When it comes to visiting Sonoma, I'm big on planning. You could just show up and still have a good time, but wouldn't it be even better if the hotel you stayed at was the most romantic, the food you ate was the best in town, and every winery you visited had a free coupon? Lucky for you that Local Wally has done all the work for you. And this isn't your Mom's Sonoma agenda. You think you like wine? Then prove it! Give me 1 day in Sonoma, I'll show you 10 wineries!
Oh No! Is that our hotel? You idiot!!
That's not the way to start a vacation! Here's a short list of the best places to stay in Sonoma. No rat traps, no tourist dumps. Trust me, you're going to want a hotel room after today!
Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn (budget): Located walking distance from the Sonoma Plaza, it doesn't even look like a budget hotel. TripAdvisor
Inn at Sonoma (value boutique): A boutique that doesn't break the bank, part of the luxurious Four Sisters Inn, walking distance to the plaza, free breakfast, wine and cheese. TripAdvisor
The Lodge at Sonoma (big name hotel resort): A newer resort, part of the Renaissance resort chain, all the amenities you would expect like a fireplace, soaking tub and spa. TripAdvisor
MacArthur Place (upscale resort): Lush landscaping and only 64 rooms, private cottages, gorgeous pool and full spa, super deluxe! TripAdvisor
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn (unique romantic resort): When you want the best, head to the Fairmont with its Old World charm and elegance. Not stuffy, not cookie cutter, the perfect romantic getaway. TripAdvisor
LOCAL WALLY HOT TIP: Check my Sonoma coupon page for the most complete and up to date list of FREE and 2-For-1 Tastings!
DOMAINE CARNEROS: I love wine so much that I'm one step away from the 12 steps. But as much as I love wine, big tannic reds in the morning don't do it for me. That's why I head to Domaine Carneros for some sparkling wine to kick off my wine tasting day. The winery is so opulent that you half expect Marie Antoinette to live here and you can even get some cheese and caviar if you want to pretend you're royalty. $6.75 gets you a glass, $15 gets you a flight. (web/map)
JACUZZI FAMILY VINEYARDS: Did someone say Free Wine? Head over to Jacuzzi - why yes, they did invent the jacuzzi - for a free tasting and a stroll through their gift shop, then head across the street to Cline Cellars, their sister winery, where you'll not only get more free wine but can tour a museum on the California Missions as well. Wow, it's like going on a school field trip again, only drunk. Not again! (web/map)
HOMEWOOD WINERY: Now this is real Sonoma, a real small winery where Dave Homewood is involved with everything from pruning the vines to pouring the tastings. The tasting room is hard to find but the experience, and the wines, worth seeking out. And while the tastings are free, buy a bottle to help this guy out. You'll love this one! (web/map)
THE FREMONT DINER: Do you trust me? Well prove it by stopping in at a beat up old country drive in restaurant that you normally would zoom past without a second thought. The Fremont Diner is Southern cooking with a modern touch. Fried chicken on waffles. Smoked pastrami sandwich. Hand formed burgers made from grass fed cattle. And I almost forgot, the salted caramel milkshakes! You will dream about this shake for the rest of your life, I am not exaggerating!
Open only for breakfast and lunch, picnic tables out back face the vineyards and most everybody here are locals so you know the food is good. Come here before FoodTV discovers them and messes everything up. Go away "Diners, Dives and Drive In's", go away "Man V Food", and you, Bourdain, I love you but go away! You guys don't want to stop. But you do. You trust me, right? (web/map)
What, you can't handle four wineries and a giant lunch without passing out? OK, I guess it's time to walk some of it off at Sonoma Plaza (web), the center of town with shops and restaurants. There's plenty of history here since Sonoma was once the capitol of California - kind of. There's plenty of small town charm and look, there's even more FREE wine! Come on, you don't want to go home saying you turned down free Sonoma wine, do you? Of course not!
On the corner of the plaza is what looks like a gift shop. Oh No, you think as your spouse reaches for the door. But wait! Is that a tasting bar? Yes, this is the Highway 12 Tasting room and wow, the tastings are complimentary! Take your time and browse, honey. (web/map)
If for some crazy reason you're still hungry, stop in at the famous Sonoma Cheese Factory (web/map) for some free samples and Oh My God, there's $5 wine tastings at Roche Winery (web/map), a cool place with lots of picnic tables where you can even bring in your own food. Now I know you are full but remember that tip because next time you might want to get some cheese and bread and waste an afternoon just sitting under a tree at Roche. But that's for next time. So many wineries, so little time.
BUENA VISTA CARNEROS WINERY: Woo wee, this place is old! Built in 1857, Buena Vista is California's oldest winery. Take a walk down the wooded road and you'll soon find a beautiful winery with a large and beautiful tasting room. Off the beaten path and worth seeking out. (web/map/coupon)
VALLEY OF THE MOON WINERY: There's so much to like here, from the sparkling wine to the fact that you can actually taste from two wineries here, both Valley of the Moon as well as Lake Sonoma Winery. The winery is modern and contemporary, there are bistro tables where you can order a cheese plate to go with your tastings, you can even go on a tour for $20 with an appointment, good call on a busy day!(web/map)
If you feel a bit like you're my pet duck and I'm force feeding you like you're foie gras, there's no law saying you can't stumble back to your hotel. But for those who want a bit more adventure, here are a few last stops of the day before you really do pass out from too much of everything. Come on, 10 wineries in 1 day, you know you want to do it!
LOXTON CELLARS: Chris Loxton is the wine maker with the Australian accent and hospitality. The winery is simple and welcoming and Chris is such a nice guy you might want to stop in just to say Hi. (web/map)
LOCAL WALLY HOT TIP: The Valley of the Moon Farmers Market runs every Tuesday at the Sonoma Plaza from 5:30 to dusk. Be a local and check it out.
Back to the room, get cleaned up and let's go out on the town for a later night dinner. Sonoma has so many good restaurants that it's hard to pick just one but you can't go wrong with any of these local favorites.
the girl & the fig: Napa has Mustards Grill, Sonoma has the girl & the fig, the iconic and essential good eats restaurant that embodies all that Sonoma has to offer. If you forgot to make a reservation, join the locals on the couch and order dinner there or at the bar. (web/map)
Hot Box Grill: Like local joints? Here's one that hasn't hit the travel guide radars - yet. It's not fancy but the food is incredible. Duck fat fries? Deep fried game hens? Are you joking me? Can I get a Yum-o from Rachael Ray? Wait, she doesn't know about this place. Don't tell her. (web/map)
Harvest Moon Cafe: You're in jeans, it's a nice Summer evening, go sit outside in the backyard setting and gorge yourself on modern California food where the menu changes nightly. A local favorite. (web/map)
More Reviews: OK, you want more options? Here are all of the TripAdvisor restaurant reviews for Sonoma as well as my Good Eats Sonoma guide. Of course, it's just going to make your decision even harder!
Did you make it? Did you finish all Ten Wineries in One Day? If so, congratulations! If not, there's always tomorrow. And how about that food? Pretty incredible. If you followed my advice you tasted 50 or so wines, ate enough to feed a small third world country, and probably erased the last 4 weeks of working out at the gym. Nice job! And while tomorrow you're on your own, I will give you a few last minute tips. Why not visit all the wineries with free tastings? Or check out all the wineries with 2-for-1 coupons? Or go for a new record and hit 11 wineries! There's so much to see and do in Sonoma, aren't you glad you have an insider friend to guide you to the best?
WHERE TO NEXT?
DID SOMEONE SAY FREE COUPONS?
WINTER 2013: As the harvest winds down and the vines rest, don't make the mistake of thinking that it's not a good time to visit Sonoma. Fewer crowds, more one on one attention, it's actually one of the best times for winetasting.
Big News! We launched Napa Valley Home and Garden, an online store that brings Napa and Sonoma farmhouse living to your house. No junk, my interior decorator wife spent tons of time finding cool stuff. Check it out!
Want even more Sonoma info? Search out hotel and restaurant reviews via my TripAdvisor links, compare rates, even book the best deal there. Nice, very nice.