The Best of Sonoma County

Encompassing wine country with its orchards and tasting rooms, as well as coastal towns and wild places, Sonoma County can offer very different experiences in the same trip. Sample the local wines and farm-to-table fare, and hike the trails along the bays and beaches of the Pacific.

Highlights
23570 Arnold Dr, Sonoma, CA 95476, USA
Cornerstone Sonoma is a collection of shops, galleries, and gardens that offers an unusual experience in the Sonoma wine country. The series of walk-through gardens showcase the work of some of the world’s best landscape architects and designers. Each space is different and evokes a unique feeling or experience, but all contribute to the sense of creativity of Cornerstone Gardens. You can easily spend a couple of hours here, first walking through each of the garden installations and then checking out the unique shops and tasting wine. There is an outdoor sculpture garden as well. Cornerstone Sonoma is open daily 10:00-5:00, but the gardens close at 4:00. Admission and parking are free. It is located just a few minutes south of Sonoma and about 15 minutes west of Napa Valley.
18701 Gehricke Rd, Sonoma, CA 95476, USA
You can spend days and days drinking wine in Northern California’s wine country. But why not try your own hand at blending some of the region’s liquid gold? It is a fun way to learn about the properties of wine and your own personal preferences on blends. Ravenswood Winery is a really great spot in Sonoma with a laid back staff that loves nothing better than sharing their stories, their history and their knowledge. It is a great group activity as well and at the end of the day, you get to take home your own custom bottle of your very own creation.
214 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg, CA 95448, USA
After a day spent floating down the Russian River, happy hour at Mateo’s hit the spot. We grabbed seats at the colorful bar and ordered tacones stuffed with olive oil guacamole and black bean puree with homemade chorizo. I paired the food with a Paloma Hermosa cocktail (Tres Agaves Blanco Tequila, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, fresh lime and grapefruit juices, agave nectar, and Del Maguey Vida Mezcal). The dinner menu is also intriguing.
Willow Creek Rd, California, USA
Pomo Canyon Hike goes through redwoods, over wind swept coastal hills. and lands you at ocean waves. The beauty and challenge of this hike is that you must hike up to be rewarded with gorgeous views. The most challenging part is near the start as the hills incline ever upward. Once nearing the meadows topping these beautiful coastal hills the incline slows and the views increase. The Russian River, the town of Jenner, and the great Pacific Ocean can be seen. Depending on the challenge and length of Hike you want there are three options available: 1. You can hike to the top enjoy the views and return down as you came, 2. You can hike up and over to Shell beach where you have parked a second car to end your hike, 3. You can make a loop from Pomo Canyon to Shell Beach and back again--possibly taking the Red Hill path on the way back. To reach Pomo Canyon Trail drive 2.5 miles up Willow Creek Road, if the Campsites are open you may park closer to the trail head, if they are closed you must park outside of the gate and walk into the camping area where the trail starts. Willow Creek Road is a small bumpy road off of Hwy 1 on the South side of the Bridge that crosses the Russian River near where Hwy 116 meets Hwy 1. This is defiantly a good challenging hike so be prepared with your hiking shoes, water, a few trail snacks, and be prepared for a shift in sun and wind. I love this trail! I always feel accomplished at having hiked it and blessed to live so close to it’s natural beauty
3611 Bohemian Hwy
When I venture in or near the little town of Occidental Howard’s Station Cafe is my favorite place to visit. Either to grab a coffee or smoothie for the road or to sit and linger over a great simple local meal. Bring cash and know they close their doors earlier at 2:30 or 3:00 depending on the day. If your in the area Howard’s Station Cafe is worth a visit.
19225 CA-1, Marshall, CA 94940, USA
North of the little town of Point Reyes Station, the Marshall Store sits on the banks of Tomales Bay. I’ve been coming here for years after hiking or horseback riding or walking on the beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. The place is super casual, and you can bring your own picnic supplies (we stopped at Cowgirl Creamery and bought a hunk of nutty Challerhocker cheese). Order raw oysters, BBQ oysters, and oysters Rockefeller. Grab an outdoor picnic table, add in a glass of Sancerre, and the world looks pretty good.
1 Sausalito - San Francisco Ferry Bldg, San Francisco, CA 94105, USA
The Ferry Building in San Francisco is a must for any food lover, and Cowgirl Creamery is one of my favorite stops. This producer of artisanal cheeses is a place to pick up cheese for a snack or picnic and to ask questions about California cheese. Let the person know what type of cheese you like or are looking for, and you will be treated to samples until you find just the right one. My favorites on my last visit came from Vella Cheese from Sonoma.
23240 Hwy 1
Since I’m still relatively new to San Francisco, I’m still discovering all of the amazing places just outside of the city. Every weekend I try to hop in a car and explore. My latest discovery is Nick’s Cove, a restaurant and cottages located in a historic 1930s fishing settlement in the town of Marshall, California. Driving along State Route One, Nick’s is marked by its signature red pick up truck and a large wooden boat. What used to be an old herring curing plant is now an amazing restaurant that serves not-to-be-missed barbecued oysters that are plucked just feet away in Tomales Bay. If you’re open to sharing a table and making new friends, ask to eat or have a drink out in the boat shack at the end of the Christmas light-lit pier. The tiny wooden hut is super casual and has one large table, an old piano, and great views. Look closely and you can still see the initials finger-painted in dust on the windows by past visitors. We shared drinks with two Brits in the wine importing business and a darling local couple who were having date night because their kids were out of town. Due to a funny rule, servers can’t bring food out to the shack, but you can phone in your order and they provide a tray so you can carry it down the pier. In addition to the oysters, don’t miss the goat meatballs from Rossotti Ranch (and pair them with a red Burgundy). Order S’mores for dessert and you can roast the marshmallows in the shack’s wood-burning fireplace.
2661 Gravenstein Hwy S, Sebastopol, CA 95472, USA
If you drive south of Sebastopol on highway 116, also known as Gravenstein highway South, you will find a string of Antique stores. While each of them holds their own special finds, the Antique Society is by far the largest and holds the most variety. I love walking their stalls and getting lost in items from the past.
20215 Shoreline Hwy, Marshall, CA 94940, USA
What a great way to spend a spring day in the Bay Area. Hog Island in Tamales Bay has very tasty oysters, a fun staff and a very friendly, comfortable environ. It used to be solely shuck it yourself and bring your own beverages. Although that is still my favorite way (but make a res in advance), it’s a great option to have them do the work.
8600 River Rd, Forestville, CA 95436, USA
My mother is such a good sport when she visits. She knows I have to be constantly moving outside to feel alive and on this visit, I thought a fun way to be active in the wine country region of the Russian River, would be to take her out on a 10 mile canoe rental through Burke’s. Yes, she survived and was rewarded to a gourmet picnic packed by her daughter and some celebratory bubbles for good measure at Korbel to finish the day. You’ll find Burke’s a mile north of tiny Forestville, CA and it’s about an hour and a half drive from San Francisco. Be sure to have brought directions with you in hand, since your phone will most likely not have a signal the deeper you get into Redwood country. The cost is $65 per canoe and you can call ahead, reserve on line or just do it when you arrive. They’ll set you up with life jackets and paddles and explain where the ‘put out’ is, where you’ll finish up and find their shuttle bus that will get you back to where you’d parked. The joy of this self guided expedition lies in the timing being entirely up to you. Picnic, swim, sunbathe at beaches along the stretch of this beautiful river. You’ll be able to view wildlife such as otter, Great Blue Heron, osprey, turtles, egret, and more. Make a canoe trip on the Russian River a part of your next California wine country adventure, you’ll love it! Pack that sunscreen and plenty of water.
140 Bohemian Hwy, Freestone, CA 95472, USA
This treasure of a bakery is in a town called Freestone (near Sebastopol) and off a road called the Bohemian Highway, meaning that this is already as California as it gets and an absolute must-see for anyone exploring the coast of the Golden State. There is some epic cycling in and around this fabulous bakery and it’s where we began a dear friend’s 60 mile ‘birthday bakery ride’. This means we also had the chance to come back to Wildflour at the end of the ride and yes, the delicious delights were even better the second time around. Wildflour is cozy and a great place for coffee and something made from flour. They’re only open Friday through Monday and the hours are 8:30 am to 6 pm each of those days. Thank you Tom Petty for letting me borrow your song for my title (and the slight adjustment I had to make to it).
Nicasio Reservoir, California 94946, USA
Start the day off right in Point Reyes Station with coffee and a scone at the Bovine Bakery. There’s loads of bicycle parking in the park to the right of the bakery and cyclists come in from every direction, to fuel up at this same intersection. From Bovine, head to the traffic light with Highway 1/ Point Reyes Petaluma Rd and turn right. There’s a short climb up and out of town. You’ll then take another right to stay on Point Reyes Petaluma Rd while Highway 1 goes left. Eventually you’ll come to a small bridge and Stop sign, where you’ll turn left to head towards the Nicasio Reservoir. The views you’ll see on this stretch are something out of Ireland or the Scottish Highlands. Soon you’ll turn right at Nicasio Valley Rd and head towards the small town of Nicasio. If you need to hit a restroom or fill up your water bottle, you have a few spots to choose from next to the little league field. Keep following Nicasio Valley Rd (as Lucas Valley Rd breaks off to the left), until you hit the large four way intersection with Sir Francis Drake Blvd and turn right. You’ll follow Sir Francis Drake Blvd through Lagunitas and the magical section of Redwood trees in the Samuel P Taylor State Park. The quieter option to head back in to Point Reyes is to turn right in to Platform Bridge Rd. It will soon end at a T-intersection where you’ll turn left to see Point Reyes Petaluma Rd again. You’ll take that all the way back in to town.
The Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area represents more than 15,000 acres of tidal sloughs, baylands, and wetland habitats that serve as resting points for migrating birds and are home to hundreds of waterfowl and other creatures on the edge of San Pablo Bay. Because of its vast size, there are many spots from which to experience the area. Some of the more popular portions are the Napa River, Huichica Creek, and White Slough down by American Canyon. The best way to explore the marshes is by kayak or boat; the public boat ramp at Cuttings Wharf south of Napa is the most accessible place to launch.
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956, USA
Point Reyes is a special location with hiking trails, historic farms, and the small towns of Inverness and Point Reyes Station with lovely local food finds and little shops. To get to the lighthouse just follow the road signs from Inverness, and walk the trail from the parking lot. The day this photo was taken was one of those misty foggy days with bright patches of sun. On the walk to the light house we saw deer grazing, wild flowers blooming, and mist dripping from the trees. Once we reached the point we were in a bright sunny patch all to the right we saw a blanket of fog below us laying on the water, to the left was bright blue waters and sunny skies, and to our great surprise whales in the water!! Whales swim pass the area from march to early may and if you want to take the chance you may get a glimpse of them. The whale sighting was the highlight to our already beautiful day.
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