Sonoma Valley: The Ideal Wine Country Destination

The birthplace of the California’s commercial wine industry in the 1850s, Sonoma Valley now covers 14,000 acres of vineyards, accented by more than 50 wineries and tasting rooms.

Within its pretty patchwork of farms and some 13,000 additional acres of open parkland, Sonoma Valley is also home to many of the county’s best recreational and dining destinations, detailed here by Sonoma County Tourism.

First, fuel up for a day of tasting with breakfast at the cult-favorite El Molino Central. The small, white stucco, teal-trimmed eatery makes its mark with organic heirloom corn kernels hand-ground on a stone wheel for tortillas and tamales, and excellent chilaquiles made even better with a side of refried Rancho Gordo heritage beans.

If you’re looking for a pampered way to get around, the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley awaits with a chauffeured tour in a vintage 1890s San Francisco cable car. This hand-built replica of an authentic trolley operates as a private charter vehicle that can handle groups of up to 28 passengers on six-hour field trips to top wineries.

Or, venture out on your own, starting with a don’t-miss classic. Founded in 1857, Buena Vista Winery is the oldest commercial winery in California, complete with caves that are actual historical landmarks. The aging tombs have recently been renovated for modern safety measures, but remain elegantly dark and mysterious.

Deerfield Ranch is another gem, featuring more than 23,000 square feet of wine caves, cut in the shape of a wine glass. Tucked behind Redwood portal doors sit hundreds of barrels, leading to the Grand Room furnished in overstuffed couches and chairs. Comfortable seating is a good idea, considering tasting flights can include up to 20 wines.

Next, catch your breath beneath the shade trees in the eight-acre Sonoma Plaza — the largest such plaza in California — and tour the surrounding National Historic Landmark adobe buildings designed in 1834 by the Mexican Governor Mariano Vallejo.

A stop at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art is recommended, too, to discover the largest visual arts organization in the San Francisco North Bay region.

Lunch is calling now, and The Girl & the Fig on the Square is a delight for seasonal plates like duck egg ravioli with spring mushrooms, onion crema, green garlic, spring peas and baby carrots sprinkled in smoked paprika.

You’re in a perfect location, too, for shopping at numerous boutiques. There are dozens of great salons, galleries and stores all around the Square.

That evening, stay at Sonoma Creek Inn , a darling, reasonably priced 16-room hideaway. Many of the recently updated, colorfully decorated rooms have private outdoor patios or porches, and the hosts offer complimentary tasting passes at area wineries. Plus, they’ve partnered with Goodtime Touring Company for a 20% discount off bicycle rentals.

Or, you may want to stay directly in a vineyard. The private guest cottage at Landmark Vineyards in Kenwood tucks directly against the grapevines, with one bedroom, full kitchen, a sunny sitting room, bath and laundry facilities.

For even more luxury, The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is an historic, mission-style property originally opened in 1840. It evolved into a health retreat for wealthy guests in the 1920s, and is now top-of-the-line contemporary, thanks to a recent resort-wide renovation that includes the entire lobby, heritage guest rooms, meeting rooms and landscaping.

Whichever lodging you choose, dinner at the AAA Four Diamond Award Santé restaurant at the Sonoma Mission Inn is a worthy indulgence. The upscale California cuisine eatery was completely revamped last spring for a chic, modern dining room and a new Santé Terrace overlooking the fire pit and the signature geothermal mineral pool.

The chef’s tasting menu spans four courses, while the wine list features more than 500 Sonoma and Napa wines.

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