I’ve been to many wine countries, from the one in my own backyard to as far away as Oporto and Mendoza, but after our weekend in Sonoma, I may have a new favorite. I love that it’s easy to get to (unlike Brazil), perfectly unpretentious (I love you Napa, but you take yourself a tad too seriously) and the wines are outstanding.
I’ve gushed on and on about how much we enjoyed our short trip, but I’m not done yet. Read on for your guide to having as much fun on your trip to Sonoma as we did.
Where to Stay
You have several options when choosing accommodations in Sonoma. Downtown Sonoma offers many bed and breakfasts ranging from simple and quaint to luxurious. The downtown location is great, not only can you walk to all of the bars and restaurants downtown but you also have prime access to the dozens of quality tasting rooms in the area as well. You can get a solid taste of Sonoma without ever getting in a car.
Downtown Sonoma Hotels:
– Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn for an affordable option and a convenient location.
– Inn at Sonoma, A Four Sisters Inn for mid-range prices, free breakfast and easy access to downtown Sonoma.
– Ledson Hotel & Zina Lounge for complete luxury and a free Ledson Winery tasting, right in the middle of the Historic Sonoma Plaza.
Another option is to look for accommodation in Healdsburg, California which is home to some of the best wineries in Sonoma County and the Alexander Valley, and also a stone’s throw from Napa if you want to check two wine countries off your list in one trip.
In the Middle
Tom and I opted to save cash, and instead stayed in an Airbnb near Glen Ellen. It turned out to be the perfect central location from exploring wine country all the way from Healdsburg to downtown Sonoma. We had to do a fair bit of driving, but it was worth it to save a few hundred dollars (that could then be spent on wine, of course). We had such a hard time picking an Airbnb because there were so many options! I highly recommend you at least look at them, even if you’re usually accustomed to staying in a proper hotel. You can find whole houses to rent, or just a room in someone’s house – something for every budget.
* Use this link or the one above to get $20 off your first booking!
Where to Eat
Sonoma is a food lover’s paradise, so bring your appetite!
A big breakfast is essential to kick off a day of wine tasting, so be sure to pad your stomach with a full first meal. We were lucky that our Airbnb host prepared us large breakfasts on our time schedule each morning.
If your accommodations don’t include breakfast, head to El Dorado Kitchen or Picazo Cafe in Sonoma. In Healdsburg, try Downtown Bakery & Creamery. Whatever you do, don’t wine on an empty stomach!
If you love to eat a delicious gourmet meal (and remember it), my suggestion is to go big for lunch and plan on a more modest dinner. Trust me on this. Many of the wineries in Sonoma County offer food pairings with their wine, which is definitely something to look into. Our food and wine pairing at St. Francis Winery was the absolute perfect wine country meal. I highly recommend it!
If you’re not planning to hit many wineries each day, then head to a restaurant and have a nice leisurely meal in the gorgeous California sunshine. We received several recommendations for Shed in downtown Healdsburg. Mustards Grill in Napa is wildly popular. For hole in the wall Mexican, head to Tortilleria Jalisco in Sonoma.
After checking out a winery out west of Santa Rosa, we had a fun little brunch at Backyard in Forestville, the perfect place for al fresco dining in a casual atmosphere. We loved the French press coffee, the braised goat hash and a lively pickle plate.
The Girl and the Fig is one of Sonoma’s most iconic restaurants, and one you should definitely visit for breakfast, lunch or dinner (or all three). We weren’t able to go for a full meal, but did stop in after we arrived late Friday night for a couple of bites and a bottle of Highway 12 Syrah (the wine list is heavy on the Rhone varietals).
We shared the fig and arugula salad and a beautiful cheese and meat plate served with a side of delicious, crusty bread.
The restaurant is fairly small, so get reservations if possible to avoid a long wait. We opted for a low-key Mexican dinner (that didn’t turn out to be too remarkable) after our long day of wine tasting, but if you find you have enough energy for a more involved experience try OSO Sonoma or Scopa in Healdsburg. Staying somewhere in between? The Fig Café in Glen Ellen has you covered.
Where to Drink
We both know the reason you’re in Sonoma is to go to wineries! With so many to choose from, it can be overwhelming. The great thing about wine tasting is that you can almost always find something to enjoy at each winery no matter which ones you choose. Some will knock you over with gorgeous scenery, while others will be more rustic and focused on their quality wines. Other times you just connect with your taster and spend hours bonding over a shared love of wine. But if you want specifics, here are some wineries I can guarantee will be great.
Medlock Ames in Alexander Valley. I wrote an entire post about how much I loved Medlock Ames, and it bears repeating. We loved every moment of our time here. The views are more subtle than at other wineries, but the wine is incredible and paired with delicious local cheese.
Paradise Ridge Winery. If you want killer views, you must visit Paradise Ridge in Santa Rosa. The wine is delicious as well, and your inner art lover will rejoice at all the sculptures scattered around the property.
Deerfield Ranch Winery. We loved the quirk factor at Deerfield Ranch. As soon as you enter the property you’re greeted by a family of giraffe sculptures overlooking a scenic pond (an animal theme that carries on throughout the tasting experience.
Tastings are done in their wine caves, which is always fun.
A standard gray poodle, Obi Wine Kenobi, holds court over the proceedings of the cave. He looked like a giant Ashton!
Something Tom and I often do to save money (and keep from getting drunk) is share our tastings. It depends on the winery whether this is allowed or not, but we’ve rarely had problems with it. Deerfield was very accommodating, and even brought out a few extra wines for us to taste.
While “extra” tastes aren’t something you should expect, they do happen fairly frequently in wine country – especially if your taster gets the idea that you’re interested in wine and might be likely to purchase a bottle or two.
Benziger Family Winery. This winery is just lovely. We were in a hurry and just shared a tasting and left, but the scenery was perfectly picturesque.
Benovia Winery. While we had a set schedule planned for day one of wine tasting, day two was completely off the cuff. We decided to take a coastal route back to San Francisco, with the hopes of stopping at a winery or two along the way. A little bit of iPhone research led us to Benovia Winery, which is only open by appointment.
Luckily, after a quick phone call we were set up for a private tasting a mere half hour later.
Another gorgeous location, even on a day when the skies were gray and moody.
The tasting room is set up living room style, and we were able to sample the wines while seating on a comfortable leather couch.
Benovia focuses on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, sourced from vineyards located throughout Sonoma Valley, each of which bring different elements to the wine.
While neither Pinot Noir nor Chardonnay are my favorite varietals, I enjoyed every single one of these wines. Tom is a big Pinot Noir lover, so this turned out to be one of his favorite stops.
In between tastes, we had a long chat with our taster about the surrounding area (and where we should live in California should we ever move there). She recommended our tasty brunch at Backyard, and also directed us to our next winery.
Sonoma Coast Vineyards. With views of Bodega Bay right in back of this tasting room, Sonoma Coast Vineyards offers a fun and unique tasting experience.
The tasting room is bright and airy, and everyone behind the bar was incredibly friendly and knowledgeable about the wine.
It seemed to be a popular spot for locals to come and have a glass of wine while enjoying the views.
While a bit out of the way from the general wine trails in Sonoma, if you’re a water lover you should definitely try to squeeze Sonoma Coast Vineyards onto your itinerary.
Wine Country Insider Tip: Be sure to double check where the tasting rooms are for each winery, versus their vineyards. A lot of times, the address that Google picks up is not where the tastings are actually done. Some wineries do offer tastings where their vineyards are, but often they are two separate locations. I recommend looking carefully at the website of the winery you want to visit and write down the address of the tasting room to use for navigation. You’ll also want to note if the tasting room is in one of the downtown areas like Sonoma or Healdsburg, which is very common, if what you really want is to be out in nature.
Other Things to Do
So maybe you don’t want to taste wine all day (but why not? kidding… sort of). Or maybe you plan to spend more than just a weekend in Sonoma and need some filler activities. There are definitely plenty of sober ways to pass your time in this beautiful area.
Our favorite wine diversion was our visit to the Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen. While we only spent an hour or so checking out the main attractions, there are sights enough to fill an entire day.
Another fun thing to do is to check out the shops and cute buildings in and around the Historic Sonoma Plaza.
There is plenty of shopping to be done as well, and a large park to soak up a few rays of sun.
For additional ideas of wine-free activities, Fodor’s has a good list. I’ll be sure and try more of these next time in the area. Maybe…
Have you been to Sonoma? What were your favorite wineries?