Sonoma CA Visitors Guide
The history of the town of Sonoma is intertwined with California’s early history, as visitors to Sonoma’s central plaza will learn. The plaza is surrounded by several well-preserved old adobes and other historical buildings dating from the early 1800s when the last of California’s missions were built in Sonoma.
The buildings are part of Sonoma State Historic Park and include the Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma, built in 1823 and the last and most northerly of the 21 Franciscan missions, Sonoma Barracks, where General Mariano Vallejo’s troops were housed, La Casa Grande, Vallejo’s first home in Sonoma, Lachryma Montis “Tears of the Mountain“, where Vallejo lived until his death, and the Blue Wing Inn, the first hotel to be built north of San Francisco.
General Vallejo was ordered to establish a frontier pueblo in Alta California to protect Mexico’s far northern territory. Clashes with local Native Americans prevented such outposts in Santa Rosa and Petaluma, but a pueblo was finally founded in Sonoma around the new Mission Sonoma.
The colony was short-lived, however, when in 1846 a rag-tag band of white settlers rode into town and declared California an independent republic. General Vallejo seemed nonplussed and surrendered without a fight and even offered the revolutionaries wine.
The non-event, known as the Bear Flag Revolt, and the independent republic lasted just a few weeks before the United States claimed California for itself in July of 1846 during the war against Mexico. General Vallejo, after spending time in jail at Sutter’s Fort, went on to become the first state senator for the district and later Sonoma’s mayor.
Now the town of Sonoma draws thousands of visitors every year who come to enjoy the area’s fine wineries, great restaurants, unique shops, numerous resorts, and spas, as well as its natural beauty and historical attractions.
Visitors to Sonoma would do well to start their exploration of the town at the attractive plaza where the Sonoma Valley Visitors Center is located in the old library building. The center has several brochures and publications to help acquaint newcomers with the town.
A visitor’s next stop might well be the man-made caves at Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves. The Ferrer family of Spain has been producing méthode champenoise sparkling wine for over 100 years. Their Sonoma location features red tile rooftops, tapestries, and antiques. There is also a terrace vista that overlooks the vineyards and the rolling hills of Carneros Valley.
There are a total of 36 wineries in the Sonoma Valley, which is blessed with a combination of soil, climate, and weather to make it one of the finest spots on earth to grow wine grapes. The Sonoma Valley is an official appellation, which means that any wine with the Sonoma Valley name on its label must have at least 85 percent of its contents made from grapes grown in the Sonoma Valley.
In the southern end of the valley is the Carneros area which is cooled by fog from San Pablo Bay. This area is known for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and some Johannesburg Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Farther north around the lovely town of Glen Ellen, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon are grown.
Sonoma & Valley of the Moon Highlights
- Chili Cookoff, Parade and World Pillowfighting Championships – food, wine and pillow fights over Los Guilicos Warm Springs Creek, every Fourth of July in Kenwood. (707) 833-2440.
- Glen Ellen/Kenwood – wineries, restaurants, lodging facilities, antique shops, restaurants, bookstores and more.
- Jack London State Historic Park – museum, hiking trails, and grounds on the former ranch of famed author Jack London. Hwy 12 to London Ranch Road, just outside of the town of Glen Ellen, (707) 938-5216.
- Mission San Francisco Solano – the last of California’s 21 missions, built in 1823, open daily, First and Spain Sts., 707-938-1519
Sonoma State Historic Park – Sonoma Mission, General Vallejo’s house, Sonoma Barracks and more all within walking distance of Sonoma Plaza.
- Sugarloaf Ridge State Park – 2,700-acre park in Mayacamas Mountains, hiking, camping, horseback riding, fishing and more, 2605 Adobe Canyon Rd., Kenwood, (707) 833-5712.
- Valley Of The Moon Vintage Festival -a celebration of the bounty of Sonoma Valley and the oldest wine festival in California, Sept. 25-27 on the Sonoma Plaza.
- Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau – visitor guides, information. 453 First St. East, Sonoma, CA 95476, (707) 996-1090