The hamlets in Sonoma County were planned around charming town squares years ago. These tree-shaded parks remain the gathering places for visitors and locals, giving them an edge over Napa and its sprawling landscape along its namesake river.
Sonoma is home to approximately 10,000 residents and dozens of amazing restaurants, wine tasting rooms and swank hotels. It also features art, music and cinema festivals throughout the year, including the vibrant Sonoma Film Festival in March, fireworks for Independence Day, concerts and a Tuesday evening farmers market.
Sonoma was one of the first towns to welcome wineries’ off-site tasting rooms, and there are more than two dozen in the town center. Many are from smaller producers, offering guests a fun opportunity to taste wines off the beaten path.
When you are ready for lunch, the options are delicious. One of my favorites includes LaSalette, one of the Bay Area’s few Portuguese restaurants. The sliver of a restaurant has a small outdoor patio down a little alley off the square. When the sun pours down, it is time to order a crisp Portuguese white wine, such as a vinho verde or a glass of Esporao’s white blend, and enjoy some sardines in olive oil.
While local ingredients fuel the food at LaSalette, almost all the dishes are inspired by Portuguese tradition. The restaurant makes the country’s iconic caldo verde, a chard and potato soup, as well as feijoada, an abundant meat stew typically eaten in Brazil for Sunday lunch.
On the other side of the square is the Girl and Fig. It serves Mediterranean fare with a very Rhone-focused wine list. The restaurant features both domestic and imported wine made from grapes traditionally found in the southern French region. It’s a treat in wine country to be able to taste and compare, and, sometimes even for locals, taste wines from across the pond.
Taste of the Himalayas restaurant also makes some great momos — vegetable- or lamb-stuffed dumplings — that are great to munch on during wine festivals and sneak into pool halls and film screenings.
There are wonderful places to stay in and around the square. The El Dorado Hotel on the square, with its own restaurant and small pool, is great. The MacAruthur place is home to a traditional steakhouse called Saddles and lovely rooms with small patios and outdoor showers. The Renaissance Lodge at Sonoma, about a mile from the square, is also a lovely property with separate bungalows and a spa.
The grand dame of the Sonoma hotel scene is the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn. However, it is not in the best area and you can’t walk to downtown. They do have a house car and the trip downtown is quick.
Uber and Lyft are pretty active in Sonoma, so beyond using house cars they are a great way to get around safely and enjoy all the lovely wine. To wrap up, or start your evening, local bar the HipMonk has live music, and you can play pool or darts at Steiner’s Tavern on the square.
Liza B. Zimmerman is the principal of the Liza the Wine Chick, a writing and consulting business. She has been writing, educating and consulting about wine, cocktails and food for two decades. She has worked almost every angle of the wine and food business, from server and consultant to positions in distribution, education and sales.