The last time we were in California wine country was in 2010 and it was only for one day. We flew into San Francisco and drove to Seattle, exploring everything we could along the way. One of our first days we took a tour through Napa Valley, enjoying how different the wineries were from one another but having absolutely no idea what we were drinking or a single thing about wine.
During that trip, we were a little overwhelmed– by the big reds, by the people who clearly knew a lot more about wine than we did, and by the feeling that we were a little out of place.
After our wine tour, we ended our day in Sonoma at a restaurant we found highly rated on Google called the Girl and the Fig. It was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had. We loved the vibe in Sonoma and promised we would come back some day.
Fast forward eight years and we finally made it back to Sonoma. My master’s degree has taken up more of my life than I expected, and this year has turned into the year of the long weekend vacations– it’s the only way I can successfully balance work, school and play. Brian and I had President’s Day off and were missing the sunshine so we decided it was a perfect time to spend a long weekend in California wine country–this time in Sonoma.
We have both come a long way in better understanding and appreciating wine since that fateful wine tour eight years ago so we plotted out about 3-4 wineries per day we would try to explore based on those that specialized in wine varietals we prefer. I spent time time researching things to do in the area and while Sonoma County and the wine region are expansive, I really tried to narrow to the area immediately around Sonoma so we wouldn’t spend all of our time on the road.
Our itinerary turned into a lovely balance of hiking, history, and wine tasting, and the weather was perfectly suited to our activities. We wanted to get to know Sonoma proper and spent our mornings doing just that. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Sonoma.
Sonoma Overlook Trail
Our first morning we got up relatively early and made our way through town to the trailhead for the Sonoma Overlook Trail. This three-mile hike offered several opportunities to branch off into other nearby trails, but we wanted to complete a fairly simple out-and-back hike for views over the town and surrounding area.
There were quite a few people on the trail when we set out, but once we got going things spread out and we were on our own. We didn’t bring hiking clothes but this hike doesn’t require them. The sky was clear and we had beautiful views–it was the perfect way to start the day!
Downtown Sonoma is quaint with a lovely square full of old buildings. A central green space is surrounded by shops, restaurants, and places to stay. While we stayed about a mile outside of town at the El Pueblo Inn, it was an easy walk into downtown Sonoma.
Lots of people parked around the main square and the sidewalks were busy, even in the early morning. We walked around the square itself and then also explored the green space.
If you enjoy shopping or prefer to do your wine tastings in a central spot rather than driving around to all of the wineries, you could easily spend a day downtown visiting the tasting rooms and making your way around the square at your own pace.
Mission San Francisco Solano
In one corner of the downtown Sonoma square is the Mission San Francisco Solano. Founded in 1823, it’s the only Franciscan mission built during Mexican rule in what is now California.
After paying a small entry fee, we began our self-guided tour in the courtyard, walking around to the various out buildings and enjoying the cacti beds and orange trees.
Inside the mission we met one of the docents who talked about the missions, Mexican rule, and how this particular mission was used over time. The church was rebuilt in 1911-1913 as a restoration of the original.
Food and Ice Cream
There are endless places to eat in Sonoma but we ended up ducking into the Hare & Hatter Sausage Emporium for an al freso lunch. There was an option to let the chef create a board for you so we decided to leave our lunch in his/her hands. We ended up with a beautiful meat and cheese board that was perfect for sharing. Definitely recommend this place for a relatively light lunch but it’s small–go early as there’s limited seating!
Next door to the Hare & Hatter is a little ice cream parlor called Sweet Scoops that we had to check out for dessert! They had an ice cream flight of four small scoops so we each picked two and then headed to a nice shaded spot on the green to enjoy!
The area immediately around Sonoma proper quickly opens up into woods, vineyards, farms and rolling hills– it’s a beautiful area. While much of our time exploring it was on our way to or from some of the nearby wineries, it’s lovely to drive around and simply enjoy the scenery.
We love to find live music wherever we go and Sonoma was no exception. We had dinner at the Girl and the Fig (it was every bit as good as I remembered although the weather was cooler than our last visit so we were sitting inside rather than out), and then we set off to find some music.
One place on my list was the Sonoma Speakeasy and American Music Hall, which had several acts each night. It’s hidden back a small alley and not easy to find, but we did find it! and after paying our cover and grabbing a seat, we settled in for an awesome performance.
The band was great–the drummer was hilarious–and the people watching was superb–quite a variety of people and several who had apparently been to one too many wineries!
Sonoma was really fun and I’m so glad we were able to go back and spend some time experiencing it! If you’re looking for something a little more low-key than Napa, I highly recommend heading over to nearby Sonoma for everything from hiking to history to shopping to dining to entertainment. I already can’t wait to go back!