Let’s pause for a minute to think about where you would be if you were to drive 45 minutes outside of downtown LA. You would either find yourself stuck on the 405, passing the Santa Monica pier, (which can often be a nightmare on sunny days…aka. ALWAYS) or driving down the 10-Eastbound through a desert abyss. Take your pick. In San Francisco however, 45 minutes takes you to a waterfront brunch spot in Sausalito, overnight camping on Angel Island, or sipping wine, soaking in the sun, and exploring the quaintness of Sonoma County. While the activities others listed I’ll elaborate on another day here’s a guide to help you plan your next 12 hours in Sonoma.
Luckily, Sonoma County is only a short 45-minute drive from the city. So feel free to mosey your way on over to wine country. Pack some snacks, your favorite playlist, a light sweater, and a nice camera if you’ve got one.
Even if you’re snacking in the car, you can always find yourself ready for a full meal after a long car ride. Stop off at Fremont Diner, a local favorite, where you can order both the shrimp and grits, as well as the lemon ricotta pancakes. But the diner is guaranteed to have something for everyone…chicken and waffles, anyone? Fig toast?
Fremont Diner, 2698 Fremont Dr, Sonoma, CA 95476, United States +1 707-938-7370
There are a myriad of lodging options in Sonoma and the lodge offers free shuttle services to the square, has amazing amenities, and free daily wine tastings. Their concierge service is also incredibly helpful in planning out your wine tasting tour, as well as offering vineyard perks for hotel guests. Take some time to check-in, drink some cucumber water, tour the grounds, and consult with the concierge.
If you can’t find a friend to be your designated driver for the day, We’d recommend parking your car in the town square and using a Vern’s Taxi Service to chauffer you and your friends to different wineries in the area for an hourly rate of $36. Wine tasting often takes about 2 to 4 hours depending on the number of wineries you choose to go to and the price can often be well worth not having to fight with your friend over who can’t drink.
Logistics aside, you might not be hankering for a full bodied red after a hearty brunch, unless you ordered any kind of pork dish that would go well with a medium to full bodied red, so take it easy and enjoy the 30-minute drive to Ledson Winery mansion. Make sure you book an appointment before you arrive if you’re looking to enjoy a guided tasting. Otherwise, feel free to enjoy the architectural details, the rolling hills, and the lush vineyards.
Ledson Winery 7335 Hwy 12, Kenwood, CA 95409, United States, +1 707-537-3810
Once you’ve finished Snapchatting and Instagramming your way through the estate, head on town to Benziger winery for some quality wine tasting and a tour of one of the more well known vineyards in the area. They are generous in their tastings, and hotels can usually offer a tasting deal, which is why we recommend checking in wherever you are staying before you embark on your wine tasting tours.
An art gallery as well as a winery, Imagery winery is an offshoot from the Benziger family. The winery focuses on lesser-known varietals of wine, featuring unusual grapes. Forget the pinots, the cabs, and the merlots you’re familiar with. In fact, the winery’s tagline on their website reads “We’re the cure for Sauvignon blah.” Who knows, you may discover a new favorite wine.
Imagery Winery feels like Benziger’s hip, fun, and silly younger sibling. Their creativity extends beyond their winemaking. All of their labels feature unique artwork commissioned from among the world’s most notable contemporary artists, and their tasting room walls are lined with artwork by artists from around the world.
By this time, you’re a few tastings in, your feet are a bit tired, and you’re starting to feel a little hungry. At this point, Imagery becomes more of an art gallery party than a winery, where you can order made to order pizzas cooked in their pizza often outdoors. So enjoy the late afternoon sharing a pizza and a bottle of wine with your friends.
By this time, you’ll have admitted to your friends that you really can’t taste the difference between a cabernet and a zinfandel, or a pinot grigio and a sauvignon blanc. You’ve learned all of the different types of wine, but know you’ll have to study them further to truly become a wine expert and you still don’t have your perfect Sonoma excursion photo. That’s where Madrone comes in. Valley of the Moon is everything you would imagine a California winery to look like – beautiful wood buildings, lush vineyards, and especially in the fall, the best foliage, so be sure to take advantage of this photo opportunity.
Be sure to leave some time to explore Sonoma’s Historic Town Square. Note that many of the stores close at 5 or 5:30pm so it’s best to arrive in the town around 4pm or earlier. City Hall marks the center of the square and various shops and galleries line all four sides of the plaza. You can do most, if not all of your souvenir shopping in the square. For antiques and home goods, be sure to check out The Corner Store. If you weren’t able to find a good bottle of wine to take home from your winery tours, head over to the Sonoma Wine Shop to sample a variety of boutique wines with experts to help you through the selection process.
El Dorado is a boutique hotel with light and airy décor, beautiful outdoor seating, quality cocktails, and excellent place to people watch. Seat yourself at the bar, or request a table outdoors to enjoy light snacks and a drink before heading over to dinner. I’d recommend the beet salad, truffle fries, and a Treuse or Dare for you chartreuse lovers.
El Dorado Hotel, 405 1st St W, Sonoma, CA 95476, United States, +1 707-996-3030
There isn’t much nightlife in Sonoma, so I prefer to grab an early dinner in preparation for a restful night. There are plenty of options for dinner around the square but the Sonoma classic is The Girl & The Fig, which specializes in classical season French cuisine. Be sure to make a reservation well in advance before your trip, otherwise, there could be quite a wait, if you’re lucky enough for there to even be tables available. Expect country comfort cuisine made with local ingredients and an extensive wine list. They are most well known for their dishes that feature meat, so vegetarians beware.
Lights out. It’s amazing how 12 hours passes so quickly yet so slowly in wine country. You’re able to pack so much into a day, but everything you do has all of the elements of a perfect vacation – good food, quality wine, and time with friends. It’s easy to forget that you are a mere 45 minutes away from the city as you drift to sleep. Really, life could be worse.