Grape trestles in a vineyard outside Sonoma
Sonoma is located in the Sonoma Valley in Sonoma County just north of the Bay Area of California.
Besides being the center of the modern wine-making industry in Sonoma County, the town of Sonoma has a rich history dating back to the early 19th century. Spanish colonial settlers first established one of their northernmost missions in 1823 when the Mission San Francisco Solano was founded by a Spanish priest, Father Joseph Altimira. The Mission was the first, last, and only California mission established under newly-independent Mexican rule. For a brief period in 1846 it was the capital of the short-lived California Republic. Today, Sonoma, with a little over 9000 people, attracts thousands of visitors each year as a jumping point to the vineyards that surround the town.
There are major highways that go through or even close to Sonoma since it is surrounded by hills on every side. The best way to get in is from California State Route 12 which goes directly through the town. Route 12 interesects with Highway 101 in Santa Rosa or I-80 just south of Napa in Vallejo.
Sonoma County is currently served by direct flights to Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport (STS) from Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, OR, and Seattle/Tacoma on Horizon Air. Delta and Frontier airlines are investigating possible expansions into STS from Salt Lake City and Denver. You can also fly in to either Sacramento (SMF) or Oakland (OAK) Airport. (You can use San Francisco (SFO) also but it is a little more hectic of an airport and you have to cut through the city to get across the Bay). There are many ways to get from the airports including many different bus systems, the Marin Airporter, taxi cabs, rental car. If you have some cash to splurge, since you're going to luxurious wine country, why not rent a limo?
Sonoma's mild climate and beautiful scenery make it ideal for walking or riding a bike. If you want to rent a bike or take a bike tour, there are two places in town, both on Hwy 12 (called Broadway while in the city).
- Sonoma Valley Cyclery 20093 Broadway (707) 935-3377
- Sonoma Valley Bike Tours 520 Broadway (877) 308-2453
Sonoma County Transit connects Sonoma to the surrounding towns in the county. Their website  has information about how to purchase passes and taking your bicycle on to buses.
Also, if you find yourself stranded at a vineyard after too many tastes of Pinot Noir, it may be handy to have the number of someone who will pick you up.
- Vern's Taxi Service, 18812 Sonoma Hwy # C, (707) 938-8885
Sonoma is home to the Bear Flag revolt, and the home of General Vallejo– his mansion is a historic landmark that may be seen on any day of the week. If you pay $2 you can get a pass to see his mansion, the Barracks (home of the military back in the 1800's), and the Sonoma Mission (the first church in Sonoma). These three sites are located on or near downtown Sonoma plaza, one of the only Spanish style plazas to be found in California. The Sonoma plaza is a large park which is great for families and it houses the impressive City Hall. Surrounding the plaza are various shops and five star restaurants as well, if you feel like stimulating the economy.
- Sonoma Walking Tour, Sonoma Town Plaza, ☎ 707-694-5097, . 2 hours. For a really unique and interesting look into the tumultuous history of Sonoma, try a walking tour from local historian George Webber, who tells the story of the Bear Flag Revolt from the point of view of General Vallejo (costume and all). He also shows guests some of the interesting agricultural and epicurean offerings of Sonoma. $100 for 4 people.
- The first and most obvious thing to do in Wine Country is to visit one or more of the many wineries in the surrounding area.
There are many, many wineries and vineyards in the region, however these three are the most centrally located in Sonoma City.
- San Francisco Solano Mission Vineyard 394 4th Street East at Spain Street. This is the oldest vineyard north of San Francisco, planted by Franciscan monks in 1825 to make sacramental wines at the Mission. After the Mission was secularized, General Vallejo himself made award-winning wines from these grapes. An Italian immigrant called Samuele Sebastiani bought the vineyard in the early 1900s, and his family has produced wine there ever since. They are open for tastings and tours every day from 10-5. []
- Castle Vineyards has a tasting room right on the plaza. You can sample their signature wines in a bistro-like setting and, in warmer weather, on the lovely garden patio. []
- B Wise Vineyards also has a tasting room at 35 E. Napa Street, and you can organize private tours of their 100-acre wine estate as well. 707.935.1200 [] They make wines from different vineyards in the region, but also some which are only from their own grapes.
- Take a horseback ride through the nearby countryside. Try the Napa Valley Equestrian Center [] at 1132 El Centro Avenue if you are interested in lessons. They are open from 9-5 Monday-Saturday. For a horse vaulting or dressage exhibition, check out the Flying Cloud Farm [] at 1200 Jacobsen Lane in Petaluma.
- Bicycle along the picturesque countryside.
- Take a balloon ride over the beautiful landscapes.
- Take a cooking course at Ramekins and then relax with a wonderful meal on site. Besides wine, Sonoma is also know for its arts.
- Annual Jazz, Art and Wine festival and the Salute to the Arts. If you're around in August and September, you don't want to miss those!
- TrainTown http://www.traintown.com/ is a fun attraction for young children.
West Napa Street is where most of the shopping is centered in the town of Sonoma. Along this thoroughfare one can find the following places of business.
- Sonoma Marketplace Shopping Center, 201 West Napa Street, ☎ (707) 938-5616.
- Bear Moon Clothing, 117 E Napa Street, ☎ (707) 935-3392. A boutique-style shop offering high-end gifts, jewelry and apparel.
- Mccaulou's Department Stores, 201 W Napa Street, ☎ (707) 996-4465. The only department store in Sonoma.
- Sonoma Plaza Farmer's Market, Sonoma Plaza, ☎ (707) 538-7023. 5:30-dusk. Tuesday evening farmer's market.
- Carnero's Bistro and Wine Bar, 1325 Broadway, ☎ +1 (707) 931-2042. A little bit pricy, but really high quality food paired with fantastic local wines.
- Meritage martini Oyster Bar & Grill, 165 West Napa Street. This fine dining establishment specializes in Southern French and Northern Italian cuisines. Great for a special occasion. +1 (707)938-9430.
- The Girl and the Fig, 110 West Spain Street, ☎ +1 (707) 938-3634, . An extremely popular restaurant known for its great food with a French flair.
- Rin's Thai Restaurant, 139 East Napa St, ☎ +1 (707) 938-1461, . Sun, Tues-Thur 11:30AM-9PM, Fri & Sat 11:30AM-9:30PM, closed Monday. Tasty Thai food in a great location. Beautiful decorations inside, with wood carvings and art, and a nice patio with seating in the summer.
- Mary's Pizza Shack, . There are two Mary's Pizza Shack's in Sonoma. The first one is "The Original Shack" a great place to bring the family for pizza. You can sit outside under a beautiful oak tree or inside and it's a little more laid-back and relaxed than their On the Plaza joint, which is just off Sonoma Plaza. It's a good place to take the kids when they don't want fancy wine country food anymore. Both have good pizza and salads.
- The Original Shack, 18636 Sonoma Hwy, ☎ +1 (707) 938-3600.
- On the Plaza, 8 West Spain St, ☎ +1 (707) 938-8300.
- Juanita Juanita, 19114 Arnold Drive, ☎ (707) 935-3981. Delicious Mexican food in a funky setting. Too-die-for burritos. Owned and run by some awesome Mexican ladies.
You're in wine country! There are many great wineries all around Sonoma, but if you can't decide which one to choose from, you can go to the Wine Exchange on First Street East on the Sonoma Plaza. They can recommend some great wines and beers.
For bars, most of the pubs and other drinking establishments are centered around the Plaza, and a few more can be found along the main street. Try:
- El Pueblo Inn, 896 West Napa St, ☎ +1 707 996-3651 (fax: 707-935-5988), .
- Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn, 550 2nd St West, ☎ +1 707 938-9200 (toll free: +1 800 334-5784, fax: +1 707 938-0935), .
- The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa, 1325 Broadway at Leveroni & Napa Roads, ☎ +1 707 935-6600 (toll free: +1 888 710-8008, fax: +1 707 935-6829), .
- Ledson Hotel, 480 1st St East, ☎ +1 (707) 996-9779, .
- The Swiss Hotel, 18 West Spain St, ☎ +1 (707) 938-2884, . A Swiss hotel in a historic California home.
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