You may not find snow-covered trees in Sonoma County, but there are still plenty of holiday events and activities to get you in a festive mood. Here is our list of the best things to eat, drink, and do this holiday season.
Say Hello to Santa
Santa sure knows how to make an entrance. In Wine Country, he likes to arrive by different modes of transportation: Tractor, boat, train — even helicopter. This year, he'll be riding the Napa Valley Wine Train, have breakfast at Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg from 9 to 11 a.m. on Dec. 10 and 17, take pictures in the lobby of MacArthur Place Hotel and Spa in Sonoma from 2 to 4 p.m. on Dec. 17, and make an appearance every weekend at Santa Rosa's Montgomery Village shopping center.
Spread Holiday Cheer
'Tis the season for eating lots of food, exchanging gifts and getting together with friends and family. But the holiday season can also be a difficult time for many, including those who are homeless, alone or struggling to make ends meet. This year, spend some time helping those in need: Feed the hungry at the Redwood Empire Food Bank, volunteer at Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), support seniors in Sonoma County through the Council on Aging, or find other volunteer opportunities here.
Say Feliz Navidad, God Jul or Joyeux Noël
Nothing tugs at our heartstrings like the foods of Christmas past. Whether it's mom's pecan pie, abuela's tamales, Swedish pickled herring or a bûche de Noël, we all crave a little taste of our heritage during the holidays. Find holiday foods from around the world at Sonoma County's restaurants and bakeries: Tamales Maná makes our favorite steamed corn cakes, Sarmentine Artisan Boulanger in Santa Rosa has bûche de Noël in different flavors (pictured), and Stockhome restaurant in Petaluma serves a traditional Swedish julbord and glögg (Dec. 11 and 18).
See a Christmas Card Church
Bodega's Saint Teresa of Avila, a white New England-style church with a tall steeple, looks like something out of an old-fashioned Christmas card. And just before Christmas, it is lit up around the door and decorated inside with garlands. The great photographer Ansel Adams immortalized the church in a photograph that became one of his favorites and it was famously featured in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.
Enjoy an Old-Fashioned French Holiday Spectacle
Michel Michelis's Le Cirque de Bohème has enthralled children and adults during a series of sold-out annual performances. Echoing the style of 1920s nouveau-cirque and the French Christmastime circus tradition, it blends circus acts — clowns, mimes, trapeze artists, tightrope walkers, contortionists and jugglers — with a captivating storyline and live music. This year's show, Gypsy, will treat the audience to magical moments at Cornerstone Sonoma Dec. 10, 11, 17, 18, 24 and 25. Cirque de Boheme
See Upscale Gingerbread Houses
Some might say it's not officially the holiday season until you've had your first gingersnap. But for some, a cookie is not enough. At Hotel Petaluma's 6th annual gingerbread house showcase and competition (Dec. 16-17), you'll see creations that would lure any modern-day Hansel and Gretel right into the witch's cauldron. Some gingerbread houses even replicate historic Petaluma mansions. Visit Petaluma
Lace Up Those Skates
There may not be snow, but icy winter fun has arrived in downtown Santa Rosa with a synthetic ice skating rink at Old Courthouse Square. Tickets are $8.50 for a 45-minute session and include skate rental. The rink is open Thursday through Sunday through Dec. 31. For a larger rink indoors, head to Snoopy's Home Ice. Morning, midday and evening public skating sessions are available.
Make the Yuletide Gay
The acclaimed San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus returns to Sonoma County with a “Holiday Spectacular” (Dec. 17), a rollicking performance of zany holiday antics, traditional carols and new surprises. The holiday extravaganza features a choir of over 150 voices, special guests, and live musicians. The concert at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park benefits Face 2 Face, ending HIV in Sonoma County. Green Music Center
Watch a Drone Gelt Drop
Hanukkah begins Dec. 18 this year. To celebrate, the Chabad Jewish Center of Petaluma is putting on an action-packed event at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds that includes a drone gelt drop. The event also features a nine-foot menorah, a fire juggling act, a “dancing dreidel” (plus the world’s largest dreidel), giant Hanukkah decorations, live DJ Hanukkah music, latkes, jelly doughnuts and chocolate gelt, and face painting. 4:30-6 p.m. Dec. 18. Free with RSVP at jewishpetaluma.com. Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds, 75 Fairgrounds Drive, Petaluma, 707-559-8585.
Have a Classical Christmas
The Green Music Center in Rohnert Park is putting on two classical music performances this holiday season. On Saturday, Dec. 17, in Schroeder Hall, the Sonoma Bach Choir will perform four Bach cantatas, which follow the Christmas story through advent, the nativity and New Year. On Sunday, Dec. 18, the American Bach Soloists will take the stage at Weill Hall as they perform "A Baroque Christmas," a program that includes Handel’s Messiah (the Christmas portion and “Hallelujah Chorus”).
Hear the Fireplace Roar
Contrary to popular belief, it can get cold in Sonoma County. While we've all pretty much mastered the art of layering, there's nothing like a fireplace to warm you up after a day spent outdoors — or freezing in your office cubicle. Several local restaurants serve up ember-enhanced meals and drinks sure to get you into the holiday spirit; a few favorites include Catelli's in Geyserville, John Ash Front Room and Stark's Steak & Seafood in Santa Rosa, and El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma.
Warm Up With a Hot Drink
While we're on the topic of staying warm, how about a hot drink with a spoonful of childhood nostalgia? At Snoopy's Home Ice in Santa Rosa, order a Peppermint Patty Hot Chocolate at the The Warm Puppy Café. Then cozy up by the fireplace before you consider putting on those skates. For a more grownup version, try the Aztec Mocha with double espresso, Valrhona chocolate and chilies at Flying Goat Coffee in Healdsburg.
Swap the dreaded mid-December mall experience for a wholesome old-school event. Holidays Along the Farm Trails, a.k.a. the perfect antidote to seasonal anxiety, allow participants to get into the holiday spirit by visiting local farms, creameries and cideries. On the Farm Trails, buy gifts (often in the form of delicious artisan foods) or make your own at DIY workshops. You can also cut your own tree and, best of all, greet the farm animals. Find nearly 100 delicious holiday gifts made in Sonoma here.
Shop for Fido
If your dog has been a good boy or girl, head to Fideaux in Healdsburg for a sweater, toy or treat. This boutique carries everything from Pendleton dog beds and Molly Mutt duvet covers to collars, leashes, doggie jackets and pet wall art (including Dogs of Duke’s advent calendars). Lots of treats are available, from Kongs to doggie ice cream. And for the discerning Wine Country dog, choose from a fully-stocked bar of stuffed toys, like Woof Clicquot or Pinot Grrr.
Make Your Own Wreath
Join local floral designer Tali Bouskila of Flower Casita in Petaluma for a workshop designing artistic holiday wreaths. Bouskila and her team prefer to work with local growers and unique foraged finds. “We’re inspired by what already happens in nature. We find the shape of each stem, we find the colors; we like to look at things for what they really are and emphasize their natural beauty, as opposed to manipulating them into a tight, ball-like design,” she explains. Wreath-making classes are $100 per person; five-person minimum. Wreath-making tips here.
Sip, Savor and Shop
Holidays in Healdsburg (Nov. 25-Dec. 30) is a cherished seasonal tradition in Sonoma County. During a four-hour guided tour, enjoy the Christmas-tree-lit plaza, colorful street decorations, festive window displays and carolers; savor seasonal bites and sip wines at three boutique wineries; or take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. Tours start at the gazebo in Healdsburg’s central plaza at 11 a.m. $119 per person. Book tour online at Wine Country Walking Tours.
Visit Hotels for the Holidays
If you’ve always wanted an enormous Christmas tree but are perhaps a bit short on ceiling space, make your way to Hotel Petaluma, where a 12-foot evergreen towers in the building’s courtyard. In years past, the hotel has even made it “snow” in the courtyard— fingers crossed for that happening again this year. More local hotels are helping guests and visitors get into the festive spirit with special events, treats and holiday decor. Details here.
For celebratory sparkles for the holidays, head to SIGH Champagne bar in Sonoma. No reservations needed, and they offer a flight of three sparklers. If you have teetotalers or beer drinkers in your party, this is a great tasting room option. They also serve draft beer, regular wine and non alcoholic beverages, as well as snack-sized bites, both savory and sweet. And here are 6 sparkling wineries to visit.
Sonoma Plaza Holiday Attractions
After a sip of bubbly, Sonoma Plaza offers holiday cheer and attractions for history buffs, from the Sonoma Mission to the barracks and Toscano Hotel, all within two blocks. There’s a big parking lot behind the barracks on First Street East.
Immerse Yourself in Holiday Decor
Brewsters Beer Garden in Petaluma is transformed into a winter wonderland come Christmastime as it is decorated with thousands of merry tchotchkes. The kitschy decor is paired with holiday dishes like brisket with house-made pickles and cocktails infused with spiced apple cider, cinnamon cognac and other seasonal flavors. Check out the restaurant's Miracle Market, too. Tables are set with holiday gifts like Santa pants mugs and ugly sweaters.
This year, the Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa also hosts a special holiday cocktail pop-up. "Sippin' Santa," a Miracle spin-off, combines Christmas and tiki (think Santa on a surfboard). Nine tropical cocktails, served in kitschy, holiday-themed glasses and vessels, are on the menu, as well as a selection of seasonal bites such as Christmas Ham, a slow-cooked char siu pork belly with grilled pineapple, cherry and clove; and Oh Christmas Tree, a pine-seasoned fried chicken made with rosemary buttermilk.
Take a Quiet Winter Hike
Shady forest groves are a respite from the flurry of the holiday season. Located just off Highway 1 in Jenner, the entrance to Stillwater Cove Regional Park is easy to miss. This hidden gem features three miles of trails surrounded by lush ferns and towering redwoods and is a popular spot for beach picnics. Parking is available at the day-use lot east of Highway 1. More Sonoma County trails for finding your inner zen.
By Sonoma Magazine Staff