Welcome to Sonoma, California, home to an iconic wine valley, charming towns, and beautiful accommodations. Sonoma is a place to relax, unwind, and soak in those relaxed Northern California vibes we all love so much. It has become like a second home for us over the years, so I am thrilled to share my travel guide to Sonoma.
Often times the whole area gets referred to as “Sonoma” so it’s important to differentiate a bit. There is Sonoma County, which encompasses the entire region ranging from as far north as Healdsburg down to Santa Rosa. Then there is Sonoma Valley which is the 17-mile-long valley that starts in the southern part of Carneros up to Kenwood. And finally, the unincorporated town of Sonoma (located in the valley). I’ll be focusing on the valley and the town in this guide.
I love the town of Sonoma itself as a central location to many gems in the valley. The historic square has lovely restaurants, and you’re close to several beautiful wineries, and great hotels. Sonoma is one of my favorite weekend breaks in Northern California, whether it’s a trip with girlfriends, a romantic getaway in the Bay Area, or even a solo trip. We often just pop in for the day too.
On a recent trip, I had the chance to stay at the upscale MacArthur Place Hotel + Spa which has the loveliest suites and is within walking distance of the square. I went with my toddler and husband and we had a great family trip together in Sonoma. I revisited a few restaurants and wineries, plus stopped in at a few new spots I hadn’t been to before.
So I’m rounding up all of my intel from my time in Sonoma and sharing where to eat, where to stay, and what to do while visiting. Check out the guide below!
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Travel Guide to Sonoma, California
What to Know Before Traveling to Sonoma
When is the best time of year to visit Sonoma?
My favorite time to visit Sonoma is always fall or spring as the temperature is always mildest. Summer can be pretty hot so I’d recommend having access to a pool if you do go say in the summer. The winter months are slower and quieter, so if you’re looking for a visit sans the crowd, winter is great too. Sonoma has year-round opportunities to visit so it’s a preference of weather and experience!
How many days for a trip to Sonoma?
I love spending a long weekend in Sonoma as it gives me ample time to experience a few wineries and the town. We also often will go for the day and do a wine tasting and a meal out. There is a lot to see, so extra time is welcomed if you’re coming out of town and want to do a few things.
Which airport do you fly into for Sonoma?
This is what makes Sonoma so easy to visit! You have several regional and international airports within earshot. The closest airport would be Sonoma County Airport, then Sacramento International, and all of the Bay Area airports like San Francisco or Oakland.
Where would you go before/after Sonoma?
Since Sonoma is such a popular destination for a road trip in Northern California, you can pair it with many other destinations. I would consider starting in San Francisco, coming to Sonoma, then heading out to the Marin/Sonoma coast for a few days.
Where to Stay in Sonoma
My choice for a hotel to stay at while visiting Sonoma is the MacArthur Place Hotel and Spa. We had the pleasure of staying this last month. The historic estate features 64 guest rooms and suites that are laid out across the property. Some are stand-alone or adjoined, and then others are clustered in quaint buildings. I loved the feeling the property itself gave — you strolled through gardens lush with roses and greenery as you went to your room.
The suites are beautifully designed, each unique in its layouts and a few extra amenities which is why I recommend booking in this category. Some have outdoor showers/tubs and terraces, and all come with their own fireplace. I loved how ours opened up with a balcony terrace to view the garden.
One of the best parts of the property is the onsite dining. From the bar to Layla, you could enjoy elevated cuisine both in the restaurant and in the room. Layla, the main restaurant, serves lovely seasonal fare that features elevated ingredients with Mediterranean inspiration. It’s open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In the front of the entrance, you’ll find the Porch, perfect for a coffee or pastry to go throughout the day.
The Best Restaurants in Sonoma
Valley Bar + Bottle Shop – One of the best additions to the square, it is so lovely to have a younger spot opened in Sonoma. Season Mediterranean food paired with a natural wine menu all set in a young and lively space. It’s a must-stop every time we are there!
Layla – Located inside the chic MacArthur Place Hotel, Layla is the spot for elevated, fine dining. You can come for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but my first choice would be dinner. Its Mediterranean cuisine is fresh, full of flavor, and perfect after a day of wine tasting.
Animo – The newest spot to open by former Per Se Chef Smookler opened up this restaurant with his wife. You can make reservations via the link in their IG profile for now. A menu focused on hearth-driven cuisine, dry-aged meats, and fish. The food looks spectacular.
Glen Ellen Star – This is one of our favorite restaurants in Northern California. Often we will drive from Sacramento to just eat here. Their roasted vegetables, homemade pizza and pasta, and everything else is just perfection. Highly recommend making a reservation in advance.
The Girl & the Fig – It’s synonymous with Sonoma dining and one you can’t miss while visiting. A menu with fresh salads and lots of French-inspired food is located right on the historic square.
El Molino Central – A counter-service style restaurant serving some incredible Mexican. Even though it is quite casual, it is elevated cuisine and you can miss things like the halibut tacos.
Folktable Restaurant – Just about a 10-minute drive out of the square you’ll find the complex called Cornerstone Sonoma. Inside, Folktable Restaurant is one of the best brunches around. I love their Dungeness crab roll, fish + chips, and burger.
Wit & Wisdom – It’s always lovely to experience Chef Michael Mina’s cuisine and this is his spot in wine country. Hearty dishes, bold flavors, and local cuisine.
Where to Wine Taste in Sonoma
It’s a young and modern winery that definitely requires a reservation in advance. There are a few different ways to experience the wines here like their food pairing at the field tables. I love the atmosphere here and the wine is delicious. Don’t forget to stop in their mercantile store as well!
One of our favorites in the area for being super young. Their tastings are all accompanied by food from, rotating chefs as well. Reservations are open only to members, so it may be worth becoming one if you are familiar with the wines!
Three Sticks Winery at the Adobe
My choice for a wine tasting near Sonoma Square. Set in a historic Adobe, you can taste Three Stick’s collection of chardonnay and pinot noir.
Gundlach Bundschu Winery
There are several ways to experience Gundlach Bundschu, ranging from food tastings to private tours. The setting here is tranquil and makes for a lovely experience. Seasonally, there are concerts held here as well!
Imagery Estate Winery
For those looking to taste more uncommon varietals, you will enjoy Imagery. Located in Glen Ellen, this is a favorite for a laidback tasting with great wine.
Hamel Family Wines
The location and the building itself are absolutely beautiful, set with breathtaking views as it’s perched up on the hillside. Their wine is incredible and all organic as well.
| Looking for family-friendly wineries in the Sonoma area? Check out this post |
Things to Do in Sonoma
Shop home decor
You’ll find several home decor stores while in Sonoma, but my two favorites are Artefact Design & Salvage and Chateau Sonoma. Artefact Design & Salvage is my favorite for unique finds for the home. The other store you can’t miss is Chateau Sonoma right on the square for all things French. Chateau Sonoma has the loveliest antiques and home goods from France, it’s worth popping in even to just browse.
Do a food + wine pairing at Abbot’s Passage
You have several choices for wine tasting in Sonoma, but one that I think is a truly unique experience. I’d recommend booking a Field Table wine tasting at Abbot’s Passage Winery. A family-style meal prepared by Chef Kyle is paired with small lot wines. The tasting paired with food elevates both the wine itself and the ingredients local to Sonoma. For me, this feels like a quintessential Northern California wine experience, one immersed in nature and connected to the land. You can reserve in advance and it is a 90-minute experience.
Stock up on local produce
The entire Sonoma area is full of so many wonderful local farms. You’ll find them throughout the valley, so I always love to stop in before I head home. One of my favorites that I went to on this trip was Oak Hill Farm in Glen Ellen. Their red barn is open on Saturdays and it was full of vegetables, local goods, and dried flowers.
Have a spa day
There are a few places to indulge in spa experiences in Sonoma, each very unique. For those looking for a traditional, elevated spa experience, book at the Spa at MacArthur. Their range of services utilizes their own ingredients grown on the property and has everything from massages to facials.
For those looking to adventure out and go for a drive into Sonoma County, the OSMOSIS Day Spa Sanctuary is my choice. It’s located in Freestone on a beautiful piece of land. The Japanese-inspired treatments like the cedar bath are some of the best in the valley.
Get outdoors and hike
Sonoma is home to several hiking areas, so if you’re in the mood to go for a morning hike there are a few places to go. A couple of favorites include Sonoma Valley Regional Park, Jack London State Park, and Annadel State Park.
Take a trip to the coast
If you’re looking for a quick coastal break, head out towards Bodega Bay and Jenner. They’re a quick trip from Sonoma itself and make for a wonderful afternoon excursion. There is a lot to see in this stretch, so check out this guide for a list of recommendations.