Sonoma County, California is the perfect destination for a one-of-a-kind road trip. Across this Northern California county is a scenic, mellow highway network that's ideal for a road trip. While travelers will find a few hillsides that are recovering from last years’ wildfires, more than 90 percent of Sonoma County was untouched, and its bustling restaurants, nature reserves, 425 wineries (only one lost to fire), cultural landmarks, and other sweet spots are open and ready to welcome visitors with their warm hospitality and service.
Start your road trip in Sonoma Valley, a 17-mile stretch that lines the county’s east side. The city of Sonoma anchors the valley's southern end, which is marked by Sonoma City Hall, Sonoma Plaza, and the Mission San Francisco Solano, the latter of which is considered the birthplace of the state of California (as well as its original bear flag).
Surrounding Sonoma Plaza, you’ll find the historic General Joseph Hooker House, which is now the sophisticated tasting room of Bedrock Wine Co. ($30 tasting; waived if you buy two bottles of wine). A few blocks down, sample the varietals at Abbot’s Passage, a tasting room that doubles as an upscale accessories boutique, which was founded by sixth-generation vintner Katie Bundschu. Here, browse locally made goods and sip on small-production wines. Afterwards, head to Corner 103 for a one-of-a-kind tasting experience with winemaker Lloyd Davis, who will take you on a journey through his white and red varietals.
If you’re inspired to explore fantastic wineries outside of the city, hop on the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley, which takes passengers to four different wineries around the area ($99 for a seat on the trolley; tasting prices not included). The six-hour trolley ride is a fun way to check out multiple onsite tasting experiences. Additionally, we recommend stopping at Roche Winery (just south of Sonoma) to visit its scenic open-air tasting terrace, which is tucked among the vines (you can't take the trolley here, though). If you’re looking for a more traditional tasting experience, Roche is your best bet.
However, Sonoma has more to offer than just stellar wine. Just beyond the plaza, head to the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art and take in the ever-changing array of works that shed artistic light on the region. After, follow Route 12 to find both literary and visual art at Jack London State Park, where you can see the author’s home and hike to his hidden cabin. If you visit in the summer, be sure to catch one of the signature Broadway Under the Stars live outdoor performances. Additionally, if you need a break from wine tastings, head to Hanson of Sonoma Distillery, where the Hanson family (no, not the singing brothers) will showcase their five remarkable vodkas, all made from organic grapes.
Dining can be mesmerizing in Sonoma Valley, and the Glen Ellen Star is definitely a must-visit. Here, sample upscale, rustic cuisine that elevates wood-oven roasting — from pizza to gorgeous local vegetables, seafood, and other savory dishes (dinner entrées from $19). For authentic comfort food, head to TIPS Roadside in nearby Kenwood (which began in a humble food truck). The restaurant opened in 2018 and features a menu that includes grits, gnocchi, fried chicken, stew, and other delectable delights (dinner entrées from $16).
Russian River Valley
Buckle up and head west on Route 12 towards Santa Rosa, where you can grab breakfast, lunch, or dinner at The Spinster Sisters (small plates for dinner start at $10). After your meal, stroll through the charming and historic Railroad Square in the heart of downtown.
Afterwards, head north on Highway 101 for a short 12 miles, where you’ll connect to River Road into the Russian River Valley, towards Guerneville. Among the many great wineries here, there are four particular standouts that offer unique experiences. Gary Farrell Vineyards (tour and tasting $55) is situated on a hilltop, and its tasting house captures a posh Napa-like vibe (thankfully, the fine wine lives up to the hype). Alternatively, you can go with a more modest (yet equally delightful) experience at the nearby, family-run Moshin Winery ($20 tasting fee waived with wine purchase).
Travel south via Route 116 to visit Iron Horse Vineyards in The Green Valley of Russian River Valley AVA (also known as an American Viticultural Area). This vineyard pours a range of wines, but specializes in amazing sparkling vintages, all of which taste doubly effervescent on its spectacular hilltop. Look out for special events, including Sundays with the Oyster Girls, where you can enjoy freshly shucked oysters with your wine (from April to October). After your seafood fix, head west on Route 166 for a more intimate tasting experience at Porter-Bass, which uses biodynamic farming methods (self-sustaining practices) on their lush ranch ($15, by appointment only).
Guerneville is the perfect place to mark the western finale of your Sonoma road trip. It’s a popular pit stop for visitors, and is also home to the magnificent Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. On Main Street, park your car and enjoy the throwback vibes at the five-and-dime store and other retro souvenir shops. Then, take a closer look at vintage storefronts to find contemporary delights at Big Bottom Market and the Guerneville Bank Club, a bank converted into a retail, art, and food hall. Guerneville is also a popular LGBTQ destination that's home to fun gay bars and the friendly Equality Vines tasting room.
Where to Stay
In the city of Sonoma, book a luxury suite at MacArthur Place (rates from $429 per night), where you can hit the spa, enjoy a meal at the onsite restaurant, sip cocktails at the airy bar, and relax in one of the property’s garden nooks. Alternatively, a homey vibe awaits at the boutique Olea Hotel (rates from $240 per night) in Glen Ellen, where you can enjoy complimentary breakfast in the morning, hang at the pool during the day, partake in wine tastings, and spend your evenings by the fire pit.
Santa Rosa’s quirky-hip streak is best enjoyed with a stay at The Astro, a converted mid-century motel that’s decorated in cool vintage finds (rates from $155 per night). In Guerneville, expect to get closer to nature when you book a stay in a tricked-out Airstream camper-turned-hotel-room at Autocamp (rates from $190 per night). Here, you can toast marshmallows, hang out under the redwoods, and admire the nighttime sky.
Sonoma Wine Tasting Tips
Many of the wineries here either recommend or require tasting appointments, so be sure to call ahead (even if it’s the same day). Additionally, most tastings cost anywhere from $15 to $35 to sample three to seven wines; prices increase if you’re joining a tour and/or wine and food pairing. However, many wineries will waive your tasting fee if you buy one or more bottles of wine.
When it comes to planning your Sonoma road trip, work your itinerary around all the amazing wine (and spirits and microbrews) the destination has to offer — but be sure to avoid driving afterwards. Instead, designate a non-drinking driver, join a tour, or consider hiring a car or driver.