When you think about Sonoma, you immediately think of vineyards almost as surely as when you talk about Napa. Less than two hours north of San Francisco, you can visit a quiet little town with a rich history. Sonoma, where history meets grapes.
Take advantage of your trip to stop a few miles before Sonoma and visit the small mission’s museum on the property of Cline Cellars (http://californiamissionsmuseum.com/about-the-california-missions-museum/). There are 21 models (at scale) of the different missions built along the Camino Real from San Diego to Sonoma.
When you arrive at Sonoma Square, previously known as Solano, you will already be in the mood to visit the San Francisco Solano Mission which was the last mission created in California (ticket is $5 as of 2019 and valid for the Barracks entrance)
Founded on July 4th, 1823, it is the most northerly of all missions, with the Mexican government aiming to block the expansion of the Russian colony based at Fort Ross, near the coast a few miles west.
For those who would have forgotten, Alaska belonged to Russia from 1732 to 1867. The main objective of the Russians was the fur trade. At this stage, they were only a few priests in Fort Ross, but the Mexican government did not want them to move inland.
A mission was not only a religious building, it was also a farm that grew as the natives were converted. Sonoma’s mission counted about 900 people.
Secularized in 1834, the mission served as a parish church in Sonoma until 1881. It was then sold and became a hay barn, a blacksmith shop … Today, there are only 5 rooms of the original complex which had 27 at the height of its activity. The mission became State property in 1906 and was restored over the years.
This building, which can be visited, is the oldest in Sonoma.
After visiting the mission and its chapel, just opposite you will discover the Blue Wing Inn … built in adobe. It started as a hotel but was converted into a gambling hall during the gold rush.
Although it is not opened to the public, look through the windows, it’s rustic but you can get an idea of the 19th-century atmosphere. The place has been owned by the state since 1968 and a restoration project is under study.
Take a walk on the opposite sidewalk and visit the Sonoma Barracks (same ticket as the mission one). The construction (1834 to 1841) took place under the orders of General Vallejo, to house his garrison. The staging is well done and the video projected in the last room interesting.
Do not trust the calm that reigns today in these buildings, because from 1835 they were at the origin of more than 100 military expeditions in which confronted Native Americans and Mexican soldiers … Guaranteed western atmosphere!
The state bought the Barracks in 1958 and partially restored them.
Stay on the same sidewalk and walk west. You will inevitably see the Toscano Hotel. The structure was built as the main residence of General Vallejo under the name of Casa Grande, which had become a place where politics and the future of North Bay were discussed.
In June 1846, some pioneers returned to the small town of Sonoma creating the independent Republic of California, whose flag displays a bear on a white background. That was the beginning of the California state flag when it was (briefly) an independent nation.
Since then, Casa Grande has become Hotel Toscano. You can see the interior decoration perfectly restored from the street.
Your Sonoma history appetite is not satisfied yet? Continue on the same sidewalk as the Hotel Toscano, towards 3rd St. west and walk to the end of the park. This is where the famous General Vallejo built his house after he was elected Senator of the State of California. It is a beautiful Victorian Gothic piece.
For the record, the first building elements were shipped pre-manufactured from the east coast and so passed Cape Horn… We let you discover the architectural details, the park, and the outbuildings.
The Sonoma Overlook Trail (2.5 miles) for the whole family, but not suitable for strollers … This path is partly in the undergrowth but the most important part is that it will take you to the top of a hill to discover the entire valley. When you come back down, use the same trail until you reach a junction where you can take the Troyon Trail for 0.2 miles, a very small piece of road to get to the Mountain Cemetery … You will quickly understand why and how the valley developed its wine industry … The vast majority of the names on gravestones are Italian.
Bartholomew Park (approximately 4 miles) is owned and operated by the Frank H. Bartholomew Foundation. Set on 375 acres of vineyards, gardens, and forests, the park is a protected space where the public can enjoy the beauty and history of this place. The park is the site of the original residence and vineyards of Earl Agoston Haraszthy, considered the birthplace of California’s premium wine industry. The park is accessible from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and all visitors must have left the premises by 6 p.m. We recommend the North Gate Trail (be careful, the walk is a bit difficult in places). The view at the highest point of the ride is spectacular and lets you discover San Francisco on a clear day. Going back down, you can take the Miwok Trail; you will walk along Buena Vista Winery owned by Jean Charles Boisset. If you want to go and get a drink there, you will have to get in your car and get out of the park …
Where to eat in Sonoma?
There is no lack of choice but we recommend, if you do not already know it The Girl and the Fig; this restaurant is mentioned in all the guides; the team does a lot of things based on local products, it also prepares its own charcuterie … the place is a classic with a nice terrace. We also recommend El Dorado Kitchen which is the restaurant of Hotel El Dorado. Do not be fooled by the small terrace which faces the main square, the interior courtyard is very large and perfectly equipped so that you have a very pleasant time. The place is alive with a beautiful menu.
If you are looking for a more “casual” and beer garden atmosphere with a live orchestra on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, go to the HopMonk Tavern. The terrace is covered and the atmosphere is very pleasant.
For a drink before dinner, we suggest the Ledson Hotel, where you can enjoy from their terrace overlooking the square, a wine from their property, or a glass of champagne.
Sonoma, it’s not just wineries, it’s also a page of Northern California history and it’s worth a visit.