Top Ten Reasons To Visit Sonoma Valley
For those of you who are not aware of it, I’m lucky enough to live in Sonoma. Specifically, I live in the small town of Glen Ellen. This area is a wine and food lover’s paradise. But, there’s more than just wine and food that recommends Sonoma Valley. I’ve wanted to do this for some time. So here it is:
THE TOP 10 REASONS FOR VISITING SONOMA VALLEY
10. World Championship Pillow fights
Every Fourth of July, in the Valley town of Kenwood, the best pillow fighters in the world gather to determine who slings the sack best. Straddling a metal poll that lies across a mud-filled crevice, competitors whack one another until one takes the mud dive. Spectators lounge on the grassy inclines surrounding the "pit", drink wine, eat barbecue and judge that they could easily win if only they entered. It’s one of those things like the Tour de France, World Series and the Super Bowl that we all should experience in person once in our lives.
9. Driving Trinity Road in a Sports Car
There is a special road that takes one from Sonoma Valley, over the Mayacamas Range and drops you into Oakville. Trinity Road is a curvy up and down experience that only driving aficionados can truly appreciate. Trinity road winds its way through oak groves, redwood tree groves, around hairpin turns, past mountain vineyards and finally down a steep slope into Napa Valley. It was once named one of the best driving roads by Car & Driver Magazine. The trek is best taken in a small sport car, top down around 6:30 in the morning in the summer.
8. Sonoma Plaza
It’s been the heart of the town for more than 100 years. Today, the plaza is a tree-filled oasis of soft grass, playgrounds, paths, duck ponds and shade that make it the perfect place to hang for a couple of hours with a bottle of wine and a picnic lunch. Surrounding the plaza on four sides are shops and restaurants. Sonoma was not always a tourist stop. Though much of the commerce that goes on there today is tourism related you can still find the old mens clothing shop, the banks, a grand old theatre and more that has served locals for years. But in addition, it’s filled with eclectic shops, great restaurants and a numerous places to sit outside and watch people stroll by. The Sonoma Wine Exchange is a must stop. It has a great collection of local wines, many very hard to find gems.
The number of really outstanding restaurants in Sonoma Valley is startling and diverse. While there is a decided leaning toward "wine country" cuisine you’ll also find raw bars, great Mexican food (both trendy and dives), Portuguese, authentic Italian, Steak houses, ranch food, and great little holes in the wall. Among my favorite: Meritage (Sonoma), Girl and the Fig (Sonoma), Saddles (Sonoma), Kenwood Restaurant (Kenwood), The Glen Ellen Inn (Glen Ellen), Cafe Citti (Kenwood).
6. Glen Ellen
Jack London made Glen Ellen his home and today his former ranch is a State Historical Park. There was a time when this tiny town boasted 8 different bars and saloons. Before that it was a resort spot where San Francsicans would come for the summer to enjoy the two creeks that come together here, to hike, to fish and to drink. Today, most people like to describe Glen Ellen as "quaint and funky". And it is. Downtown, such as it is, holds a funky bar, a great upscale market, a number of B&Bs, a auto repair shop, 4 restaurants, a bank, real estate offices and that’s about it. It’s off the main highway and a great place to spend an afternoon strolling before getting a bite to eat.
5. Sonoma Valley as Base Camp
If you want to plan a trip to "Wine Country" Sonoma Valley is perfect. If the Valley and nearby Carneros won’t satisfy your wine tasting desires, Napa Valley is 20 minutes away, Russian River Valley is a half hour away, Dry Creek about 40 minutes away, Alexander Valley 40 minutes away and San Francisco is only 45 minutes away. The Valley is a perfect place to base yourself if you are looking for a Wine Country vacation.
4. Heart of the Valley Barrel Tasting
The Heart of Sonoma Valley Association is a group of wineries in the Valley towns of Glen Ellen and Kenwood that work cooperatively to promote their part of the Valley. The Association is made up of about 20 wineries. Each March they roll out the barrels for 2 days and give you a taste of what’s to come. It’s really a great event. But because it’s two days long, you can take your time at each winery, enjoy the wine, talk to the winemakers, sample the copious food that is set out and get to know this northern part of Sonoma Valley. This event still flies under the radar compared to the bigger weekend events in Russian River Valley and Carneros. So it still has the "friend-to-friend" feel about it.
Sonoma Valley is one of those areas where you can still see and even feel the history as you familiarize yourself with the region. We still have the Mission Sonoma. Remnants and memorials to the "uprising" that was called the Bear Flag Revolt and that led to California independence is still on view. The east side of Sonoma is filled with older homes, some 100 years old others built in the 20s and 30s and 40s that are stunning pieces of architecture. Stone walls seen throughout the valley look back on a day when property lines were not made up of wire fencing. Old wineries and ghost wineries still stand.
2. Back Roads
When I first moved to Glen Ellen I familiarized myself by getting out in my car and driving. Sonoma Valley is filed with amazing backroads that take you up steep hills, into the hinterland where cows and horses graze. Warm Springs Road, Bennett Valley Road, Cavedale Road, Dunbar Road, Henno Road, Nun’s Canyon Road, Adobe Creek Road, Lawndale Road. As you drive these little two lane, tree-line beauts you come around corners to find ancient vineyards, old farm houses, redwood groves, open fields. It’s invigorating. A day could be taken just driving slowing, off the beaten path.
1. The Wineries
Makes sense right? The combination and diversity of wineries in Sonoma Valley is impressive. We have a few big boys as well as a number of small boutique efforts. It really is impossible to go after them all even in a three day trip. However, there’s nothing wrong with giving that a try. That said, I do have some favorite tasting rooms and wineries that you really should get to:
Chateau St. Jean (Kenwood-great variety and incredible quality for a large concern), Mayo Family Winery (Glen Ellen-the epitome of the small, boutique winery. They make only small lot, vineyard designated wines), Sebastiani (Sonoma-Impressive history and a renewed emphasis on high quality wines that has paid off immediately), Kaz Winery (Kenwood-A micro winery offering some of the most eclectic blends and varietals in California), Schug Carneros Estate (Sonoma-PINOT!!), Benziger Family Winery (Glen Ellen-A great family that delivers a wonderful winery experience for the visitor from its wines to the education you get when visiting).