Ah, the infamous wine country. Have you been? I’ve heard from multiple people that once you go, you’ll want to return every year. Before I went, I thought, “Why would you ever want to do that? There are SO many other places in our world to see.” Then I experienced the laid-back and friendly atmosphere, rolling hills of lush vineyards, and seemingly endless wine tastings (starting as early as 9-10 AM)…and I GET IT. Sonoma Valley, you won me over and I’m already itching to return next fall.
Take a gander at my recommendations of where to eat/drink/taste, what to do, and where to stay. Book a trip to wine country and you won’t regret it!
P.S. Who’s joining me for next year’s trip?! A big thank you to my friend, Jenny, who flew out to enjoy wine country with me!
EAT // DRINK // TASTE
Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery: After checking into our VRBO (more details below), Jenny and I made our way to Sebastiani Winery. We parked our car in downtown Sonoma, which is quaint and adorable, and walked to Sebastiani. It’s only about a 5-minute stroll from downtown. They have a beautiful garden area outside where you can sip and enjoy the scenery. The interior feels like a cellar and puts you in the wine-tasting mood!
Roche Winery: In my humble opinion, you can’t beat a winery that has a dog sitting on it’s front stoop. Jenny and I enjoyed our tasting in Roche Winery’s outside tasting tent and especially enjoyed our discussions with the server who LOVED Cleveland. Want to win me over quickly? Pour me wine and tell me how much you love my hometown. (Plus, have a cute puppy close by.) This winery is located in downtown Sonoma.
Homewood Winery: Out of all of the wineries we visited, Homewood Winery was my favorite. This place was recommended by a local and was the first stop on our bike tour…at 9:30 AM. Nothing says “Good Morning” like a sizzle and sip of Cabernet. This boutique winery produces only about 3,000 cases/year. You can only buy their wine at the winery or by calling the winery to ship it to your house. It’s not found in any restaurants. We got to meet the winemaker, Dave, who was super laid-back and friendly. I downed…err I mean savored every last drop of that juice! I HIGHLY recommend visiting Homewood Winery during your trip to Sonoma. This winery is located about 30 minutes (via bike) outside of Sonoma.
Gundlach Bundschu Winery: “Gun Bun”, as the locals would call it, is located about 20 minutes (via bike) outside of downtown Sonoma. As Jenny and I biked up the slightly hilly and LOONNNNNNNNNNG drive to this winery, thoughts of calling it quits filled our mind…but man oh man, I’m sure glad we didn’t! The property is beautiful in itself, but you truly feel like you’ve found a hidden gem when you walk into the tasting room. The small cave-like setting was filled with people sipping and swirling and tasting and trying. The outside area has paths you can hike, picnic areas to enjoy a meal and gorgeous scenery anywhere you look. They host lots of musicians and even put on a music festival in the summer called “Huichica”. Gun Bun, you’re probably too cool for me, but I enjoyed every last drop of you.
Ravenswood Winery: This winery is located about 10 minutes (via bike) away from downtown Sonoma and was the last stop on our bike tour. I don’t think Jenny and I gave Ravenswood a fair chance, because we went to Homewood Winery and Gun Bun Winery before it. In hindset, I would go to Ravenswood first, Gun Bun second and Homewood last. You know, save the best for last. Anyways, Ravenswood is set up on a hillside and has a lovely view of their vineyards. Jenny and I opted for a glass of wine here and just sat and relaxed on their outdoor patio furniture. Drinking wine all day is exhausting!
What I Learned: Wine country can be expensive, so be sure to stop by the Sonoma Visitor’s Bureau located in downtown Sonoma to pick up a few “I love Sonoma” stickers. A majority of our tastings were buy 1, get 1 free because we showed the wineries these stickers. Thank you to our VRBO hosts, Chris & Meret, for telling us that insider’s secret and saving us $$!
The Red Grape: Looking for good food that won’t empty your bank account? Try the Red Grape! Jenny and I split the Gorgonzola Salad and Margherita Pizza which were both delicious. This restaurant is located in downtown Sonoma right off of the square.
Della Santina’s: Oh my goodness. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted better Italian food! I may have actually had dreams about this dining experience. When Jenny and I walked into Della Santina’s, we weren’t sure what to expect but it received excellent ratings on Yelp, so we had high hopes. From the outside, this restaurant looks extremely tiny…like one small room tiny. There’s no real waiting area and we stood about 5-10 minutes until the host (which I later found out was the owner) came over and asked us (in a very thick Italian accent), “How many?” We followed him as he wove through multiple small dining spaces into the “backyard” where a tent covered at least 20 more tables. Think close quarters but lots of people laughing, drinking wine and enjoying their delicious tortellini, linguini or gnocchi. It helped that they gave us free wine for our “long wait” (it wasn’t that long), but truly this was some of the best Italian food I’ve ever tasted.
Rent Bikes from Sonoma Valley Bike Tours: Jenny and I opted to just rent bikes and create our own winery tour so that we could pick and choose where we wanted to go to and when. It was reasonable priced ($30 for a full day’s rental) and a ton a fun! A majority of roads had little to no traffic, but we were riding on a weekday throughout the morning/afternoon. Regardless, opt to do this instead of driving (safety reasons, plus you’re getting exercise)!
Walk around downtown Sonoma: There are a ton of historical sites in and surrounding downtown Sonoma. Read up here… History not your thing? There are multiple local boutiques and shops where you can browse and buy goodies from Sonoma’s artisans. I also always love to walk around residential neighborhoods to take a look at the houses and the type of people that live in the area.
When I go on vacation, I do not typically like to spend a ton of money on where I stay. Why?
- I like to spend the maximum time I possibly can exploring the place I’m in! My goal is to spend little time in my hotel/rental/etc.
- I’d rather spend my money on an experience — in this case, more money for more wine and good food!
With that being said, I would HIGHLY recommending staying through VRBO at “Casa Danica“. The location was about 5 minutes by car away from downtown Sonoma and cost about $150/night. Our hosts, Chris and Meret, could NOT have been sweeter. When Jenny and I arrived, they greeted us with glasses of wine and a cheese plate, showed us around their beautiful property (on clear days, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge from their front yard), and told us their sweet love story. This 80-some year old love birds are both originally from Denmark (which they reminded us is the happiest country in the world) and truly made us feel at home.
They also told us, “Girls, if you drink too much wine, you call us and we’ll come pick you up!” Thankfully we didn’t have to take them up on this offer, but gosh, I haven’t met a happier, more lively elderly couple than Chris & Meret!
I truly did fall in love with wine country and am excited to return as soon as possibly! While I do want to also visit the Napa Valley wineries, I’m pretty sure Sonoma is more my style.
Question for you: Have you ever been to wine country in northern CA? What was your favorite winery?