Tour the Wineries This Fall: A Voyage to the Vineyards
Visiting Sonoma County’s famed Wine Country doesn’t mean you’re required to only taste wine, get massages, or explore 50-plus miles of Pacific coastline. (Though, doesn’t that sound delicious?)
With a zip line through the top of a redwood forest, an African safari, and a thrilling road course, Sonoma County boasts every type of activity, ensuring you have something to write home about. Hike through a regional park, or paddle down the Russian River in a canoe. Take a cooking class, visit a farm, learn to blend wine, play golf, dance the night away, or visit an art gallery.
With 1,400 miles of lightly traveled secondary roads and a growing system of off-road bike trails, Sonoma County appeals to a dedicated cyclist attacking mountain passes or a weekend rider eager to sip wine and cycle through the vines.
Wine enthusiasts already know of Sonoma County’s 425-plus famed wineries and 17 distinct wine-growing areas that allow vintners to produce a stunning array of wines in an area slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island.
Many visitors are pleasantly surprised to find that wine tasting in Sonoma County is a casual, friendly affair without pretense. Many tasting rooms offer free tastings, and often the person pouring the wine is the winemaker, eager to talk about the product and how it is made.
Sonoma County offers more than wine. The rugged mountains of western Sonoma County, where the Russian River flows past redwood-topped ridges, stand over the 50-plus miles of Pacific Ocean coastline, offering stunning views along California’s famed Highway 1. Coastal towns like Bodega Bay entice seafood lovers with the bounty from the ocean. Dungeness crab is sold from the back of boats, and salmon and cod are featured on local menus.
Further inland, Guerneville serves as both the West Coast’s “favorite gay and lesbian playground” and the entry point to the famed Armstrong Redwoods, a stand of old-growth trees where it is possible to get far from the crowds and enjoy the ancient giants in solitude.
Charming small towns typify western Sonoma County, with the “Bohemian Connection” encompassing bastions of freethinkers in Occidental, Freestone and Monte Rio. Excellent inns, small wineries, artisan foods, and even a spa that has gone “green” are to be found along the Bohemian Highway.
Ranching and organic farms and orchards give way to orderly rows of grapevines and the cities and towns of Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Windsor, Geyserville, Sonoma, Cloverdale, Glen Ellen, Kenwood, and more. Michelin-rated restaurants, fine hotels, fun bed & breakfasts, unique inns, quiet spas, and even an African-style tent safari – Safari West – are the order of the day.
Just 30 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, the city of Petaluma invites visitors to explore the southern portions of Sonoma County with river-front access to the historic downtown, lined with shops, restaurants, and nightlife. At the extreme southern end of Sonoma County, the San Pablo Wildlife Refuge offers expansive views of the marshes and wetlands that drain into the San Pablo Bay and the greater San Francisco Bay.
Of course, Sonoma County isn’t all wine and wildlife, as the furious racing action at Sonoma Raceway shows. NASCAR, Indy-Car, and motorcycle racing are big draws as some of the biggest names compete on a road track with 11 challenging turns. Those wanting to experience racing on a more personal level can suit up and jump in a real race car at a driving school at the track.
Photos by Mariah Harkey