Sonoma, California will always be one of my favorite places in the whole entire world. Growing up there, it was just “home” – I didn’t know anything else. It wasn’t until I left that I discovered just how incredible it really is.
After months of copying and pasting an email with my recommendations, a few months ago I upgraded to a word document that I would send to anyone asking, and now finally after many requests… a travel guide of what to see, do, eat, and drink in Sonoma. I hope this guide helps you on your next trip or convinces you that a trip to the valley needs to go to the top of your list!
Where to Wine Taste
Scribe – My personal favorite! They have the absolute best rosé and I don’t typically love rosé. It’s a more rustic place, you can taste outside on picnic benches under humongous trees on top of a little hill overlooking the vines or at their renovated hacienda. Either way it’s breathtaking. They also have a huge rope swing which is really fun and always a great photo op 😉 (Update: I think this may have been taken down?)
Cline is more outdoorsy and the tasting room is nothing picture worthy but the grounds are incredible and the wine is great. They have a lake, museum full of replicas of the California missions, bird aviaries, petting pen with donkeys, all sorts of things. Really fun spot.
Jacuzzi is modeled after a Tuscan villa, with all the materials shipped straight over from Italy. This is a great spot because they have the wine tasting room as well as an olive oil tasting room where you can try all sorts of oils and vinegars for free. The central courtyard is stunning and you really will feel like you’ve been transported to Italy!
Roche Tasting Room – Roche Winery itself is located on the outskirts of town, so a few years ago they made the decision to move the tasting room to the square for more traffic. I think it was a great decision because it’s so fun having a place to wine taste right on the plaza. It’s a stunning little spot with a great outdoor area and fire pit. This is where Matt and I held our engagement party!
Gloria Ferrer – This is on the same road towards Cline and Jacuzzi and it is a sparking wine aka champagne tasting place that is pretty well-known. I have never tasted here but have visited a handful of times since my sister used to work there. It is a gorgeous spot!
Where to Eat
Mary’s Pizza Shack – There are two locations, one being right on the plaza. A great spot if you’re in the mood for no-fuss pizza, it’s a town favorite! Get the pesto breadsticks! *Local favorite
The Red Grape – Another great pizza spot on the Plaza, this one is a little nicer and is wood-fired thin crust pizza and is delicious. They have a great little back patio so try to sit out there. *Local favorite
Sunflower Caffe – A great spot for lunch or a quick breakfast/coffee. Make sure to sit on the patio!
The Girl & the Fig – French food. A little on the expensive side, but if you’re wanting to do a nice dinner, this is your spot.
Juanita, Juanita – The hidden gem of all hidden gems, Juanita’s is my one must-visit every time I’m home. This graffiti covered hole in the wall on the “wrong side of town” is a local favorite for fresh Mexican food packed full of flavor in a colorful setting that hasn’t changed in years. Think piñatas hanging from the ceilings and kid’s drawings covering all the walls. The chips are homemade and the perfect thickness and the green salsa is so good I could actually drink it. Pour that over everything! *Local favorite
El Dorado Kitchen – Another spot for a nice dinner. They also have wonderful cocktails! The menu and the cocktails are seasonal, in the warmer months they have a drink made with honeydew that is absolutely delicious!
Swiss Hotel – Another great spot for a nicer dinner on the plaza – the food is always wonderful.
Homegrown Bagels – Locals just call this “The Bagel Shop” and here you will find hands-down the best bagels of your life. Don’t even try to fight me on this one. Don’t try to get fancy with one of the bagel sandwiches, just order one of their bagels (so many incredible flavors to choose from), either toasted or untoasted your preference (while I would never leave a grocery store bagel untoasted, I actually prefer mine untoasted here), and let them slather on the cream cheese. Take it to go for a picnic anywhere in town and enjoy! *Local favorite
Sonoma Cheese Factory – A market that has everything from ice cream to barbeque to deli sandwiches, but the best part about this place is that right at the front they have all of their handmade cheeses out and you can sample to your heart’s delight. Definitely pop in here to try some – the Mediterranean is my favorite! Then grab a deli sandwich and a bag of chis and take it across the street for a park picnic. *Local favorite
The Chocolate Cow – The cutest little sweet shop down one of the alleys on the Plaza. They hand make all their chocolates and also have a wall full of all the classics and some you’ve never heard of as well as ice cream and smoothies, all that jazz. We used to LOVE going here growing up and it still hasn’t gotten old to me! *Local favorite
Tiddle E. Winks – Another sweet shop on the Plaza, this one is all vintage. It’s fun even just to pop into because their inventory is so cool. They also have vintage signs and posters and some stuff like that.
La Casa – If you are feeling Mexican while you’re strolling around the Plaza this is where I used to work in high school and college!
What Else to Do
Farmer’s Market – If you happen to be in town on a Tuesday night between May and October, head down to the town square for the farmer’s market. While of course there are booths with everything from fruits and veggies to honey, soap, and flowers as well as food trucks galore, this is mainly a town social party each week! Grab a bottle of wine while at a tasting and some cheese and crackers from The Cheese Factory, and a blanket from your hotel and pick a spot on the lawn. Enjoy the live music, stroll the booths, chat with some locals, and enjoy a chill evening. Be sure to bring a jacket because it always gets really cold when the sun sets!
Williams-Sonoma – As you may have guessed, Williams-Sonoma was founded here. However, after the original flagship went up so many years ago, they closed it and moved to SF and then expanded, etc. Well, a few years ago, they bought back the original lot and re-opened it and it is incredible. It’s a renovated house now and they’ve set it up so that it is like a fully functioning home with the shop downstairs. Turns out WS also has a home line so the bedroom and office and bathrooms are all using their line and it’s just amazing. The back patio is something of dreams as well!
Bartholomew Park – If you are looking for a great picnic spot without tourists or just a nice walk or hike, this is your spot. My husband actually proposed right in the gazebo in that park so I particularly love it, but it’s a great little spot and is typically pretty empty. Plus, the road to get out there is lined with some of the most gorgeous homes!
*In case you do go, I am going to give you directions because sometimes it looks hard to get to but I promise it’s not! Once you get through the main gate (which is open during business hours) you will go down the driveway and right before you get to the big white house you will go left and park in the lot. Then you’ll go back around the house and you’ll see another gate which is typically never open but you just walk around it – promise you won’t get arrested or anything! 😉 From there you will see the gazebo right away and it will be obvious where the picnic area is located.
The Bike Path – There is a bike path that runs straight from one side of town to the other. I would recommend renting bikes and casually riding it. It’s nice because you’re really close to downtown the whole time (just one block north) but you’ll see more of the everyday scenes like the baseball fields, neighborhoods, parks, etc.
Sebastiani Theatre – Old time theatre located on the town square; a great place to catch a film! They typically only show one or a few films at a time and typically they aren’t the mainstream ones you’ll find at AMC. They show every Pixar film (the director is from Sonoma), indie-type films that only play “in select theaters”, and special showings of old films. It won’t be the biggest screen or best surround sound you’ve ever experienced, but you’ll sit in classic velvet seats in a theatre house with ornate details – it’s a really special place!
Where to Stay
Obviously I have never stayed at a hotel in Sonoma since I lived there, but here are a few that I know people often stay at and recommend:
The Lodge at Sonoma – Just one block south of the town square, this is a great location. This is actually a Marriott hotel, so if you are loyal or trying to use points, you might try here! It has a fabulous pool! You can rent regular rooms or little villas.
MacArthur Place – Right across from The Lodge. Beautiful grounds and a great restaurant on site.
Kenwood Inn and Spa – Located a little outside of town (probably a 10 or 15 minute drive to the square), this is a beautiful spot with a great spa.
Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn – If you don’t care about the hotel experience, this is located just one block west of the town square so it’s a great location.
Cottage Inn and Spa – Located just off the square, this is a serene spot where you can rent a whole cottage.
El Dorado Hotel – Right on the town square, this is an incredible location and home to El Dorado Kitchen (mentioned above).
When to Visit
With a Mediterannean climate, temperatures are mild throughout most of the year. However, I wouldn’t recommend visiting in the Winter months (November through about March). Not only can it get pretty chilly, but since harvest is typically in September/October, the vineyards will all be cut back during those Winter months.
While the tasting rooms will still be open, you won’t get that true vineyard experience that you’re likely looking for.
The most ideal times to visit are late Spring and early Fall (my personal favorite!) You’ll get the best weather and the best foliage.
What to Wear
Style in the valley is fairly casual, but always presentable.
Leave the stiletto heels at home and stick to comfortable wedges or chic sandals.
A hat is a good option if you will be outside tasting all day, but either way don’t forget your sunscreen!
Mornings are typically cool, afternoons warm and sunny, and very chilly in the evening once the sun goes down. Therefore, be sure to bring a scarf or light jacket with you so you can layer up or down as needed.
Friends always comes back shocked at how cold it got at night, so you’ve been forewarned – don’t make that mistake!
Things to Note
Sonoma is the name of both a town and a county (all generally referred to as “Sonoma Valley”). Sonoma County includes Sonoma, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Sebastapol, Petaluma, and some more. Since I grew up in the actual town of Sonoma, this guide is specific to the town, not the county.
Getting around town: Sonoma is a really simple town to navigate through because everything is built around the Plaza, our town square. “The Square” is the center of town and the street names go out from there (First Street East, First Street West, Second Street East, etc). Nearly all the restaurants and shopping are on the square or on one of the streets that jut off from it. The wineries are on the periphery, circling the town.
A guide to Napa is also coming soon! Update: it is HERE! While Napa is great too and more well-known, to be honest, Sonoma has everything Napa does (wineries galore, amazing restaurants, cute boutiques, great views) but is more quaint with it’s smaller size and town square so it has more charm. Also, since it’s the lesser known of the two, it’s a lot less crowded so it’s easier to get reservations, etc. If you’re headed to Napa, definitely try to set aside a day for Sonoma – it’s just a 20 minute drive over to the next valley.
If you are in need of any more specific suggestions or recommendations, feel free to reach out – I am always happy to help!