Three-Day Sonoma County Itinerary for First Time Visitors
Planning your first-ever trip to Sonoma County is a breeze with this itinerary, which includes wonderful wineries, restaurants, and relaxing experiences in three of Wine Country's most charming towns.
So, it's your first time visiting Sonoma County in Northern California ... and you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed, given all the options for things to do in this storied wine region. But for all the marvels here, there are countless "must-sees" that exemplify the Sonoma County experience — many of which we've highlighted in this guide.
Below, we take you on a journey through three of the most popular cities in Sonoma County — Healdsburg, Petaluma, and Sonoma — where you'll be introduced to top-notch experiences that should make for the perfect first visit.
Day One: Healdsburg
After landing at Charles M. Schulz - Sonoma County Airport (STS) in nearby Santa Rosa, pick up your rental car and head to Healdsburg — a 15-minute drive up US-101 N. Listed as the #2 “Best Small Town to Visit in the U.S.” by Smithsonian magazine, the Northern Sonoma County town of Healdsburg is an ideal starting place for your first time in Wine Country.
Breakfast at Downtown Bakery & Creamery
Since opening in the late 1980s, Downtown Bakery & Creamery has been a Healdsburg staple for savory breakfasts, like their breakfast pizza and legendary Croque Madame, which includes ham, cheese, ricotta, poached egg, and pickles — a great base layer for the wine tasting you'll be doing later in the day! For those who like to start on the sweeter side, the bakery is also a favorite for sticky buns, croissants, pains au chocolat, and homemade jam pockets.
Mid-Morning Wine Tasting with Jordan Vineyard & Winery
You’ll want to get a peek at Alexander Valley, which is one of the most beautiful spots — of many, many breathtaking places — in Sonoma County. Jordan Vineyard & Winery is one of the most renowned vineyards in all of Wine Country, known for their sustainably made Cabernets and Chardonnays. The estate has been legendary since the stone and stucco castle opened in 1972. Here they offer immersive tours and tastings daily starting at 10 a.m. Reservations are required.
Lunch at Healdsburg Plaza
Rather than a sit-down meal at a single spot, indulge in a walk-around feast with Healdsburg Wine & Food Walking Tours at Healdsburg Plaza. The guided stroll includes private seated tastings at boutique tasting rooms, plus lots of fine snacks like beignets, honey-drizzled Saint Agur blue cheese atop Bosc pears, port paired with chocolates, freshly baked breads, charcuterie, olive oil, and French pastries.
Following the tour, spend some time shopping around Healdsburg Plaza. First built in 1872, this plaza is now surrounded by many locally owned boutiques, tasting rooms, restaurants, art galleries, and more.
Afternoon Sip & Stroll at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery
Healdsburg sits at the intersection of three world-renowned wine valleys — the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River — so we would be remiss if we didn't include another vineyard visit on your day one itinerary. Tucked away on Dry Creek Road, Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery is situated on five acres of pristine Italian/French-inspired gardens. Grab a glass of wine and meander around the gardens at your own pace, or book one of the vineyard's guided food and wine tours.
Pro tip: Life truly opens up during the spring at Ferrari-Carano, with their colorful display of more than 10,000 tulips and daffodils.
Next, take a drive down West Dry Creek Road, a gently curving stretch lined with more wineries, breathtaking vineyards, mountainscapes, and a few other noteworthy destinations, like the rustic-chic Dry Creek General Store.
Discover more Sonoma County wineries.
Along with award-winning wineries and vineyards, Healdsburg is known for its innovative culinary scene. Choose from acclaimed eateries, like the three-Michelin-star SingleThread, known for exquisite multi-course meals sourced from their own farm, and Valette, whose Cal-global menu and open kitchen ambience are sure to "wow" even the pickiest diner.
Need more options? Check out our Guide to Restaurants in Healdsburg.
Day Two: Petaluma
Spend your second day exploring a different side of Sonoma Wine Country in picturesque Petaluma. Once dubbed the "Egg Basket of the World" for its prolific agriculture industry, the riverside city has become a haven for both foodies and outdoor enthusiasts.
Breakfast at Water Street Bistro
Start your day with a lavish spread of French-inspired cuisine (with side trips to Morocco, Spain, and Mexico) at Water Street Bistro. A true local favorite, their breakfast menu includes a robust list of savory quiches, handcrafted pastries, and waffles, best served on their porch overlooking the Petaluma River.
Paddleboarding on the Petaluma River
The city of Petaluma is ripe for outdoor exploration, and the river is a great place to start! Petaluma Stand Up Paddle offers guided paddleboard and kayak tours, private lessons, and rentals. Their popular Old Town Petaluma option includes a half- or full-day rental that launches from Petaluma Marina. From there, you can leisurely paddle into town, tie up, and enjoy the many local restaurants and shops downtown before riding the river back to the launch site.
Another great option is Clavey Paddlesports. They offer a three-hour tour that begins on the river before taking visitors on a journey through local marshlands where you can get up-close with local wildlife.
Lunch at Taps Restaurant & Tasting Room
After a morning on the water, you're sure to be plenty hungry — and Taps Restaurant & Tasting Room is the perfect spot! Open daily, the family-friendly eatery features burgers, wings, and tacos as well as a large selection of local craft beers.
Find more restaurants in Petaluma.
Afternoon Cheesemaking at Achadinha Cheese Co.
Learn more about Petaluma's rich agricultural history at Achadinha Cheese Co., located about four miles southwest of downtown. Here you will roll up your sleeves alongside owners Jim and Donna Pacheco as they teach you how to make your own cheese. The 2.5-hour class also includes a full ranch tour, time with the animals, and a cheese tasting, of course! If you're short on time, opt for the 90-minute farm tour. Reservations are required.
Evening in Downtown Petaluma
From antique stores and vintage boutiques to tasting rooms, eclectic eateries, and iconic music venues, you'll find no shortage of fun when exploring downtown Petaluma. For a two-in-one experience, grab dinner at McNear's Saloon & Dining House then bop on over to Mystic Theater — located in the same building — to hear a wide range of rock, funk, blues, and more any given night.
Day Three: Sonoma
Cap off your first getaway to Sonoma County in the historic city of Sonoma. Here you'll find historic sites, museums, farm-to-table restaurants, and rejuvenating wellness offerings.
Breakfast at Basque Boulangerie Cafe
Known as "Sonoma's Bistro on the Square," Basque Boulangerie Cafe is home to Sonoma's original sourdough. The cafe serves breakfast all day with options ranging from Ricotta Pesto Toast and Veggie Madame (a vegetarian-friendly take on Croque Madame) to coffee cakes, croissants, and many more freshly baked delicacies.
Visit California's Oldest Winery
Founded in 1857, Buena Vista Winery is the oldest commercial winery in California, complete with caves that are actual historical landmarks. The aging tombs have recently been renovated for modern safety measures, but remain elegantly dark and mysterious. The winery's Wine Tool Museum features a 20-minute light, sound, and visual show telling the history of winemaking through its tools. Guided wine tastings are the way to go, and your host will explain the evolution of the winemaking process, from the barrel wine to the finished wine.
Grab Lunch at the girl & the fig
Famously Wine Country, the girl & the fig is situated in the heart Sonoma Plaza, the largest town square in California. This Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant is a charming, cottage-style café with a lavishly landscaped hideaway patio in the back. Enjoy dishes like the savory pork belly sandwich brightened with fennel aioli, apples and cabbage on brioche with a side of frites, or wild mushroom ravioli plump with house-made ricotta, truffles, sweet onion purée, cipollini onions, and ancho cress.
After lunch, spend the next hour or two wandering around the local shops and enjoying wine tastings in Sonoma Plaza.
Rest and Relaxation at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
The ultimate Wine Country oasis, the AAA Four-Diamond Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is one of the most luxurious properties in Sonoma Valley. Surrounded by ancient redwood trees, you'll feel relaxed as soon as you step foot onto their majestic property. At the Fairmont Spa, you'll be nourished by nature with treatments that utilize natural elements, allowing you to rediscover both yourself and your connection with the world around you. Spa guests can also experience the healing powers of their ancient geothermal mineral springs. The spa has five geothermal pools that range in temperature, but for ultimate bliss, we recommend the 98-degree Roman Bathhouse Soaking Pool.
Explore more spa and wellness experiences in Sonoma County.
Sonoma is home to several award-winning restaurants, including two that recently received Michelin Bib Gourmand honors. At Valley Bar + Bottle, you'll find a cozy wine bar offering adventurous yet approachable small bites, like cod topped with clams, celery root, and green garlic. Folktable is another leader in Sonoma County's farm-to-table movement. Here they utilize fruits, veggies, and herbs from neighboring Tank House Farms to curate a menu that's seasonally inspired and rich in flavor.
What a wonderful adventure, yes? Your friends will be so impressed when you namedrop all the magnificent places you visited. And you will be ready — plus all the wiser — to plan your return trip to Sonoma County very, very soon.
Get more trip ideas by browsing our free digital Inspiration Guide, where you'll find information on what to do, where to eat, and where to stay when in Sonoma County.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.