Breathtaking coastline, quaint seaside villages, ancient forests, and delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay you won't find at home. Add Sonoma County to you wine vacation wishlist.
As far as wine regions go, Sonoma County has to be the world's most charming.
Less commercial and more sincere than California's renowned Napa Valley to the east, Sonoma is a stunning natural wonderland that takes in the seaside and ancient forests along with its many unique vineyards.
Best known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, when wine tasting, make sure you shop your favourite bottles and investigate shipping home. Californian wine is hard to come by here in Australia, and most of the varietals on this trail are unavailable in even our most well-stocked wine stores.
From the coast to the vines, there is so much to take in. Here's how to make the most of one day in Sonoma County.
Getting there: Highway One
From San Francisco city, head north across the iconic rust red Golden Gate Bridge and make your way onto Highway One. This unmissable scenic route hugs the cliffs of the Californian coast with dramatic twists and bends, rolling green hills, lush forests, and spectacular views out across the glassy Pacific.
Make sure you drive in daylight hours to catch the view (bonus points for sunrise or sunset), and take your time—the journey is about two and a half hours but there are plenty of charming seaside villages to visit along the way. Stop at Cafe Reyes at Point Reyes Station for woodfired pizza or fresh shucked local oysters. Cowgirl Creamery is a haven of organic small-batch artisanal cheese, and you'll find vintage glassware, locally-made ceramics, and jewellery to peruse at Flower Power.
9:30 AM: Whale watch at Bodega Bay
This rocky inlet is considered to be the gateway to Sonoma County. You'll want to pause along the breathtaking cliffs, which will be covered in pink and creamy yellow ice plant daisies in spring. From March through June, keep an eye out for Californian grey whales touring up the coast to the Arctic feeding grounds.
Cliffs at Bodega Bay, image by Joshua Pritchard.
10:30 AM: Coffee at Taylor Lane Organic Coffee
Head inland towards Sebastapol for a serious coffee from the baristas and expert regional roasters at Taylor Lane. Coffee buffs will appreciate Taylor Lane's espresso, French press, AeroPress, and Chemex brews. For something sweeter, there are doughnuts from Santa Rosa's Red Bird Bakery, and for something healthy, try locally-made oak-aged Marin Kombucha on tap.
12:00 PM: Wine tasting and long lunch at Russian River Vineyards
Led by young winemaker and Sonoma County native Giovanni Balistreri (Gio for short), Russian River Vineyards is the perfect place to begin your wine journey in Sonoma. Gio has converted the 60s-era hop kiln barn into a tasting room—and it's here that you'll be able to sample his sublimely balanced Appian Way Pinot Noir.
Afterwards, head into the organic produce garden where you'll find the vegetables, edible blooms, and inspiration for your lunch on the sunny patio. Executive Chef Ben Davies works with head farmer Kayta Brady to craft seasonal menus for the vineyard's restaurant. Think broccoli velouté, farm crudité, duck confit, and pork tenderloin—paired with Gio's wine, of course.
The patio at Russian River Vineyard, image by Joshua Pritchard.
2:00 PM: Afternoon in Armstrong Redwood
California's towering redwoods are home to some of the world's tallest and oldest living things. Armstrong Redwood is a magical, awe-inspiring sanctuary of just about 805 hectares and is an absolute must-see in Sonoma County. The oldest tree in the preserve is Colonel Armstrong, at approximately 1400 years old.
The tallest is Pason Jones at a little under 100 metres tall, and the most burl-heavy is Icicle. There are a number of short self-guided trails to choose from—choose the Discovery Trail to find a special 'tree-hugging' platform.
Towering trees in Armstrong Redwood, image by Joshua Pritchard.
3:00 PM: Wine tasting
There are about 400 wineries in Sonoma County, so you'll want to grab a map of the region and pick out few favourites to visit. For an afternoon, we recommend stopping in at the red barn at Martinelli Wines, booking a tour of the wine caves at Thomas George Estates, taking in the view at Garry Farrel Winery, and sampling the Pinots at Lynmar Estate.
While most tastings will be free of charge, you'll need to call ahead and book a tasting at smaller vineyards.
6:00 PM: Spend the night at Timber Cove Resort
For dinner and somewhere to stay, a spectacular sunset, some art history, and a soothing ocean breeze—make your way back out to the coast to Timber Cove Resort. Set on the crest of a cliff, this truly magical mid-century modern hotel was built in the 60s by Richard Clements and recently restored by Gensler Architects.
At sundown, take a stroll along cliffside pathways and spot seals, or visit the venue's famous 28-metre high mosaiced peace obelisk. Created by San Francisco artist and sculptor Beniamino Bufano, the sculpture was intended to be a peace sign during the Cuban missile crisis.
For dinner, try Timber Cove Resort's restaurant and bar, Coast Kitchen. Savour the ocean views as well as seasonal Sonoma County fare and neighbouring regional drops like Flowers Chardonnay (which is made just 10 minutes from Timber Cove).
On the menu is local seafood with a polished, modern twist: tuna tartar with seaweed salad, jalapenos, avocado puree, habanero sesame oil, and squid ink chicharron, for example. For dessert, we recommend a brave scoop of locally made blue cheese ice cream (trust us, it's delicious).