To many people, Sonoma—just 45 miles from San Francisco—means wine. But when you drink in the surroundings on the eight-acre Sonoma Plaza—the state’s largest historic plaza, lined by restaurants, shops, and hotels—it’s hard to ignore the area’s non-vine history.
The History of Sonoma Plaza
Sonoma Plaza itself was designed 150 years ago by Mariano Vallejo, a military commander and politician who helped transition the Mexican territory of Alta California to the U.S. state we know today. The white, low-rise Mission San Francisco Solano, which borders the park, is even older, dating to 1823; the barracks that housed Mexican soldiers date to 1834. Don’t miss the dramatic stone façade of City Hall, in the middle of the park, dedicated in 1908 and still in use today.
Things to Do at Sonoma Plaza
Where best to indulge? This is the birthplace of California wine, after all, so you’d expect tasting rooms galore—and you’ll find more than 25 of them in the area. Start with Bump Wine Cellars, a family-owned boutique wine producer that specializes in small-lot, single-vineyard wines, then drop by the intimate tasting room of Walt Wines. Also not to be missed are Pangloss Cellars Tasting Lounge, housed in a building more than a century old opposite the southeast corner of the plaza, and a few doors down from that, Sojourn Cellars.
But there’s more to do than just sip. Tuck into a farm-to-table meal at The Girl & the Fig, Valley Bar & Bottle, or the more casual Sunflower Caffé, located in a historically landmarked building that was once the home of Salvador Vallejo (he lost it in a poker game). Or just skip straight to dessert and order up some homemade ice cream from a rotating menu that can include such flavors as peach almondine and pecan bacon swirl at Sweet Scoops (vegan options available), or savor a slice of custard-and-caramel Beehive Cake at Basque Boulangerie. After, relive a bygone era in a different way with retro toys, games, T-shirts, and candies at Tiddle E. Winks Vintage 5 & Dime.
Hotels Near Sonoma Plaza
In addition to a number of well-known chain accommodations, there are numerous upscale options either on the plaza or within a few minutes’ walk, such as The El Dorado Hotel & Kitchen, The Cottage Inn & Spa, and the Inn at Sonoma. To get a sense of old-school Sonoma history and culture, book a stay at the Ledson Hotel, located directly on the plaza and built by a fifth-generation Sonoma farmer and winemaker.
Things to Do Near Sonoma Plaza
After exploring the tasting rooms in the city of Sonoma, it’s a must to visit some Sonoma County’s wineries. Turn your tour of wine country into a truly luxe experience by staying at one of the area’s upscale lodging options. It’s not all about such adult pleasures, though—the family-friendly charms of Sonoma are in good supply as well. For a few off-the-beaten-path places and activities to discover, check out So You Think You Know Sonoma County?.