Ahh... California wine country. As an Oregonian since age 2, I feel like a bit of a traitor writing an entire series about Sonoma County wine country. But hey, it's February: the month of LOVE, right? I like to think that we've come to the point in wine's evolution where Oregon wines and California wines play nicely together, support one another, and live along this gorgeous and diverse West Coast in peaceful harmony.
After all, one of Oregon's best Syrahs actually contains grapes from California.
So in the spirit of LOVE and wine industry harmony, I am excited to share a four-part series on California Wine Country: Sonoma County.
It all began with a celebration...
Twenty years ago this past November, my husband and I started dating. Twenty years and five cities, four states, two houses, six apartments, three dogs, a few "breaks," one fabulous wedding, two amazing kids, and a whole lotta wine.
So naturally, wine country was the perfect destination to celebrate. We've visited Washington Wine Country for my husband's 40th birthday, and are constantly out and about in Oregon wine country. California wine country was still an unknown to us, so we planned out a general route, thanks to help from The Wine Road, friends on Twitter and Facebook.
Getting to Sonoma
Did you know that Alaska Airlines has direct flights into the Santa Rosa/Sonoma County (STS) airport from several large cities? You could fly into San Francisco, but if you can fly directly into Santa Rosa/Sonoma County, I highly recommend it -- it will save you a lot of time. AND not only that, but when you fly out of the Santa Rosa/Sonoma County airport, you can fly home with a case of wine per person for FREE.
Renting a Car
If you decide to stay at a hotel in the town of Sonoma, you should know that a one-way cab ride from the STS airport costs around $100. Our tip? Rent a car right from the airport. If you get an economy car or the next level up, you'll save a lot of money. That said, we had no idea, and we had a FABULOUS cab driver from the airport to our hotel in Sonoma. He was great! But, it was still $100.
Getting around Sonoma County
The most surprising thing about Sonoma wine country for us was just how long it took to get from Point A to Point B. Vineyards and towns are spread out, and because even the main highways go through small towns, the speed limits are lower, so it takes quite a while to go from one place to another here. You will definitely need to rent a car in Sonoma wine country, as there isn't really fast, reliable public transportation, or you can hire a car, which can be a fun option for wine tasting, especially if you are celebrating a special occasion.
Thanks to STI Drive, we were outfitted with a complimentary Mitsubishi Lancer. It was nice driving this sporty sedan since it was just me and my husband, without the kids or dog.
I spent months researching hotels, which not only includes checking out Trip Advisor reviews (which is the #1 reason we selected our Lake Como hotel last year), their website, and asking friends, but also following them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
We narrowed it down to two hotels and chose the Inn at Sonoma, which is part of the Four Sisters Inns family of hotels.
Inn at Sonoma
630 Broadway Street, Sonoma, California 95476
Rates: $200 - $395 per night
Highlights: Fresh cookies in the lobby each afternoon, a wine & cheese hour 5-6:30 each day, free parking for hotel guests, hot tub, many rooms have balconies and fire places, hot buffet breakfast.
Overall, we enjoyed our stay. The room was comfortable, and the hotel is located within walking distance of the Sonoma town square with restaurants and shops. The location is also great because it's set off of the main street, so it's fairly quiet. The hotel staff were nice, and not intrusive, but they weren't overly helpful either.
Another Sonoma hotel option:
El Dorado Hotel
405 First Street West, Sonoma, California 95476
707·996·3030 | firstname.lastname@example.org
The El Dorado is located right on one of the main streets that surrounds the town square, so if you want to be right in the heart of the action, within very close walking distance to restaurants and shops, this is a great option. I've heard the rooms are lovely but depending on which room you get, and the time of year and week that you stay here, the noise level can get a little crazy. However, I think that's also a little expected when you're staying right on the main street. The hotel's restaurant is excellent, and I'll be sharing my review of our dinner there in a future post.
About Sonoma County
Sonoma and Napa are very different, and offer tourists different experiences. Napa is a little more Hollywood, a little more slick and spendy; Sonoma is Napa's more casual, down-to-earth cousin. Lest you forget, vineyards are farms. Making wine? It's farming - hard work, science, bound by nature, and grown with love by the farmers who care for the land. Sonoma is very much still homegrown vineyards and farmers.
Sonoma is stretches of colorful grapevines over slightly rolling hills, that are dotted with cows and sheep and decades old farming equipment next to shiny large pickup trucks. Huge oak trees and faux French chateaus. And now, there's a huge casino, that happened to open right before our visit.
But we won't talk about that crazy casino that seems obviously out of place. Let's pretend that monstrosity doesn't exist.
Sonoma can be beautiful and breathtaking in the most unexpected moments.
There is a main square in the heart of town where you will find the majority of restaurants and shops you'll want to visit, but before you get there, you'll pass through an interesting mix of poverty and middle class housing.
Sonoma is small, cozy, comfortable; it's like that favorite sweater that you've had for 20 years and still love to wrap yourself in its familiarity and warmth as you gather near the fire.
People smile when they are out and about in Sonoma. They stroll, arm in arm.
The pace is slower, and the sweetness is catching. It's a really lovely place to spend time with your partner in crime of 20 years.
What to Wear in Sonoma Wine Country
Unless you are here for a wedding or other formal event, you can leave the formalwear at home. T-shirts or blouses, sweaters, and jeans will take you from casual wine tastings and vineyard tours to dinners out easily. You can wear casual or work dresses to dinner instead of jeans if you want, but I don't recall seeing any suits while we were out and about. Guys: think nice work shirts and either jeans or slacks here, but no ties necessary. The days are warmer, but the nights can get very cold, so be sure to dress in layers, bring a light coat no matter what time of year, and pack a variety of shoes (do not wear open-toed shoes on vineyard tours, as the grounds may be muddy). The key phrase here is classy casual; think West Coast casual.
The Wine Road
Planning a trip to Sonoma and want to learn more?
Check out www.wineroad.com. You can get a free map (which we found very helpful) by calling 800.723.6336 or sending an email to email@example.com.