Unplug and Reconnect in Sonoma Valley
With much of our lives now taking place online, the best way (in our opinion) to reconnect with ourselves and our families is to unplug. Fortunately, you don't have to go far—or even leave California—to get away from it all. Load up the car and head to Sonoma Valley where the hiking trails are plentiful, the countryside is stunning and the wine flows like water. Even better, there are a variety of ways to take it all in.
Read on for seven ways to disconnect from the daily grind once you arrive.
Whatever your chosen activity, please check the relevant website for operation hours and the latest safety precautions, which may include anything from reservations to mask requirements and social distancing.
Picnic in Sonoma Plaza
If you've been to Sonoma, you know Sonoma Plaza. It's the crown jewel of the city with more than 30 wine tasting rooms, incredible indie restaurants, and darling shops surrounding a tree-shaded park that houses both a duck pond and City Hall. But what you may not know is that Sonoma Plaza's park is one of the few places in California that allows public alcohol consumption (11:30 am - sunset daily!). What better place for a picnic? Bring a serapa, then pick up a bottle of vino from a plaza-adjacent tasting room—frankly, it's hard to go wrong here, but we love Corner 103, Three Sticks, Pangloss and Sonoma-Loeb—and sandwiches (or maybe a charcuterie and artisanal cheese box?) from Sonoma Market. Broadway Market is also excellent for grab-and-go sammies; it's a decades-old, family-owned local favorite with very reasonable prices.
Hit the trails
When it comes to the outdoors, Sonoma Valley is blessed with an embarrassment of riches. In the valley alone, you'll find 13,000 acres of state and regional parks where you can drink in the beauty of wine country from the trails. For a pleasant (and kid-friendly) hike, head to Overlook Trail in the city of Sonoma—the trailhead is just a few blocks from Sonoma Plaza—where the approximately 3-mile trail has clearly marked paths through meadows and grasslands, offering stunning views of Sonoma Valley. Also worth visiting: Jack London State Historic Park, where there are plentiful hiking and biking trails as well as horseback riding (guided tours are available with Triple Creek Horse Outfit).
Raise a toast to California wine's birthplace
You might assume that the birthplace of the California wine industry would be more self-aggrandizing (and wouldn't they have every right?) but it's Sonoma Valley's unpretentious approach to wine that makes it so very loveable. The Valley's viticulture has certainly come a long way in its nearly 200 years of existence with a roster of more than 100 wineries in operation today. Because it's impossible to taste them all in one trip (but hey, give it a shot), start with some of our favorites.
California's oldest family-owned winery, Gundlach Bundschu (Gun Bun to friends) is beloved for their small-production wines and laid-back attitude. Enjoy a flight of award-winning vintages while a wine educator regales you with tales of the winery's beginnings in the mid-1800s, when the founder purchased (and then smuggled) rootstock from Europe to America. It's worth returning to Gun Bun when their events calendar reopens; they host intimate concerts (and a small musical festival) from indie acts.
A previous Wine Enthusiast winemaker of the year, Chateau St. Jean operates out of a castle and is set on grounds filled with gardens and grassy areas for picnicking. An impressive number of their current offerings received a 90-point (or higher) rating, including the Cinq Cepages Red Blend (Chateau St. Jean's flagship wine).
Imagery Winery is the youngest of this bunch; they focus on crafting rare wines from uncommon varietals, particularly from grapes not usually found in monovarietal wines (like Tannat, Mourvèdre and Lagrein). This love for the unexpected extends to their labels, which feature unique artwork replicated on each bottle.
Explore the (Sonoma) Serengeti
Sonoma Valley isn't only an over-21 vacation; there are tons of activities that keep the whole family engaged. Case in point: Safari West, a 400-acre wilderness with 90 species (and 900 total animals) living in some of the largest enclosures in the U.S. Safari West is more akin to a (small-scale) African State Park than an American zoo. You'll explore the park on open air safari vehicles to find zebra, wildebeest, rhinos and ostrich which are all free to roam. For an immersive experience, you can glamp overnight; your little ones are sure to enjoy the nightly marshmallow roast at the fire pit.
Take a bike tour
Sometimes a party bus doesn't quite fit the mood you're going for; on those occasions, opt for a bike tour. Even you're familiar with Sonoma, a guided tour can offer a wholly new perspective. As you leisurely pedal your way through the charming country backroads, learning about the area's history and visiting only-in-Sonoma wineries, you just might fall a little more in love. A great company to guide you is Sonoma Adventures. They provide all of the gear you'll need, including a pedal-assist bike that allows for an active rest during your ride. In addition to winery stops, you'll also enjoy a picnic lunch on your tour. If you'd prefer to go without a guide, you can rent bikes (standard or electric) from Sonoma Adventures for a few hours, a couple of days, or even a week.
Have a star party
Wineries close in the early evening, leaving many hours to explore Sonoma Valley after the sun goes down. One place to experience a different kind of nightlife is Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, home to Robert Ferguson Observatory. The observatory hosts star parties that begin with astronomical discussions and end with up-close viewing of the galaxies through high-powered telescopes. For a more active nighttime endeavor, you can take a full-moon hike along Sugarloaf's trail systems. If you want to keep the party going, set up a campsite; the state park offers year-round camping.
[Editor's note: Be sure to check Robert Ferguson Observatory's website before you visit; their schedule may change last minute in response to state and local safety measures.]
Bed down in style
Sonoma Valley is home to hotels and resorts that run the gamut from wallet-friendly to cozy to downright luxurious. A few of our favorites are located within Sonoma's city limits. The Lodge at Sonoma recently updated their guestrooms and added a restaurant from celebrity chef Michael Mina: Wit & Wisdom—the chef's initial foray into wine country dining. Set on a 19th-century estate, MacArthur Place is another excellent spot to overnight; this 4-star hotel with its covered, sun-drenched back patio and magnolia tree-lined pool was named in the top five hotels in Northern California by Condé Nast Traveler readers in 2020. For ultimate accessibility, stay at the 27-room boutique El Dorado Hotel, located on Sonoma's historic downtown square.