Sonoma is in the Sonoma Valley in Sonoma County just north of the Bay Area of California.


Grape trestles in a vineyard outside Sonoma

Besides being the center of the modern wine-making industry in Sonoma County, the town of Sonoma has a rich history dating back to the early 19th century. Spanish colonial settlers first established one of their northernmost missions in 1823 when the Mission San Francisco Solano was founded by a Spanish priest, Father Joseph Altimira. The Mission was the first, last, and only California mission established under newly-independent Mexican rule. For a brief period in 1846 it was the capital of the short-lived California Republic. The revolution took place on the grounds of the square, in one of the most fast paced and dramatic overturns of government in American history. A monument is located on the Square.

With its central location in wine country, the town of Sonoma, with little over 10,000 residents, attracts thousands of visitors from around the world for wine tastings. The town is based around The Sonoma Plaza, (locals call it "The Square" and "The Plaza") which is a historic landmark. Restaurants, bars, boutiques and local businesses dot the landscape of the square, with historic houses and residential neighborhoods surrounding it on the southwest and southeast sides, and hills and parkland on its northern end.

The personality of Sonoma is different than its ritzy neighbor, Napa. "Sonoma Casual" is the fashion for fundraiser invitations, and wealthy retirees mix with wine industry celebrities and a thriving Latino population. Sonoma is also home to a large Nepalese immigrant community. It's an eccentric town whose recent former mayor wore Birkenstock sandals and had long hippie hair; anti-war protesters frequent the Square for occasional protests; and you never know when you might see a man riding a bike with a parrot on his shoulder. A small town where everyone knows everyone, it's friendly, welcoming and more affordable than Napa.


 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°F) 56 62 65 70 76 83 87 87 85 77 65 56
Nightly lows (°F) 38 40 42 43 47 51 53 52 51 47 42 38
Precipitation (in) 6.0 6.0 4.4 1.8 1.1 0.2 -77.8 0.1 0.2 1.6 3.9 6.2

   Data from NOAA (1981-2010)

Get in

There are no major freeways that go through or even close to Sonoma, since it is surrounded by hills on every side. The best way to get in is from California State Route 12 which goes directly through the town. Route 12 intersects with Highway 101 in Santa Rosa or I-80 east of Napa near Fairfield. Additionally, State Route 116 connects the town to neighboring Petaluma and also intersects with Highway 101.

Those traveling from downtown San Francisco or SFO should take Highway 37 to Sears Point in southern Sonoma, then take State Route 121 into the valley.

Sonoma County is currently served by direct flights to Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport (IATA: STS) from Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, OR, and Seattle/Tacoma on Horizon Air. Delta and Frontier airlines are investigating possible expansions into STS from Salt Lake City and Denver. You can also fly in to either Sacramento (IATA: SMF) or Oakland (IATA: OAK) Airport. (You can use San Francisco International Airport also, but it is a little more hectic and you have to cut through the city to get across the bay). There are many ways to get from the airports including many different bus systems, the Marin Airporter, taxi cabs, rental car. If you have some cash to splurge, you can rent a limo.

Get around

Unless you plan on staying at Sonoma Plaza and making it the focus of your visit, Sonoma is a car-dependent city, also offering bike tours and locally owned taxi service. If you're staying at a hotel or resort the concierge can organize transportation for you, or you can arrange your own with some of the many options available in town.

By car

Many visitors rent cars, and take advantage of tour services for bringing them to and from wineries without risking drunk driving. Sonoma wine tour services include:

By bicycle

Sonoma's mild climate and beautiful scenery make it great for walking or riding a bike. If you want to rent a bike or take a bike tour, there are three places in town:

By bus

Sonoma County Transit connects Sonoma to the surrounding towns in the county. Their website has information about how to purchase passes and taking your bicycle on to buses.

By taxi

Also, if you find yourself stranded at a vineyard after too many tastes of Pinot Noir, it may be handy to have the number of someone who will pick you up.


Sonoma's City Hall

Sonoma is home to the Bear Flag revolt, and the home of General Vallejo; his mansion is a historic landmark that may be seen on any day of the week. If you pay $2 you can get a pass to see his mansion, the Barracks (home of the military back in the 1800s), and the Sonoma Mission (the first church in Sonoma). These three sites are located on or near downtown Sonoma plaza, one of the only Spanish style plazas to be found in California. The Sonoma plaza is a large park which is great for families and it houses the impressive City Hall. Surrounding the plaza are various shops and five star restaurants as well, if you feel like stimulating the economy.


Sebastiani Theatre

Special events and festivals



Beautiful stained glass windows documenting the history of Sebastiani Winery are located in the private tasting room

There are many wineries throughout Sonoma Valley, which the town of Sonoma is part of. The following wineries are located within the borders of the town of Sonoma surrounding the downtown area. Most wineries charge for tastings, but will waive fees if you buy wine. You can pick up tasting passes for free or discounted tastings at hotels and the tourism office in the town square. If you're a Visa Signature credit card holder you can also get free and discounted tastings throughout the area at select wineries.

Upcycled "champagne tables," make the atmosphere at Sigh, a champagne tasting room.


Yes, Sonoma can be family-friendly too. Wineries can be somewhat boring for children - but many do offer sparkling or still cider to make the little ones feel a part of the grown-up fun.

Riding the train at Train Town


West Napa Street is where most of the shopping is centered in the town of Sonoma. Most shops are locally owned, offering gifts, high end clothing and accessories. Wine shops and tasting rooms are plentiful, and bringing home a bottle of wine from a favourite winery, a corkscrew, wine glasses, or a Sonoma focused magnet is a must for any visitor.

Organic is the word at the Tuesday night Sonoma Plaza Farmers Market


This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
Budget $5-14
Mid-range $15-30
Splurge $31+

The city of Sonoma is home to some amazing restaurants. You can get high end French-country food, fresh seafood from the coast, and affordable Mexican that is as good as what you'd get down south. Some of these restaurants reside in Sonoma Valley, versus the actual City of Sonoma, so grab a car or bike and get out for a great bite to eat.




the girl & the fig, the most popular stop for visitors to Sonoma

Groceries, gourmet and take-out

Wine country is plentiful with fresh grown food, artisan cheeses, and other tasty morsels year around. This section is for those who want to "cook on the road," whether camping, renting a house, or perhaps just in the mood for a picnic.


People come to Sonoma usually for one thing: to drink. There are few very bars in Sonoma the town, as most establishments are tasting rooms or restaurants with bars. The few local bars in town bring out primarily local color, but live music and special events can frequently be found by checking local free papers and websites.


Sonoma is home to many fine hotels and bed and breakfasts. There are virtually no "budget" hotels in Sonoma proper, but, you can find affordable options via private home rentals or couchsurfing websites. Another option is to stay in Santa Rosa, which is about a 30-40 minute drive north of Sonoma.


Swiss Hotel




Go next

Routes through Sonoma

Santa Rosa Glen Ellen  W  E  Napa Fairfield
Jenner Petaluma  W  E  END
END Jct W E  S  N  Napa Jct W E

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, March 26, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.