Best Things To Do in Sonoma
Sonoma is all about the wine. Everywhere you turn, you'll spot undulating hills lined with rows of grape vines punctuated by grand architecture. Places like Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, Cline Cellars and Ravenswood Winery are some of the top-rated establishments. But travelers looking for a city fix will find it at the buzzy and historic Sonoma Plaza. Need a breath of California's ocean air? Head to Sonoma Coast State Park to traverse the area's many coastal trails. No matter how you spend your time in Sonoma, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything but rest and relaxation.
Updated July 11, 2017
- #1View all PhotosfreeSonoma Plaza#1 in SonomaShopping, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDShopping, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Centered in the heart of town, the historic Sonoma Plaza is a must-do. Once a Mexican military station and a Spanish mission village, the 8-acre park is now lined with more than 100 shops, dozens of eateries, and more than 20 tasting rooms. What's more, it's a National Historic Monument. Recent visitors highly recommended spending some time here window shopping, wine tasting, dining and even letting the kids run around the on-site playground. Reviewers said the plaza's atmosphere is both charming and family-friendly, and they suggested visiting on a Tuesday morning to take advantage of the weekly farmers market.
Sonoma Plaza is located in central Sonoma. Restaurants and shops have varying opening and closing times. Street parking is available, but with three-hour limits from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For extended parking options, consider leaving your vehicle in one of the free all-day lots located nearby, such as the one at First Street East, located across from the mission. For more information, visit Sonoma Plaza's website.
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Back in the 1920s, Valeriano Jacuzzi – of the Jacuzzi bath and spa family – bought a 161-acre plot of land in Northern California, which would one day become the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. Today, the vineyards contain common grape varietals like chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, as well as some more unique ones like arneis. Along with wine tastings and vineyard tours, Jacuzzi also offers house-made olive oils.
Recent travelers remarked on the beauty of the rolling landscape, as well as the architecture, which features Italian stonework and arched windows and a central piazza. The staff also receives applause for its friendliness. Others highly recommend this vineyard to travelers who enjoy Italian varietals and blends. The primitivo and prosecco, in particular earn high praise from visitors.
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Located less than 3 miles east of Sonoma Plaza, the Buena Vista Winery is one of the region's most centralized wineries – though its rolling hills and the rustic elegance of its architecture lend it a French country ambiance. And speaking of the French, the Champagne – which the winery gets kudos for – hails from France. Here's another fun fact: Founded in 1857, Buena Vista is California's first winery to produce European varietal wines. Visitors can enjoy this historic winery by tasting its vintages and touring its facility.
Visitors to the winery highly recommend adding it to your Sonoma itinerary. They especially suggest taking the tour of its grounds and facilities to learn all about the winery's process and its illustrious history. For example, the founder, the self-proclaimed "Count of Buena Vista," met his end in alligator-infested waters in Nicaragua. They also recommend concocting your own bottle of vino in the winery's mixing room.
- #4View all Photos#4 in SonomaHiking, Historic Homes/Mansions, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Historic Homes/Mansions, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Located on 1,400 acres, Jack London State Historic Park – named for the author of works like "The Call of the Wild" and "White Fang" – features 20 miles of trails. The land, which London referred to as "Beauty Ranch," also features his old home, a museum about London and his family, and London's gravesite, where he was laid to rest at the age of 40.
Recent visitors were delighted with the Jack London State Historic Park, noting its beauty and all of the interesting anecdotes they learned about the writer's adventurous life. Others said the mix of literature and outdoors is wonderful, though some warned that the hiking can be a bit challenging, especially on hot days.
- #5View all Photos#5 in SonomaBeaches, Parks and GardensTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Parks and GardensTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Sonoma Coast State Park is a swath of land that extends for nearly 20 miles along the Pacific Ocean from Bodega Head to Vista Trail. A number of sandy beaches, rugged shorelines and coastal prairies dot the area. Although a number of gorgeous beaches line the park, the California Department of Parks and Recreation doesn't recommend swimming as the waters are rough. Still, rock fishing, surf fishing and beach combing are popular activities here.
Visitors say the rugged shoreline and crashing waves at Sonoma Coast State Park are pretty awe-inspiring. They also recommend taking advantage of the trails that crisscross the park.
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As its name suggests, this winery has been family-owned and operated since 1980. Aside from its familial leadership, Benziger is perhaps best known for its biodynamic farming and winemaking. In fact, all of its wines are certified sustainable, organic or biodynamic.
Reviewers highly recommend the informative, award-winning tours, which take visitors through the property's vineyards, gardens and sheep fields. Recent guests also highlighted the remote beauty of the winery, which is located in Glen Ellen, less than 10 miles north of Sonoma.
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Though Nicholson Ranch is smaller than other Sonoma-area wineries (comprising 40 acres), it's a hit with visitors thanks to its intimate setting. Wines produced here – the majority of which are made with estate-grown grapes – include chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and syrah. Another interesting facet of the production process: The vineyard ages its wines in French oak barrels, which are uniquely stored underground in caves.
Recent travelers said this relatively small winery was big on charm. The intimate setting was complemented by friendly and informative guides and gorgeous views of surrounding Sonoma. Reviewers also appreciated that the bottles of wine were reasonably priced.
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Cline Cellars makes a nice flight of wines, and they do so with sustainability in mind. They even created a new method of farming – the Green String farming method – to promote biodiversity and biological cycles. And instead of using pesticides to eliminate weeds, the winery relies on a herd of 1,500 sheep and 500 goats. Guests of Cline Cellars can say hello to some of the animals on their winery tours, before which they'll also learn about the history of the property and see the barrel room.
Recent travelers raved about the gorgeous estate, the delicious wine and the staff, which reviewers said were not only friendly, but also enthusiastic. Many reviewers also said that Cline Cellars offers nice wines at a decent price point, especially when compared to other wineries in the area.
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Picture the Serengeti in the heart of wine country and you'll start to imagine what Safari West looks like. This African-inspired safari and nature preserve contains 900 exotic animals, such as zebras, giraffes and cheetahs, spread across 400 acres. When you're not exploring the grounds on your own two feet or in an open-air safari vehicle, spend the night gazing up at the stars in one of the preserve's luxury tents (more like glamping than camping).
Visitors say Safari West is a great way to experience the wildlife and terrain native to Africa without ever leaving the United States. Along with the amazing animals and beautiful landscape, travelers also praise the knowledgeable and friendly staff.
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Known for its award-winning zinfandels, the 40-year-old Ravenswood Winery lives by the credo of its founding winemaker, Joel Peterson: "no wimpy wines." Ravenswood is also known for its single vineyard wines, a designation that means the wine was produced from grapes from the same vineyard. Ravenswood also produces bottles of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and merlot, among others.
Recent travelers said the staff members at Ravenswood were knowledgeable and friendly, and that the view from the patio is breathtaking. Others, who winery-hopped via a bike tour, said Ravenswood offered one of Sonoma's most laid-back experiences, making it a welcome place to relax.
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The Simraceway Performance Driving School affords thrill-seekers the chance to conjure their inner race car driver by putting them behind the wheel of a cutting-edge Audi or a Formula 3 car on the Sonoma Raceway. Participants also learn tricks of the track from instructors. Those who have a need for speed can sign up for lessons that range from an introduction to go-kart driving to improving your performance car control skills.
Visitors – many of them car enthusiasts – enjoyed the thrill of pushing the vehicles to their limits. They also gushed about the knowledgeable driving instructors.
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