Gorgeous fall colors spread like tapestry across Sonoma County from early September through late November, with Mother Nature weaving spectacular autumnal artworks. Vineyard foliage turns from green to gold to red, deciduous oak forests morph to yellow and deep orange, and meadows of yarrow, barberry, Russian sage, plumbago, and other indigenous plants reach their height of vibrant hue.
Grapes are at the peak of ripeness, as are pumpkins, apples, chestnuts, potatoes, plums, persimmons, melons, blackberries, rainbow chard, and dozens of kinds of squash. And where else can you enjoy such autumnal eye candy strolling through a sunny vineyard or along a mountain trail with a glass of wine in your hand?
Celebrate the Season at the Tolay Fall Festival
Over two weekends each October, Tolay Lake Regional Park southeast of Petaluma turns into a wonderland of pumpkin patches, hayrides, educational exhibits and a taste of history. Families gather for amusements like exploring the "Nighttime Creatures Barn" to see native and exotic snakes, birds of prey, and tide pool animals, or the "Creepy Crawly Room," where tarantulas and scorpions glow under black lights.
There’s a Native American village replica where you can try farm activities like wool carding and candle dipping, and you can watch demonstrations by experts in archery, fly fishing and astronomy. Playtime is a big draw here, too, with the World-Record Pumpkin-Seed Spitting Contest gunnysack races, straw maze, and petting zoo. Check here for 2019 dates and details.
The 820-acre park and preserve is one of the most recent additions to Sonoma County's park system, and offers sweeping views of the county, unveiling autumn vineyards and trees ablaze in color as far as the eye can see. Take the 3.7-mile section of the Sonoma Mountain Bay Area Ridge Trail, beginning in the ferns and redwoods on the south fork of Matanzas Creek, then winding through dense groves of oaks and bay laurels.
Sip at Benziger Family Winery
Set next to Jack London State Historic Park in the quaint village of Glen Ellen, this is one of Sonoma Valley’s most stunning, indigenously planted destinations. Known for its biodynamic farming, the winery nestles in series of valleys and hillsides, bringing splendid views of vineyards and lush hillside foliage. It’s easy to explore, as a 45-minute tram tour takes you all across the property, up and down and around, and includes a wine tasting at the end.
Dine at Jimtown Store and Medlock-Ames Tasting Room
Alexander Valley is an historic region of old farmhouses and picturesque barns sprawled amid meadows of sun-bleached native grasses, rural roads winding through endless vineyards, and hillsides dotted with oak trees. Grab a chicken potpie or peanut butter-bacon-spicy pepper jam sandwich and some old-fashioned candy at Jimtown Store, then head next door to the Medlock-Ames tasting room, to sit in the garden sipping fantastic wine surrounded by seasonal produce of all kinds.
Boat and Bike at Spring Lake Regional Park
This 350-acre county park in Santa Rosa offers extraordinary leaf-peeping, with the shimmering red-yellow foliage of Big Leaf maples lining the creeks next to amber-leaf oaks spreading like a velvet drape along the hillsides. Crunch your bike through fallen leaves along the trails, warmed by the sun dappling through the branches. For boating on the 72-acre lake, the tree-lined shore reflects in the water, dancing and glittering in golden green.
Bring your own boat and use the year-round boat ramp (Newanga Avenue entrance). Or, kayak, paddleboat, and canoe rentals are available near the swimming lagoon (Violetti Road entrance) daily from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Don’t forget your furry friend, either – leashed pups are always welcome, and the lake hosts Water Bark dog swim parties on weekends in September.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet