With more than a million acres of gorgeous landscape to explore, hundreds of wineries and restaurants, so many terrific hotels, B&Bs and inns, Sonoma County is a treasure trove of things to do and see. Where to begin to create your one-of-a-kind Sonoma County experience?
Since taste is key to the luxurious Sonoma Wine Country lifestyle, eating is a natural focus. Start with these restaurants and wine-and-food pairings that draw from many local farms, ranchers, and purveyors, and give a quick dip into authentic Sonoma love.
This quaint burg was listed as No. 2 “Best Small Town to Visit in U.S.,” by Smithsonian Magazine in 2014. Downtown Bakery & Creamery (308 A Center St.) has been a staple for savory breakfasts since the café opened in 1987, and it still shines strong as a favorite for sticky buns, croissants, pains au chocolat, home-made jam pockets, donut muffins, bran muffins, blueberry scones, whole-wheat scones with currants and orange or cheddar cheese and thyme.
One of the most beautiful spots in Sonoma County, this cradle of land is home to Jordan Vineyard & Winery (1474 Alexander Valley Road), and the winery’s wondrous by-appointment library tasting. The estate is legendary. The stone and stucco castle opened in 1972, and the intimate tasting will give you an excellent overview of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, in a guided, one-hour immersion accented by small bites. But what small bites they are, as this is nearly a luncheon, delivered via estate chef Todd Knoll and showcasing the property’s culinary garden.
Francis Ford Coppola’s elaborate estate (300 Via Archimedes) is a wonder of resort style from one of Hollywood's famous writers and directors. It gives a great dose of glam, since the enormous European-style chateau is topped with a glass pyramid, the grounds boast a giant swimming pool (open during the summer season), and a museum brims with movie memorabilia. Savor a meal at the winery’s Rustic restaurant, with one of the director’s own favorite meals of pasta or Neapolitan-style pizza.
West Dry Creek Road
The gently curving stretch of two-lane roadway is lined with winery after wonderful winery, breathtakingly beautiful vineyards, mountainscapes and a some entirely stop-worthy destinations like the rustic-chic Dry Creek General Store (3495 Dry Creek Road) that serves up terrific sandwiches, cocktails, boutique grocery goods, and old time Sonoma County charm.
Explore the county’s roots at Bartholomew Park Winery (1695 Castle Road). The on-site museum is a must-visit, detailing the long history of Sonoma winemaking since the park’s original villa was built in 1861, complete with a display of primitive agricultural tools. Just a few miles to the east, you’ll find Cochon Volant BBQ Smokehouse (18350 Sonoma Highway), with delights like Austin-style beef short ribs, beef brisket, baby back ribs, barbecued pork shoulder, Carolina style pork, sausage, and fried chicken.
This quaint town is home to the Glen Ellen Star (13648 Arnold Drive), where chef Ari Weiswasser packs all 24 seats nightly for his gorgeous California-Mediterranean cuisine that celebrates a fire-fed wood oven.
The menu changes with the seasons, but favorites include wood roasted heirloom baby carrots smoothed in Oaxacan mole and topped in sesame seed brittle; spring pea soup dolloped with ricotta gnudi and mint; wood oven roasted lamb meatballs atop couscous, red charmoula and preserved lemon; and homemade salted peanut butter ice cream for dessert.
Chef Liza Hinman salutes Cal-Mediterranean with broad strokes of Italian cuisine at her Spinster Sisters on South A Street in Santa Rosa’s SOFA arts district (401 S. A St.). The building is boxy, yet it is stylish inside, with a large square redwood bar, a large communal table, and some intimate two tops around the perimeter.
It’s the food that commands attention, though, in mouthwatering breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch dishes like ricotta and nettle gnocchi with hedgehog and black trumpet mushrooms, prosciutto, green garlic, pine nuts, and parmigiano; breadcrumb fried duck egg with black rice, Calabrian chili, and green garlic aioli; and grilled bavette steak with sweet potato-coconut gratin, chimichurri sauce, and crispy spring onions.
People come for all over for Della Fattoria’s (141 Petaluma Boulevard N.) artisan bakery and European style café. The name is well known, since you’ll find it at so many top notch California restaurants. But lucky us, the mother ship is right here, offering from-the-farm ancestral breads, pastries, and a mouthwatering menu of sustenance like Pacific Northwest tuna piadine, or smoked salmon on baguette with ranch egg salad.