With more than 370 wineries, miles of rugged Pacific Ocean coastline and some of the most fertile earth in California, Sonoma County embodies the organic, natural and deliberate life that typifies Wine Country.
Sonoma County’s wine-soaked history has deep roots. The padres who built missions along the famed El Camino Real, poked the first vines into the dirt at Mission San Francisco de Solano in 1824 (now in the town of Sonoma).
Today, more than 370 wineries spread over 15 American Viticulture Areas (AVAs or appellations) and 1,500 square miles.
Tour the stunning countryside and find out why Sonoma County has always been such a grand place for wine and food. Experience the delights of pairing wine with local foods, and learn about the latest techniques for pressing the most flavor from the toasty inland weather varietals and those cooled by fog and ocean breezes.
In the 1850s, California wines were syrupy products from Mission grapes. Agoston Haraszthy knew the state could do better. He founded Buena Vista in Sonoma Valley and began planting the varieties that anchor California’s modern wine industry. Learn more about his legacy and taste why the Carneros region is ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Trip Time: Three days
Five minutes away, in the town of Sonoma, check out some of California’s most historic buildings—among them Mission San Francisco de Solano —centered around the lawns and spreading trees of Sonoma Plaza, the largest town plaza in the state.
On the ground floor of the 19th-century Sonoma Hotel on the plaza, restaurateur Sondra Bernstein will captivate you with Provençal-style roast chicken, artisan cheese plates, and grilled fig salad (in season) at the girl and the fig .
Follow State 12 north from Sonoma to the community of Glen Ellen, off . Get a glimpse into the life of a famed California author at Jack London State Historic Park .
Hike or ride a horse along more than 10 miles of trails, explore the ruins of London’s dream mansion that burned to the ground a month before completion, or tour the simple cottage where Jack and Charmian lived. During the summer months, take in an evening performance in the old winery ruins as part of Transcendence Theatre’s Broadway Under the Stars .
Ready for some wine? Chateau St. Jean Winery , located on State 12, was the first Sonoma winery to be awarded the prestigious “Wine of the Year” award from the Wine Spectator Magazine for its 1996 Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon, a Bordeaux-style blend of “five varieties.”
Continue up State 12 past small communities and wineries. When you reach Santa Rosa, load up on maps and more recommendations at the California Welcome Center.
For a look at cutting-edge winery practices, head north on U.S. 101 outside chic but casual Healdsburg to Ridge Vineyards . The winery’s Lytton Springs tasting room, in the Dry Creek region, incorporates eco-friendly construction, solar panels, and computer-controlled temperature regulation. Lytton Springs is Ridge’s Zinfandel-focused branch.
In Alexander Valley just east of Healdsburg on State 128, Americana-filled Jimtown Store , circa 1895, is the place to stop for sublime sandwiches, salads, and possibly the world’s best chocolate pudding. Eat on the patio, or buy lunch to go.
At Alexander Valley Vineyards , a couple of miles east on State 128, the grounds and gardens around Cyrus Alexander’s restored adobe house make a beautiful setting for a picnic.
Healdsburg is your starting point for exploring the Russian River area. Swing by Dry Creek General Store , established in 1881, for picnic fixings. Sandwiches run the gamut from meat loaf to prosciutto with fresh mozzarella.
But don’t dive into that picnic just yet, because a few miles south of Healdsburg off U.S. 101 you’ll want to whet your appetite with the food-and-wine pairings at J Vineyards & Winery . The winery’s original sparkler has been joined by very good—and still—Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris.
Travel over to West Dry Creek Road and discover Quivira Vineyards & Winery for a true “taste” of Sonoma County. Biodynamic farming methods allow the vines to draw flavor characteristics from the soil and surrounding terroir. It’s good for the vines and good for the wine.
The real old-timers in this region aren’t the vines—they’re the trees. Stretch your legs—and neck—at Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve , 805 acres of towering coast redwoods alongside the Russian River.