By Michelle Stansbury published
Editor's note: We encourage our readers to check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for up-to-date information on how to safely travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sonoma is often described as the quieter sister of Napa Valley, but the top-notch wine region home to 400 wineries—spread out in an area about double the size of Napa—offers more than just smaller crowds. With charming towns, idyllic rolling hills, exceptional dining, a wide range of accommodations, and world-class wineries, Sonoma is a unique destination in its own right.
To get to Sonoma, first check and see if you can fly directly into Santa Rosa, where the quaint Sonoma County Airport (STS) is located. If not, flying into the San Francisco airport (SFO) is a good option, from which you can drive the hour-and-a-half over the Golden Gate Bridge into the laid-back wine country. While fall is Sonoma’s most popular season (a.k.a. when the grapes are in harvest), winter offers greater availability to otherwise exclusive tastings and experiences as well as holiday events. If you're looking for a warm weather trip, spring brings farms in bloom and summer offers additional outdoor activities, especially on the coast.
From trendy Healdsburg to the renown Russian River Valley, here are some can’t-miss stops in Sonoma, California.
Stay at the Farmhouse Inn
The Farmhouse Inn is proof that rustic and luxury can thrive together. The charming hotel brings together indoor/outdoor fireplaces, cozy rooms, friendly staff, and a Michelin-starred restaurant. Located near the coastal Redwoods in Sonoma County, Farmhouse Inn has loaner cars you can borrow if you don’t bring your own and plenty of onsite experiences like fireside s’mores and daily wine tastings if you decide to spend the evening on the property.
Start Your Day at Quail and Condor Bakery
Baker Melissa Yanc is the season six winner of Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship and opened Quail and Condor with husband Sean McGaughey. Quail and Condor Bakery serves up exceptional pastries like flaky croissants and the Cardamom Cream Bun. Head there early as there's often a long line for the delicious breads and baked goods!
Taste Family-Run Wine at Small Vines
Sample the wines that Paul and Kathryn Sloan have dedicated years cultivating at Small Vines. By planting vines closer together, the plants naturally yield less fruit and the grapes accumulate sugar slower, creating more complex and nuanced wines. Don’t miss a taste of the distinctive Pinot Noir and Chardonnay while learning about them directly from the Sloan's.
Explore Sonoma Artisans at The Barlow
The Barlow Market is a 12-acre outdoor market district home to over 30 makers who offer a taste of Sonoma through local food, wine, beer, and spirits. Try Seismic Brewing, Pax Wines, Two Dog Night Creamery, and finish off with a stunning dinner at Fern Bar.
Sample Luxe Wine Pairings at Paul Hobbs
The Paul Hobbs Russian River Valley Katherine Lindsay Estate offers a taste of some of its more limited wines during a seated tasting of six vineyard designate wines and seasonally-inspired dishes. Explore the 12,000-square-foot winery and the surrounding vineyards to see how the renowned winemaker created his brand.
Embrace Natural Healing at the Wellness Barn
More than just a place to unwind, the Wellness Barn believes in using nature as a healer for the mind, body, and soul. Local remedies and modalities from sound baths to massage are designed to restore balance. Try the Nurtured by Nature treatment, a sensory tour of the Sonoma region with Pacific sea salt, healing clay, coastal redwood mist, and a tailored massage with in-house oils and butters.
Get Double the Dining Pleasure at The Matheson
Chef Dustin Valette opened twin restaurant concepts The Matheson and Roof 106 in Healdsburg, which is situated along the Russian River in the heart of Sonoma. Upstairs at Roof 106, a casual setting calls for cocktails, pizza, and sushi—a drool-worthy combination. Downstairs, try new wines at the wine wall—a self-service tasting area where you can sample small pours of wines not usually available by the glass.
Embark on a Downtown Tasting at Marine Layer
Also in Healdsburg, Marine Layer Wines recently opened up its tasting room downtown, which showcases small batch Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from cooler climates around the region (hence the winery name). Don’t miss the option to pair the wines with the add-on mezze platter from Little Saint.
If you've fallen in love with Sonoma, book a trip here.
Michelle Stansbury is a San Diego-based freelance writer who writes about travel, food, cannabis, and relationships. Misuse of the word "literally" drives her figuratively insane.
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