Also known as the “Valley of the Moon,” Sonoma Valley is where rich history and modern pleasures collide.
It is where California wine making started 200 years ago and where good restaurants, state-of-the-art spas, and adventurers thrive. Not as well-known or touristy as its neighbor Napa Valley, Sonoma’s kick-back vibe is just as infectious and has a lot more to offer than wine tasting.
Anchoring the 17-mile-long valley to the south, the town of Sonoma makes a good starting point and has important California-historical sights and the state’s largest town square.
Once a Mexican military outpost, fleeting frontier republic and Spanish Mission village, today the town square is a historic landmark strewn with old adobe storefronts, meandering alleyways and cobblestone courtyards that buzz with an diverse mix of restaurants, hotels, tasting rooms, cafes, artisan boutiques and galleries.
Among them are Mission San Francisco de Solano and Lachryma Montis, centered around an expansive green lawn and massive tree canopy creating a perfect setting for picnics, cultural activities and weekly farmers markets.
Nearby, travelers should not miss Cornerstone Gardens, where visitors can explore 20 cutting-edge gardens designed by several noted landscape architects.
Also located in the City of Sonoma is The Olive Press, which sells olive oils and olive-related items from dozens of California growers.
Just a little further to the north is quaint little Glen Ellen, a town right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Named after the 1,000-acre Glen Ellen Vineyard, the area was once home to famed writer Jack London in the early 1900s.
Today, visitors can get a glimpse into the gifted, hard-living writer’s life, by visiting Jack London State Historic Park and touring his cottage that is open to visit, as is the House of Happy Walls, which holds London memorabilia preserved after his death.
A few miles north of Glen Ellen is one of Sonoma Valley’s most popular natural treasures — Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.
This 2,700-acre park, with its 25 miles of trails, preserves the headwaters of Sonoma Creek. Open spring through fall, visitors can explore via horseback or hiking, the park’s gorges, canyons, meadows, rock outcroppings, redwoods, and ferns.
At the valley’s northernmost end, is the urban center of Santa Rosa.
Here visitors will find a vibrant city that overflows with natural wonders and man-made attractions, including the 5,000-acre Annadel State Park, with its majestic California oaks and brilliant displays of spring wildflowers.
Also in Santa Rosa visitors can view the private gardens and home of self-taught botanist Luther Burbank on public display April through October, and Safari West, where the Serengeti meets California.
The 400-acre preserve is filled with the animals of the African savanna, including giraffe, antelope, and oryx, seen by guided tours.
And for visitors that really want enjoy an Africa Safari without leaving the continental US, they can bunk down in one of 30 surprisingly elegant tent cabins.
Finally, a visit to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center is must-stop for anyone who grew up reading Peanuts. The museum a centerpiece for the City of Santa Rosa and is big enough to house Snoopy, Linus, Charlie Brown and the other characters indelibly inked by Schulz, who for decades called Sonoma County home.
The Sonoma Valley is a little over a one hour drive from San Francisco and under two hours from Sacramento.