SAN FRANCISCO — Discover Sonoma County just an hour north of San Francisco, with world-class wines, delicious craft beers, tempting farm-to-fork food, charming small towns, urban amenities, stunning scenery, and beautiful, wide-open spaces. It makes the perfect addition to your trip to San Francisco.
Driving from one side of Sonoma County to the other only takes an hour or so, but exploring the beauties and abundance of that same territory can take several days, or more.
Here’s a quick blueprint for your Sonoma County getaway. If you only have a day, choose the areas that interest you the most. But if you have several days, that’s wonderful, because Sonoma County offers so many enticing options.
Petaluma: Gateway to Sonoma County
Driving up Highway 101 from the Golden Gate Bridge, the first Sonoma County outpost you’ll reach is Petaluma, a foodie haven also known for its wines and world-class beer and ales. Nestled along the Petaluma River and built on secure bedrock, Petaluma was one of the few Bay Area communities not seriously damaged in the 1906 earthquake; its downtown includes well-preserved historic buildings that now house boutiques, antique shops, specialty stores, and restaurants. Explore some of the possibilities in 5 Fun Things to do in Petaluma, Culinary Adventures in Petaluma, and 48 Hours in Petaluma.
The Sonoma Valley
Making your way east from Petaluma on two-lane roads brings you to the Sonoma Valley, nestled between two mountain ranges along Sonoma County’s eastern edge. Known as the birthplace of wine in California, this 17-mile long valley includes an amazing variety of landscapes and microclimates, five of Sonoma County’s 18 distinct American Viticultural Areas (known as AVAs or appellations), and the welcoming communities of Sonoma, Glen Ellen, and Kenwood. For more details, read Guide to the Sonoma Valley.
The Pacific Coast
Heading west from Petaluma on scenic back roads takes you through the farming communities of Two Rock Valley and Valley Ford, to the inland town of Bodega and the coastal community of Bodega Bay, a picturesque fishing village on the Sonoma Coast. Play on the sandy beach at Doran Regional Park, go whale watching at Bodega Head, take a deep sea fishing charter, and enjoy fresh local seafood in restaurants along the Sonoma Coast.
From Bodgea Bay, famed Highway 1 winds its way north, hugging the cliffs and revealing stunning views of the rugged, dynamic, and scenic coastline. Every inch of this highway beckons you to stop, get out of the car, relax, and soak in the sublime.
Explore the 17 miles of beaches and rocky bluffs that make up the Sonoma Coast State Park. It stretches from Bodega Head to four miles north of the town of Jenner (which offers spectacular bluff-top views where the Russian River empties into the Pacific Ocean).
Head farther north on Highway 1 and you’ll discover a former Russian colony at Fort Ross State Historic Park, six gorgeous coastal access trails at The Sea Ranch, and white sandy dunes and riverside campsites nestled under redwood trees at Gualala Point Regional Park.
Central Sonoma County
Driving north from Petaluma on Highway 101, you’ll reach Cotati, a modern community with strong historic roots. The heart of Cotati is La Plaza Park, a California Historic Landmark that hosts seasonal farmers markets, an array of community events and festivals, and the annual Cotati Accordion Festival.
Immediately to the north is Rohnert Park, home to Sonoma State University and its acclaimed Green Music Center, and a variety of family-friendly activities, like miniature golf, an electric cart raceway, batting cages, and hiking, biking, and horseback riding at the 128-acre Crane Creek Regional Park.
North of Rohnert Park you’ll find Santa Rosa, the county’s capital city. Its thriving downtown boasts three shopping districts, five historic residential neighborhoods, arts and cultural events, great restaurants, famous chefs, wine tasting rooms, brew pubs, and more.
And just north of Santa Rosa, the town of Windsor is designed to be family-friendly, with a pedestrian-friendly town green, which each summer hosts concerts, movies, and a farmers market.
Russian River Resorts
Both north and west of Santa Rosa, the Russian River winds its way to the Pacific Ocean, creating a special corridor of gently moving water, riverside greenery, and unique towns large and small. It’s a diverse area of vineyards, towering redwood trees, and rolling hills.
Going north on Highway 101 from Windsor, trendy riverside Healdsburg mixes small-town charm with wine and culinary delights for a hip, eclectic mix centered around a charming downtown plaza. About two dozen art galleries are within walking distance of the plaza, along with acclaimed restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and diverse specialty shops.
A little further north on the 101 corridor, the Wild West storefronts and wooden boardwalks in tiny Geyserville reflect its founding in the mid-1800s. The town is surrounded by picturesque vineyards, wineries, and hills, and the area is a magnet for bicyclists, artists, and photographers.
On Sonoma County’s northern border (and the county’s upper stretch of the Russian River), Cloverdale offers a compact downtown filled with rambling Victorian homes, a burgeoning arts community, and a family-friendly atmosphere; it was recently named one of “America’s Coolest Small Towns.”
To follow the meandering Russian River west to the coast, take two-lane roadways from Santa Rosa (River Road exit off Highway 101) or Healdsburg (Eastside Road). Along the riverbanks and under towering redwoods, you’ll find quirky riverside communities like Rio Nido, Forestville, Guerneville, Monte Rio, and Duncans Mills. To learn more, read Guide to the Russian River Resort Area.
Western Sonoma County
From Monte Rio, the two-lane Bohemian Highway winds its way for 10 highly scenic miles south through Occidental to the tiny community of Freestone. A bit to the east of Freestone lie tiny Graton and the larger town of Sebastopol. Diverse landscapes overlap here: around one bend you’ll find a majestic redwood grove, around the next rolling pastureland, neat rows of grapevines, or a fruit orchard. To learn more, read Highlights of the Rivers & Redwoods: West County Tour Itinerary.
The best way to experience Sonoma County is to stay awhile, and explore. Search our listings of Sonoma County Hotels & Lodgings and Restaurants, and check our special Sonoma County deals for money-saving offers in Sonoma Wine Country.