The wine region of Sonoma is the quieter side of Northern California wine country.
Located just 45 minutes north of San Francisco, the Sonoma wine region includes over 400 wineries that range from large brands to small family owned properties.
Generally more relaxed than Napa, Sonoma is a great place to unwind, enjoy the perfect weather, take in the scenery and sample some world-class wine.
Where to stay
Santa Rosa is the largest city in Sonoma county and has the most hotel options which range from chains to luxury retreats.
The Hyatt Vineyard Creek is close to downtown Santa Rosa, just across from Railroad Square, an area of restaurants and shops. The property has a large fire pit in the courtyard and the restaurant, Brasserie, turns out some tasty cuisine and has a nice patio. The Hilton Sonoma Wine Country is located in northern Santa Rosa on a hill with a beautiful view of the valley. The Lanai rooms have access to a shared deck overlooking the pool area, with each room having a private table & chairs. The Hilton’s patio is a great place to dine or enjoy a glass of wine and they serve a popular brunch buffet.
Just north of Santa Rosa is the Vintner’s Inn, a beautiful hotel in the midst of the vineyards with fountains, lovely décor & meticulous landscaping. One of Sonoma county’s best restaurants, John Ash & Co, is located on the property and home to our favorite happy hour in the area.
A little further north is Windsor, which has several hotel options, including a Hampton Inn & Holiday Inn Express. Windsor Town Green is a great gathering spot with shops, restaurants and in the summer, a wide variety of activities and concerts.
Healdsburg is just further north and is known for their fabulous square filled with restaurants, tasting rooms and shops and a variety of hotels.
To the south of Santa Rosa is Petaluma, which has a vibrant downtown and the town of Sonoma, which also has a wonderful historic square.
Step 1 – select a designated driver. Wine tasting is great fun, but drinking and driving is not.
Roads can be narrow and winding, so drive slow. Sonoma is an agricultural community and farm equipment can be entering and exiting properties. Dogs run off leash. People ride bikes. So, leave the hurried place of the city behind, select someone to drive and enjoy the slower pace of Sonoma.
An even better option – hire a car service. The drivers know the ins and outs of wine country and there’s no better way to see and taste your way through Sonoma.
Sonoma is host to hundreds of events each year with highlights being the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend held each Labor Day weekend and the Rodney Strong Vineyards / KJZY Jazz Concert Series.
Imagine sitting amidst the grapevines sipping world-class wine while listening to the sounds of a legendary musician as the sun slowly sets.
No need to imagine – it’s the Rodney Strong Vineyard concert series – the magical venue that brings out locals and visitors alike. World-class acts ranging from Chris Botti to Mindi Abair to George Benson entertain in the intimate environment surrounded by beautiful vineyards, creating a perfect evening of wine, relaxation and music.
Rodney Strong strong 2016 concert series
June 18: Boney James and special guest, Morgan James
July 23: Smokey Robinson
August 13: Dave Koz and David Sanborn
August 21: Huey Lewis and the News
Sonoma Wine Country Weekend
Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is Sonoma County’s largest charity event held annually with hundreds of wineries pouring thousands of world-class wines and local chefs serving a wide range of fabulous culinary creations.
Home to almost 60,000 acres of vineyards, Sonoma County has 17 different American Viticulture Areas (AVA) or appellations (growing regions) producing a wide selection of varietals including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah.
If targeting visits to specific wineries, it is best to check with them via phone or their website before visiting – some wineries are by appointment only and hours vary for tasting rooms. Sonoma.com has a good list of Sonoma wineries to do so.
Otherwise, you can simply set out in one direction and follow the signs. Most wineries have a tasting fee; some have full tasting menus with numerous options. Some wineries refund the tasting fee with purchase.
We’ve visited quite a few wineries throughout Sonoma county. When we go, we usually grab a camera and take a few shots as we taste.