Forgo Napa on your next visit to the Bay Area and spend your time in Sonoma Valley, a 17-mile stretch that is comprised of a charming downtown square, expansive vineyards, quaint farms and 13,000 acres of parkland. Sonoma, the home of California’s original Wine Country and recognized as the state’s happiest county, is a destination for new and returning travelers to experience a community that has maintained its original charm and pastoral beauty throughout the years.
At the heart of the valley is the Sonoma Plaza with winding alleyways, timeworn adobe storefronts, and historic landmarks thriving with an eclectic mix of tasting rooms, restaurants, hotels, cafes, and galleries—even a vintage movie house. The square boasts vast stretches of lawn that creates a lush setting for picnics, cultural activities and weekly farmers markets.
Just a short distance away, nature lovers have access to wildflower hikes, hilltop vistas and an extensive array of fine wine vineyards and wineries. Whether visitors seek a small-town holiday or rural getaway, Sonoma Valley offers memorable experiences for all. Below are some of the hidden Sonoma gems for travelers interested in an out-of-the-box vacation:
Jack London State Historic Park opens new trail: The East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail, which has been in development for nearly two decades, opened to the public in March 2015. Hikers, cyclists, and equestrians have access to this Bay Area Ridge Trail extension at the top of Sonoma Mountain, allowing never-before-seen views of San Francisco Bay.
- Prohibition Spirits & HelloCello Distillery: Tired of drinking wine or have a craving for spirits? Sonoma Valley’s only distillery offers tastings by appointment of its small batch of crafted spirits, including whiskey, rum and vodka. Get a tour of the facility to learn about the fermenting, distilling and aging of these local liquors.
- Quarryhill Botanical Garden: This botanical garden features one of the largest collections of wild-collected Asian plants in the world. Wander freely or embark on a docent-led tour of the Asian Woodland Garden or Chinese Heritage Rose Garden.
- Ramekins Culinary School: Learn about local cuisine with group demonstrations and workshops or book your own private lesson. Even the most amateur chef will acquire the skills to make a meal from scratch and then enjoy the fruits of their labor!
Sonoma Food & Wine Tour: Overwhelmed by the selection of wineries, tasting rooms, vineyards, restaurants, cafes and culinary choices? This food and beverage tour will plan a guided walking excursion around Sonoma Plaza, including the girl & the fig, El Dorado Kitchen, BV Whisky Bar & Grille, La Bodega,Sonoma Cheese Factory, Figone’s Olive Oil Company, and more.
- Sonoma Raceway: Car aficionados get the chance to hit the track with Go-Kart racing along the 2.52-mile raceway or drag racing on the quarter-mile drag strip. Sonoma Raceway also provides a full schedule of amateur or professional SCCA road races, AMA and AFM motorcycle racing, sports car events, and NASCAR, INDYCAR and NHRA drag races.
- Sonoma Stompers Baseball Club: We bet you didn’t know Sonoma has its own professional baseball team! With tickets starting at just $4, a visit to the ballpark during the summers is an affordable adventure for the entire family.
Studio 35: What better place to capture Sonoma’s beauty than at the neighborhood art gallery, which conveniently offers workshops to enhance your artistic abilities! A mentoring artist will assist patrons in learning to draw or paint, while viewing works by local artisans.
- Vin deLuxe Tours: High-end unique experiences are the forte of Vin deLuxe tours. From exclusive winery visits and flights in Travel Air biplanes to gourmet picnic lunches and cooking classes, travelers can pick from curated packages or create their own!
- Williams-Sonoma: The new store is housed in the original shop and residence where Chuck Williams worked and lived in 1956 when he founded Williams-Sonoma. Features of the new store include a cooking school, museum exhibit of Chuck’s original and iconic “finds” from Europe, Williams-Sonoma Home showroom with a design studio where customers can receive a free decorating consultation, and an open-air garden featuring a fully-equipped outdoor kitchen and pizza oven.
- Wine Country Cyclery: Ditch the car keys and traverse Sonoma Valley with a rented bicycle. Ride to a nearby winery or take the bike on the trails winding throughout the region.
For more information on the history of Sonoma Valley or local businesses, visit www.sonomavalley.com.
Photo Credit – Jamie Gall of mngirlinla.com – A Minnesota Girl, born and raised, who now resides in Wine Country. You’ll find her on Minnesota Girl in the World talking Food, Wine and Travel.