Best known as a wine destination, Sonoma County offers enough opportunities for excitement and relaxation to fill a year’s worth of weekends. Starting 30 miles north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, this food and beverage mecca has 22 cities and towns, California’s second-longest river, 11 state parks, one eponymous lake, towering redwoods, and about 50 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline spread among some of the most beautiful back-road drives in the West.
Where to Taste Wine in Sonoma County
Sonoma County wine country is divided into 18 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), each offering unique soils and terrain that encourage specific grapes to grow well, including pinot noir, chardonnay, and zinfandel. There are 425 wineries throughout the county, so it’s ideal to arrive thirsty.
The Petaluma Gap AVA was named in December 2017, and is known for light-bodied pinot noir, crisp chardonnay, and syrah. You’ll find downtown tasting rooms for small-lot wineries like Adobe Road, as well as countryside spots like Keller Estate.
Many of Santa Rosa’s wineries are found off the River Road exit of Highway 101. Zinfandel queen Carol Shelton pours her wines in a small industrial park off Coffey Lane. Bucolic Olivet Lane is lined with wineries such as DeLoach, which has a huge veggie garden and friendly sheep. Family-owned Joseph Swan shares its small-lot pinot noir and chardonnay in a rustic cellar set beside its vines.
The Sonoma Valley’s Highway 12 is dotted with miles of big-name wineries like Chateau St. Jean, St. Francis, and Landmark, as well as small producers like tasting-room neighbors En Garde and B. Wise.
Sonoma Plaza is surrounded by tasting rooms, including those for WALT Wines (pinot noir), Bedrock Wine Co. (old-vine reds), and Sojourn Cellars (pinot and cab). If you’re a bubbly fan, don’t miss Sigh, a bar dedicated to sparkling wines and champagne.
Along Sebastopol’s Gravenstein Highway (aka the 116), don’t miss Merry Edwards’ legendary pinot and sauvignon blanc; neighboring Red Car, known for rosé of pinot noir, as well as chardonnay and syrah; and Dutton-Goldfield, which focuses on coastal-vineyard pinot noir.
At the heart of Sonoma County, the Healdsburg Plaza area is home to dozens of tasting rooms, including Idlewild (Piemontese varieties like barbera), Cartograph and Siduri (pinot noir), JCB (sparkling wine and Bordeaux-style blends), and Stonestreet (cabernet sauvignon). Street parking generally gets you three free hours.