An Epic 5-Day Adventure in Sonoma County
Sonoma County is a playground for outdoor adventures, and with its legendary food and wine scene, it’s the perfect destination for a long-weekend road trip. This five-day itinerary mixes some of Sonoma County’s best offerings, while also appealing to travelers on a budget.
Day 1: Visit a Local Farm and Rent a Camping Cabin
Kick off your trip at Jeffrey’s Hillside Cafe, which has the best all-day brunch menu in Santa Rosa. Not only does the restaurant have mouth-watering dishes for breakfast and lunch, but they source the majority of their ingredients from local farms, creameries and gardens. The cafe is located next to the Hillside Inn, and they serve delicious fare seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Speaking of local farms, Bees ’N Blooms will open your eyes to the world of honeybees and sustainable farming. The 11-acre farm, which is accredited by California Certified Organic Farmers, produces honey, wax and lavender, and offers lavender products at its farm stand, ranging from sweet treats to lotions and soaps. Pollinator-friendly trees and plants are also available for purchase, along with memberships for those wishing to pick their own produce. The farm opens its doors to the public on most weekends during peak lavender bloom, offering visitors the chance to wander through the Lavender Labyrinth, which has more than 900 lavender plants. The ongoing “Lavender Daze” event runs from late May through early July. For more information, click here.
Just 15 minutes up the road is Spring Lake Regional Park, which is one of Santa Rosa’s most treasured open spaces. The park has two flat-loop trails, and in addition to 26 reservable campsites and a group site, there are three camping cabins. The cabins are the perfect match for visitors seeking a glamping experience, as the park offers some comforts from home, with all the amenities one expects at a campground. Each cabin has sleeping platforms and bunk beds with mattresses, so all guests need to bring is bedding and lighting. Each cabin features a back porch, a picnic table, a fire ring, a charcoal grill and a food locker, and cooking is allowed outdoors only. Though the cabins are primitive (i.e., they don’t have electricity or plumbing), the campground has coin-operated hot showers, flush toilets and a dishwashing station. Cabins start at $88.50 per night (including fees), and they can be booked on the Sonoma County Regional Parks website.
Day 2: Kayak on the Russian River and Camp by the Beach
No trip to Sonoma County would be complete without exploring the Russian River, which flows south from neighboring Mendocino County to the Pacific Ocean. River’s Edge Kayak and Canoe Trips offers rentals and guided tours, and shuttle rides to the launch sites are included with both options. Single kayaks cost $75 to rent, while canoes and double kayaks are $150, and all rentals must be returned by 3:30 p.m. Guided canoe tours start at $150 per person, and depart at 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. After meeting at the historic Monte Rio Theater, guests enjoy a leisurely five-mile paddle, which generally lasts three to four hours.
Head west on State Route 116 toward Highway 1, and take your time enjoying the spectacular ocean vistas along the California coast. More than a dozen large roadside pullouts between Jenner and Bodega Bay offer free beach access, and there are four main campgrounds on this stretch of road. Doran Regional Park has more than 120 campsites that can be booked via the Sonoma County Regional Parks website, including the Miwok Campground, which has 20 tent sites steps from the beach that cost $46.50 per night (including fees). Booking well in advance is recommended, as these sites are popular and fill up quickly.
Craving a bite to eat in town? Roadhouse Coffee doesn’t always have its house-made chocolate croissants, but when they’re available, be sure to pair one with your morning latte, and the shop's fresh-baked scones are a worthy alternative. The Birds Cafe has ample outdoor seating and offers casual fare like fish tacos and lobster rolls from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and if you’re looking to splurge on dinner, Terrapin Creek is the spot. The pan-roasted scallops are paired with an unexpectedly delicious carrot and ginger puree, and the mafalda pasta, which is accompanied by lamb sausage, peas, spinach, feta and mint, is another customer favorite.
Day 3: Go Backpacking with a View of Lake Sonoma
Sonoma County doesn’t have many backpacking options, but the Bummer Peak Trail, located within the Lake Sonoma Recreation Area, is a great choice for hikers seeking solitude and scenery. The out-and-back trail is just under five miles total with 1,150 feet of elevation gain, and two back-country campsites are reservable on recreation.gov for $20 per night. Both sites are shaded by trees and have fire pits, camp tables and food-hang poles, plus a pair of porta potties several hundred feet away. The trail starts at the southeastern corner of the Lake Sonoma Boat Launch lot, and the vegetation is thick at the beginning, so consider wearing pants and be sure to check for ticks. Once you’re near the summit, take a loop around the Crowley’s Lake View Trail for fantastic views of Lake Sonoma.
Looking to clean up after a night in the woods? While there are no shower facilities currently open at Lake Sonoma, there are free, cold outdoor showers at Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach, and visitors can pay $6 to shower at Healdsburg Swim Center. Both options are about a 20-minute drive south of Lake Sonoma.
When camping, please remember to follow relevant Leave No Trace Principles, which include traveling and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly, and minimizing campfire impacts. For more responsible recreation tips, read our blog Tips for Hiking Responsibly in Sonoma County.
Day 4: Tour an Eco-Friendly Vineyard and Enjoy a Farm-to-Table Dinner
After backpacking, why not reward yourself with a splurge night to sample world-class wine and Michelin-rated cuisine?
Sonoma County is home to dozens of sustainable wineries, but for visitors seeking an intimate yet casual tasting tour, look no further than Medlock Ames. In addition to the winery’s tasting room in Healdsburg, its Bell Mountain Ranch location on Chalk Hill Road offers private tastings and vineyard tours. Beyond using solar energy and opting for natural alternatives to pesticides, Medlock Ames has committed to leaving most of its land wild, only harvesting grapes on 44 acres of its 338-acre estate. The Elevation tour runs $95 and includes a seated tasting of organic wines paired with local cheeses, while the Immersive Sound Experience tour is $75 and allows guests to take a self-guided tour developed by a local sound artist, followed by a tasting.
An hour south is the charming town of Glen Ellen, which has even more wineries — and one of the best restaurants in Sonoma County: Glen Ellen Star. Chef Ari Weiswasser crafts all kinds of unique flavor pairings, and everything on the ever-changing menu is a masterpiece. The eatery is recognized as a Bib Gourmand by the Michelin Guide, and most of the produce on the menu comes from the nearby Glentucky Family Farm, making it a model farm-to-table establishment. For breakfast, Les Pascals Patisserie et Boulangerie is a standout choice, with homemade pastries and decor reminiscent of a Parisian bakery. The cafe uses only locally sourced ingredients from Sonoma County, and from macaroons to quiche, there are sweet and savory snacks for every taste palette.
For no-frills lodging just a few hundred feet from the best restaurants in town, the Jack London Lodge has every amenity guests could want, including an outdoor pool. While rates vary depending on the season, a one-night stay during the week generally runs around $200.
Day 5: Take a Scenic Hike and Relax at Camp
Sonoma County has dozens of amazing hikes, but the Bald Mountain Trail in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park is a local favorite, and it’s just a 15-minute drive from Glen Ellen. The main out-and-back route to Bald Mountain is five miles total with 1,500 feet of gain, but ambitious hikers can add another mile-and-a-half via the Gray Pine and Vista Trail loop. The trails are clearly marked and well-maintained, and no matter which way you go, you’ll see wildflowers and spectacular 360-degree views from the summit.
The campground at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park has 47 campsites and two glamping tents tucked between the woods and a meadow, plus a group site up the road. Campers also have access to coin-operated showers, and free Wifi is available at the Visitor Center. Campsites cost between $43 and $53 per night (including fees), and they can be booked on the Reserve California website. Glamping tents run $125 per night, and they can be reserved via the Hipcamp website. The park also releases first-come-first-serve sites daily at 10 a.m. over the phone, so to check availability and reserve a spot, call (707) 833-5712.
For nearby dining options, Wine Country Cafe and Deli, which is a 15-minute drive north of the park, has sandwiches and snacks in a casual setting. The cafe is located next to a gas station and open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Palooza Brewery and Gastropub, which is just a 10-minute drive south of the park, has a more upscale menu, plus a seemingly endless drink list, including house-brewed specialties. Brewery hours are 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Able to stay longer?
For more outdoor adventure inspiration, read our blog 8 Hikes in Sonoma County for the Adventurous.
Written by Sonoma Insider Elisabeth Brentano; all photos courtesy of Elisabeth Brentano