Looking for ideas on how to enjoy a fabulous wine tasting weekend in Sonoma, California? I returned to Sonoma County and not only tasted some fabulous pinot noirs from some of the best wineries in Sonoma, but also found that are many things to do in Sonoma besides wine tours (but those are great too!)
I returned to Sonoma, California in early January 2019, after my first taste of skiing in California (you read it right) at Lake Tahoe. With this being our first time in California in the Winter, I thought that some lovely red wines, cheese and fireplaces would be pretty perfect. And some shopping as well, because… it is California.
Day 1 in Sonoma County
We arrived in Sonoma mid-afternoon and checked in at our first (of two) hotel: the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa, where we planned to not leave at all until the next morning.
Located 10 minutes away from downtown Sonoma, it is regarded as one of the best hotels in the area and known for its spa and restaurant. In the name of research, that was exactly our plan for the afternoon and evening.
Our room was very comfortable with traditional decor – which contrasted quite a bit with the other parts of the hotel. The lobby has been redone, and so has the spa (which was excellent).
We both enjoyed a stress recovery massage ($189 for 60 minutes) as post skiing we really needed it. Worth saying that at this stage of the trip, I was walking a bit better (but still limping as you can see in the video above). The therapist noticed and spent extra time on my foot and it really made a difference.
Dinner was really special – Sante, the Fairmont restaurant is regarded as one of the most special places in the area and one of the things I loved about it was how casual it felt. Think cashmere jumper and Chanel flats in the winter because of the fabulous fireplace and the delicious food. I am not making this up as its website states ‘wine country casual‘ as the official dress code. So yes, it was a bit different than Beverly Hills or Newport Beach.
Worth noting (and the reason why there is a photo of bread above) – that the sourdough was probably one of the best we have ever had. It was so good, we asked where it came from and were determined to go there at some point during the trip.
The menu is seasonal so it varies – dinner for 2 was around $300 with wines by the glass (4!). Worth noting that the restaurant has over 600 local wines – so it was a great place to ask the sommelier some questions and get a perfect introduction to Sonoma’s wine. The most common varieties planted are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot noir, though the area is also known for its Merlot and Zinfandel.
Things to do in Sonoma County
Day 2 in Sonoma County
The next morning, we did not wake up so early (which was lovely) and the rain put a stop to my ‘browsing plans’ a little bit. And yes, it does rain in California… sometimes.
We had a very firm plan which nothing would cancel: a walking and tasting wine tour in Healdsburg, located under an hour from our hotel.
Wine Country & Walking Tours organised a small group wine and food half day tour (which runs come sunshine or rain and costs $99 per person) which really took us to places we wouldn’t necessarily have noticed. From a fabulous bakery, to a place where we were served a delicious pizza which paired beautifully with a Pinot Noir, it was a great way to spend half a day. It wasn’t all about wine, as we also had some tea and, of course, cheese and local jams.
From Healdsburg, we made our way to our first winery: MacRostie, known for its balanced and age-worthy style of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
MacRostie’s Estate House and tasting room are absolutely beautiful and worth a visit for the architecture alone – but we rather enjoyed the wine and brought home both red and whites.
You can just turn up, but ‘reservations are strongly encouraged‘ – and you wouldn’t want to miss out on a lovely seated experience. Tastings range from $25-35 per person.
We spent almost two hours at the winery – it was also coffee table book heaven – and decided to head back to Sonoma, which is about an hour away.
We missed the shops (there was a particular store I wanted to go to, but more on that later), but we still went for a little stroll around the Plaza and for an earlier dinner at Tasca Tasca. There are very few places where I go for ‘Portuguese meals’ – namely because there aren’t many Portuguese restaurants around, but on our first visit to the area, 14 years before this trip and also more recently when we went to Napa, we went to La Salette, which was lovely and incredibly popular. This time around, we tried their new project, in a more casual setting and offered something I wished more restaurants in Portugal did: apply the concept of tapas to Portuguese staples. (Dinner for 2 was $60 but believe it or not, we did not have wine)
Day 3 in Sonoma County
There’s more to Sonoma than just wine, obviously. As we had been before, we kind of knew where we wanted to go: to the beach.
Obviously January means winter – albeit the California definition of Winter is a bit different to ours. No coats were needed as all the cashmere did a very nice job.
Our first stop was the Armstrong Redwood National Park, home to some of the tallest trees I have ever seen – the only other time I saw something like this was on our first visit to San Francisco (which isn’t far at all!).
You can take your car in (cost $8) and go for a limited drive, or do it properly and just park and go for a wonderful walk. It wasn’t raining that morning, so that is exactly what we did.
From here, we slowly drove towards the coast, more specifically, towards Bodega Bay. You will step back in time as you drive through the small coastal towns and there are plenty of places to stop by the beach, where you can park and go for a walk.
For lunch, we drove towards Jenner, also on the coast, and we had lunch at River’s End – it had amazing views and a very good seafood menu (but could do with a decor update). We wanted to have some of the crab dishes, but only if we went for the crab tasting menu (which was a bit odd), but as we did not fancy 5 courses, we went for the ceviche, oysters and ‘Portuguese clams’.
I can assure you that it is not how we cook clams in Portugal – see here for how we do cook them with white wine, olive oil and coriander (cilantro), BUT I can totally see why they called them that (and as you probably gathered, there is some Portuguese influence in the area and I would think a community). The clams were absolutely delicious. Lunch for 2 (with 2 half glasses of wine, very clever) was $65.
To continue our trip in a very relaxed manner, we were booked a ‘cedar enzyme bath’ and spa experience at Osmosis Day Spa. I had no idea what was going to happen – and I decided not to do any further research so I could be totally surprised.
Was this what you had in mind? Me neither! But I tell you what – I went with the flow and we actually loved it. You go in naked and spend 20 minutes in the ‘cedar enzyme bath‘ before showering. I thought it could be claustrophobic but it wasn’t – and it was warm but not too hot.
The Osmosis Day Spa is like a local landmark – and being let’s say ‘an old school spa’ really gave it charm. Our massage that followed the ‘bath’ was excellent as well.
100% add this to your ‘things to do in Sonoma County’ list. The cedar bath costs $99 per person with 2 sharing or $109 per person if on your own. A 75-minute massage cost $159 per person.
As we had a bit of time before dinner, we went to The Barlow, a 12-acre Bay Area outdoor market district in Sebastopol, California featuring local food, wine, beer, spirits and crafts made onsite by Sonoma County artisans. We had some ice cream, visited the community market and loved the interiors shop. Like really… loved.
For dinner, we were in for another treat: Farmhouse Inn, which is one of the top local gastronomic and hospitality references (and sadly fully booked during our dates, as it is one of ‘the places to stay’ in Sonoma County). The food was as local as possible, undeniably with some European influence – and the local wine list was divine.
Again, we felt that the atmosphere was very friendly and not stuffy and I would recommend a visit without a doubt, not just because of the Michelin-star. We fancied some cheese at the end and were a bit surprised that most options were not American, so we challenged the maitre d’ and he was able to find some more local cheeses (mostly all Californian) and it was a great thing to try. I hope that they showcase them more as otherwise we wouldn’t have a chance to try them.
Click here for the Google Map of this day (it does not include the stop at The Barlow, but it will be easy to add).
Day 4 in Sonoma County
We woke up at a different hotel – having checked out of the Fairmont the previous morning and actually checked in on the way to the redwoods. Our second and final hotel was Kenwood Inn, a boutique hotel located 10-15 minutes from Sonoma.
It really was charming and I can imagine how lovely the courtyard and pool would look with some sunshine.
We felt it was a bit dated in some areas, like the bedroom but thought service was very good. It absolutely did not lack in character, which matters.
After a day of ‘not having wine’, it was time to make things right. I always say that one of the best things that the blog has brought to me has been unexpected connections and subsequent friendships – and after meeting Ana probably 7 years before on Instagram and actually meeting her in person in my previous visit to Napa, we had to go and see her again.
Ana Draper Diogo, a fellow Portuguese, is the winemaker at Artesa, which is located in Carneros, between the Sonoma and Napa DOCs. She is quite the achiever (and a delight to be with) – and you may want to read this Buzzfeed feature about her. I did not know what Artesa was a Spanish-owned company that makes so many wines we all know, but I did not know that they owned Scala Dei, one of my favourite Priorat wines.
Tastings at Artesa range between $35-55 and ours was paired with cheese, which were divine. We loved the Alvarinho (first time we had own grown in California) and the Block 91D Estate Pinot Noir (which made its way home with us too).
From wine, it was time to ‘find the bread’. And the place where the sourdough was baked was in Petaluma, which is around 30 minutes from Sonoma.
Della Fattoria is the bakery where this magnificent bread comes from and I wanted to buy some but Mr. O did not let me. But we ‘enjoyed’ some on location. The bakery is next door to its restaurant and we had a great lunch there (on the lighter side). (lunch for 2 was around $45).
Petaluma has changed quite a bit since our last visit and I am very keen to return on a latter date to explore a bit more.
From Petaluma, we headed back to downtown Sonoma as I had something incredibly important to do: we were to spend a few hours at the original Williams Sonoma store, which is one of the reasons why I always go to California with a few empty suitcases. (if you are in the EU, you won’t be able to access their website unfortunately, unless you have a VPN. I actually signed up for it so I can pre-shop online before arriving. Williams Sonoma group decided it was the best way to deal with the GDPR regulations that were enforced in 2018).
But yes, as the name would suggest, Chuck Williams set up his first shop in Sonoma (and I never put the 2 and 2 together).
After ‘a spot of shopping’, we headed back to our hotel, who had put on one of their tasting evenings with a local wine producer, which we found really nice (and met other lively fellow guests).
Dinner was to take place at a nearby town called Glen Ellis. We went to The Fig Cafe for a really special dinner as my friend Amie and her husband John drove from San Francisco just to have dinner with us (and having returned from a long haul trip the day before). Again, incredibly grateful by the lasting friendships and connections that the blog has given me and this was a truly special evening. Worth noting (and we did not know) that there is no corkage charge at this restaurant (so you can bring your own wine). Dinner for 2 was around $100.
Day 5 in Sonoma County
Our last day was short and sweet as they say. We had a lazy morning and as we were making our way towards San Jose (where we were flying from), we had one more wine stop to make in Sonoma County.
Belden Barns was our final Sonoma Winery and truly special – it is really a family project where Lauren and Nate left their city lives and are making some very nice wine in a stunning setting.
You need to get in touch to organise a private tasting – and I am sure you will love their wines as much as we did. And of course, had to bring home with us some more Pinot Noir (although we really liked their Sauvignon Blanc which also has gone down a storm at home).
We loved our time in Sonoma, and despite the weather we had during our trip, it didn’t stop us from doing everything we planned to – we drank some amazing wine, ate very well and actually made some new friends.
There is something about Sonoma – and I know we will be back and I hope you consider it on your next trip to California.
Until the next time!
Disclaimer and Fact box: our California Road Trip was funded and sponsored by Visit California. I know California very well and they have asked me to share this in whichever way I saw fit. I would invite you to begin your California trip planning at their website, which actually is quite useful.
For information about Sonoma County, do visit their website which also offers great driving itineraries and you can book and plan your trip directly from their website.
We flew with British Airways to San Jose, and you can fly to California from London Heathrow from £1800 in business class. British Airways flies to Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose.
We hired a car with Avis (if you are a fellow BAEC Gold, use N744400 as your AWD). An SUV cost around $50/day.