From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
There’s way more to Sonoma than being an enviable name on a wine bottle! Here are our favorite things to see, do, and explore in Sonoma, California.
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
One thing about places where wine can grow: they tend to be incredibly scenic. Luckily for people who hang their hats in this part of northern California, there are a plethora of incredible outdoor areas just outside of town. Here are the best state and national parks, preserves, and greenways in and around Sonoma, CA.
While Sonoma may be quite a ways away from the most famous stands of redwoods in the state, you don’t have to go too far to get a peek at these iconic and majestic trees. Bothe-Napa Valley State Park contains the farthest inland copse of coastal redwoods in the state of California, and it’s only 45 minutes or so from Sonoma. With more than 1,900 acres of beautiful countryside and towering trees, this park is well worth the (scenic) drive!
A smaller park with its own examples of California redwoods and the ferns that tend to populate their understory, North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park is a day-use facility that also contains a four-mile stretch of the famed Bay Area Ridge Trail, popular among area through-hikers. Even less seasoned adventurers will find a trip to this park worthwhile, whether for hiking, biking, horseback riding, or simply kicking back with a picnic and taking in the view.
Ready to head to the coast? Salt Point State Park contains one of the most dynamic northern California beaches, encased in a romantic, foggy, cool climate throughout much of the year. (Think less southern California sunbathing and more picturesque cliffsides being endlessly battered by the powerful and majestic Pacific Ocean.) The drive to this one will take about two hours from Sonoma, but it’s a beautiful trip!
Wander along the dark-sand beaches or take to the water and see these stunning and rugged cliffs from the sea itself. Either way, Sonoma Coast State Park is the perfect jumping-off place for northern California adventures, and includes hiking trails that offer spectacular panoramic views of the ocean and surrounding landscape. (Be sure to pack some layers, though!)
A different kind of state park experience, the Sonoma State Historic Park is tucked right into the center of town — so for one thing, you won’t have to go very far to experience it. Preserving six historic structures scattered across downtown Sonoma, this park offers visitors a view into life in this area before it became the contemporary town it is today. (Attractions include the Mission San Francisco Solano, the Blue Wing Inn, Sonoma Barracks, the Toscano Hotel & Kitchen, and the Servants Quarters, which are the remains of La Casa Grande.)
A landscape as sweet as its name would have you think, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park is situated right on the border of Sonoma and Napa counties, making it a great example of what this part of California was like before it was settled and farmed. Offering 25 miles of hiking trails at a variety of difficulty levels, this park also boasts a breathtaking 25-foot waterfall during the rainy season (from November to April).
Tucked very nearby to Sonoma proper, Trion-Annadel State Park is perhaps best known for its bloom of colorful wildflowers from early spring through summer, particularly along the trail that runs around Lake Ilsanjo. However, given this wilderness’s 5,000-acre size, there are plenty more adventures where that came from, no matter what time of year you visit.
Given the diversity of outdoor areas here in Sonoma, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of hikes for the brave and adventurous to tackle. Whether you’re looking for a slow and comfortable amble close to town or a more out-there adventure, here are the best hiking trails in the greater Sonoma area.
Not sure where to start? Start here, at the Sonoma Overlook Trail, a mostly-easy 2.5-mile hike that only sees about 250 feet of elevation gain over that time. While you’ll encounter gently undulating hills, you’ll get in a bit of a workout and practice for bigger and more challenging hikes… not to mention some incredible views of town and the surrounding hillsides once you arrive at the namesake overlook.
If you’re ready to kick it up a notch, you can add to the hike mentioned above by tacking on some extra trails. When you hike Spotted Fawn, Rattlesnake Cutoff, and the Sonoma Overlook Trail together, you’ll travel about three and a half miles and climb just over 400 feet, making this a hike only slightly more challenging than the Overlook Trail alone. Enjoy even more perspectives on the local landscape and more time to stretch your legs!
A hike whose name is almost as fun to say as the trail itself is to wander, Grape Stomp and You-Walk Miwok Loop is the perfect place to enjoy a moderate-level hike that’s short, but challenging enough to spike your heart rate. Featuring lakeside views and known for its wildflower blooms in the spring and summertime, this trail is also used by runners, so be sure to make way if someone comes zipping by!
Running nearly six and a half miles altogether and seeing almost 1,400 feet in elevation gain, Lake Marie Loop via Skyline Trail and Manzanita Trail is the first hike on this list that’s truly challenging — but still very doable for those in decent shape and who have a bit of outdoor experience under their belt. As its name implies, this trail offers both lakeside views and a skyline overlook, making it truly the best of both worlds.
Ready for some serious adventure? The Goodspeed-Nattkemper Trail to Mount Hood Lookout and Gunsight Lookout hike is a 6.5-mile trail that sees over 2,000 feet in elevation gain along the way, which is to say: it’s pretty darn tough. That said, the two lookouts you’ll achieve at the top of this formidable hill make it all worthwhile… not to mention a wonderful (and enjoyable) workout.
Sonoma is known as a wine region… but what’s a fine glass of wine without some incredible food to pair it with? No wonder this town is also replete with incredible restaurants to enjoy. Here are some of our favorite eateries in Sonoma, no matter what you’re craving.
Offering up freshly-made Mexican delights each and every day of the week, El Molino Central is one of best-loved restaurants of its type in Sonoma, and is especially prized for its tacos, tostadas and tamales. Of course, that’s just the beginning of the wide range of offerings you’ll find at this restaurant, which also features wild halibut ceviche, nachos verdes, and apple crisp for dessert.
Let’s put it this way: Salumeria Ovello was conceived by Chef Andrea Marina, whose storied professional history includes running a Michelin-starred restaurant in none other than Barbaresco, Italy. While the charcuterie platters are probably the main event (and what an event it is), there are plenty of other incredible Tuscan delights to sample, including wild boar ragu and, of course fresh focaccia. Buon appetito!
Looking for the best Indian restaurant in Sonoma? We’ll do you one better. As its name implies, Taste of the Himalayas offers a wide range of cuisine from this area of the world, including not only Indian favorites but also prime examples of Nepalese and Tibetan cooking. Offering cozy patio seating so you can take advantage of the temperate NorCal climate, this one’s a must-visit!
Considered by many to be the best sushi not just in Sonoma, the town, but in Sonoma, the county, Shige is a dinnertime go-to among long-time locals — for good reason. Along with its array of rolls and sashimi, this spot also offers delicious hot dishes like tempura udon noodle soup, katsu, and more.
A locally-sourced eatery focused on fresh, farm-to-table fare for delicious breakfasts, brunches, and lunches, Sunflower Caffé is also known for its variety of vegetarian and vegan options, making this a great choice for the plant-based set. However, don’t think meatless has to mean boring; this joint’s menu includes decidedly indulgent options like poached pear waffles, date-sweetened coconut chia pudding, and more.
Great dining and the great outdoors are, well, great… but they’re just the start when it comes to the best things to do in Sonoma. Here are some more of our top picks, no matter what kind of experience you’re looking for.
Best known as a producer of intoxicants, Sonoma might not sound like the perfect place for kids. But take a closer look, and you’ll find there are plenty of family-friendly to-dos to choose from!
A 10-acre amusement park unlike any other you’ve likely visited in the past, Sonoma TrainTown Railroad is a one-of-a-kind attraction in the valley that both kids and adults will love. While the main attraction is the park’s built-to-scale miniature railway, it also includes a variety of other rides, such as a carousel and a Ferris wheel, tickets to each of which are sold a la carte to ensure your visit is as affordable as possible. (Parking and entry are free!)
A well-manicured garden perfect for an amble on a sunny afternoon, Quarryhill Botanical Garden also bears the distinction of being the home of the largest collection of wild-sourced Asian plants in North America and Europe, so it’s as educational as it is entertaining and just plain beautiful. Along with the plants, visitors will see butterflies and birds, and there are many educational events available for the whole family.
That California sunshine doesn’t last forever, and chances are you’re still going to be amped up for adventures after dark. Good thing there are some wonderful options to consider for post-sunset fun in Sonoma.
Okay, okay — to be fair, in Sonoma, wine tasting isn’t just an after-hours event. It’s available pretty much any time of day, in any direction you choose, and the wine is literally as fresh as possible (or perfectly aged, depending on the bottle you choose). There are so many wineries and tasting rooms in the greater Sonoma area we wouldn’t even attempt to list them all here, but suffice to say, if you need a glass of vino, you’re in luck, and you might just find your new favorite!
A movie theater date is a classic list-topper for folks looking for things for couples to do in Sonoma. But if you really want to step up your game, make the date at Sebastiani Theatre, the town’s best local indie cinema offering a carefully curated selection of both big box-office hits and more avant garde films, all in a cozy, classic setting with delicious concessions.
Northern California isn’t exactly known for being a cheap place to hang out… but that doesn’t mean you can’t find some affordable fun!
The central plaza in town, Sonoma Plaza is the perfect place to meander and do some people watching and window shopping — which you can choose to turn into real shopping, if you like. While there certainly are plenty of places to spend money here, it’s also totally possible to enjoy a cheap, or even free, afternoon wandering around the square!
Technically located in the neighboring community of Glen Ellen, Sculpturesite Gallery is an amazing art gallery whose installations are half outdoors. Wander through these structural masterpieces and, if you’re sick of playing cheap, maybe even take one home for yourself. Outdoor sculptures include abstract and figurative works as well as wind-activated pieces and more!
Want to learn more about the storied past of this wonderful part of the world? Napa Valley Museum offers exhibits that preserve and explain the unique cultural and historical stories of the Napa Valley, Sonoma included, and admission for non-member adults starts at just $15 per head.
Yep, there are some free things to do, even in Sonoma!
While we’ve listed a wide array of state parks and preserves in which to enjoy the great outdoors above, if you’re looking to get outside with your pup, there’s nothing better than a dog park. The Elizabeth Anne Perrone Dog Park is a local favorite for off-leash fun, and chances are you’ll even make some human friends, too! Woof!
As relaxing as it can be to kick back with a glass of vino, sometimes, a trip to the spa or salon is just what the doctor ordered. Here are some of the best day spas and salons in Sonoma for those times you just need to take a little time for yourself.
Often, the best spa treatments aren’t just about the massage or the facial itself. It’s about the entire atmosphere and ambiance in which they’re offered. At Blush, a day spa, you can choose from massage therapy in a wide range of styles, facials, body scrubs, and so much more — they even offer tanning services — and you’ll be treated with friendly and professional courtesy as well as the highest quality ingredients. Spa parties and packages are also available!
Sometimes, what you really need is a change — and a conscious one, at that. Salon Novo offers haircuts, hair coloring, and styling services for men and women, all using only top-of-the-line organic ingredients to ensure your new ‘do is as good for Mother Earth as it is for you.
Staying in shape is a critical part of self care. Here are the best spots to sweat it out in Sonoma.
With a 16,000 foot facility stocked with every kind of cardio and strength-training equipment you can imagine, Sonoma Fit is the comprehensive place for those looking to create a custom full-body workout in town. Plus, if you’re not sure where to start, the fitness center is staffed with helpful, professional trainers and also offers a variety of group classes to help keep you motivated and accountable.
The name is playful, just like good yoga should be — and at Sonoma Like It Hot Yoga, you’ll see why people get addicted to this powerful kind of movement. Offering a range of traditional hot yoga flows as well as some more relaxing yin yoga options, this spot is perfect for finding your strength and center on, and off, the mat.
Ready to leave so soon? Well, while there’s plenty to enjoy in Sonoma itself, it’s true that it’s also located amidst some of the most sought-after travel destinations in California. Here are some great day-trippable options.
The Bay Area is renowned across the country — and the world — as one of the most diverse and eclectic collections of cities on the globe. For Sonoma residents, a trip to San Francisco is just an hour away… and best of all, when you’re done, you can leave the crazy hubbub and come home.
Perhaps the most famous freshwater lake this side of the Mississippi, Lake Tahoe is a must-visit for Californians — in fact, for any west-coaster, if you ask us. Stay in one of the quaint towns bordering its shore or camp out at Tahoe State Recreation Area. Either way, you can’t go wrong!
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Sonoma that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Sonoma? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.