I’ve lived in Sonoma County, California all my life except for my time away at college and law school. I grew up in an area known for its small towns and rolling hills filled with vineyards and oak trees. Sonoma is next door to Napa County and both are major travel destinations. I’m biased, but I think Sonoma County has a slight edge with its fifty miles of Pacific coastline, redwood forests, and variety of things to do.
I get this question a lot from readers, “What are the best things to do and see when visiting the Northern California wine country?” Today I’ll stick to just Sonoma County, the place I call home. Here are my recommended places to visit, they offer the best experiences and vistas. These are the spots where I take out-of-town family or friends when they visit.
1. Highway 121 Wineries – Viansa, Jacuzzi, Cline & Cornerstone Gardens
I’ve written about my five favorite wineries in Sonoma, they are located along the Highway 121 corridor and easy to visit in a day. Highly recommended for that wine tasting experience! I recommend Viansa, Jacuzzi Vineyards, Cline Cellers, and Cornerstone Gardens.
2. Armstrong Woods
A giant redwood forest with trails among 1,000 year old trees! Armstrong Woods state park is a pleasant place to walk, however it’s currently closed due to fire damage. Hopefully it reopens soon, but as an alternative there is Muir Woods national park to the south in Marin County, an equally impressive redwood forest.
3. Healdsburg Plaza
If you like shops, cafes, wine tasting rooms, and a small town vibe, visit the Healdsburg Plaza for an afternoon. It’s close to the Dry Creek Valley (below) so you can do both in one day.
4. Dry Creek Valley
Miles and miles of rolling hills and vineyard views await a trip to the Dry Creek Valley where you’ll taste world class wines. Visit in spring for Barrel Tasting Weekend or anytime in summer or fall for warm weather and views of vineyards. Two of the more famous wineries are Ferrari Carano for its gardens and tasting room and Coppola for the movie memorabilia, grounds, and pool.
5. Kenwood & the Sonoma Valley
Highway 12 wraps its way through the Sonoma Valley, there you’ll wind through the little towns of Agua Calientes and Glen Ellen and you can stop for a bite to eat, but don’t miss the Kenwood valley, it’s like a movie scene and incredibly beautiful. Famous wineries along this route include “the castle” Ledson, French style Chateau St. Jean, St. Francis winery, Landmark, and Kunde.
6. Sonoma Plaza
The Sonoma Plaza welcomes visitors with shops, bars, and wine tasting rooms. I featured a stroll around the Plaza a few years ago, this is a very cool place to hang out for an afternoon and spend the evening at any number of excellent restaurants.
7. Safari West
Another unique experience is Safari West or the “Serengeti in Sonoma”. Giraffes, cheetahs, flamingos, zebras, the list goes on and you can see them all up close as you ride in a Jeep like vehicle around the huge property. You can spend the night here or just visit for a day.
8. Bodega – Beaches & Coastline
Northern California beaches are much different than in the south. They’re colder but offer incredible coastline views with dramatic waves crashing up against rocks. Bodega Head is a great place to catch an incredible view, but there are nice sandy beaches too, my favorite is Salmon Creek or check out Sonoma Coast State Park. Bodega Bay is a really cute town, I recommend clam chowder from the Inn at the Tides, and there are a few stops in town for salt water taffy.
1) Downtown Sebastopol and the Barlow for a quirky small town vibe.
2) Kayaking/canoeing down the Russian River.
3) Craft beer enthusiasts love Lagunitas taproom in Petaluma and Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa & Windsor.
4) Glamping at Wildhaven.
5) Sears Point Raceway events for sports car driving and racing school.
6) Sea Ranch getaways (beautiful coastal drive and vacation rentals).
If you’re looking for places to stay, check out these wine country vacation rentals.
Have you visited Sonoma County? What were your favorite experiences?