Exploring the wonders of Sonoma County is the best resolution of them all. There’s so much you can do to make this a very special year, from touring stunning landscapes, to thrilling in athletic adventures, soothing with meditative repose, and in between, enjoying a whole lot of pampering for body and mind.
Treat yourself. Here are some grand activities to give you that only-in-Sonoma experience.
1. Detox at Osmosis Day Spa, Freestone
According to Osmosis owner Michael Stusser, this is the only cedar bath in this country, inspired by spas he discovered in Japan for soothing pain, calming nerves, cleansing, and brightening skin. The magic comes from the mix of fine cedar shavings, rice bran, and plant enzymes, burying you neck-deep in a large wooden tub, like a moist cocoon that nudges the heat past 120 degrees. As you ferment, you gaze over the meditative sand garden outside the window, and an attendant tiptoes in periodically to apply cold cloths and offer sips of ice water.
209 Bohemian Highway, Freestone, 707-823-8231.
2. Free Your Spirit at Chanslor Ranch, Bodega Bay
The hillsides and redwood forests bring gorgeous Pacific Ocean views, made even finer on horseback. When you see the big, gentle eyes of the noble steeds, you know the creatures are well loved, living on their 378-acre scenic ocean view ranch. Combine happy animals with stunning open range, vistas, cliffs, and beaches, and you’re in for a one-of-a-kind encounter. There are ocean view, beach, trail, and dazzling sunset rides, all as relaxing or exhilarating as your experience level allows.
2660 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-8849.
3. Exercise at Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail, Bodega Bay
Even though this paved trail runs along the salt marsh that’s home to wildlife and thousands of birds throughout the year, rowdy kids and leashed dogs are welcome. Give the kids binoculars and see which animals they can spy with their little eyes. The path is easy, looping one mile through Doran Regional Park and Bird Walk Coastal Access Park along Doran Park Marsh and tidal channels, over a 110' bridge that spans Cheney Creek, and connects to the Bird Walk Park up on the levees. To access the trail, park at a 10-car space parking lot off Highway 1 at the south end of town (between Smith Brothers Road and Doran Park Road), or enter through Doran Regional Park at the north end of town.
355 State Highway 1, north of the town of Bodega Bay.
4. Embrace Nature with Water Treks EcoTours and Kayak Rentals
Owner Suki Waters is a local Native American descendant, guide, and kayak instructor, specializing in wildlife, Sonoma history, and ecology tours. From beginner boaters to skilled sports enthusiasts, there’s an adventure for all, staged along the amazing coast. Explore the quiet estuary or tackle the dancing sea, and keep your eyes peeled for area residents like sea lions, harbor seals, otters, birds, and maybe even a whale.
10438 Highway 1, Jenner, 707-865-2249.
5. Take Flight with Sonoma Canopy Tours, Occidental
Capture the moment after your zip line instructor straps you into the specially designed harness and Go Camera you’ll wear for this high-speed scream through space. That’s because your eyes may be closed the first time you traverse this zip line course winging you up to 25 miles per hour through a redwood forest, over a ravine 300-feet below, and along a creek. But soon, you’ll be smitten by the fun and ogling the views. Part of the challenge is just getting to the jump canopies, since eleven different platforms test your clambering skills, too, daring you to scale a skinny spiral staircase 30 feet up, and wobble across a 175-foot-long sky bridge.
6250 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 888-494-7868.
6. Embrace History at House of Happy Walls Museum, Glen Ellen
The House of Happy Walls Museum sounds delightful even before you know what it is, because it’s so, well, happy. What makes this National Historic Landmark abode so cheerful is that it salutes author Jack London’s artistic life, set appropriately enough, in Jack London State Historic Park. Jack lived for adventure and fantasy, and you can hike the 26 miles of connecting trails of this 39-acre backcountry woodland retreat and mountain expanse just as he did. The centerpiece is the ruin of the huge Wolf House that the London family built, but which burned down before they could move in. This dreamed-of home was so close to Jack’s heart, actually, that he is buried there. You can go on free weekend tours with a guide, or trek on your own anytime, through the restored cottage where London wrote and died, and learn about London's worldwide adventures at the Museum itself.
2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, 707-938-5216.
7. Go Wild at Safari West Wildlife Preserve & African Tent Camp, Santa Rosa
Enjoy a beastly great time by taking an open-air safari vehicle along this 400-acre wildlife preservethat’s home to more than 800 exotic animals —zebras, cheetahs, antelopes, giraffes, wildebeests, and more. Ride in an open-air vehicle, watching the animals socialize, eat, and play. And it gets even better — you can stay overnight in one of their luxurious glamping tents. Owners Peter and Nancy Lang imported the park’s elegantly appointed safari tents from Africa and customized them onsite. Dine in the onsite Savannah Café and sleep in delicious luxury with African wildlife as your closest neighbors.
3115 Porter Creek Road, Santa Rosa, 707-579-2551.
8. Indulge in a Meal of a Lifetime at SingleThread Farms Restaurant & Inn, Healdsburg
Kyle and Katina Connaughton created the epitome of luxury with this combination of a 55-seat restaurant and five luxury hotel suites. At the heart is a rooftop culinary garden, where guests begin with sparkling wine and savories, followed by an 11-course tasting-menu in the downstairs dining room. The meal is kaiseki — elaborate multicourse meals crafted as art — and donabe — rustic clay pot cooking, matched with wines. The changing menu customized to your preferences can include marvels like black cod Fukkura-san (donabe style) with root vegetables, cabbage, charred onion, and walnut-nori pesto; plus wild salmon donabe-smoked over cherry-blossom-wood with fermented rice, salmon roe, and wild ginger.
131 North Street, Healdsburg.
9. Get Crabby at the Tides Wharf Restaurant, Bodega Bay
Made famous in the early 1960s as the backdrop for scenes in Alfred Hitchcock's film classic, "The Birds," this restaurant at the Tides resort specializes in local seafood, like breakfasts of grilled snapper, eggs, and hash browns; a cioppino lunch stocked with Dungeness crab, prawns, scallops, clams, and mussels; or dinner of Pacific red snapper. And each winter, locals flock to this Bodega Bay-front restaurant for its delicious crab feeds, offered only when the fishermen are bringing in their fresh catch. These reservations-only meals are served on select Fridays from December through March, and are often quickly sold out. It’s a mouthwatering feast of briny-sweet, chilled Dungeness crab served with cocktail sauce, drawn butter, and the Tides’ own mustard sauce, clam chowder, linguine, green salad, and fresh-baked French bread. Get a seat near the windows over looking the water, and keep an eye peeled — that boat out there might be the very one that brought in your dinner.
835 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3652.
10. Cheer With Beer
Beer is always a delicious refresher, and Sonoma County Wine Country is known for its many boutique operations producing finely crafted beers based on local ingredients. It’s easy to plan your visits, too, since you simply hop online and follow the Sonoma County beer map.
Start your trail of suds with some famous brew houses like Bear Republic Brewing Company at its original spot in Healdsburg or its second site lakeside in Rohnert Park, Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, and Russian River Brewing Company (home of the uproariously popular Pliny the Younger and its release party each February) with its original taproom in Santa Rosa and its new place in Windsor.
Then, hit tiny hot spots, such as the Fogbelt Brewing Company in Santa Rosa and St. Florian’s Brewery in Windsor. If you’d prefer not to drive yourself, take a guided suds tour with North Bay Brewery Tours or On Tap Beer Tours. Or, visit craft breweries on two wheels with guided bicycle tours by Ace It Bike Tours or Getaway Adventures & Rentals.
11. Put Your Pedal to the Metal at Simraceway Performance Driving Center, Sonoma
You’re revved up from all the football action, so keep the energy going with a zoom around the Simraceway Performance Driving Center at Sonoma Raceway. As your Audi R8 sports car grips the NASCAR track at more than 122 miles per hour on the 180-degree turn, you’ll be so happy you took your Audi Sportscar Experience safety training classes first.
29359 Arnold Drive, Turn 1, Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma, 800-733-0345.
12. Chill at Kelley & Young Wine Garden Inn, Cloverdale
Maybe all the holiday festivities have you simply worn out. So curl up in a cozy bed at a quiet B&B. This lovingly preserved Queen Anne Victorian, built in 1901 and listed on the United States Register of Historic Places, offers seven uniquely different guest rooms, four of which are tower suites with fireplaces. The inn is owned by Kelley & Young, a boutique winery started in 2007 by husband and wife team Kathleen Kelley and Jim Young as an outlet for Kathleen’s passion for food and Jim’s passion for wine.
29955 River Road, Cloverdale, 707-894-5956.
13. Eat Like a King for Pennies at Stormy’s Spirits & Supper, Bloomfield/Petaluma
One of the oldest roadhouses in the West, established in 1854, this classic destination charms with a cottage mood, then wallops with serious beef like bone-in rib-eye, a full-pound prime rib, and New York steak decorated in crunchy onion rings, all at bargain prices. It’s a manly meal, too — all suppers include the Cramer family's secret recipe clam chowder crafted fresh daily, garden salad with house made creamy Italian dressing, mashed potatoes, fresh vegetable, and French bread and butter.
6650 Bloomfield Road, Petaluma, 707-795-0127.
14. Immerse Yourself at Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, Forestville
Many Wine Country spas showcase local products like honey, grape seeds, and even wine. This retreat shines with farm-to-table spa signatures using heirloom cider apples from the inn’s home ranch for facials, plus herbs grown in its kitchen garden for a sumptuous “body melt” with a warm pillow of muscle-healing herbs, alfalfa hay, lavender, and chamomile.
7871 River Road, Forestville, 707-887-3300.
15. Get Cheesy at the Artisan Cheese Festival, Santa Rosa
Imagine hundreds of boutique cheeses awaiting sampling, and you’ve got this annual extravaganza featuring locally made dairy delights. Held each March at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, the weekend is filled with scrumptious cheeses, chef demonstrations and pairings, farm tours, educational sessions by industry experts, cheesemongers, talented chefs, cheese experts, authors, cheese makers and more. Top attractions like hands-on farm and creamery tours always sign out, so sign up early.
1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa; festival info Judy Groverman Walker, 707-837-1928.
16. Nurture Your Culture at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art
The 8,000-square-foot space museum is the largest visual arts organization in the San Francisco North Bay region, exhibiting works by regional, national, and international modern and contemporary artists. The range is extensive, spanning visual, literary, musical, dramatic, culinary, and winemaking arts created in a rainbow array of mediums. Lesser known is that the museum also houses a 2500-volume art library, and an art studio and public spaces offering workshops, so you can fine-tune your own talents.
551 Broadway, Sonoma, 707-939-7862.
17. Taste Sonoma Wines at a Wine Festival
There are lots of great wine festivals to choose from in Sonoma County throughout the year. Check out wineroad.com for info on wine festivals in Northern Sonoma County such as Winter Wineland, Barrel Tasting, Wine and Food Affair. Or plan on attending the Taste of Sonoma in September.
Find even more things to do in Sonoma County.