Only a short drive from San Francisco, the Sonoma Valley is about as close to serenity as you can get. More then 400 wineries can be found nestled in the valley's gently rolling hills, and there are plenty of opportunities to taste world-class wines right where they're made or enjoy farm-to-table cuisine while admiring breathtaking views of the valley. There are also plenty of fascinating historic sites and beautiful natural attractions, and visitors can explore the area on foot, by bike, or even by hot air balloon. No matter where your interests lie, here are the top things to see and do in Sonoma.
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1.Sonoma Valley Museum of Art
© Sonoma Valley Museum of Art
Situated only moments away from the Sonoma Town Plaza, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art hosts rotating exhibits of modern and contemporary artwork done by local, national, and international artists. There are typically two exhibitions on display at a time, and other museum highlights include an art library, a gift shop, a cafe, and an art studio that hosts year-round workshops and classes. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday between 11am and 5pm, and trained guides are available for several hours a day on Wednesdays and weekends. Admission is free to all visitors every Wednesday.
551 Broadway, Sonoma, CA 95476, Phone: 707-939-7862
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© Courtesy of Teri Wiss - Fotolia.com
Home to almost 1,000 wild animals native to Africa, Safari West is a unique 400-acre wildlife preserve that offers safari opportunities and luxurious overnight accommodation. Guided safari tours last approximately 3 hours, and visitors will have the chance to spot animals from more than 90 distinct species, including zebras, giraffes, cape buffalo, and ring-tailed lemurs. Anyone who would like to extend their stay can book a night in one of the on-site tents; the tents were imported from Africa, and each one includes a private viewing deck, an en suite bathroom, and a continental breakfast.
3115 Porter Creek Rd, Santa Rosa, CA 95404, Phone: 707-579-2551
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3.Trione-Annadel State Park
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Formerly known simply as Annadel State Park, Trione-Annadel State Park is tucked away near the northernmost edge of the Sonoma Valley. The 5,092-acre park is crisscrossed with 35 miles of hiking trails, but visitors should be aware that motorized vehicles are not allowed in the park and dogs, horses, and bicycles are only permitted on designated trails. Fishing is another popular activity here; Lake Ilsanjo is home to a large population of bluegill and black bass. The park is also known for putting on a show of beautiful wildflowers, particularly in the months of April and May.
6201 Channel Dr, Santa Rosa, CA 95409, Phone: 707-539-3911
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4.Charles M Schulz Museum & Research Center
© Charles M Schulz Museum & Research Center
Charles M. Schulz is best known as the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, and the Charles M Schulz Museum & Research Center was created to memorialize his life's work. Visitors to the museum will have the opportunity to marvel at the largest collection of original Peanuts artwork in the world, watch documentaries in the on-site theater, and even see a replica of Schulz's art studio. The museum is open every day except Tuesdays between the beginning of September and the end of May, and guided tours are available but must be made at least 3 weeks in advance. Read more
2301 Hardies Ln, Santa Rosa, CA 95403, Phone: 707-579-4452
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Most visitors to the Sonoma Valley plan wine tastings into their schedule, but those in the know also make time for chocolate tastings at CocoaPlanet. Located not far from the Sonoma Plaza, the CocoaPlanet Tasting Room offers a unique selection of chocolate tastings and wine pairings. An assortment of beverages, desserts, and light French fare like cheese and charcuterie is available as well. Visitors who are truly interested in the chocolate making process might be able to tour the CocoaPlanet Factory; guided tours are available to groups of eight or more people, and reservations must be made in advance.
921 Broadway, Sonoma, CA 95476, Phone: 707-343-7453
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6.Depot Park Museum
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Located inside the rebuilt Northwestern Pacific depot building, the Depot Park Museum tells the story of the Sonoma Valley from the time before European settlement up to the present day. The museum offers both permanent and temporary exhibits; permanent exhibits include three historical train cars, a timeline of Chinese history in the area, and a display on the history of the area as a whole. The museum is open most Saturday and Sunday afternoons between 1pm and 4pm, but it is closed on select holidays. An on-site book store sells small souvenirs and books on Sonoma history.
270 1st St W, Sonoma, CA 95476, Phone: 707-938-1762
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© di Rosa
Founded by well-known art collector Rene di Rosa, di Rosa is home to the world's biggest collection of significant modern and contemporary artworks done by Bay Area artists. Roughly 2,000 pieces of artwork are displayed in three different galleries, and hundreds of sculptures can be found in the Sculpture Meadow and scattered across the beautiful 200-acre di Rosa property. One of the galleries is open to drop-in visitors, but the rest of the galleries and the grounds can only be viewed as part of a guided tour. Tours last approximately 90 minutes, and advance reservations are highly recommended.
5200 Carneros Hwy, Napa, CA 94559, Phone: 707-226-5991
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8.General Joseph Hooker House
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Erected in the 1850s by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Hooker, the General Joseph Hooker House has been carefully restored to the glory of its Civil War days. The pre-cut home was shipped over to America from Sweden, and Hooker only lived in it for a brief time before selling it to a woman named Catherine Vasquez and her husband Pedro. Over the years, the home has also served as a tea room and a library of historical records. A local winery is currently leasing the building, although the Sonoma League for Historic Preservation occasionally uses it for special events.
414 1st St E, Sonoma, CA 95476, Phone: 707-938-0169
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9.General Vallejo's Home
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One of six sites that make up Sonoma State Historic Park, General Vallejo's Home consists of a Gothic Victorian house and a number of outbuildings set on a beautifully landscaped 20-acre property. Vallejo named the property Lachryma Montis, Latin for “mountain tear,” in honor of the free-flowing spring found there; this spring is still one of the highlights of the property. Vallejo and his wife lived here for more than 35 years, and the building and grounds have been carefully maintained. Today, the home is open to the public and furnished with many of the Vallejo's own belongings.
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10.Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves & Vineyard
© Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves & Vineyard
Specializing in sparkling wines, Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves & Vineyard was the first winery in Carneros to plant champagne grape clones. The winery now boasts 335 acres of vineyards, but they're still tended by many of the people who helped to plant the very first grapes. Guided tours of the winery are offered three times a day, and the tasting room is open to the public every day of the week. Reservations are required for groups of seven or more, and the winery is also proud to offer experiences like food and wine pairings, glassware courses, and charming vineyard picnics.
23555 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, CA 95476, Phone: 707-933-1917
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11.Jack London State Historic Park
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Encompassing 1,400 acres on the eastern slope of Sonoma Mountain, Jack London State Historic Park features more than 29 miles of trails and several historic buildings. The park is named after the famous writer and adventurer Jack London, who called the property home in the early 1900s. There are plenty of excellent walking trails in the park, but one of the most interesting is a 2-hour walk that allows visitors to see the buildings and enjoy exhibits telling the story of London's life. Visitors are welcome to explore the park on their own, but free guided tours are offered on weekends.
2400 London Ranch Rd, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, Phone: 707-938-5216
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12.Mission San Francisco Solano
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The last of the California Missions, Mission San Francisco Solano was founded in 1823 and is now a California Historic Landmark and an important part of Sonoma State Historic Park. The church that now stands on the mission grounds is a restored version of the church built in 1840; the last major restoration took place in 1943. One wing of the building has now been converted into a museum displaying mission paintings and other important artifacts, and the former soldiers' barracks across the street from the mission now house a gift shop and a second, smaller museum.
114 E Spain St, Sonoma, CA 95476, Phone: 707-938-9560
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13.Quarryhill Botanical Garden
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Nestled in the heart of the Sonoma Valley, Quarryhill Botanical Garden boasts one of the world's largest collections of wild-sourced Asian plants. The 25-acre properly was formerly an abandoned quarry, but it is now covered in a beautiful array of flowering plants, some of which are rare or endangered. Both guided and self-guided tours are available; visitors who would like to take a guided tour can choose between an hour-long tour by cart or a 90-minute walking tour. Reservations for guided tours are required at least 2 weeks in advance, and all visitors are welcome to make use of the garden's beautiful picnic areas.
12841 CA-12, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, Phone: 707-996-3166
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14.Sonoma Overlook Trail
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Set on a hill right above the City of Sonoma, the Sonoma Overlook Trail is a 3-mile walking path that offers breathtaking views of the Sonoma Valley. The trail is easy enough to be hiked by people of most fitness levels, and there are plenty of benches along the way to the top. Guided tours are available for anyone interested learning more about the area, but hikers will have no problem finding the way to the top on their own. The trailhead can be found right at the entrance to the Mountain Cemetery, and dogs, horses, and bicycles are not permitted on the trail.
198 1st St W, Sonoma, CA 95476
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15.Sonoma State Historic Park
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Unlike most parks, Sonoma State Historic Park is composed of six different sites scattered throughout midtown Sonoma. It's easy to visit all sites in one day; five of the six attractions are located right off the Sonoma Plaza, and the sixth site is less than a mile away. Guided tours of most sites are available to the public on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and private group tours are available as well if reserved in advance. Educational exhibits can be found in the Sonoma Mission, the Sonoma Barracks, and the Vallejo Home, and free parking is available behind the Sonoma Barracks.
20 E Spain St, Sonoma, CA 95476, Phone: 707-935-6832
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16.Sonoma TrainTown Railroad
© Sonoma TrainTown Railroad
First opened to the public in 1968, Sonoma TrainTown Railroad is a 10-acre amusement park full of railroad-themed rides. The highlight of the park is the quarter-scale railroad, which traverses 4 miles of railroad track through the park and makes a stop at the park's miniature town and petting zoo. Other rides include a carousel, a Ferris wheel, and a mine train roller coaster ride. Admission to the park is free; visitors can purchase individual tickets for whichever attractions interest them. The park is open every day of the week during the summer and on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the rest of the year.
20264 Broadway, Sonoma, CA 95476, Phone: 707-938-3912
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17.The California Missions Museum
© The California Missions Museum
Twenty-one missions were built in California between 1769 and 1823, and the California Missions Museum boasts built-to-scale models of each and every one of them. The models were constructed by a team of expert German cabinetmakers in 1939 for the California Pacific Exhibition, and in 1998 they were purchased by the Cline family, who built the museum specifically to preserve and display them. The grounds also offer a beautiful courtyard and several picnic areas that visitors are welcome to enjoy. Admission to the museum is free for all visitors, but large groups are asked to make reservations in advance.
24737 CA-121, Sonoma, CA 95476, Phone: 707-939-8051
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Body Flows has a mission to inspire people to live life with greater passion and purpose, towards personal empowerment and transformation. They fulfill their mission through a range of yoga and wellness retreats and company outings and retreats in Sonoma Wine Country and other exciting destinations in the world. They work with groups from companies, family reunions, bachelorette parties, and groups of friends. They can customize any retreat, selecting favorite activities such as outdoor yoga, meditation, massage, walking and running technique, guided runs and hikes, reiki energy healing, better nutrition, life coaching, and much more. One of the most popular retreats is the Yoga, Hiking and Wine Tasting, a three-day long activity at the scenic Westerbeke Ranch in Sonoma. The retreat combines yoga, hiking, wellness, local food, and delicious wines. Phone: 917-913-1144
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19.Ace It Bike Tours
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The gently rolling hills of Sonoma wine country practically beg to be explored by bicycle, and Ace It Bike Tours helps visitors do just that. All of the company's tours are led by knowledgeable guides, and three options are available: One that brings guests to two or three wineries in the Russian River Valley, one that stops by several of the area's craft breweries, and a third that includes stops at two or three Certified California Sustainable wineries. Tours last between 4 and 4.5 hours, and high-quality bike rentals are available to anyone who would rather explore the area on their own.
Prince Memorial Greenway, Santa Rosa, CA 95401, Phone: 707-688-4063
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20.Active Wine Adventures
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As the name implies, Active Wine Adventures offers special wine tours that include scenic hikes as well as indulgent wine tastings and lunch. The company is proud to bring guests to locally owned boutique wineries, all of which have been selected based on factors like the quality of their wine and their hospitality. The tour price includes round-trip transportation, the services of a guide, water and light snacks, and park entry, but lunch and wine tastings cost extra. Hikes range in difficulty from easy to strenuous, but they all typically take between 2 and 3 hours to complete.
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21.Blue Star Wine Tours
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If you want to explore wine country in luxury, Blue Star Wine Tours is the way to go. The company has access to wineries that other tour companies don't, and they love bringing visitors to exclusive wineries that can only be visited by appointment. All tours are private and tailored to guests' interests and level of expertise; because of this, groups of more than six people require special advance planning. Several unique tour add-ons are available, including vineyard picnics, cave dinners, and barrel tastings, and the company is also happy to help visitors arrange accommodation and other activities in the area.
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22.Buena Vista Winery
© Buena Vista Winery
Founded in 1857, Buena Vista Winery holds the honor of being the oldest commercial winery in the state of California. The winery is open for tastings and tours all throughout the year; tour options include exclusive barrel tastings, private reserve tastings, and visits to the unique on-site wine museum, which explores both the history of wine making and the life of the vineyard founder, Agoston Haraszthy. The winery is also proud to offer wine blending experiences, picnics on the beautiful winery grounds, and guided tours and tastings at some of the other great wineries in the area.
18000 Old Winery Rd, Sonoma, CA 95476, Phone: 800-926-1266
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23.Burke's Canoe Trips
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Located right on the banks of the stunning Russian River, Burke's Canoe Trips offers self-guided canoe and kayak trips down one of the most beautiful sections of the river. Tours begin right at Burke's, and customers will have the chance to paddle down 10 miles of the river before ending up at the company's private beach in the resort town of Guerneville. Guests are free to use the beach for swimming and sunbathing, and there are several other beaches they can stop at along the way as well. Return shuttles are offered from the beach to Burke's every half hour until 6 pm.
8600 River Rd, Forestville, CA 95436, Phone: 707-887-1222
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24.Foodies on Foot
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The Sonoma Valley is well known for its excellent culinary scene, and Foodies on Foot allows visitors to experience the flavors of the area while learning about its fascinating history. Over the course of a 3-hour walking tour, guests will be taken to seven of the best restaurants in the Sonoma Valley for delicious samples of their fare. All food is included in the price of the tour, and guests are welcome to purchase beverages if they so choose. Tours begin at 11am Tuesday through Saturday, and reservations can be made by email or over the phone.
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Catering to visitors who want a unique wine country experience, Sonoma Adventures offers bike and Segway tours to some of the best wineries in the Sonoma Valley. A variety of different tour options are available, but all include high-quality equipment rentals and a gourmet picnic lunch prepared using local ingredients. Most tours come with a knowledgeable guide who is happy to share information about the local history and wine, but the company also offers bike rentals and self-guided bike tours with lunch included. Private tours are available, but even on group tours the guides are always open to last-minute suggestions from customers.
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25 Best Things to Do in Sonoma, California
- Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Photo: Sonoma Valley Museum of Art
- Safari West, Photo: Courtesy of Teri Wiss - Fotolia.com
- Trione-Annadel State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Lynn Yeh - Fotolia.com
- Charles M Schulz Museum & Research Center, Photo: Charles M Schulz Museum & Research Center
- CocoaPlanet, Photo: CocoaPlanet
- Depot Park Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Melastmohican - Fotolia.com
- di Rosa, Photo: di Rosa
- General Joseph Hooker House, Photo: Courtesy of ratnakorn - Fotolia.com
- General Vallejo's Home, Photo: Courtesy of zhu difeng - Fotolia.com
- Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves & Vineyard, Photo: Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves & Vineyard
- Jack London State Historic Park, Photo: Courtesy of Purplexsu - Fotolia.com
- Mission San Francisco Solano, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Quarryhill Botanical Garden, Photo: Courtesy of rusty elliott - Fotolia.com
- Sonoma Overlook Trail, Photo: Courtesy of Tomasz Zajda - Fotolia.com
- Sonoma State Historic Park, Photo: Courtesy of Kristen - Fotolia.com
- Sonoma TrainTown Railroad, Photo: Sonoma TrainTown Railroad
- The California Missions Museum, Photo: The California Missions Museum
- Body Flows, Photo: Courtesy of StockPhotoPro - Fotolia.com
- Ace It Bike Tours, Photo: Courtesy of PHB.cz - Fotolia.com
- Active Wine Adventures, Photo: Courtesy of Aleksey - Fotolia.com
- Blue Star Wine Tours, Photo: Courtesy of jmowens1 - Fotolia.com
- Buena Vista Winery, Photo: Buena Vista Winery
- Burke's Canoe Trips, Photo: Courtesy of Alex Green - Fotolia.comu
- Foodies on Foot, Photo: Courtesy of phildarby - Fotolia.com
- Sonoma Adventures, Photo: Courtesy of yossarian6 - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of digidreamgrafix - Fotolia.com
Wine Country Balloons
The Sonoma Valley is beautiful no matter how you choose to experience it, but Wine Country Balloons offers the truly unforgettable chance to gently float over the rolling vineyards in a hot air balloon. Tours begin just after dawn and end with a special champagne brunch at a local cafe, and guests will be given the opportunity to help inflate and deflate the balloon. For special occasions, the company is happy to arrange custom basket banners and personalized cakes. Balloons can accommodate between two and sixteen passengers, and private tours can be arranged for an additional fee.
397 Aviation Blvd, Santa Rosa, CA 95403, Phone: 707-538-7359