SONOMA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA — Even experienced travelers can be confused over the fact there are three geographic areas that share the same name: The city of Sonoma, the popular wine region known as Sonoma Valley, and Sonoma County.

Sonoma, the city, is in the center of the Sonoma Valley. It’s the home of the northernmost and last Spanish-Mexican mission built along California’s historic El Camino Real, the only one of the California missions to be established under Mexican rule, independent of Spain.

It was also the location of the Bear Flag Revolt, which transferred ownership of California from Mexico to the United States. The eight-acre Sonoma Plaza – the largest town plaza in California today – is ringed by shops, restaurants, wine tasting rooms, art galleries, and the Sonoma State Historic Park, which includes the Mission San Francisco de Solano, Gen. Vallejo’s barracks, and other buildings of that era.

Sonoma Valley is where California’s world-renowned wine industry began. Today, California’s oldest commercial winery, Buena Vista, and the state’s oldest family-run winery, Gundlach Bundschu, are historical anchors to more than 100 premium wineries, all just a short distance apart in this scenic 17-mile span.

Writer Jack London popularized the endearment “Valley of the Moon” with a novel of the same title. His final home and ranch is now Jack London State Historic Park, located just outside of Glen Ellen. The park is one of many along the valley that offer modern-day explorers access to great hiking and cycling trails. Sonoma Valley is also home to the Robert Ferguson Observatory, located in Sugarloaf State Park and open occasionally for public viewing days.

Venture beyond the Valley borders to discover more of Sonoma County, which encompasses a million acres. More than 425 wineries tucked within 18 distinct wine-growing regions, or American Viticulture Areas, call this fertile county home. And, though it seems like it’s all planted to grapes, vineyards are only 6 percent of the county. 

Sonoma County is part of Northern California’s “Wine Country,” just west of Napa County, and 30 miles from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

The Mediterranean climate that cradles award-winning wines is perfect for producing artisan cheeses, and bountiful fruits and vegetables, as well as livestock and seafood. You can almost source your entire menu from within the county’s borders.

Those freshly harvested ingredients power the amazing cuisine coming out of more than 600 eateries that include Michelin- and Zagat-rated restaurants, as well as small, locally owned eateries that dish up amazing food.

But Sonoma County is much more than just wine and food. There are more than 60 state and regional parks that offer miles of hiking and cycling trails, horseback riding, camping, bird watching, or simply taking in magnificent views. Pick your pleasure: from the Mayacamas Mountains on the eastern border to the Pacific Ocean, the amazing redwood trees to family-friendly beaches along the Russian or Gualala rivers.

The sun. The sea. The mountains. The forests. It’s no wonder that Sonoma County attracts artists, makers, and musicians. The profusion of galleries, studios, and world-class performance venues bear this out. The Green Music Center, located on the Sonoma State University campus, is the newest addition to the Sonoma County arts scene, and the acoustic perfection of the Weill Concert Hall draws favorable comparisons with Tanglewood.

So whether you’re exploring the historic charms of the small town of Sonoma, the amazing wineries situated in the Sonoma Valley, or the remarkable diversity of agriculture, redwood forests, small villages, ocean coastline, and, yes, wineries of Sonoma County, as long as you see the “Sonoma” name, you’ll be in for an authentic California Wine Country experience.

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