Things to Do in Sonoma, California

Downtown Sonoma

Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 

When you start thinking about things to do in Sonoma, California, you may not realize that the county of Sonoma covers nearly 1,800 square miles, stretching from the wine-producing regions near Napa Valley to the Pacific Ocean. The valley consists of the towns of Sonoma, Glen Ellen, and Kenwood in the eastern part of the county next to the Napa Valley. This treasured corner of California Wine Country is flush with some of the valley's best luxury hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants like the three-star SingleThread. Sonoma offers many things to do beyond the average wine tasting with attractions for tiny tots and high-flyers alike.

01 of 10

Visit Jack London State Historic Park

Redwoods in Jack London State Park

Ryan C. Slimak Photo / Getty Images

2400 London Ranch Rd, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, USA
Phone +1 707-938-5216

His famous novel The Call of the Wild may have been set in Alaska, but author Jack London lived in Sonoma. He called his home Beauty Ranch, but today it is better known as the Jack London State Historic Park. At the park, you can visit a museum dedicated to the author, see the ruins of a 19th-century winery, touch a 2,000-year-old redwood tree, and visit the cottage where London worked.

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02 of 10

Come for a Festival

Wine Events Hightlight California's Grape Harvest
George Rose / Getty Images

Sonoma plays host to many different kinds of festivals throughout the year, so it could be fun to plan your trip around a big event. From the Cloverdale Citrus Fair to the California Artisan Cheese Festival, any time of the year may offer a chance to dig a bit deeper and score many free samples, of some of your favorite foods.

One of the most popular festivals is Taste of Sonoma, which happens on Labor Day weekend. It's a multi-day event that features winemaker lunches and dinners, an all-day tasting of Sonoma foods and wines, and a wine auction. In the spring, the  Sonoma International Film Festival is another long-running festival that draws the film crowd with independent features, documentaries, world cinema, and short films.

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03 of 10

Walk Around Downtown

Downtown Sonoma
Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The town of Sonoma was settled in the 19th century by the Spanish Fathers who built the Mission San Francisco Solano and it is also the site of the Bear Flag Revolt, an important event in the history of California's founding. Notable city landmarks for history buffs include the Sonoma Barracks and the Sonoma Plaza, but the downtown area is also a great place to find cute shops and fine dining. There is a quaint courthouse and many parks with benches and grassy lawns perfect for people-watching.

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04 of 10

Take a Wine Tour

Wine Tasting in Sonoma Valley

Betsy Malloy Photography

No trip to Sonoma can truly be complete without a visit to a winery. With over a hundred to choose from, you'd need a lot of stamina to see them all but thankfully tours are available to help guide you through the best of the best. Not only do these wine tours come with a built-in designated driver, but they also offers an opportunity to see wine country in a new way. For example, Sonoma Wine Valley Trolley offers a scenic tour by way of a streetcar. You could also go by limousine, bike, or segway. For true oenophiles, Terrific Tours' full-day small-group tour led by professional wine educators is the best choice.

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05 of 10

Visit the Historic Mission San Francisco Solano

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, CA.
Tai Power Seeff / Getty Images
114 E Spain St, Sonoma, CA 95476, USA
Phone +1 707-938-9560

Sonoma is one of California's oldest towns and it was built around its historic nearly 200-year-old mission which is open for visitors. The only mission to be built after Mexico won independence from Spain, the history of this building sheds light on the era when California belonged to Mexico. Today the father's quarters have been turned into a museum and a wall displays the names of the indigenous neophytes who were converted.

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06 of 10

Take Flight in a Biplane

Biplane Ride in Sonoma
Todd Lappin/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0)
23982 Arnold Dr, Sonoma, CA 95476-9752, USA
Phone +1 707-938-2444

South of the town of Sonoma on Highway 121, you'll find the hangars of the Vintage Aircraft Company. They offer scenic flights in World War II-era open-cockpit biplanes that can seat two in the front seat. Or you can choose the AT6 "Texan," an advanced trainer plane that will show you how fighter pilots of the 1940s prepared for the careers fighting World War II. Flights can be booked by appointment, but on weekends, they are walk-in only.

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07 of 10

Get Your Thrills at the Racetrack

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350
Robert Laberge / Getty Images
29355 Arnold Dr, Sonoma, CA 95476-9765, USA
Phone +1 800-870-7223

Go a little further south on California Highway 121 to get to the Sonoma Raceway. It's a major stop on the NASCAR, National Hot Rod Association, and Indy Car racing circuits. When the pros aren't roaring around the track at breakneck speeds, you can learn how to drive as they do. At the Sonoma track, Simraceway Driving Center offers racing experiences in their F3 race cars, top-end Audi Experience programs, and track days in your own car. They also have Go Karting and Kart Racing options.

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08 of 10

Take the Kids to TrainTown

Train Town in Sonoma

TripSavvy / Betsy Malloy

20264 Broadway, Sonoma, CA 95476, USA
Phone +1 707-938-3912

Located downtown, TrainTown is a great place to take small children. Since 1968, this 10-acre playground has offered miniature trains that are big enough to ride. The classic train ride runs along four miles of track during its 20-minute journey through tunnels and over bridges. It even makes a stop at the park's miniature town of Lakeview and the petting zoo. Other rides include a carousel and Ferris wheel.

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09 of 10

Explore the Scenic Byways

A women cycling on a rural road in Sonoma.
Adam Hester / Getty Images

Sonoma's backroads are perfect for an exhilarating bike ride or relaxing drive. One of the most scenic and easy-to-follow routes is California Highway 12 north out of town, through Boyes Hot Springs and the area called the Valley of the Moon. California's indigenous tribes (Miwok, Pomo, and Wintun) gave the area this poetic name, but the landscape is anything but lunar. You'll drive through rolling hills, past vineyards, and can visit many wineries in the 10-mile stretch between Sonoma and Kenwood.

You can take a side trip to the town of Glen Ellen or in summer, go a little further west to see the lavender fields in bloom at Matanzas Creek Winery. Sonoma Valley Bike Tours offers a guided, pedal-powered guided tour of the Sonoma area. You can also opt for their self-guided tour that includes a box lunch from a well-known local restaurant.

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10 of 10

Go Shopping at Cornerstone Sonoma

White Cloud by Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot at Cornerstone Sonoma
Cornerstone Gardens

When you're driving toward Sonoma on Highway 120, it's hard to miss the upside-down fence and the oversized lawn chair outside Cornerstone Sonoma. Inside, you'll find a marketplace, two premier wine-tasting rooms, fine restaurants with menus based on seasonal ingredients, and a constantly changing array of gardens that showcase innovative landscape design from local and international artists. One of the more striking sections is an area called "White Cloud," which mimics the shape of a cumulus cloud using shards of oyster shells.

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Things to Do in Sonoma, California