This past May my family and I headed out to Sonoma for one of my cousin's weddings, but like we typically like to do, we turned the whole extended weekend into a wonderful escape from the dreary New England Spring to wine country.
Let me preface this by saying that my family is Italian (I'm a dual citizen) and so needless to say wine pretty much runs in our veins, so a family trip to wine country was going to be a blast. Now that my whole family really does like to travel in a healthier way, and since we had a wedding to attend, we knew that we wanted to do wine country in a way that still left us feeling good on the plane ride back home.
[ must see experiences ]
There is so much to do in Sonoma that you really could come back again and again and experience something new every time. But if I had to pick, these would be the top experiences I would highly recommend.
take an afternoon in sonoma (town)
The town of Sonoma really is a must see. You feel as though you have stepped back in time, and are in the middle of the old-west and wine country. It has some much history and incredible wine bars, and local artisan shops that are worth taking an afternoon and exploring.
spend a day driving down the coast to bodega bay
This was such a fun (and beautiful!) day for us and I highly recommend it. The whole drive will take you about half a day going from Sonoma down to Bodega Bay, stopping for some coffee (duh!) and coming back.
The Northern California coast truly is breathtaking and so different from what we are used to over here on the East Coast in New England.
check out some sustainable vineyards and farms
I mean as a Global Nutrition Consultant focused in Sustainable Food Systems, I really couldn't take a trip to what is arguably one of the most progressive areas of the country when it comes to sustainable food systems, and not seek out some sustainable farms/vineyards.
A few that are definitely worth checking out are:
sonoma backroads winery tour
We ended up not having the time to do this, but I really wish we had and it will definitely be something we will be doing next time around. I'm not quite sure that there could be a better way to experience wine country than taking the backroads through wineries and vineyards, that you would never really opt to travel without a local leading the way.
Sonoma County Wine Country were so helpful when I was speaking with them and just recently launched their wine country "experiences" which I would highly recommend. The people organizing the tourist experiences really are lovely and want to make sure that you have a wonderful time exploring their home and Sonoma county.
[ where to stay ]
Like always I love a good AirBnB, which was what our family ended up renting while we were staying in Sonoma. We were able to rent a beautiful home with a gorgeous view of the Trentadue Vineyards, which just so happened to be right where my cousin was getting married. Needless to say getting to walk home after a night of dancing, eating, and drinking was pretty great.
If I were to go back to Sonoma though (which lets be honest Mike and I totally will), I absolutely would check out some of the below boutique hotels. What is so nice about this part of California is that there really aren't any major brand name hotels, which I think adds to the appeal of the region.
This stunning property is like stepping out of your car and right into Tuscany. With stunning mediterranean inspired grounds, and an award winning spa. This boutique hotel is perfect for couples looking for a romantic, relaxing weekend away in wine country.
Another incredibly quaint hotel, the Olea Hotel is tucked right into the Sonoma hillside, and is surrounded by olive groves. This beautiful boutique hotel offers more modern accommodations, and a well-talked about breakfast for its guests.
[ where to eat ]
Always my favorite part of traveling is deciding what local restaurants or farmers markets we are going to find. Since we had a house with a full (beautiful!) kitchen, we did end up preparing a lot of our own meals, but after talking with a few locals we found some great options for our few nights of eating out.
One of my favorite parts about the Sonoma food scene is that most restaurants we visited really took sourcing local, sustainable ingredients seriously, which I obviously loved. I truly believe that in a place like Northern California where local produce, meat, and dairy options are pretty much available year round, if a restaurant isn't focusing on local ingredients then it is doing something wrong.
sunflower cafe $
Unbelievable food for lunch of breakfast that was reasonably prices and had plenty of options for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free folks.
oakvill grocery $
Such a sweet spot to stop for lunch or a mid-day snack. Have a drink on the patio and leave with some artisan treats that I can assure you, you wont be able to resist.
dry creek kitchen $$
Located in Healdsburg this beautiful restaurant has a Sonoma Neighbor Menu that showcases all locally sourced ingredients. Not the mention the ambiance is absolutely perfect for a romantic dinner out.
el dorado kitchen $$$
Located in the beautiful El Dorado Hotel in Sonoma, the El Dorado Kitchen is a eco-friendly restaurant that focuses on a seasonal menu pulling from local produce.
[ where to drink ]
I mean this is wine country we are talking about, so vineyards are a necessity. With over 400 wineries and vineyards in the Sonoma region alone it can be a little overwhelming trying to decide which ones to visit. Luckily, with a little help from my cousins (who live in San Francisco) and some other locals we were able to experience some absolutely incredible vineyard during our few days in Sonoma.
Dry Creek Vineyard
The hospitality at this vineyard was exceptional and the grounds were really relaxed and comfortable. Tastings started at $15 that could be enjoyed with a snack on their beautiful picnic grounds.
La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard
This vineyard was by far one of my favorites for its sustainable practices and delicious Pinot Noir (one of my favorite wine varieties). They offer signature tastings that start at $15 per person.
This was where my cousin was married so maybe I am just partial but I absolutely loved their wine and the whole grounds and estate are absolutely beautiful and perfect for spending an hour sipping on a glass of wine.
Korbel Champagne Cellars
An absolutely stunning property with beautiful cellars and complimentary wine tastings that do not require a reservation in advance.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Obviously there was no way an Italian family was visiting Sonoma without taking a trip to the "God Father". This winery has a ton of activities to offer, and has really cool displays of props from the God Father movies
[ where to shop ]
The town of Sonoma and the town of Healdsburg really were the best places to go for shopping. Neither really had a whole lot of big name brands, and like most things in Sonoma county, local, small businesses were highlighted.
We took an afternoon to wander around both Healdsburg and Sonoma with a cup of coffee, and stopped into all the cute shops we came across. Since we were there over Mother's Day my sister and I ended up splurging for my mom with a beautiful Italian made table cloth.
[ how to make the most of your trip ]
As always I highly recommend to talking to locals and hearing from them what they recommend. When you start traveling like a local and less like a tourist you will begin to view your travel adventures in a whole (more rewarding) way.
So say high to your barista, ask her how her day has been and where you should go for breakfast. Get a tip from your bartender on what vineyards have the best vibe, and the best pour for your money :)
Stop at every little farm stand and roadside sandwich place you see and ask the farmer or check-out person where you should go for a good walk or the best view for a vineyard sunset.
Basically be personable, be friendly, ask people about their work and lives, and I can promise you that you will learn about some of the most incredible places you never would have read about in any travel guide.