The best way to get better acquainted with the city of Sonoma, in the heart of Sonoma County, is through its wine. But you can also get a sense of the past—just for good measure—at the tasting room of Three Sticks Wines at The Adobe: It’s actually set inside the historic 1842 Vallejo-Casteñada Adobe home, and features artifacts like an 1800s horse stirrup, delicate china, and tools. The nearby Pangloss Cellars Tasting Lounge, meanwhile, revels in a historic stone property built over a century ago, offering wine flights paired with bites like caviar, Cowgirl Creamery crème fraîche, and capers on crackers. And don’t miss Bartholomew Memorial Park nearby, home to Bartholomew Park Winery: Its on-site museum details the long history of Sonoma winemaking since the park’s first villa was built in 1861, and features a display of primitive agricultural tools.
The culinary scene in Sonoma far exceeds what anyone might expect from a town with a population hovering around 10,000. Café La Haye is widely considered the best bet for dinner, serving expertly conceived dishes that showcase local product and make the most of an impeccable wine list. Visitors also flock to The Girl and the Fig for its duck confit and crispy chicken thighs, as well as the sun-dappled outdoor patio.
Other great options on or near the plaza include Tasca Tasca, a Portuguese tapas spot that stays open late; Oso, which features bold flavors and an inventive young chef; and El Dorado Kitchen, a vibrant spot inside the El Dorado Hotel that offers a people-pleasing menu and a scenic outdoor space. For bubble fans, Sigh Champagne Bar showcases an amazing collection of sparklers; lovers of Pinot Noir should seek out Sojourn Cellars, just off the southeast corner of the plaza.
A more immersive dive into Sonoma’s past will be rewarding for history buffs or fans of Old West culture. In the mid-1800s, the town of Sonoma was just a collection of ranchos, governed by Mexico. Even though the U.S. government and the State of California took over the territory not too long after that, you can still sense its heritage. The centerpiece of town, Sonoma Plaza, is still anchored by the northernmost Franciscan mission in California—and it’s even the birthplace of the California State Bear Flag, created by Americans rebelling against Mexican rule.
Be sure to take one of the cool historic tours of still-standing monuments. For starters, explore the parish-turned-museum Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma, the Sonoma Barracks military post and cannon arsenal, and the former home of Lieutenant Colonel Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, commander general of the Northern Alta California's frontier forces and founder of the town of Sonoma.