Wine aficionados already know about Sonoma. But for those who are a little intimidated by the concept of “wine country”, let it be known there is much more to discover than the meaning of tannins and reserves.
Drive into the California countryside, and there’s something in the air that allows your worries to dissipate somewhere in between Carneros and the Russian River Valley. In addition to the vistas, inside each winery or store you’ll find friendly faces who treat you as though you’re an old friend, and you’ve come back to your hometown for a long-overdue visit. They’re there to share the joys of Sonoma with you, and wine is only the beginning. Grab your road trip partner, roll down the windows, and toss on your favorite playlist for a full-fledged sensory experience, Sonoma style.
Stop One: Local-Approved Coffee
Where: Basque Cafe
Why: Charming little tables and wicker chairs line the outside of Basque Cafe, right in Sonoma Square. You’ll see the easy-going crowd biting in to pastries as fresh as the morning air, accompanied by smooth cappuccinos and lattes. Step inside and you’ll quickly realize this is the hub for the homegrown: the people behind the counter seem to have everyone’s usual order memorized, yet they greet unfamiliar faces with the same enthusiasm. Basque specializes in sourdough, sweet french breads, and of course, custard-filled and fluffy pastries. If have a sweet tooth, the cream-filled cronut (croissant donut), dusted in sugar, is a must try. Don’t be surprised to see the same faces behind the tasting counter at a winery later in the day.
Stop Two: Get Your Shopping Fix
Where: Sonoma Square
Why: Now that you’re sufficiently fuelled (for a little while, anyway), it’s time to peruse the stores that line the downtown square. From artisan cheese to unique threads and delectable chocolate, you’ll find a souvenir for everyone. First on the don’t-miss list is Wine Country Chocolates. It’s a small room filled with the intoxicating scent of cocoa, where cases of truffles, baskets of almond bark, and chocolate-dipped fruits and populate the space. If you can’t pack enough into your purse, they have a “Truffle Club,” so chocolate enthusiasts can have a box of special truffles delivered to their door each month (sign us up!). Next up, cross the square park to find La Bella Vita–a women’s clothing store that has everything from 30’s style flapper dresses to cozy nightgowns. Last on the hit-list is Figone’s Olive Oil, where olive oil experts (that’s a thing in California) will prove there is much more to it than extra virgin. We love the lemon olive oil that’s in perfect miniature bottles for packing in your suitcase.
Stop Three: Lunch Time, Diner Style
Where: Fremont Diner
Why: Drive in to the gravel parking lot at Fremont Diner and you’ll feel as though you’ve landed smack dab on the set of a Western. It’s unpretentious and incredibly charming; a screened-in porch allows the afternoon breeze to cool the colorful, rustic space. On the menu you’ll find diner must-haves like fried chicken and biscuits n’ ham, mixed with trendy Cali dishes like a kale caesar salad and a fried oyster po’boy sandwich. Wash down your lunch with a pint of Ruhstaller amber beer or an evolution lemonade for full-out belly bliss.
Stop Four: A Tasting Fit for Royalty
Where: Ledson Winery
Why: A 30-minute drive will bring you from the rustic Fremont Diner to a European-style castle. Ledson Winery is a striking architectural masterpiece, and when you open up the heavy oak double doors to discover the grand entrance, you won’t be disappointed. Make an appointment before you visit for a guided tasting in one of Ledson’s beautiful private rooms. Each tasting room offers breathtaking views of the estate’s impeccable grounds. Ledson produces around 80 different varietals and sells exclusively on site and to wine club members–so be sure to save plenty of room in your trunk (especially for a case of their Zinfandel). Otherwise, you can have cases shipped right to your doorstep or join the club for monthly deliveries.
Stop Five: Farm-Fresh Dinner
Where: El Dorado Kitchen
Why: Make your way back to Sonoma Square for an early dinner at El Dorado Kitchen. From the outside, the Cape Cod-style building with warm yellow and white walls and navy accents will remind you of a chic seaside restaurant. But step inside and you’ll find the signature California balance of classy and relaxed. An open kitchen faces the warmly lit dining room, and french doors open to an al fresco courtyard. Whether you have a hankering for hearty or light, freshness rules all: from scrumptious salmon tartare with mango to ricotta ravioli, the locally-sourced ingredients are fused together seamlessly. Whatever you end up choosing for dinner, it’s a crime to leave without trying an order of the truffle fries.
Stop Six: Oh, What A Night!
Where: Jack London State Park
Why: Once you’ve enjoyed broadway under the California stars in lieu of a stuffy theatre, you might never go back. Each summer, the Transcendence Theatre Company puts on a special series in the scenic surroundings of Jack London State Park, just a few miles from downtown in Glen Ellen. Broadway in the Park runs from June through September, and each show in the summer series mixes broadway tunes with classics and current pop hits for performances that are always energetic. This year, Broadway in the Park kicks off with “Oh What a Night!”, a show featuring songs that have inspired people to “live life to the fullest”–an appropriate ending to your day in Sonoma, and a surefire way to say goodnight on a high note. See event details here.
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