Where on earth could you go to experience Redwoods that stood during the Roman empire, chilling Pacific waves rolling against cliff faces, a legendary big city surrounded by charming small towns, and some of the best beer, food, and wine in the world? It seems that such a place could not exist, but it is for this very reason that California has for centuries enchanted the imaginations of authors, artists, and visionaries such as Jack Kerouac, Mark Twain, John Stienbeck, and Luther Burbank. Come and see for yourself why Sonoma County cannot be overlooked, and why it is about to rise to the top of your United States travel agenda.
Where to Stay?
One of the wonderful things about this region is that it is made up of several smaller towns each offering its own individual charm. And one does not have to choose just one of these areas to explore; they are all within easy drives along winding, vineyard-bordered roads. Sonoma, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, and Sebastopol all offer easy access to everything the region has to offer. If you’re looking for something other than a hotel stay, check out Airbnb or vrbo for numerous listings of beautiful homes that can be all yours for the duration of your stay. Beach person? Consider renting a home or staying at the Tides hotel in Bodega Bay. Budget traveler? No problem. Consider camping along the coast or in Armstrong Woods State Park. Bring some extra blankets, but you won’t regret it! These regions are undeniably beautiful and the campgrounds are well equipped with facilities and are very near main centers.
What to do?
You will have no shortage of activities in Sonoma County. Whether you choose to camp or not, you absolutely cannot miss the experience of standing among ancient redwoods in the morning, and then driving to the gorgeous Pacific Coast in the same day. Begin with a lovely brunch, perhaps Spinster Sisters in Santa Rosa, Hole in the Wall in Sebastopol, or Willow Wood Market Café in Graton, all within driving distance to the famed Armstrong Woods regional park. Enjoy the drive to the park, which winds you right among the trees and allows you to disappear into the mist. Once at the park, take a stroll along one of the walking loops through the forest. For example, the Pioneer Nature will take you past the largest and oldest trees in the park, each marked with a placard identifying its height and age. For more information about the park, visit the friendly Visitor Center, where informed guides can tell you about the history of the park and the resilience of the redwoods.
After Armstrong Woods, hit the roads again and take the 112 highway leading you to Bodega Bay, the beautiful coast of the Pacific. This road will wind you among rolling green hills that will make you think you’ve accidentally taken a turn into Ireland, eventually spitting you out along a coastal highway that will pass dozens of turnoffs into different stretches of beach. If you want to get out and take a stroll, Portuguese Beach offers easy access to the sand level and a lovely stretch for strolling. If your ocean fill has not been satisfied yet, you can visit Salmon Creek beach or Doran beach as you continue down the highway.
Bodega, although a small but charming beach town, has several spots worth visiting. Take a stop in at the famous Patrick’s Taffy shop, a pink and white striped building right along Bodega Highway. If you’re hungry, the Tides restaurant has wonderful seafood options and was also featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s film, The Birds (don’t worry- the bird problem is all under control now.) For a more down-home eating experience, check out The Boat House café on your way out of town. Excellent clam chowder and crab in a beach-cabin type ambience.
Taking the time to explore the towns in Sonoma county is well worth it’s while, as each town offers its own charms. Sonoma’s city square is reminiscent of European plazas, but with a more humble Sonoma County twist. Surrounding the adorable park square are beautiful boutiques and wine shops, offering a true flavor of the region. Healdsburg’s downtown has similar offerings: a renowned specialty cupcake shop, Moustache Cupcakes, a beautiful French Bakery, Costeau, and an impressive Fair Trade only boutique, One World. Santa Rosa, the largest of the cities in the region, offers a history museum, Charles Schulz museum, and delightful Railroad Square, where one can mozy in and out of secondhand stores and grab an excellent cup of coffee at Flying Goat Coffee Roasters.
What to eat and drink?
Again, Sonoma County does not disappoint in this category. Any foodie or casual diner will find some of the best food, wine, and beer in the world. Spend a day wine tasting around the region, sampling hors’douvres and the chardonnays, zinfandels, and pinots that have made the region famous. For a unique experience, try Jacuzzi Winery and the Olive Press, which share a location. In their beautiful courtyards on Sunday, they have fresh thin-crust pizza available for lunch to enjoy with their wine. A stroll into the Olive Press’s artisanal olive oil shop will open up a world you did not know existed, a world of high-quality olive oil and balsamic vinegars and unique flavor combinations that will change the way you see these essential ingredients. For another great wine-and-food experience, try Baci wine bar in Healdsburg. This beautiful spot has been quickly gaining accolades in the region.
If you’re not directly on the wine trail, good food and drink is still bountiful in Sonoma County. Try Della Fattoria in Petaluma for one of the best brunches or lunches in the region. (Make sure to ask to use the restroom while you’re there- you get to walk through the impressive kitchen to get there and you can take a whiff of what’s cooking.) For a classic, high-quality but still humble Italian experience, you can’t miss Café Citti in Kenwood. This local favorite will fool you into thinking you’ve dropped into Tuscany for the afternoon or evening. For something a little more casual but still truly Californian, check out the La Bamba taco truck in Sonoma for some of the best Mexican food you can find.
For those more inclined to the malty and bubbly instead of the oaky and sweet, Sonoma County is also home to some the best beer in the world. That’s not just an expression, in 2010 Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Younger, a triple IPA available only two weeks every year due to its labor and cash-intensive production, was given a perfect score by Beer Advocate and a number one ranking, making it the best beer in the United States and, according to some, the world. If you can’t make it in February for this event, don’t worry. The double-IPA, Pliny the Elder, is available year round and is also delicious, as well as the brewery’s many brew selections and eats. Try the flight, a generous 20-beer tasting experience. For more options, Bear Republic in Healdsburg and Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma are also renowned spots. There’s more than good wine to drink up here!