A Weekender’s Guide to Savoring Sonoma Valley

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  • by SUSAN WILLIAMS
  • on OCTOBER 2, 2018
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A short 45-minute drive from San Francisco on Sonoma County’s southern end, sits Sonoma Valley, a 17-mile stretch of Wine Country full of premium wineries, luxury lodging, and picturesque vineyard settings.

Venturing into the heart of Sonoma Valley’s historic towns of Sonoma, Glen Ellen, and Kenwood, visitors will find more than just a weekend escape amongst the vines. They’ll discover a way of life.

Sonoma Valley invites travelers to take pause, relishing in the same pleasures locals have always savored. Be it a patch of picnic-worthy grass, the Mediterranean climate and blue skies, the citrus, pomegranate, and fig trees, or the perfection of a freshly-harvested heirloom tomato paired with a splash of local olive oil and pinch of salt, Sonoma Valley is a place that exalts the mundane, reminding travelers that good company, pleasant atmosphere, and simple, quality food and wine deserve to be celebrated daily.

WHERE TO STAY

Courtesy of Cottage Inn

To maximize a short visit to Sonoma Valley, let the city of Sonoma, the largest and most popular of the region’s small towns, be your home base.

A blend of old and new, the Ledson Hotel celebrates the grandeur and ornate style of early 19th century Sonoma, coupled with the efficiencies and modern comforts of today. Comprised of six opulent suites, each with a private balcony overlooking downtown Sonoma, a stately fireplace, and romantic whirlpool tub, this boutique hotel also offers wine tastings daily inside the lobby’s Zina Lounge tasting room. To delve deeper into this family’s portfolio, visit Ledson Winery in Kenwood, a magnificent castle flanked by breathtaking vineyards just north of town on Highway 12, offering an array of annual events and tasting experiences.

For a more interactive stay, set your sights on Ramekins Inn and Culinary School in Sonoma Located just a few blocks west of the town square, this multi-purpose Wine Country destination offers luxurious lodging in their six French Country-style suites, cooking classes featuring the best of Sonoma Valley’s seasonal bounty, and a courteous staff ready to point you toward the best vineyards.

On a quiet street just a block off the Plaza, the Cottage Inn and Spa offers guests a relaxing haven within its Mission style walls. Restorative amenities like a hot tea bar and massage treatments, along with thoughtful touches like the assortment of artisan breakfast treats and complimentary winery tasting passes, make this zen-like inn an appealing place to launch your weekend.

WHERE TO EAT

Courtesy of Boxcar

Before setting off to explore the vineyards, stop into Sonoma’s Best for cheeses, sandwiches, and Wine Country-inspired gifts to bring home. This gourmet shop and deli also has an extensive selection of local wines, in case you want to skip the winery tour in favor of a picnic on Sonoma’s plaza.

For fast, casual, comfort food, Boxcar hits the spot. Featuring several variations of fried chicken and biscuits, offered at four levels of heat, this new Southern-inspired diner off Highway 121 also dishes up the classics, like pimiento cheese, deviled eggs, hush puppies, and fried pies, in addition to a few seasonal salads for the healthy types.

Northern California meets Tuscany at the Depot Hotel Restaurant. Tucked away a few blocks north of Sonoma Plaza, this family-owned trattoria sits at the site of Sonoma’s historic 1870’s train depot and fills its garden courtyard each night with revelers clinking glasses, swapping stories from their favorite winery tours, and indulging in rustic Italian fare under the stars.

For more Wine Country comfort food, with a New Orleans twist, visit the Tri Tip Trolley’s new brick and mortar, Tips Roadside on the north end of the Valley in Kenwood. The open kitchen offers brunch, “sips and bits,” and dinner six days a week, serving popular items like beignets, grits, and crispy oysters, along with their famous tri-tip bites.

WHERE TO DRINK

Courtesy of Buena Vista

Ideal for toasting special occasions or kicking off a wine tasting weekend out in the vineyards, Sonoma’s newly-revamped Champagne bar, Sigh, is a festive place to start. Recently named one of Travel & Leisure‘s top 25 bars in the country, this glam bubbles lounge offers visitors a one-of-a-kind Sonoma County experience. Serving sparkling wines by the tasting flight, glass, or bottle, Sigh is much like a flute of the finest Champagne: glitzy on the outside, but crafted for a lasting impression. In true Sonoma Valley style, there’s no pretense here. Instead, the staff is friendly, down to earth, and always eager to demystify and educate guests on the vineyards, producers, and styles of the world’s most celebrated beverage.

Around the corner, in a nod to Sonoma’s farming days of yore, Rancho Maria keeps things simple and focused on what their family does best: zinfandel and petite sirah from their vineyards in Sonoma County’s famed Dry Creek Valley. Enjoy a flight of their velvety reds inside their “Old Sonoma” style tasting room on the plaza’s west side.

For more of Sonoma Valley’s rich winemaking history, head to Buena Vista, California’s oldest premium winery, located a short, scenic drive east of Sonoma’s town square. Founded in 1857, this California Historic Landmark celebrates its vivacious, eccentric founder, the self-proclaimed “Count of Buena Vista,” with an assortment of unforgettable winery experiences and events outside the traditional tasting room realm. Tour the Historic Wine Tool Museum, dance the night away, incognito, at their annual Harvest Masquerade Ball, or make your own wine in their “Be the Count Blending Experience.”

Just a few miles north of the town of Sonoma, in the tiny village of Glen Ellen, discover Benziger Winery and the green farming practices behind its distinctive wines. Tram tours of the winery’s breathtaking, Biodynamic vineyards are offered daily, which include a visit to the wine caves and winery, followed by a tasting of their award-winning wines.

Cover image courtesy of Benziger Winery/Carley Burns


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Author

Susan Williams

Susan Williams is a baker, writer and entrepreneur based in Sonoma, California. When she’s not busy in the kitchen assembling tiers for her garden-inspired wedding cake business, Cake Bloom, she's usually at the farmers market looking for something new to inspire her next creation. Follow her in the kitchen @cakebloom and in the vineyards @sonoma_williams.

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