SONOMA — Even for adventure seekers, sometimes you just need a true vacation — one filled with relaxation, delicious meals, wine and retiring to the whirlpool at a luxurious hotel. If your weekend getaway goal is to chill out, California’s Sonoma Valley fits the bill.
Sonoma is the birthplace of California’s wine industry. It’s where the first commercial vineyards were planted in the early 19th century. So while it’s a relatively small area geographically, Sonoma Valley boasts a wide array of wineries, 85% of them family-owned. And with a more laid-back vibe than nearby Napa Valley — and plenty of opportunities to sip wine while taking in beautiful surroundings — it’s the epitome of leisure.
The flight from Seattle into Santa Rosa, Sonoma’s closest airport, takes about two hours. Then it’s a little under an hour’s drive into a weekend spent kicking back, drinking, eating and taking in some of the most stunning views on the West Coast.
Where to stay
Formerly a 300-acre vineyard and working ranch, MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa (macarthurplace.com) is now a luxurious inn comprised of 64 rooms and suites. Amenities include landscaped gardens, complimentary wine and cheese socials in the evenings, and a pool and spa. The hotel also has its own restaurant, Layla, serving up Mediterranean cuisine.
Where to eat
Family-owned Depot Hotel Restaurant (depotsonoma.com) is a favorite among locals and it’s easy to see why. The space serves up classic Italian fare, with a daily menu set depending on the season’s ingredients and whatever the chef feels inspired to cook. Ask your waiter for recommendations based on what you’re in the mood for — they’ll help you find the perfect dish.
During your stay in Sonoma, you’ll definitely want to visit Cornerstone, a marketplace full of boutique shops, art-inspired gardens, and (of course) wineries. While you’re there, have a meal at Public Kitchen (public-kitchen.org). I highly recommend the Grilled Cheese Adult Supreme Sandwich, the Shrimp & Avocado Salad, or both — you’re on vacation after all, and you’ll need sustenance to soak up all that wine.
For classic California-inspired dishes cooked up by a team specializing in wood-fire cooking, get dinner at Glen Ellen Star (glenellenstar.com). Start with one or more vegetable dishes, then move on to pizzas and other mouthwatering mains including branzino, spring lamb confit and brick chicken.
Another longtime local favorite and Sonoma staple is the girl & the fig (thegirlandthefig.com). This French-inspired rustic bistro serves up dishes made with vegetables and fruits from the restaurant’s own organic garden. There are plenty of healthier options, but I couldn’t say no to the burger. And even after all that wine, I couldn’t resist trying the most popular house cocktail — the Fig Royale, made from sparkling wine and fig syrup.
Sonoma Valley is so full of wineries and tasting rooms that building your itinerary can be daunting. Each of the following picks possesses its own unique qualities, charm and ambience, so you won’t feel like you’re experiencing déjà vu at any point along the way.
Take an electric bike or Segway tour with Sonoma Adventures (sonoma-adventures.com/). It’s a fun, leisurely way to take in the scenery, with breaks for wine tastings at Patz & Hall (patzhall.com), known for its chardonnays and pinot noirs, and Buena Vista Winery (buenavistawinery.com), California’s very first premium winery. Take your time at this historic landmark and be sure to check out the newly renovated Champagne Cellar and the interiors — you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a scene from “The Great Gatsby.”
Check out Pangloss Cellars (panglosscellars.com) in a charming restored 115-year-old building in Sonoma’s historic town square. Named after Dr. Pangloss, the eternal optimist in Voltaire’s “Candide,” the tasting room’s knowledgeable servers tailor wine selections to patrons’ preferences. Be sure to go in between meal times for perfect food pairings as well. (I’m still dreaming of the charcuterie board I devoured, to be honest.)
Love Champagne? Don’t miss SIGH (sighsonoma.com), Sonoma’s only “bubble bar,” where you can sample Champagnes and sparkling wines by the glass, flight or bottle and admire the bar’s beautiful, stylish interior full of fun tributes to all things bubbly.
For local wines and incredible surroundings, splurge on a private outlook at Viansa Sonoma Winery (viansa.com). It doesn’t get much more idyllic than sipping wine and taking in 270-degree views of Sonoma Valley, San Pablo Bay and the Mayacamas Mountains.
Visit the tasting room at Meadowcroft Wines (meadowcroftwines.com) for its casual atmosphere and friendly staff. If owner and winegrower Tom Meadowcroft is around, he’ll happily chat with you about his wines, the inspiration behind his business and how he got it off the ground. And if you can never say no to a beautiful candle, Meadowcroft makes their own, featuring the winery’s signature honey bee label, which symbolizes the work and transformation processes that turn grapes into wine.
Squeeze in a few hours at appointment-only historic tasting room Bedrock Wine Company (bedrockwineco.com). The wine is produced from 150-year-old vines on the former ranch of Civil War Union Gen. Joseph Hooker, and the charming building features old photographs and maps that tell his story. Who says wine tastings can’t be educational?
Although I’d be the first to say there’s no such thing as too many wine tastings, I highly recommend mixing it up a bit and going for a vodka tasting at Hanson of Sonoma Distillery (hansonofsonoma.com). This family-owned distillery offers a wide variety of unique vodkas distilled from organically farmed grapes and infused with a range of fruits and vegetables including cucumber, ginger, habanero and mandarin. Call in advance to request a tour of the distillery room so you can see where the magic happens. Then let the informed staff whip up the martini of your dreams.