As a wine lover, I have always wanted to visit Northern California’s vineyards. I finally had the chance over Fourth of July weekend this year, when I attended my good friend’s wedding in Santa Rosa, California. Due to the fact that I was a bridesmaid, I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to explore the area, but I did my best.
If you only have 36 hours—as I did—to spend in Sonoma Valley, there’s a lot to see in a small radius. Some you may know about, and some you may not, but all are great options.
Check out the Wineries
This really goes without saying, but obviously, you have to try some Sonoma Valley wine. It’s home to some of the most well-known vineyards in the country—maybe even the world. The wedding was held at Paradise Ridge Winery, and we had the chance to sample a few of their varietals during the rehearsal and at the reception. If you visit Paradise Ridge, be sure to take a walk through the vines and around the property, and see how many unique sculptures you can spot. There are hundreds sprinkled all around.
If you have the time to visit a few different wineries, you might want to check out the Wine Road. It’s technically not a road. It’s an association of almost 200 wineries and over 50 lodgings in the Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley. Even the most seasoned wine connoisseur will discover something new. The Wine Road features some of the state’s oldest wineries, as well as some more modern establishments that are still setting their roots in the area. All the wineries have tasting rooms and informed staff, and many offer tours. You can even taste some wines that are so limited in production, they aren’t available anywhere else but the vineyard.
The Wine Road is great for a one-day adventure—although I wouldn’t recommend trying to hit all 200 wineries in 24 hours.
Visit Historic Sonoma Plaza and Surrounding Attractions
Once a Mexican outpost and Spanish Mission town, Sonoma’s famed plaza has become a historic landmark. The authentic buildings mingle with artisan shops and four-star restaurants. This is a great place to spend an afternoon, exploring the different monuments that played a major role in the region—and the state’s—past.
Make a stop at the Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma, dating back to 1823, and take a tour of the adobe church and the padres’ quarters. For an interesting piece of California history, visit the monument of the Bear Flag Revolt, when thirty American settlers rode into Sonoma in the 1840s, arrested General Vallejo and his men, and hoisted a hand-made Bear Flag of the Republic and declared California an independent republic. That obviously didn’t last long, but the state did adopt the Bear Flag officially in 1911. Other notable buildings to visit are the General Joseph Hooker House, the Carnegie Library, City Hall and the Maysonnave House.
Get into the Art Scene
Thriving amid the vines is Sonoma Valley’s art scene. The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, founded in 1998, features rotating exhibits of modern and contemporary works. If you visit right now, you can see Surf Craft: Design and the Culture of Board Riding—fitting for California. If you love art, you’ll definitely appreciate this museum, as well as the Cornerstone Gardens, where landscape architects have created outdoor installations situated next to galleries and craft shops.
I’m a big fan of cartoons, and when I was growing up, one of my favorites was the Peanuts Gang. Despite loving the characters of Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus, I never knew that Sonoma Valley is home to the Charles M. Schulz Museum. It holds the largest collection of Peanuts strips in the world, and explores the art and life of Schulz. Cartoon fans really shouldn’t miss this.
Enjoy the Outdoors
If you’re someone who loves the outdoors and being active, Sonoma Valley has a lot to do. My husband and I discovered a few great running trails near our hotel in Santa Rosa, and these paths are found all over the region. You can hop on a bike and tour most of the region in an afternoon, if you’d like.
I heard about a great walking tour along the Overlook Trail, where you can learn about wild flowers of Sonoma Valley. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience it, but it sounded fun and worth checking out.
Zoom through the trees on a zip line with Sonoma Canopy Tours; paddle along the Russian River in a canoe or kayak; enjoy the beautiful greens of a local golf course; or simply relax by a shimmering pool at one of the many Sonoma resorts.
There’s so much to do in this 17-mile stretch of rolling hills and deep valleys. I definitely need to return for a longer visit, and hopefully I’ll have more time to explore this wonderful area of the country.