Most tourists think of Napa Valley wine tasting when they plan a trip to Northern California. But there’s a hidden gem right next door that offers a ton of things to do. From breathtaking coastlines to giant redwoods to wineries and breweries, visitors should take a look at Sonoma County. It’s 2.5 times the size of Napa County and features some incredible natural wonders. You could spend many days visiting all the cools spots so we’ve compiled some of our “must see” activities to make the most of your visit.
The Pacific Coast
Sonoma County has 76 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline and every inch is spectacular! The waters are cold and unappealing to swimmers but the shear beauty is a sight to behold. Plan for cool weather at the coast no matter when you go with an average temperature ranging from 55-75F. Your best bet is to dress in layers.
If you decide to visit the coast, a trip to Bodega Head is a must. Spectacular waves crashing into towering cliffs are simply awesome and are a photographers dream. Enjoy the easy hike around the bluff for endless views. You might even spot a whale!
Here are some of our other favorite coastal destinations:
Towering redwood trees are legendary and you can see them up close and personal at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. The oldest tree is over 2000 years old and the tallest is over 379 feet tall! The state run park features easy walking trails and more challenging hiking trails to fit any activity level. A wildfire in 2020 has left it’s mark with some closures in effect. But visitors can see burn damage up close and the resilience and rejuvenation of these incredible trees.
Sonoma County offers a number of Regional Parks offering a variety of outdoor activities. Hiking trails vary from easy to challenging but all feature beautiful outdoor settings. The parks charge a nominal parking fee making them a great travel value. For those who can’t decide which to visit, we offer our top 3 picks below:
- Doran Beach: Huge beach for long walks or just sitting on the beach
- North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park: Hikers are rewarded with spectacular views of the Santa Rosa valley
- Tolay Lake Regional Park: The hike to the top is a moderate challenge but the view of the San Francisco Bay makes it worthwhile
If you’re looking for serious relaxation, a spa day can be tough to be beat. A little self care is a great way to go from ragged to rejuvenated. Here are some of our favorites:
- The Spa at Bodega Bay Lodge – Bodega Bay
- Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary – Freestone
- The Spa at The Lodge – Sonoma
While Napa Valley may be better known for it’s wineries, Sonoma County has a lot to offer as well. With 425 wineries covering 19 AVAs to choose from, you can be sure to find something to your liking. This part of Northern California features a number of “micro-climates” that lend themselves to a tremendous variety of wines. If you’re visiting the area for wine tasting, it’s worth spending a day in Sonoma County. Some of our favorites include:
- Ledson Winery – Stunning grounds in Kenwood, CA
- La Crema – featuring pinot noir and chardonnay in a peaceful setting near Windsor, CA
- Gloria Ferrer – lovely setting near the beautiful town of Sonoma, CA
If a cold refreshing beer is more your style, Sonoma County has you covered. With over 30 craft breweries and brew pubs, you’ll have no problem finding a good pint! In fact, some of the best craft brews are made right here and getting them fresh at the breweries is a real treat.
Some of the better known breweries include Lagunitas Brewing, Russian River Brewing and Bear Republic. But if you’re looking to sample some of the local favorites that are hard to find outside Sonoma County, we recommend these great breweries:
- Henhouse Brewing: Hands down favorite where beer freshness is a priority. If you can only visit one, this is it!
- Old Caz Brewing: Tucked away in an industrial lot in Rohnert Park featuring awesome beer choices
- Crooked Goat Brewing: Great ambience in the hip town of Sebastopol. Check their live music schedule for a great time!
Places to Visit
Sonoma County is home to a number of towns that are worth a trip regardless of what you like to do. The towns we list offer visitors a charming experience while offering great food, drink and shopping to fill out any day.
No visit to Sonoma County would be complete without a trip to the town of Sonoma. With an interesting history and a walkable town square, this is a very popular destination. Some of the best restaurants in the country are here along with plenty of great wine tasting choices nearby. If you have kids with you, give Train Town a look. With amusements rides and train rides, the kids will love it!
Sebastopol is a very hip, laid back city featuring some really nice parks and restaurants. Be sure to check out The Barlow which has a walkable array of shops, restaurants, wine tasting and beer outlets.
Like the town of Sonoma, Healdsburg features a cool downtown square surrounded by a number of eateries, shops and wine tasting opportunities. Healdsburg is considered the heart of Sonoma County wine country. There are some very trendy restaurants but be sure to book ahead as getting a table can be a challenge during busy times.
Petaluma is a city featuring an old school downtown core surrounded by more traditional suburban homes. The downtown is definitely worth a visit with plenty of shops, restaurants and pubs. Don’t be surprised if you come upon some free live music in Putnam Plaza Park on a Saturday or Sunday.