Travel & Outdoors

Take A One-Tank Trip to Downtown Sonoma

July 9, 2012 10:13 AM

Sonoma is the gateway to Northern California’s wine country, just 40 miles north of San Francisco. Here, visitors discover the intersection of sunshine, vineyards and history that makes Sonoma unique as the birthplace of California statehood in 1846. Add the lure of seasonal festivals for a great getaway destination offering lots more than wonderful wineries.

Getting There

Drive across the Golden Gate Bridge on US-101, take exit 460A merging onto CA-37 east following signs for Napa/Vallejo. Take CA-121 to State Route 12 straight into town. The handsome circa-1908 City Hall, a national historic landmark, is the centerpiece of Sonoma’s eight-acre grassy plaza, California’s largest. Sonoma Plaza appeals much as a European town square does, with charming shops, wine tasting spots, historic sites, hotels and restaurants surrounding it. Picnics by the playground are allowed, but dogs are not.

What To Do

Mission of Saint Francis of Solana
114 E. Spain St
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 938-9560

Price: $3 adults/$2 children

A walk through this 1823 mission, chapel and garden tells the story of California’s fabled past. This is the northernmost, and last, of California’s chain of 21 Franciscan missions established under orders from the Spanish king, and is also said to be the site of California’s first vineyards. Four nearby historic sites comprise Sonoma State Historic Park, where same-day visits are included with a Mission admission ticket: General Vallejo’s House, Sonoma Barracks, Toscano Hotel and Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park.

Valley of the Moon Certified Farmers Market
Sonoma Plaza
Sonoma, CA 95476

Visitors and locals mingle at Sonoma’s weekly main event. Like a small-town picnic, folks spread blankets on the grass to enjoy items from 50 vendors, buy local wine or bring their own. There are plenty of ready-to-eat items, plus baskets of squash, raspberries, artichokes, tomatoes, broccoli, leeks and eggplant, all freshly harvested in season. Contributing to the jolly atmosphere, it features a changing program of live music presented for free in the amphitheater.

Related: 75 Cars Spin Donuts At Sonoma’s Infineon For World Record

photo: Mike Doran
Sonoma Raceway
Infineon Raceway
29355 Arnold Drive
Sonoma, CA 95476
(800) 870-7223

Click here for ticket info

This is a year-round motor sports circuit. It’s loud, it’s popular, it’s exciting, and it’s usually hot and sunny in the stands. Highlights include National Hot Rod Association’s drag car racing events, the IndyCar Grand Prix Series, NASCAR events and jet-air shows. It’s a challenging circuit with plenty of thrills, where cars reach speeds of more than 170 miles per hour. Trackside camping is available for those who want to make the most of a visit to this well-known raceway. Watch for an official name change of the track in 2013.

Della Santina’s

133 E. Napa St.
Sonoma, CA
(707) 935-0576

A family business since 1980, with roots and old recipes from Lucca in Tuscany, this slice of Italy feels right at home just off of Sonoma Plaza. Choose sun or shade in the charming back garden, covered in trellises twisted in wisteria and grapevines. Enjoy the soothing, trickling fountain with a touch of humor displayed by the yellow rubber duckies swimming in it. In cooler months, a fireplace and Pavorotti warm up the interior. Friday evening wine tastings at $5 are hosted by friendly, attentive staff that aims to please.

Swiss Hotel
18 W. Spain St.
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 938-2884

Price: from $150 midweek/$200 weekends

Just five guest rooms with balconies overlook Sonoma Plaza from Sonoma’s historic inn. The walls of the bar and restaurant on the ground floor display dozens of old photos relating a story of Sonoma’s people over a century. Now in its fourth generation of family ownership, this local landmark is a popular place for a glass of wine. Watch the world go by seated at a table on the front patio, or opt for the rear dining patio. An outdoor wood-burning pizza oven, red-and-white checked tablecloths, pretty flowers and umbrellas, and plenty of wine bottles complete the cozy Alpine look.

Related: Sonoma County Wine Growers See Uphill Future For Vineyard Expansion

Laurie JM Farr is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. A transplanted New Yorker, she has traveled throughout the world as the Big Apple’s official tourism representative. She served as organizer for three Royal Visits to America. As an international relocation consultant, Laurie assisted more than 400 families with overseas moves and is a proud mother of two, thoroughly bi-cultural children. Her work can be found on

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