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Rivaled only by neighboring Napa Valley to the east, there’s perhaps no other region in America more closely tied to wine than Sonoma. The county alone is home to roughly 60,000 acres (24,280 ha) of vineyards and more than 400 wineries, which together produce nearly two times as much wine as Napa. Set amid a landscape that ranges from sun-beaten hills to fog-covered valleys, Sonoma is made up of 17 sub-districts known as American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs. Though part of the same county, these regions have wildly different geography, giving way to remarkably distinct styles of wine. Known to be less commercialized and more laidback, Sonoma doesn’t boast the same high-rolling vibe that’s prevalent in Napa. While you can certainly still find elegant eateries and high-end hotels, Sonoma is the perfect place for relaxation and wine without any attitude.
Sonoma — On top of being the county and its own AVA, Sonoma is also a city itself at the southeast of the region. Around the historic main square of Sonoma Plaza, find 19th-century buildings, casual bistros, and rustic tasting rooms. The city’s biggest draw is Buena Vista Winery, the oldest commercial estate in California.
Santa Rosa — The largest city in Sonoma County, Santa Rosa has a range of attractions, from parks and lakes for outdoor recreation to a museum dedicated to cartoonist Charles Schulz. Though not a booming metropolis, downtown boasts a diverse selection of restaurants, brewpubs, tasting rooms, and shopping centers in a welcoming atmosphere.
Cloverdale — Recently named one of America’s Coolest Small Towns, Cloverdale is a nostalgic blast from the past, with Americana-inspired eateries, rambling Victorians, and a burgeoning arts scene. Visit in the spring and summer for street fairs, festivals, and farmers’ markets.
Guerneville — A popular getaway for San Franciscans since the late 1800s, Guerneville is a rustic town that blends towering redwoods, cool waters, laidback attitudes, and more than 50 wineries within a 20-minute drive. Most guests who choose to stay here opt for campgrounds or cozy cabins.
Healdsburg — Nestled in the heart of Sonoma County, Healdsburg is a mix of small-town charm, award-winning vintages, and stunning vistas centered around a town plaza lined with shops, galleries, restaurants, tasting rooms, and bars.
Petaluma — Once famous for its egg industry, today Petaluma is a foodie paradise, known for award-winning restaurants, ethnic eateries, artisan cheese, and world-class wine and beer. Its well-preserved city center is brimming with historic hotels, antique shops, and quirky art galleries.
Windsor — Designed specifically as a family-focused destination with a pedestrian-friendly town square, the picturesque city of Windsor offers something for everyone in the way of shopping, dining, and entertainment. The town is home to more than 30 free events throughout the year such as movie nights, festivals, concerts, and art shows.
Sonoma County AVAs — Sonoma County is broken up into 17 sub-regions based on climate and geography, with each specializing in particular varieties of grapes.
Alexander Valley: Known for chocolatey cabernet sauvignon and tropical chardonnay.
Bennett Valley: Known for elegant merlot and sweet-and-spicy syrah.
Carneros: Known for earthy pinot noir and citrusy chardonnay.
Chalk Hill: Known for oaky chardonnay and fruit-forward sauvignon blanc.
Dry Creek Valley: Known for robust zinfandel and fresh sauvignon blanc.
Fort Ross-Seaview: Known for berry-based pinot noir and brightly acidic chardonnay.
Fountaingrove: Known for cheerful merlot and medium-bodied cabernet sauvignon.
Green Valley: Known for zesty pinot noir, crisp chardonnay, and vibrant sparkling wine.
Knights Valley: Known for lemony sauvignon blanc, intense cabernet franc, and silky cabernet sauvignon.
Moon Mountain: Known for rich and smoky zinfandel.
Northern Sonoma: Known for nearly every variety of grape grown across Sonoma County, including cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc.
Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak: Known for mineral-driven cabernet sauvignon.
Rockpile: Known for ripe and fruity zinfandel.
Russian River Valley: Known for bright and complex pinot noir and New World chardonnay.
Sonoma Coast: Known for peppery syrah, supple pinot noir, and beautifully balanced chardonnay.
Sonoma Mountain: Known for brooding zinfandel and polished cabernet sauvignon.
Sonoma Valley: Known mainly for soft pinot noir, buttery chardonnay, and bold merlot; however, the region has perhaps the widest range of grapes, with varieties like zinfandel, syrah, malbec, cabernet, and grenache.
While wine is clearly the biggest draw in Sonoma County, the region has another must-see landmark—the Armstrong Redwoods Natural Reserve. Here, in a wooded grove of towering redwood trees, the magnificent beauty of nature is truly unparalleled. Offering solace from the daily hustle and bustle of life, the park features peaceful hiking trails, picnic facilities, and a large outdoor amphitheater. Immerse yourself in the majestic primeval forest on 1 of the 7 suggested hikes, ranging from an easy 1-mile (1.6-km) walk to a strenuous 9-mile (14.5-km) climb.
It’s all about wine in Sonoma County, and there are plenty of ways to experience the world-renowned region. Aboard an old-timey trolley from the heart of Sonoma city, visit 4 boutique wineries to sip and savor big, bold reds and elegant whites. Break for a gourmet lunch catered by a French-inspired eatery before continuing your tastings in the afternoon. For an even more extravagant experience, explore the wineries of the Russian River Valley with a private driver. In your choice of a luxury town car or SUV, head to the spots you want to visit or let an itinerary be hand-selected for you.
If you’re looking to get outdoors, a bike tour is the perfect way to experience the beauty of the region while also tasting its wine. Pedal your way through the Russian River to sample its bright pinot noir and innovative chardonnay, or cruise through the Green Valley for wines and bubblies that are more tart and acidic thanks its cooler climate. On a bike tour in the charming town of Healdsburg, learn how the city’s location at the intersection of 3 prime regions has turned it into an epicenter of wine.
But there’s more to Sonoma County than just the wine—the region is also earning an acclaimed reputation for its beer. Cycle over the flat terrain and country roads around Santa Rosa to taste creations like crisp pilsner, spicy hefeweizen, and citrus-forward IPA. Or, if you choose, you can opt to kick back on a bus that brings you to both 2 well-known breweries and 2 up-and-coming craft producers.