Why Go To Sonoma
Sonoma, a county in Northern California known for its bucolic charms and array of wineries, could also be described as Napa's rustic, less-refined and more-relaxed sister. Its rolling hills, which rise into the Sonoma Mountains and descend to the Pacific shore, also contain a cache of small cities that are worth a visit: Try Santa Rosa for an urban escape, complete with museums and buzzy restaurants, but pop by Glen Ellen for a slice of small-town Americana. In short, if you want a laid-back introduction to stellar vintages and gorgeous properties, Sonoma – rather than Napa – should be your California wine country destination.
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Sonoma Travel Tips
Best Months to Visit
The best time to visit Sonoma is between June and October when the weather is at its finest, with high temps hovering in the mid-80s in June and the upper 70s in October. Unfortunately, this time of year is also when the crowds are the thickest and hotel rates are at their highest. But the good thing is that wineries are open year-round, with the exception of major holidays. For thinner crowds and lower prices, travelers should book their trip between the months of November and May.
Weather in Sonoma
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
What You Need to Know
- There's a friendly rivalry Sonoma and Napa have a healthy rivalry. In fact, Sonoma locals will playfully refer to their northern neighbor just as "a four-letter word."
- You'll need a reservation If you're winery-hopping as part of a large group (seven or more people), you'll want to make reservations in advance.
- Try a brew too Sonoma's landscape is a patchwork of vineyards, but breweries are big too. In fact, the region boasts of dozens of them.
How to Save Money in Sonoma
- Stick to the free tastings If you're traveling as part of a small group (six people or fewer), some wineries offer complimentary wine tastings.
- Book a bike Renting a bicycle is cheaper than booking a chartered bus or car to tour area wineries and vineyards.
- Pack a picnic Some of the wineries, such as Cline Cellars, allow you to bring your own food, which will help you cut down on costs.
What to Eat
Although Napa wins the most praise for its fine dining establishments, Sonoma contains an array of delicious eateries that are, on the whole, more rustic in ambiance. (And that's just the way locals like them.)
Obviously, the region is known for its wines, especially its zinfandels at places like Ravenswood. But the region is also known for its dozens of breweries, such as Bear Republic Brewing Co. in Healdsburg and Russian River Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa. And if you need a shot of espresso after all of that vino, visitors suggest you swing by Sunflower Caffé Expresso & Wine in Sonoma proper. The region is also home to several popular casual eateries, such as traveler-recommended Picazo Café & Deli (try the burger) and Angelo's Wine Country Deli. Experts give Bodega Bay's Terrapin Creek and Petaluma's Cucina Paradiso high praise for both atmosphere and cuisine. And along with tasting wine in Sonoma, visitors should also sample the locally made cheeses, olive oils and honeys, which are found throughout the region in various shops and farmers markets.
Getting Around Sonoma
The best way to get around Sonoma is by car. It's both the most economical and the most practical way to traverse this wide swath of Northern California. Still, to fully enjoy days spent winery hopping, it's best to opt for another mode of transport, such as a bicycle, bus or trolley. To get to the region, travelers can fly into the Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport (STS). Though this airport is small (Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines are the only four carriers that service the airport), it's less than 10 miles north of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Oakland International Airport (OAK) are each about 60 miles south of the region. Amtrak and Greyhound also operate in and out of the area.
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