Just 30 miles north of San Francisco sits Sonoma County, CA. Sonoma County may be best known for its undeniable wine culture, but there’s so much more to do there than wine taste! Besides enjoying a diverse array of wines at more than 425 wineries, you can also hike among towering redwoods, marvel at the stunning Pacific Coast and explore charming, small towns.
If you want a blend of culture, nature, wildlife, adventure, as well as great food/drink, culminating in an all-around fun weekend trip, follow our 2-day Sonoma County itinerary!
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Day 1: Guerneville + Santa Rosa
Day 1 is all about outdoor adventure in Sonoma County. You’ll be spending your time in Guerneville, surrounded by woodsy natural beauty and full of rustic charm, and Santa Rosa, an up-and-coming foodie and wine destination.
Today you’ll be floating down a lazy river, getting up close and personal with towering redwoods, and exploring/dining in a few fun, quirky towns.
Guerneville, CA makes for a great weekend getaway, especially if you really want to get away from it all. Due to its proximity to San Francisco and easy railway access, the Russian River Valley (where Guerneville is situated) became a popular vacation spot in the 1920’s. This laidback area has been entertaining local vacationers since!
One of the best things about Guerneville is that it’s far quieter and more rugged than Healdsburg, Sonoma or Napa nearby. This makes it the perfect spot to enjoy the outdoors and truly unplug from the rest of the world!
Start by strolling down Main Street, dotted with a variety of trendy coffee shops, boutiques, art galleries, dive bars, and diners. Don’t miss Guerneville 5 & 10, where you’ll find old-fashioned candy, vintage toys, and other fun gifts. If you’re into vintage and thrift finds, take the opportunity to peek into the various secondhand shops in town.
For lunch, we recommend boon eat+ drink (a cozy little spot offering California comfort foods with seasonal ingredients) or Brot (a modern german concept serving delicious classics in a warm Bavarian atmosphere). Looking for something significantly more filling? Order the prime rib at Main Street Bistro & Caberet–where you come for the prime rib and stay for the live music!
Follow up your meal with a quick visit to Guerneville Bank Club, a collective retail and art gallery space featuring art shows, handcrafted pies, homemade ice cream, and curated goods. Experience Chile Pies Baking Company, Nimble & Finn’s handmade ice cream, and the Russian River Historical Society all under one roof.
Another fun fact? The LGBTQ scene here is popping! This tucked-away town has been the go-to gay getaway for Bay Area weekenders for decades, earning it the nickname of the ‘Gay Riviera’.
Johnson’s Beach has been a Guerneville tradition for over 100 years. Here you can rent a chair and an umbrella, stake out your spot, and just let the day pass you by. If you take your weekend getaway between May through September, floating in the river is one of the most refreshing and relaxing things to do in Guerneville during the summers.
Johnson’s Beach not only features the beach but also has a snack bar and watercraft rental service. You can choose to float in rented inner tubes or get a bit more active with paddle boats or kayaks. When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the snack bar for hot dogs, burgers, beer, and ice cream!
Korbel has been a staple of Sonoma County since 1882, when the winery was founded by the Korbel brothers. All of the sparkling wines are made in the traditional method and range from dry to sweet. And even if you don’t want to wine taste, stop by to enjoy the lush grounds–it’s absolutely beautiful!
Educational tours of the winery and the gardens are offered daily. Winery tours last around fifty minutes and include a peek at the history museum and historic champagne cellars, followed by a tasting. For tours and general tastings, reservations are highly recommended as they do tend to get fully booked during summer weekends.
Pro Tip: Head to the attached deli where you can get picnic fixings to pair with your tastings.
ARMSTRONG REDWOODS STATE RESERVE
Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve is located just a short drive from Guerneville but will immediately transport you to your forest dreams. There are various hiking trails that wind through majestic sequoia trees that are over 500 years old and over 200 feet tall!
While visitors can drive through Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, walking through the park is the best way to experience the massive, towering redwoods. If you’re limited on time, take the Armstrong Redwoods Grove Loop Trail to experience a 1.6-mile self-guided walk in old-growth redwoods (this is an ADA-compliant trail).
FIRE CLOSURE: As of February 2021, there are closures in this park or area due to wildfire. For the latest information, please visit their website.
EXPLORE DOWNTOWN SANTA ROSA
After exploring the Guerneville area, it’s time to move on to Santa Rosa, CA. Surrounded by various state parks and wineries, Santa Rosa attracts both nature lovers and wine lovers. The diverse culture and local cuisine also draws art and history lovers as well as foodies.
Start with downtown Santa Rosa where you’ll find lots of coffee shops, restaurants, and breweries. This area is also a hotspot for antique, thrift, and vintage shoppers. In fact, popping into the various secondhand shops ended up being one of our favorite things to do in Santa Rosa!
While you’re here, pay attention to the Historic Railroad Square, located in the heart of downtown Santa Rosa. The buildings in and surrounding the square were restored and preserved to serve as a reminder of the impact that the railroad had on Santa Rosa. The square is home to various restaurants, shops, hotels, as well as the West End Farmer’s Market.
GRAB BREWS AT RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING COMPANY
Sonoma County has a long history of beer-making and was actually once known for having the best soil for hop yards. Today, there are still a number of popular breweries standing including the Russian River Brewing Company, known for its super popular ‘Pliny the Elder’ and ‘Pliny The Younger,’ only available in February.
Russian River Brewing Company is a great spot to grab casual beers before moving on to dinner at one of the many dining options in Santa Rosa, CA.
DINNER: EL COQUI OR THE BIRD & THE BOTTLE
Dinner time! There are too many good restaurants in Santa Rosa to recommend just one, so I’ve chosen my two favorites.
The Bird & The Bottle is a tapas-style bar and restaurant that features very creative, Asian fusion food. We haven’t had anything there that we didn’t love! Some of the best dishes include the smoked wild black cod, lamb meatballs, BBQ octopus, chicken skin cracklings, pastrami tacos, grilled skirt steak with trumpet mushrooms, and Mary’s smoked chicken wings.
El Coqui features traditional recipes of Puerto Rican cuisine passed down over generations. I absolutely love Puerto Rican food because of the fact that you get a plate filled with a bit of everything that comes together to give you a well-balanced meal. Try the pollo al horno–this is their signature dish and comes with rice, back beans, and fried plantain. Trust me, it’s absolutely amazing.
NOBLE FOLK ICE CREAM & PIE BAR
Noble Folk is such a great spot to grab dessert after dining in Santa Rosa. Not only do they have unique and exquisite ice cream flavors, but they also have an assortment of homemade pies that are equally as delicious. We opted for the homemade “Oreo” and boy was that a life-changing experience. The strawberry blueberry crumble pie paired so well with our new favorite ice cream flavor!
WHERE TO STAY IN THE SANTA ROSA AREA
Cambria Hotel Sonoma Wine Country – This hotel, pictured below, is our new favorite art deco-style hotel in the area! It’s located in Rohnert Park, near Graton Resort and Casino, and features a ton of awesome amenities that we fully enjoyed to the fullest during our last stay here. There is an on-site bar/restaurant, a heated outdoor pool, and a 24-hour fitness center (with Peloton bikes). The best part? It’s super affordable!
Hotel E – A super stylish hotel that is conveniently situated next to the town’s courtyard square. Hotel E offers 39 air-conditioned accommodations, designer toiletries, and premium bedding. All 39 rooms boast tablet computers and offer free WiFi and flat-screen TVs. They have a bar/lounge, and parking is either valet or street parking.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN THE AREA
- Guerneville Flea Market (Saturday mornings)
- Scandia Family Fun Center
- Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue
- Graton Resort and Casino
- Bennett Valley Golf Course
- Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
- Trione-Annadel State Park
- Charles M. Schulz Museum
- Ice skating at Redwood Empire Ice Arena
Day 2: Sonoma
Your second day will bring you slightly east of Guerneville and Santa Rosa, CA. You’re headed to Sonoma, CA! Known for its laidback vibe (well, at least compared to Napa, CA), acclaimed food and wine, relaxing spas and stunning beauty, Sonoma offers a wine country experience like no other.
COFFEE AT CAFE SCOOTERIA
Good morning, Sonoma, CA! Let’s start the day off with some drive-thru coffee. Cafe Scooteria is Sonoma’s only true full-service drive-thru coffee cart. This spot is unique and well-loved by locals in Sonoma, combining traditional Italian style coffee within a vintage scooter shop.
There is no real menu, you simply ordered what you want and they make it! You can either pull up in your whip (baristas will come take your order) or get out and stand in line yourself. They’ll serve you both ways, scooter not required.
BREAKFAST/BRUNCH AT SUNFLOWER CAFFE
It’s time to move on to food now; start the day right with some California-style breakfast! Head to Sunflower Caffé, one of the best places to enjoy stellar coffee drinks, breakfast, and lunch on their beautiful garden patio.
Sunflower Caffé is committed to buying produce from local and organic farms, which means the food tastes that much better. How it works: You order in the front and then they seat you. The food and service are beyond excellent!
Pro Tip: They don’t take reservations and there’s always a line (on weekends especially), so head there early or be prepared to wait your turn.
EXPLORE THE HISTORIC SONOMA PLAZA
After breaking your fast, it’s time to burn off some of those calories. There’s no better way to do that than strolling along the historic Sonoma Plaza. Sonoma Plaza offers a postcard-perfect start to your adventures. It’s a pedestrian paradise, so park your car and get to exploring!
There are so many local boutiques, tasting rooms, hotels, bars, restaurants, home decor shops, olive oil shops, and more dotted along the square. Our favorite stores include Figone’s Olive Oil, Sign of the Bear, and The Corner Store.
After you’re done perusing, snacking, and shopping, enjoy the greenery at the spacious park located in the middle of the plaza.
Sonoma County is home to 60,000 acres of vineyards and more than 400 wineries, spread over 18 distinct wine regions all catering to different tastes. Chardonnay is the most popular grape in Sonoma, followed by cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. Despite these being the big three, there are over 50 grape varietals grown in the county.
Spend a few hours exploring the different wineries near Sonoma, including the picturesque Viansa Winery, Robledo Winery, and Roche Winery (some of our top recommendations).
EL MOLINO CENTRAL
At this point, I’m sure you’ve worked up an appetite. Look no further than El Molino Central, the best spot for regional Mexican food.
We first discovered El Molino Central after falling in love with Primavera’s mole tamales at the SF Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. After finding out that there was another nearby establishment serving Karen Taylor Waikiki’s delicious food, we knew we’d be going back to El Molino for years to come. Any time we visit Sonoma, we have to stop by El Molino Central.
The true star of Primavera’s and El Molino Central’s tamales, quesadillas, and tacos is the fresh masa used to make them. Truly melt in your mouth deliciousness. If you’re stuck on what to order, get the chicken mole tamales, pork tamales, the chile relleno plate, or the fish tacos. Better yet, get all of it.
Pro Tip: On Saturday mornings from 10-11am only, you can grab their iconic plate of chilaquiles!
COOL DOWN WITH PALETAS AT LA MICHOACANA
Looking to cool down from the warm Sonoma County weather? After dining at El Molino Central, drive south a few blocks to La Michoacana for a delightful frozen treat. You can’t miss their colorful little shop as you drive down the Sonoma Highway. The building is painted in bright, festive colors and has an extremely welcoming atmosphere. Once inside, explore the various ice cream flavors, paletas (fruit bars), bolis (ice pops), and mangonada cups (sweet and spicy mango cups).
Since we tend to enjoy popsicles more than ice cream in hot weather, we opted for the tamarind and guanabana paletas, which cost about $3 each. If you find yourself really enjoying your frozen treat as you scarf it down outside the storefront, grab a new flavor for the road!
SHOP AT THE MANY SECONDHAND STORES
For those on the lookout for unique fashion finds, Sonoma County has many treasure troves of secondhand delights. Even when we’re not on the lookout for any specific home decor or article of clothing, we still love browsing through thrift stores. You never know what you’ll find!
Some of our favorite shops in Sonoma include Plain Jane’s and Republic of Thrift, both selling an assortment of items at really affordable prices (unlike various other consignment and antique shops with eye-gouging prices).
Although Sonoma County may best be known for its wine culture, it’s also home to Safari West, a 400-acre wildlife reservation in Santa Rosa where visitors can actual experience a slice of Africa without the steep safari tour prices or a plane ticket! This wildlife safari is nicknamed the “Sonoma Serengeti”, allowing you to see animals such as cheetahs, oryx, gazelle, wildebeest, and giraffes. The property houses over 900 exotic animals and offers year-round tours and even overnight stays.
Safari West offers a 3-hour safari ride for you and your family to enjoy. If you’d like to experience a little bit more, there is a behind-the-scenes walking tour that takes you around the preserve and gets you up close and personal to some of the animals. If you’re looking for an even more immersive experience, you can opt for the nighttime safari to encounter all the nocturnal animals. You’ll need to book at least a few weeks in advance for the best tour times.
Pro Tip: Safari West offers a 4pm afternoon tour and can be done in the late afternoon after your Sonoma exploration, or early the next morning (first tour is at 9am). If you can swing it, we recommend staying the night, sleeping among the animals, glamping in a luxury tent cabin at Safari West! They have rooms with bunk beds for the kids and on-site wine tastings for the adults.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN THE AREA
- Wine Country Hot Air Balloon Ride
- Napa Valley Wine Train with Gourmet Lunch
- Calistoga Hot Springs
- Sonoma TrainTown Railway
- Sonoma Walking Food Tour
- Visit a farmers market
WHERE TO STAY IN SONOMA, CA
The Lodge At Somona Resort – This is where you go when you want some luxurious R&R. Retreat to luxury in the heart of California’s scenic wine country at The Lodge at Sonoma, an Autograph Collection resort and spa. Through thoughtful interior design and locally sourced amenities, the accommodations at The Lodge honor the attention to detail and vibrant character that makes Sonoma so memorable. All 182 rooms offer things like pillow menus and bathrobes, and there is a full-service spa, outdoor pool, fitness center, bar/lounge, coffee shop, and a snack bar on the property. There is also free self-parking!
El Dorado Hotel – El Dorado Hotel is perfect for travelers who want to experience the rustic charm of wine country but still crave that downtown bustle. This 27-room boutique hotel is situated smack dab on Sonoma Square, so guests can easily balance their itinerary between vineyard hopping, dining, post-wine napping, and exploring the town. Attached is a very popular restaurant, making your stay even more convenient. The hotel also has an outdoor pool, a bar/lounge, free WiFi, and free self-parking.
Safari West – For a more rugged stay, opt to do an overnight stay at Safari West after your safari tour. Safari West offers decorated tent cabins that’ll immediately transport you to Africa, a restaurant, a bar/lounge, and even spa services. There is free WiFi in public areas and free self-parking. All 31 accommodations offer furnished balconies, free bottled water, and ceiling fans.
Essential Packing List For Sonoma County, CA
- License and registration | This is a no-brainer, but always good to check you have all documents before it’s too late and you get too far away from home. Do NOT leave home without them. They are road trip essentials!
- Roadside Emergency Kit | If you’re renting a car, you never know what kind of car trouble you may encounter on the road. This kit contains 42 roadside emergency components, including jumper cables, an aluminum flashlight and batteries, 2-in-1 screwdriver, duct tape, poncho, cable ties, bandages, towelettes, and zipper-lock bags.
- Trunk Organizer | With any road trip comes lots and lots of stuff to pack. Keep your road trip essentials organized with a trunk organizer. Not only will this make it so much easier to find what you need, but it will also lead to more space in your trunk for you to pack other necessities.
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- Portable Cooler | Coolers are a must for any road trip, but especially in California Wine Country. How else are you going to keep your meats and cheese cool for your picnic? A portable hard cooler will allow you to pack picnic lunches, bring cheese and jams, and more. If you’re looking for the best cooler technology out there, the Yeti Portable Cooler is top of the line, with ColdCell Insulation that offers superior cold-holding compared to other soft coolers.
- Swiss Army Knife | A multi-tool is great to have in any car, regardless of if you’re going on a road trip or not. It can be useful in so many situations! There have been so many instances where I’ve needed to cut something or open up hard-to-open packaging while away from home, and this has been a lifesaver.
- First Aid Kit | It’s always good to carry a first aid kit around with you when traveling. Road trips make it easier to do this since all you need to do is toss it in the trunk! Note: This is not the same as the roadside emergency kit.
- Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
- Hiking Socks | Make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
- Puffy Jacket | If you’re traveling in the fall or wintertime, you’re going to need layers in the valley, which tends to get windy in certain areas. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of adventuring! For protection against potential rain, opt for a packable rain jacket that also serves as a windbreaker.
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Deuter ACT Trail 30 Hiking Backpack. It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
- Sunhat | Sun protection is key for any California destination. You’re in fancy Napa Valley, so embrace the ritziness and keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat!
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike or bike ride but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures… the last thing you want is to be driving along with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
I hope you enjoyed this post, featuring some of the best things to do in Sonoma County! Drop me a comment if you have any questions at all about this itinerary.
And if you completed a trip of your own, what were some of your favorite things to do in Sonoma County?