California’s Napa Valley is a world famous wine region, and features prominently on many a wine-lovers bucket list. Unfortunately, this fame has brought with it loads of crowds, and a commerciality that somewhat ruins the magic. While there are still a few good places in Napa that feel homey and personal, they are a lot harder to find.
Enter Sonoma. This cousin of Napa is right next door, just as lovely, and much more unspoiled. Here you’ll find some delicious wine, really cool winemakers and great food. We were lucky enough to attend a wedding in Sonoma a couple of months ago, so I thought I’d share some of our experiences and tips with you!
We stayed in a delightful little Airbnb in Sebastopol called the Little House in the Orchard. Hotels in Sonoma are pretty expensive, and not worth it unless you spend on the really good ones. I highly recommend looking for Airbnbs. Our host, Bonnie, was wonderful, left us a bottle of wine, gave us tons of local tips and recommendations, and even let us use her parking garage to park since it was a very hot weekend! The best Airbnbs have hosts who go above and beyond to make their guests comfortable.
I loved that we got a little garden (complete with a swing!) with our Airbnb. It made the experience so much more fun, especially coming from the concrete jungle of New York City.
Our host Bonnie kindly said that she will give a 20% discount to my readers, so if you want to book her Airbnb, send her a message through Airbnb, mention the word HERTRAVELEDIT to let her know that you found her through me! [Note : Through April 2019, your discount will be 10%, since her rates are already discounted for low season]
Once you’ve settled down in the lovely Airbnb, it’s time to get down to business aka drinking wine. However, a good lunch is in order first (you know what happens if you drink on an empty stomach!) I highly recommend heading to Backyard to detox with their fresh orange juice and eat their delicious fried chicken sandwich. Sit in the garden and soak in the California sun.
Of course, you must head down south to the wineries of Sonoma. We went to a couple of lovely wineries in Sonoma for my bachelorette party in 2016. The first was Ram’s Gate, a sophisticated winery that makes you question your dislike of Chardonnay. Very close by is Cline Cellars which is the opposite, free tastings (in 2016, their website currently shows tastings at $10/person) and lovely picnic areas. That’s the magic of Sonoma, there’s something to please everyone!
In the evening, head to Sebastopol downtown which has an area called The Barlow with tasting rooms and restaurants. Our favorite winemaker for California Pino Noir, Wind Gap has a tasting room there, now re-marketed as the brand Pax. It’s a cool little place to hang out and learn about wine in!
Santa Rosa, very close to Sebastopol, also has some good wineries. The wine is served with a side of magnificent sunsets and lovely roads to soak in all the vineyard views.
While in Sonoma, you mustn’t miss the delightful town of Healdsburg. It’s about a gorgeous half hour drive north of Sebastopol. Grab coffee at Taylor Lane Coffee, then drive up and plan to spend at least half a day there.
The downtown is the cutest, perfect to ride bikes around, stopping for wine and cheese on the way.
Definitely stop at Shed for lunch (we had breakfast there, but I heard lunch is better!). This is quintessential fresh, healthy and delicious California cuisine, best enjoyed al-fresco of course.
My friend who runs weknow.vino is a wine connoisseur, has excellent taste, and knows the area like the back of her thumb. Here are some of her recommendations for the best wineries and tasting rooms near Healdsburg (she also recommended Shed to us, so I trust her food recs. as well!)
Wineries near Healdsburg (make prior appointments)
- Vérité Wines – they specialize in Merlot
- Medlock Ames – a beautiful property that specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
- Ferrari Carano – another beautiful vineyard that specializes in Sauvignon Blancs
- Kokomo Winery – try their Ruth’s Vineyard Cab
Tasting Rooms in Healdsburg Downtown
Head to her page for even more local recommendations and tips for great wine! And if you end up trying any of these, let her know in the comments? She’d be so thrilled!
The biggest bonus about Sonoma? It’s only a hop, skip and jump away from Napa, so if you desperately want to check it off your bucket list – you still can!
Quick Guide to Your Weekend in Sonoma County
How to Get There : You could fly into SFO (if you have never been to San Francisco, plan to spend at least a day there! This post will help) or Oakland airports, rent a car and drive up to Sonoma. Sonoma also has it’s own little (verified cute!) airport. Either way, I recommend renting a car for easy access to different wine regions. It goes without saying, don’t drink and drive, so it might be good to travel with a non wine lover!
Where to Stay : Stay at an Airbnb in Sebastopol like Little House in the Orchard.
Where to Eat :
Around Sebastopol : Coffee at Taylor Lane, Lunch at Backyard
Healdsburg : Lunch at Shed
Where to Drink :
Sonoma : Sophistication : Ram’s Gate, Casual Picnic : Cline Cellars
Sebastopol : Tasting Rooms in the Barlow
Healdsburg : See above for list of weknow.vino recommended wineries and tasting rooms
P. S . If you are looking for slightly more off-beat wine country destinations in California, go to Santa Ynez valley near Santa Barbara (I highly recommend Sunstone Winery), or to Paso Robles in Central California. Mendocino County produces some lovely wines too, but I’ve never been. If you have, let me know if I should go?