Visiting Sonoma Wine Country Guide | Sonoma Wine Country Weekend Itinerary Guide

Sunset just outside Mayo Family Winery near the Sonoma Wine Country AVA of Carneros. In this area, berries often line the vineyards and are used as an early warning system for when the vines may need to be protected from pests, rot or disease. These berries are more susceptible to these threats, so once a threat is observed, Vintners have time to protect their vines.

Whether you’re doing a Sonoma Wine Country weekend getaway or visiting for a longer period of time — Sonoma County has something for everyone. Explore the region, the food, the unique boutique wineries tucked away behind the rolling hills or the beautiful miles of coastline. One thing that stands out to me in particular about Sonoma is the quality of people that inhabit and work the region.

Sonoma Wine Country offers travelers an opportunity to taste great wine and explore a truly beautiful landscape. This area of California wine country is dramatically different from neighboring Napa Valley — where commercialism is much less prevalent and prices are far lower.

In this guide, we’ll detail some unique information for traveling through Sonoma, as well as document some specific restaraunts and wineries that are worth visiting. In fact, as you read through this guide, be sure to check out some of the links we include to see in-depth reviews and interviews with some of the wineries and winemakers we have recently visited.

Map of Sonoma Wine Country and Sonoma AVA'sBackground on Sonoma Wine Country

The entirety of Sonoma County is comprised of 17 individual AVAs — with more on the way. Each AVA has its own unique Terroir and distinctive personality, making this very accessible region surprisingly diverse.

All told, Sonoma spans over 1500+ square miles across about 55+ miles of California’s North-central coastline. Over 60,000 acres of property contain grape vines planted by over 400 wineries. Sonoma is the largest producer of wine in all of Northern California. It’s safe to say that if you’re into wine, you’ve found yourself in the right place.

In terms of climate, Sonoma experiences one that is broadly Mediterranean. This means that even during the winter season, temperatures rarely go below freezing, but the environment will be cold and wet. In the Summer, it can be hot and dry, yet it’s not typically oppressive.

While this may broadly explain Sonoma’s climate, it wouldn’t be fair to characterize the entire region in this way.  Each AVA, and in some cases individual vineyards, have distinct micro-climates. In general, climate is largely determined by how close regions are to the Pacific Ocean, their elevation and the effect that natural obstructions such as mountains and or hills have on vineyard plantings.

Chardonnay grape vines found at Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma Wine Country

Exploring between the Chardonnay vines at Gundlach Bundschu winery in Sonoma California. Gunlach Bundschu (Often called Gun Bun) is the oldest family run winery in continuous operation found within all of California.

Officially Recognized Sonoma County AVA’s (As of 2016)

Note that over 40 grape varieties are grown through Sonoma County. However, given the diverse terroir of each AVA, some are more recognized than others in certain regions. Below, we’ll highlight the best-known grape varieties found in each individual AVA.

Also keep an eye out of Old World grape varieties being grown by some innovative producers throughout the valley, especially within Southern Sonoma. These varieties range from Italian varietals such as Sangiovese, to Spanish varietals such as Carignan. Bordeaux blends and grape varieties are also commonly found and can be fantastic, such as those occasionally crafted at Benzinger Family Winery depending on the year.

  • Alexander Valley (Epic Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • Bennett Valley (Chardonnay, Merlot)
  • Carneros–Sonoma (Great Pinot Noir)
  • Chalk Hill (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • Dry Creek Valley (Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • Fort Ross-Seaview (Pinot Noir)
  • Fountaingrove District (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah)
  • Green Valley (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir)
  • Knights Valley (Fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • Moon Mountain (Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • Northern Sonoma (Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • Petaluma Gap (Not Officially Recognized — Yet — Under Construction)
  • Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak (Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • Rockpile (Zinfandel)
  • Russian River Valley (Fantastic Chardonnay / Pinot Noir)
  • Sonoma Coast (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir)
  • Sonoma Mountain (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay)
  • Sonoma Valley (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay)

While Sonoma may be best known for its wine production, don’t forget that given the diverse landscape, small towns, accommodation and cuisine found throughout the region — there is plenty of hiking, biking, sailing, relaxing, shopping and exploring available to the enthusiastic traveler.

Getting to Sonoma Wine Country from San Francisco - Sonoma Wine Country Map

 

Getting to Sonoma Wine Country

As mentioned, Sonoma is a very accessible wine region. Sonoma proper, or Sonoma Square, is approximately 45 miles North of San Francisco — about a 1 hour drive taking the US-101 N highway route (as long as traffic is minimal when leaving San Francisco).

We recommend flying into SFO (San Francisco International Airport), and then driving North to Sonoma. You can use a travel rewards credit card to fly for free — like I did on JetBlue.

Getting Around Sonoma Wine Country

Depending on the kind of traveler you are, traversing the region offers an invigorating experience. Even if all you end of doing is driving up the coast. Below, we’ll break down some noteworthy places and activities that are worth exploring on your next visit to Sonoma Wine Country.

Eating in Sonoma

From fine dining to casual brunch and barbecue-style restaurants, there’s no shortage of great cuisine found throughout Sonoma. While we can’t cover every possible eatery in this one article, below we’ll highlight some of our favorites and specifically what makes them special (Click links for Menu’s). For more recommendations, be sure to check out our individual AVA guides.

  • Drake’s Sonoma Coast Cuisine
    • Recommended for a Sunset Dinner
    • Epic Coastal Views
    • Organic, Fresh Produce
    • Artisan Cheese
    • Great Seafood, Meat & Poultry Dishes
  • John Ash & Co. Restaurant
    • Seasonal, American Wine Country Dishes
    • Farm-to-Table
    • Well-known Sonoma Restaurant
    • Pizza, Pasta, Steak, Seafood, Local
  • El Dorado Kitchen & Hotel
    • Perfect for Brunch
    • Local, Fresh
    • Warm & Refreshing Ambiance & Staff
    • Wide-range of Fresh Food Options
    • Soups, Salads, Seafood, Meat, Poultry, Small Plates, Veggies, Dessert, Cheeses
    • Located in the Heart of Sonoma Square
  • Swiss Hotel Sonoma
    • Quaint, Old-style Interior
    • Romantic Outdoor Patio
    • Fantastic Pasta’s
  • KINSmoke Barbecue
    • BBQ Pit
    • Slow-cooked Meats over California Oak & Cherry
    • Beef short ribs, Brisket, St. Louis Style Pork Ribs, Pork Shoulder, Homemade Sausage, Chicken
    • Mac & Cheese
    • Family Friendly
  • The Girl and the Fig
    • “Country Food with a French Passion”
    • Recommended for Breakfast, Brunch & Lunch
    • Popular, Reservations Recommended
    • Wide Range of Exquisite, Organic Food

Hotels in Sonoma

Accommodation ranges widely throughout the region. From AAA 4 Star Luxury hotels along the Sonoma Coast, to casual Bed & Breakfasts. As long as you book your rooms well in advance, the chance of finding an affordable and comfortable hotel is well within reach. Below, we’ll list out a couple that stand out to us. You can also search on Expedia for additional options or use Airbnb if you’re traveling on a budget.

Top Pick:

Ravenswood Winery - Sonoma Valley - Best Zinfandel Ravenswood Winery

Outside Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma on a rainy, foggy day. Ravenswood is a well known winery here, perhaps best known for their world-class Zinfandel production.

Wine Tasting Sonoma

With over 430 wineries currently dotting 17 individual appellations throughout the region, it’s really impossible to hit them all. Even if you live in Sonoma. We’ll highlight a few below that we love — perfect of a Sonoma wine country weekend getaway — be sure to follow our individual guides and itineraries for more specifics.

  • BR Cohn
    • Owned by Bruce Robert Cohn – Former Doobie Brothers Manager
    • First Jewish Winery
    • Beautiful Tasting Room
    • Fine Olive Oil
    • Live Music Periodically
    • Mid-price
  • Benzinger Family Winery
    • Great Red (Bordeaux) Style Blends
    • Tasting Room Recently Re-finished
  • Imagery Estate Winery
    • Owned by Benzinger
    • Modern Art Gallery Aesthetic
    • VIP Area
    • Unique Grapes & Blends
  • Chateau Saint-Jean
    • Popular
    • Reserve Tasting Room Has Nicer Wine
    • Picnic Areas
    • Reserve Tastings
  • Landmark Vineyards
    • Great Pinot Noir
    • Great White Wine
    • Reservation May Be Required
  • Saint Francis Winery & Vineyards
    • Nice Tasting Room
    • Great Wines Across the Board
  • Cline Cellars
    • Old World, Funky Wines
    • Hipster-esque
    • Reasonable Price
    • Fun People, Fun Atmosphere
  • Ravenswood Winery
    • Tucked Away in the Hills near Sonoma Square
    • Friendly Staff
    • World-class Zinfandel
  • Arrowood Vineyards
    • Beautiful Estate
    • Owner used to run Chateau Saint-Jean
    • Great Cabernet
  • Kunde Family Winery
    • Beautiful Property
    • High Cieling Tasting Room
    • Great Syrah
  • Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery
    • Expansive Tasting Room
    • Great Reserve Wines
    • Friendly Staff
    • Conveniently Located Near Sonoma Square
  • Mayo Family Winery
    • Small, Bright & Intimate Tasting Room
    • Friendly Staff
    • Open Later than Most Other Tasting Rooms (6:30)
  • Muscardini Cellars
    • Indoor Tasting Room, Small, Intimate
    • Unique Reds
    • Open Late (6:30)
    • Indoor / Outdoor Seating
    • Live Music Outside Depending on Day
  • Gundlach Bundschu
    • Oldest Continuously Running Family-run Winery in Sonoma
    • First Caves in Sonoma
    • Beautiful Property / Vineyards
    • Great Reserve Wines
    • Cozy Tasting Room

Want to explore more wineries throughout Sonoma? Take a look at all 430+ wineries here, courtesy of Sonoma County.

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