First time visiting the
The beautiful Sonoma Valley is nestled, you guessed it, in Sonoma County. Sonoma County is equivalent to the size of the state of Delaware and stretches from the Pacific Ocean to its southernmost city, Sonoma. Sonoma County is home to almost 60,000 acres of vineyards, and more than 450 wineries.
In the beautiful Sonoma Valley, there are 100 plus wineries, breweries, and distilleries offering a unique wine tasting experience for everyone from caves, castles, and of course, tasting rooms nestled in the breathtaking vineyards and the not to miss, local favorites. Each one offering a unique experience with their own varietals.
It can be overwhelming when trying to decide which wineries and local eateries are worth stopping for with so many wonderful choices. We are here to help! We have lived in Sonoma County for over 20 years and can help you taste and sip your way through the Sonoma Valley and beyond.
Our Sonoma Valley highlights guide is here to help you discover a taste of the most celebrated experiences the locals go to and take their friends to. Follow along as we explore and give you the guide of the “must-sees” of Sonoma Valley, the town of Sonoma, Glen Ellen, Kenwood, and the Carneros area just south of it all. We even have a few tips if you would like the leave
"the island" as we call it!
29 Things Not to Miss in the Sonoma Valley:
1. Tour the last built Mission in California
Start the day with a bit of Sonoma History at the San Francisco Solano de Sonoma Mission and the Sonoma Barracks. The 21st and last mission to be built in California. Plan at least an hour to walk through the missions and the barracks. General Vallejo’s Home is also just down the bike path about a 10-minute walk from downtown.
If you go on a Friday, stop by the Sonoma Valley Farmers Market right behind Depot Park. The hours are 9:00 -12:30 pm and offers many seasonal fruits and vegetables by local farmers with cheese, bread, honey, and more.
Sonoma State Historic Park has a fee of $3 per person, 17 years and up. There is a $2 charge for those from 6 to 17. The admission charge allows you to visit the Sonoma Mission, Sonoma Barracks, Toscano Hotel, General Vallejo's Home, and the Petaluma Adobe on the same day the ticket is purchased. Park hours are from 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day with docent tours on the weekends.
Sonoma Overlook Trail offers a pleasant 3-mile hike with amazing views of the Sonoma Valley and beyond. On a clear day, you can see all the way to San Francisco. The main trailhead is currently closed but you can enter through the cemetery just a little to the east using the roads marked in purple and enter from the Toyon Trailhead. The main entrance should reopen late spring. There is also a very interesting map of the Mountain Cemetary with its many historical gravesites including General Vallejo.
3. Nibble and sip your way through the Plaza on the Original Sonoma Food Tour
The Original Sonoma Food Tour experience takes guests on a guided walking journey of local eateries, all within the quaint surroundings of the Sonoma Plaza. You’ll get to taste Sonoma's local cuisine, wine, cheeses, olive oil, chocolates, and more. Each delicious tasting is served from locally-owned and operated restaurants, eateries & shops. You will explore Sonoma with a local guide, all while gaining knowledge about its history, culture, and architecture, at the same time savoring the appetizing culinary selections. Your Sonoma Food Tour typically lasts three hours, covers about 1.5 miles, and provides delicious tastings that are equivalent to a lunch.
4. Start with a splash at Three Sticks Winery
Enjoy a beautiful cheese and wine pairing with Three Sticks Winery at the Historic Vallejo-Casteñada Adobe just off the Plaza. The adobe is the longest-occupied residence in Sonoma built by General Captain Salvador Vallejo, infamous brother of beloved General Mariano Vallejo in 1842. The tastings include their current release wines and a seasonal cheese platter served in the cozy living area.
5. Continue your historic journey with a wine tasting at the General Joseph Hooker House with the Bedrock Wine Co.
They make incredible wines from historic vineyards. The Zinfandels are legendary but they have a few surprises up their sleeves as well. The quaint saltbox home has a very limited amount of space, so appointments are required. Located in a beautiful courtyard off the Sonoma square in a historic house with details adorning the interior walls. You will not want to miss Bedrock Wine Co.
6. Meet almost 140 rescued farm animals at Charlie's Acres
Charlie's Acres is a beautiful farm sanctuary located about 5 minutes from the Sonoma Plaza. Meet Martha the turkey, Petunia the Pot-Belly pig, Ginger the goat, and many more that have been rescued from many different parts of the world and will now enjoy the rest of their lives at this happy farm. Community Tours are available on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:00, as well as a family-friendly tour at 11 am on Saturdays. Check their website here to sign up. Volunteer opportunities are also available.
7. A Sweet Spot to have a Sweet Local Treat
Sweet Scoops is a very special ice cream shop on the Sonoma Plaza. Be sure to pop in to grab a scoop with a local twist. They hand make over 200 flavors that rotate on their menu daily. Many local ingredients are used in flavors like wine (of course), tea, wine country chocolates, and local fruits.
8. Grab a picnic lunch and head out to the vineyards
Sonoma Market, right off the Sonoma Plaza, offers box lunches, salads, and wine to go. The great market shop has everything you would need for the perfect picnic along with local recommendations on a perfect spot to enjoy your lunch. You can also enjoy a picnic and a bottle of wine in the Sonoma Plaza.
9. Have lunch or dinner at the Depot Hotel
The Depot Hotel (voted one of the top 100 most beautiful patios in the world) is a local favorite. Open Wednesday thru Sunday for lunch and dinner. Local chef and owner, Tony Ghilarducci, prepares a different menu each week with local, seasonal vegetables. This Sonoma establishment, located in an 1870 train depot, made Open Table Top 100 list of outdoor dining restaurants. Enjoy Italian comfort food in the tradition of the Lucca province in Tuscany, from which the family originates. The stylish outdoor patio overlooks an ornamental reflection pool with a sparkling fountain.
10. Sample the world-famous cheese at Vella Cheese Company
Located in a residential neighborhood, just off the Sonoma Plaza, many don't know this wonderful little cheese shop even exists. Known for its jacks (made here since the 1930s), Vella specializes in dry-jack with a cocoa powder-dusted rind. Also try Mezzo Secco, a cheese you can only find here at Vella. We highly recommend grabbing a wedge or two (the cheese can be left unrefrigerated for 7 days) to enjoy with a glass of wine later in the day.
11. Cocktail Time at Girl & the Fig Cafe or the Swiss Hotel
Try the Fig Kiss at the Girl & the Fig Cafe or stop into the Swiss Hotel for the bar’s signature drink, the Glariffee, a frosty variation on the Irish coffee theme. Only one person knows the recipe, which is kept locked in a safe deposit box. For more local Sonoma tidbits, chat it up with the friendly bartending crew.
12. Stop in for a handmade truffle at Wine Country Chocolates
This Mother-daughter duo decides to quit their day jobs and dive into chocolate and the result is delicious. With flavors like Port, Cabernet, and Champagne, how can you go wrong? They even offer a monthly truffle club delivered right to your home. Located off the plaza in the beautiful El Paseo courtyard.
14.Head south a block off the Plaza and enjoy a flight of small lot, artisanal wines made at Bump Winery
Bump Wine Cellars is a family-owned and operated boutique wine producer showcasing its wines in the beautiful tasting room & art gallery. New artists showcase their work each month and include an opening night with pours of Bump Wines. You will find Mieko or Geordie, the owners, and winemakers, in the tasting rooms to give you the story about how they created each varietal.
15. Visit the Original Williams Sonoma store located just south of the Plaza
Walk down about two blocks and you can pop into the first Williams Sonoma Store, operated by Chuck Williams. Williams bought the Ralph Morse Hardware Store in Sonoma in 1953. Over the next few years, he gradually converted its stock from hardware to French cookware, filling a niche in the market as European cookware was difficult to find for purchase in America at the time. He later moved his store to San Francisco, but the original store has reopened with all the wonderful cookware you will ever need.
16. Grab a pint of HazyCaliFrajilisticHoppyaladocious at Sonoma Springs Brewery
The local hot spot to grab a beer and peanuts is Sonoma Springs Brewery, located about a mile west of the Plaza. The vibe is always casual and the beers are fresh and fun with creative & unique names. With twenty beers on tap, you can't go wrong. They even have a 'Buy a Buddy a Beer' wall to buy a pint for a friend. You can't get more local than that.
17. Bike to Buena Vista Winery
After you are done exploring the Sonoma Plaza, hop on your bike, preferably with a friend, and head to Buena Vista Winery,
Sonoma Valley's oldest winery opened in 1857. Walk slowly as you make your way to the winery. A few surprises await you.
Be sure to take a tour of the Historic Wine Tool Museum. Reservations recommended.
18. Next stop: Gun Bun Winery for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc on the patio
In Sonoma, we like to call this local winery, Gundlach Bundschu, by its easier to pronounce name, Gun Bun. Hop on your bike and ride over to Gun Bun weaving your way through the vineyards and beautiful neighborhoods and finally up the hill to Sonoma Valley's longest family-owned winery. Grab a bottle of wine and head out to the patio tables or have a flight in the tasting room.
19. Grab a glass of bubbly at Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards on the patio overlooking the Carneros Valley
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards is not only the first sparkling wine house in Sonoma but also the first to plant Champagne clones and the first to plant in Carneros. Grab a glass or a flight in the caves or on the patio. Small nibbles are offered with each tasting or you can order a cheese plate. Reservations not needed for smaller groups.
20. Sip, Shop, and Explore at Cornerstone Gardens
You can spend an entire day at Cornerstone Gardens. There are a handful of incredible wineries, great food at Public Kitchen, gardens to meander through and boutique shops to pop into. You can also bring your own picnic. Admission to both the Cornerstone and Sunset Gardens is complimentary and all gardens are open to the public. The gardens are open from 10 am-4 pm daily. The restaurant, shops, and tasting rooms are open from 10 am-5 pm.
21. A little history stop: the Museum of Missions at Cline Cellars
Nestled behind the tasting room and the large turtle pond is a special museum that displays scale models of all 21 California Spanish Missions, crafted in the 1930s for the San Francisco World's Fair. Open daily from 10am-4pm.
Cline Cellars also offers wine tasting of their current releases for $10. (not many tasting rooms offer pricing in this range). Bring a picnic, grab a bottle of wine and hang out for the day. The vibe is very Sonoma casual.
22. Try the Jalapeno Vodka at Hansen's Vodka Distillery
When out exploring the Carneros region of the Sonoma Valley, a must-do is the vodka tasting at the Hansen Vodka Distillery. They make handcrafted vodka in small batches from organic grapes, infused with whole organic ingredients. Try the Hansen Vodka Expression Tasting with six different vodkas. Cocktails are also available.
23. Head up Arnold Drive for a Hike at Jack London State Park
The drive into Jack London State Park gives you a small glimpse of the 1400 acres awaiting you. The park has the newly reopened House of Happy Walls Museum with free docent-led tours on Saturdays & Sundays at 11:00 & 1:00. There is also an app you can download that takes you on a self-guided tour. Bring a picnic, take a hike, tour the museums and take in the breathtaking beauty that Jack London loved and enjoyed. Jack London called it “Beauty Ranch” for good reason.
24. Stop at a local Farm Stand
On Saturdays, be sure to stop at Flatbed Farm in Glen Ellen for their local vegetables, jarred pickles, and herbs. All items change seasonally. Open from 10-2.
25. Experience the most amazing view in a hot air balloon ride over the Sonoma Valley
Sonoma Ballooning Adventures will take you up for a truly memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience, above the clouds and will gently glide you over the vineyards to watch the sunrise over Sonoma Valley. After you will be treated to champagne, a long-standing hot air balloon tradition, and wonderful croissants and pastries. Back in time to hit plenty of wineries by 9 am or so. Rides are available every day (weather permitting) except Christmas.
You are in for a treat at the Reserve Room. A seven-course pairing menu with seven Mayo Family Reserve wines crafted by Winemaker Michel Berthoud and seven artisan bites created and prepared by Executive Chef John Locher are fused together to what might just explode your taste buds. Call ahead to reserve or book on Open Table. Plan on about 2 hours. The menu changes seasonally.
If you are looking for a tasting experience that gives you a little bit of everything, you have found it at Lasseter Family Winery. The tasting walks you through several different locations on the property including the barrel room, out in the vineyard, and ending in the tasting room with a wine and cheese pairing. The tasting room staff are incredibly knowledgeable and the wines are incredible. Plan on an hour and a half to two hours.
28. Enjoy a picnic lunch under the Oaks overlooking the valley at Beltane Ranch
Beltane Ranch is a very special place. It is a Historic Landmark Bed and Breakfast that offers wine and cheese boards under the oaks overlooking the incredible gardens and valley. The kicker is you do need to be a member of the wine club or stay at the Inn to make a reservation. Enjoying a day with La Belle Vie Tours can include a stop at Beltane Ranch if you would like to experience the beauty of the ranch.
29. Enjoy an authentic French croissant in Glen Ellen
Les Pascals Patisserie brings the most delicious croissants to Sonoma Valley. For almost four decades, Chef Pascal has been a pastry chef at leading French pâtisseries like Boulangerie Follet for almost four decades. The Pascals have opened their very own French pâtisserie in the heart of Glen Ellen and the line is out the door on Sunday mornings. Bon appetit!
We hope you have enjoyed this journey through Sonoma Valley, Glen Ellen, and Kenwood. We are always doing more research about the beautiful valleys we call home and the secret spots we love to go to. We are happy to plan the perfect day and do the driving for you. Let us know if we can assist in any way. We love living in wine country and want to share the love with all that come to visit.
If you want to venture out of Sonoma (or off the island as locals like to say), we highly recommend a hike at Armstrong Redwoods
and a stop at the Barlow in Sebastopol, a trip to Bodega Bay for some incredible fish tacos and a walk on the beach or pop over the mountain to Historic Petaluma to enjoy some shopping and lunch at Brewsters Beer Garden. The options are endless.
Click here to find more information about Sonoma Valley and Sonoma County.
KEY TIPS TO PLAN YOUR VISIT TO SONOMA VALLEY
Wineries generally start tastings at 10 or 11 am and close around 4 or 5 pm. Be sure to check the times of the wineries you most want to visit and plan accordingly.
Allow more time than you think at each winery. If you love wine, it’s easy for an hour to pass chatting with staff members who love it too. Before you can say “Pinot Noir,” an hour can pass.
Don’t count on cell phone service as your only means of navigation. A signal can be spotty throughout Sonoma especially at the higher elevations.
Plan your tastings based on winery location. We recommend starting at the top of Sonoma Valley, then work our way down.
Drink plenty of water in between each winery.
Drive safely! Many affordable options are available to hire drivers. La Belle Vie Tours offers private transportation with a day tailored to your choosing. We plan tours of Napa & Sonoma Valley and love to share the spots we take our friends to. Join us and live La Belle Vie!