DAY 3: More Wineries, Cornerstone Gardens and Historic Sonoma Plaza
A five-minute drive south of Sonoma leads to the lauded Carneros appellation along Highway 121, where several varietals flourish, including those grown for Gloria Ferrer's array of award-winning sparkling wines. Looming above the highway, the winery's architecture is a mash-up of Catalan and California mission design and festooned with a veranda that affords a sweeping view of the valley.
Across the highway from Gloria Ferrer is Cornerstone Gardens, the walk-through showcase of installations by world-class landscape designers surrounded by a collection of eclectic shops and purveyors of artisanal foodstuffs. Motorists will recognize the Sonoma landmark by the white picket fence that twists dramatically around its perimeter that recalls a Möbius strip, or the gigantic wooden chair near the entrance, providing the perfect Alice-in-Wonderland-ish photo opp.
Return to downtown Sonoma to savor the town's rich California history. Historic Sonoma Plaza was the site of the Bear Flag Revolt in which General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, Northern California's former Mexican comandante, was taken prisoner and California began its first bloody steps toward independence from Mexico to eventual American statehood. Sonoma historian and "multiple personality artist" George Webber recounts these events and others during his frequent walking tours of Sonoma, usually in character as Vallejo and occasionally as author Mark Twain. Ever the showman, Webber's historical tours are popular with all ages and a must for history buffs.
On the Plaza's north side is the Swiss Hotel, a collection of spacious rooms above a restaurant and bar of the same name. Enjoy a hearty lunch (the 10 oz. Harris Ranch beef rib eye steak sandwich with Cabernet-Roquefort butter and French fries is a local favorite) or partake of the Swiss Hotel's claim to fame — a coffee-based cocktail dubbed the "Glariffee." The name is an abbreviation of Glazed-Irish-Coffee, though its ingredients are a family secret known only to the landmark's proprietress.
After lunch, take a leisurely walk around the convivial Sonoma Plaza, ducking in and out of colorful kitchen stores, eateries and boutiques. Call ahead and reserve an appointment at Sojourn Cellars, known for their well-balanced Sonoma Coast Pinots. The sit-down, eight-person private tasting will provide a thorough background on their vineyards varied terroirs and wine-making approaches, all while sipping the fruit and meeting new friends.
Now it's time to jump in your car and head north on Sonoma Highway, a right turn from the west side of the Plaza and proceed to the eponymously-named B.R. Cohn Winery (where one can sip the former Doobie Brothers manager's award-winning Silver Label cabernet while regarding a wall of gold records). There's also the internationally-lauded wine master Richard Arrowood's first solo outing Arrowood Vineyards and Winery. Literally dozens of wineries dot the highway and encourage visitors to stop in and sample their creations for nominal tasting fees, which generally apply to any purchase you might make.
At the day's end, return to Sonoma's historic Plaza and indulge in a power-nap under a leafy tree in the grassy square. Once refreshed, head west for cocktails and nibbles at El Dorado Kitchen to relax in their contemporary and bustling local-meets-tourist lounge. The aroma of truffle fries may lure you to stay for a Mediterranean-inspired, wine country dinner that you won't soon forget. Social butterflies can sit at the striking 21-foot communal table facing the open kitchen that affords a view of executive chef Armando Navarro's artistry with seasonal ingredients. On mild evenings, the charming outdoor courtyard provides a romantic al fresco experience. Try the popular Petaluma chicken served with a smoked potato-skin puree and house-made sausage hash, or house-made lemon and ricotta ravioli with asparagus, watermelon radish and a light marinara sauce. The wine list includes Sonoma-Napa labels as well as old world labels, with an overall focus on breakthrough artisan vintners.
After dinner, linger and chat with the friendly locals, many of whom work in the wine industry and will freely offer advice on which wineries to visit (invariably, theirs), when you decide to book an additional 72 hours in Sonoma.
Continue to Attractions