The best things to do in Sonoma Valley, California. From day trips to wineries, your guide to having the perfect Sonoma wine weekend!
I was invited to Sonoma, California to experience harvest season in one of the most beautiful little nooks in this country. Not one to turn down a weekend of wine and good food I packed my bags and jumped on a plane.
Sonoma California is just north of San Francisco nestled between the Pacific ocean and the Mayacamas mountains. Home to nearly 60,000 acres of vineyards and over 425 wineries.
I don't always have time for long travel adventures, and sometimes the soul just needs 48 hours of newness. This was the case with Sonoma. If you have 48 hours, this is how I would recommend spending it.
TRAVEL LOGISTICS TO SONOMA, CALIFORNIA
Sonoma is about an hour's drive north of San Francisco, making SFO the easiest airport to fly into.
I flew into San Francisco and stayed for one night before heading north to Sonoma. As an east coaster, I am always up for a visit to San Fran, with its hilly landscape and charming gingerbread houses. I recommend doing the same. Spend a few hours wandering the eclectic neighborhoods and/or head directly to my favorite place in San Franciso, Swan Oyster Depot. To date, the best raw oysters, sourdough bread, and clam chowder I've had in my life. Bring cash and patience, there is always a line.
On this recent trip, we had reservations at the charming Bluestem Brasserie for wine, cheese, and a lovely meal.
Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge the next morning on our way to Sonoma, with Joni Mitchell in my earbuds, I took a deep, I’m no longer in NYC, exhale and settled in for several days of good food, California sun, and that enviable laid-back California vibe.
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT SONOMA
You can expect nearly perfect weather all year round. Summer tends to be a bit hotter and definitely more crowded. Fall, when I visited, was ideal. Fall also happens to be the harvest, a great time to visit wineries!
THINGS TO DO IN SONOMA:
1. Wine Tasting – With over 400 wineries to choose from you really can't go wrong. I recommend narrowing it down to 1 or 2 wineries you really want to visit to truly optimize your wine experience.
We spent our time at Sonoma Cutrer, a gorgeous vineyard with sweeping views of the valley. We arrived in the morning (all good mornings begin at a winery, amiright??), toured the facility, tasted wine at nearly every step of the process (in high fermentation it tastes like a glass of yeast bread!), and had a lovely lunch on their patio.
A unique feature of Sonoma Cutrer is their croquet court! Chardonnay and Croquet All Day! You can reserve their croquet court for up to 8 people for 2 hours.
I am not a fan of games and sports (I could write a dissertation on how much I am not a “sporty” girl) but I LOVED croquet! Order a cheese plate, a bottle of Sonoma Cutrer Rose or their sparkling Grand Cuvee, grab a mallet and settle in for an absolutely lovely and very civilized afternoon, pinky finger up, please!
Side note: I had NO idea what to wear for a civilized game of croquet, I went with big green karate pants, a floral bomber jacket, and my Ganesha mala.
2. Eat – Sonoma is home to some truly outstanding restaurants that honor the rich agricultural bounty that the region has to offer. We had a private dinner at Sonoma Cutrer and a meal at John Ash & Co inside the Vintners Inn. When I return I would love to explore a few smaller spots with more local flare. Have you been to Sonoma? Do you have a favorite restaurant that I should try?
3. Visit a Farmers Market – If you've seen one farmers market you've seen them all, right? Nope. Not true! The produce in northern California is so gorgeous it makes me weep. Make a special visit to one of the many local markets to ooohh and ahhh over tomatoes the size of your head, grapes that look as if they should be the centerpiece of a greedy emperor's feast, and local artisan cheese and baked goods. While you are there grab some of that gorgeous produce, cheese, and bread to have the picnic of your life (see below!)
4. Get Out in Nature – Visit Bodega Bay – About a 55-minute drive from Sonoma (depending on which part of Sonoma you are driving from) head west to the coast and visit Bodega Bay, a beautiful nook along the Pacific coastline. Bodega Bay is lousy with biking and hiking trails, and gorgeous beaches. Bring a kite or buy a kite at one of the kite shops nearby and spend the afternoon just soaking in the views.
We packed an epic picnic to enjoy on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific ocean. Local meats and cheese, gorgeous seasonal produce, fresh-baked bread, and lots of wine. It was chilly and foggy when we were there and still breathtakingly beautiful.
If I had more time in Sonoma I would definitely venture off on a Bodega Bay hike!
MY FAVORITE EXPERIENCE IN SONOMA – MUST NOT MISS!
This next adventure, my friends, was quite honestly a dream come true. If you are a fan of oysters then you MUST visit Hog Island Oyster Company in Marshall, CA.
Book a “shuck-your-own-picnic”, and spend the afternoon or early evening lounging in their outdoor cafe. You can bring your own wine, beer, and/or any other picnic accouterments. There is also, wine, beer, and charcuterie available for purchase. They will provide oysters, lemon, horseradish, and hot sauce, shucking tools, a grill, and the best dang 3 hours of your life.
If I lived anywhere close to Hog Island Oyster I would seriously turn into an oyster!
During my visit 240 oysters were procured for 7 people, I grabbed an oyster knife and jumped into action. Want to make me happy? Give me a huge bucket of oysters, a gorgeous view, a sunny California day, and an oyster knife. Bye. I live here now.
Kef Chefin (Chef Kevin, but we had a lot of wine. Kevin is the chef from Sonoma Cutrer) came prepared with compote butter and sauces for the oysters. Your only job is to show up with a big appetite, some shucking skills, and a desire to do nothing but eat oysters and drink wine.
Perfect afternoon? Yes. Yes, it was.
WHERE TO STAY IN SONOMA
We stayed at the charming Vintners Inn located in Santa Rosa. The Vintners Inn has the feel of a charming cottage, but with the addition of several new buildings, the property is truly state of the art.
I stayed in a gorgeous new room. New new, as in, I was the first person to sleep in the bed “new”! They still hadn't installed a phone when I checked in. The obvious first move was putting on a cushy bathrobe and snuggling into that bed!
John Ash & Co is a lovely restaurant on site that prides itself on seasonal, local, farm to table fare.
The morning we were set to depart I woke up extra early to take a final stroll through the vines. The Vintners Inn provides a gorgeous path through a vineyard right outside your door. If I was a runner it would have been the ideal spot for a morning jog. I’m a leisurely walker and walk I did. Sonoma’s final adieu was in the form of a brightly striped hot air balloon floating above the vines. I mean!!!
48 hours was just the amuse-bouche. I want more. A million thanks to Sonoma Cutrer for hosting me on this epic weekend of wine and revelry. I truly cannot wait to return.
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