How to “DO” Sonoma Valley

Last night I was thumbing through National Geograhic Traveller and I come across one of those "how to DO" articles about Disneyworld. Insider trips, how to get te best out of the experience, etc. I like these articles. Every now and then they have a nugget in them that can transform your experience.  But it got me thinking, as Tourist Season heads toward us here in my neck of the woods, there needs to be a HOW TO "DO" SONOMA  VALLEY" article. It might include things like this:

. There is so little for kids to do here in Sonoma Valley when on vacation that they may not ever forgive you for taking. They’ll only put up with so much Chardonnay "juice" and strolling before they revolt. Leave them with someone and take off.

2. GO IN MID TO LATE SPRING. The crowds are less, reservations are easier to get and the Valley is stunningly beautiful. Also, it’s a time of year when the vines are pushing their green but you can still see the architecture of the older vines before they get draped with leaves.

3. FIND A HOTEL ON OR NEAR THE SONOMA PLAZA. Maybe I’ll get letters from the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn down the road a few miles from the Plaza, but I’ll risk it. There is nothing nicer than strolling the Plaza in the evening when the crowds have left. Plus, many of the restaurants you’ll want to try are in walking distance of Plaza. Also, you’ve got three good "locals" bars on the plaza as well as two restaurant/hotel bars where the people watching is fun.

4. TAKE A DAY TO VISIT THE EAST SIDE OF SONOMA. While most folks are heading up valley to the wineries and little towns, you’ll discover the beautiful old homes along the streets to the east side of the Plaza and the Carneros region with its rolling hill and great Pinots.

Use one day to do those around Glen Ellen and a day to do those around Kenwood. You want to be sipping, not driving, even though the distance between Glen Ellen and Kenwood is negligible.

At some wineries you’ll buy 2 bottles at some a case of wine at another six bottles. Try to find someone who will pack and ship it all to you rather than having different wineries do it for you. In fact when you buy a case of wine from a winery and are having them ship it, ask if they’ll ship the rest of your wines. It’s likely they’ll do this for you.

7. GET A GOOD MAP. With it drive those roads that are off the beating trail of Highway 12 and see how we live, how we used to live and the real beauty of this area. Get acquainted with Moon Mountain Road, Warm Springs Road, Sonoma Mountain Road, Trinity Road, and Lawnsdale Road.

8. VISIT LOCAL WINE SHOPS. That’s all we have here are wine shops run by locals who know everyone and everything happening in the Valley. Taylor & Norton Wine Merchants and the Sonoma Wine Exchange are recommended. The selections are ridiculously good, eclectic, and if you talk to the folks at the shops you’ll get the inside scoop not only on the area but maybe even some good town gossip.

9. ARRANGE YOUR PRIVATE WINERY VISITS BEFORE YOU ARRIVE. As with any wine region there are wineries open to the public and those that accept visitors by appointment. Do your research before you arrive. Make the calls and make the appointments before you arrive. Your time at these "appointment only" wineries are likely to be just you and the proprietor or perhaps one other couple. Take advantage of this intimacy and ask the questions that tasting room folk may not have time for. And, buy some wine.

10. FLY IN AND OUT OF THE SACRAMENTO AIRPORT. It’s just a lot easier and more convenient than San Francisco or even Oakland. It’s a quick shot from Sacramento to Sonoma that shouldn’t take more than 75 to 90 minutes. Very little traffic. The airport is easy to deal with.

12 Responses

  1. Alan - May 3, 2007

    i’m suprised you didnt reco staying in/near Healdsburg…

  2. Liz - May 3, 2007

    Great post! Although, one thing may be misleading. In point six, you say “In fact when you buy a case of wine from a winery and are having them ship it, ask if they’ll ship the rest of your wines. It’s likely they’ll do this for you.” While we love to show off our wine country hospitality, a lot of wineries may not do this for compliance reasons.

  3. Tom S - May 3, 2007

    A reminder that Horizen now flies into Santa Rosa airport (from LA & Seattle) saves a whole lot of time driving.

  4. Dr. Vino - May 3, 2007

    I’m surprised at the suggestion to ditch the kids. I remember an article in the NYT from a couple of years ago touting how kid friendly Napa is. Sure, Sonoma doesn’t have a train and gondolas, but don’t you have lawns for picnics, butterflies, farms, cows, and ice cream in Healdsburg?

  5. johng - May 3, 2007

    Nice post… While I agree that a winery is no place for children (I have a very disturbing memory of a couple chugging wine while their two babies crawled on a tasting room counter) for those that get stuck here with kids there are some cool things to do, for example:
    1- Train Town in Sonoma. Absolutely fantastic for kids 1-6; not only is there a long ride on an incredible scale model train, but a petting zoo and a creaky old ferris wheel.
    2- Sugar Loaf Ridge Park. Great views of the valley, and some nice short hikes, including a waterfall hike and a night walk to a working observatory. My kids used to be happy here just throwing rocks into the creek for an hour or so.
    3- Jack London Park. Good hikes, and some historic ruins older kids will find interesting, especially if they’ve read London.
    4 – Benziger Winery. Younger kids will enjoy the tram ride.
    5 – Morton’s Warm Springs. Lots of grass, creeks, and two very warm pools. What more do you need?
    6 – Sonoma Square playground – two great playgrounds always filled with kids. The big kids area has really cool, high, twisty slides. Though there’s always talk of killing them off, the park usually has a few chickens, as well as ducks, to admire or chase around.
    7 – Santa Rosa – here at the north end of the valley we have movie theaters, peewee golf and such. Also, if your kids enjoy baseball, on the east side of town, Rincon Valley Little League Park is incredible gem – 5 secluded fields surrounded by green hills and vineyards.

  6. JB - May 3, 2007

    I’ve rented a house called Lytton Place for a week, not so far from the town square in Healdsburg and close to Dry Creek and Alexander Valley. It was a great way to ‘do’ Sonoma, and the house had space for two couples at least. Consider this rather than a hotel for a more home-like experience. And if you want to bring pets. It

  7. Ken - May 4, 2007

    We love Sonoma & its wines. Great post. Great idea’s. The Plaza is fun. Healdsburg is a great alternative if you ever get tired of tasting. I don’t, but sometimes my wife does. Cheers!

  8. winehiker - May 4, 2007

    There’s also Trapeze Arts in Sonoma for kids large and small. Sounds like “How To Do Healdsburg” is next! Fine post, Tom.

  9. El Bloggo Torcido - Twisted Oak Winery - May 6, 2007

    DO Calaveras County

    Tom over at Fermentation did a nice article on how to DO Sonoma Valley. But as I went thru his points it inspired me to do a counterpoint on Calaveras County, mercilessly…. 1. BRING YOUR KIDS WITH YOU! There is

  10. el jefe - May 7, 2007

    Not sure if trackbacks work here… let’s just say I’ve responded with the Calaveras point of view at…:)

  11. Kathleen - May 7, 2007

    If I could add one more suggestion that works with my local New York wineries – do your online homework before you come.
    Sign up for your favorite winery’s email list and you’ll be able to schedule your days around any special events you’d like to attend!
    Wine and Stories from the Vineyard Blog –

  12. KalisJohn - August 13, 2009

    I think this all are misleading. But i have good experience about sonoma trip. Which is best in my life. Sonoma Wine Country Lodging – all styles, budget, resorts, bed & breakfasts, hotels, cottages & vacation rental homes. For more information about, Sonoma vacation rental and Sonoma vacation

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