forage for mushrooms in Sonoma County — 20 miles of hiking trails invite you to seek out some of California’s finest fungi, including some edible and many non-edible, pretty-to-look-at specimens. To navigate the 6,000-acre park, we recommend foraging with an expert guide or two, like Julie Schreiber and David Campbell of Mycoventures, who offer seasonal group forays. You’ll learn mushroom ID techniques, proper handling tips, collecting etiquette and more. -Sarah Doyle

Hiking and High Tea

Enjoy the crisp, cool air of the new year with a walk on the Joe Rodota Trail in Sebastopol. The flat trail is perfect for all types of recreation, from walking and running to biking and roller skating. Leave your car in public parking near Hopmonk Tavern before joining the trail for an enjoyable out-and-back jaunt. Don’t forget to make reservations at Muir’s Tea Room for a warm-up pot of tea with a spot of vegan tea sandwiches and cookies afterward. The tea shop, dedicated to the late environmentalist John Muir, is the perfect place to warm up after a cold winter’s walk. -Amie Windsor

February

Lake Sonoma in Sonoma County
Lake Sonoma in Sonoma County

Exploring the Estero

Kayakers regularly flock to the Russian River and Tomales Bay, for good reason. For something quite different, try Estero Americano. If you’re not familiar with our esteros, it’s the Spanish word for “estuary,” a brackish waterway that rises and falls with the tides. Estero Americano meanders through dairy land and offers an absolute riot of bird life — egrets, herons, Canada geese, osprey. Name the bird, it’s probably here, and the narrow estuary gives you close-up views. Note that the put-in can be a little hard to find. On Highway 1 in Valley Ford, look for Dinucci’s Italian Dinners, head southwest on Valley Ford Estero Road, then hang a left on Marsh Road and immediately look for what appears to be a long dirt driveway down to the water. Figure out where the ocean is, and paddle in that direction. Take note: This is not a trip for a hot summer day. You won’t be in shade for one minute. Estero Americano is perfect for a chilly morning in the wet season, when the hills are green and the birds are particularly abundant. -Phil Barber

Off-the-Beaten-Path Wines

Sonoma County is home to more than 400 wineries, many that are tucked away from heavy traffic, where small-scale owner/winemakers find affordable production space. Among these hidden gems is Santa Rosa’s Carol Shelton Wines, where the very personable owner herself often leads the tastings. Shelton is known for single-vineyard Zinfandels, including her Monga Zin, a particular highlight. After, head to rebuilt Coffey Neighborhood Park to stretch out on the grass and watch the dogs romp, then hit Juanita’s Mexican Restaurant on Mendocino Avenue for quesabirria tacos or one of the specials listed on the wall. -Colin Atagi

Curvy Coast Drive

A drive up Highway 1 from Bolinas to Jenner is a perfect way to spend a dreary winter day. It’s perfect if you’re feeling broody, contemplative, romantic, or just want to be reminded of the splendor along the North Coast. Dotted with great pullouts boasting spectacular views, I love to stop and pop out and stare for a few minutes here and there before escaping back to the warmth of the car, with an obligatory break in Bodega Bay for seafood. An out-and-back hike along the steep Sea to Sky Trail at the Jenner Headlands Preserve is an ambitious end to the afternoon. -Marisa Endicott 

Green Up

Plants make for some of the best gifts, especially coming out of winter, when the world could use a little more green, and especially for Valentine’s Day, when I’ve likely already had my fill of sweets.

In Petaluma, Flourish boutique boasts cheeky valentine cards and a whole wall of indoor plants, including my favorite variegated philodendrons, with leaves in the shape of hearts. (They propagate easily — just snip off a cutting and put in a bud vase to share the love with a friend.) Nearby, the Panorama Trail at Helen Putnam Regional Park has views of oaks just beginning to unfurl tiny leaves. From the park, it’s less than 10 minutes back into town, which means I can make it back in time for happy-hour oysters at The Shuckery-Abigail Peterson


By Sonoma Magazine Staff

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