Sonoma County, located in California's North Coast in the San Francisco Bay Area, is about 45 minutes north of San Francisco. As such, it suffers from what could be dubbed the "Middle Child Syndrome:" Its main cities of Petaluma and Santa Rosa are small and provincial when compared to San Francisco; yet the area is not the untamed wilderness of California's North Coast. Sonoma County is not as well-known or touristy as the neighboring Napa Valley, which takes most of the credit for driving California's wine industry, nor as cosmopolitan as nearby San Francisco.
It would be a mistake, however, to pass up an opportunity to visit Sonoma. The area has the same post-60s flavor of Marin County, and the same sophisticated oenophilia as Napa to the East. Its coastal region is beautiful and rugged, and the agricultural pastureland is some of the most quintessentially beautiful to be found in California. As the crowds of tourists clog the roads of Napa Valley, Sonoma's appeal grows.
Sonoma County is commonly accessed from the south via San Francisco and Highway 101 (the county line is 30 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge), from the east via Napa Valley (Highways 37, 121 and smaller roads that cross the Mayacamas mountains which separates the two counties), from the north via Highway 101 from Ukiah and Highway 1 / Pacific Coast Highway from Gualala in Mendocino County. From the west one must take a boat, as the Pacific Ocean forms the western boundary of Sonoma County.
Public transit options from San Francisco include the Golden Gate Transit, which runs regular scheduled service from San Francisco. Service is most frequent during commuting hours. There is also a private bus company, Sonoma County Airport Express, with regular departures from San Francisco and Oakland airports and with hourly departures during busy periods. These buses make stops in Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and the Sonoma County airport.
From the north there are some transit options with the Mendocino Transit Authority.
Greyhound Bus Lines stops in Santa Rosa on trips heading north or south.
By air, Sonoma County Airport (Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport) STS offers regular, daily flights from Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland and Seattle on Alaska Airlines.
Sonoma County has some of the best restaurants in Northern California, catering to all budgets. You can easily find restaurants ranging from budget to upscale, with cuisines running the gamut from Vietnamese to Italian to Turkish to Oaxacan. It is a food-lover's paradise.
Farmer's markets abound in the summer and are not to be missed.
Likewise, small, artisan food producers are featured along Sonoma Counties "Farm Trails." Be sure to try the local olive oil, honey, bread, and outstanding cheeses.
For a very local experience that is light on the pocketbook, try any local Taqueria. The Mexican seafood in area is particularly delicious.
For upscale cuisine, head to downtown Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, or Sonoma. There are dozens of picks, many of which are award-winning.
The drinking age is 21.
Sonoma's 425-plus wineries are one main attraction. Main wine varieties produced include zinfandel, pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc (also called "fume blanc"), cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah.
3 world class Brewpubs, Third Street AleWorks & Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, Bear Republic in Healsdburg and Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol.
More than 40 craft breweries, cider houses and artisan distilleries.