From its charming town plaza to its chic shopping, historic buildings, and world-class wine, this Northern California gem is shining like never before.

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello, Budget Travel, Aug 2, 2018

Last July, as I walked the historic streets of Sonoma, CA (one of our 10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2018), I must admit I felt downright pampered just being there.

The town’s plaza is a welcoming green space surrounded on all four sides by great restaurants, stylish wine-tasting rooms, unique shops, and architecture that dates back to Spanish Colonial days. My wife, Michele, and I were only about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, but a world away from the T-shirts-and-fudge scene that typifies too many travel destinations these days.

Sonoma is a place where smart travelers can indulge their taste for authentic, artisanal local food and drink and bask in unrivaled natural beauty without dropping a small fortune.

One of the things we love about Sonoma is the way it has benefitted from decades of historic preservation, starting in the mid-20th century, well ahead of most regions of the U.S. As a result, its Spanish Colonial flavor is on display everywhere you look, with 15 historically significant monuments, buildings, and memorials around the plaza, including a historic mission and former military headquarters.

But, as historic as the town is, Sonoma is all about living in the now, engaging all five senses with cool boutiques, spectacular Mexican, BBQ, and Asian food, arts and crafts, music, theater, and, of course, the exceptional wine-tasting rooms that line the plaza, welcoming and educating tasters from novice to connoisseur with some of the finest wines of the Sonoma Valley region, which happens to be where the California wine industry was born.

The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art offers exceptional exhibitions, interactive education programs, and workshops incredible annual events such as the Sonoma International Film Festival and the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival (devoted to the grape harvest it to September) attract visitors from all over the globe.

I’ve been visiting Sonoma Valley for years, and one of my favorite ways to bring home a taste of Sonoma is to choose a fine bottle of wine (or two, or three…) from one of the valley’s 100+ wineries. And if you have never taken a guided tour of a winery, you are in for a surprise. The experience encompasses not only the delicious finished product, but also an array of architecture including chateaus, castles, and villas, educational visits to witness the process from harvest to barrel to bottle, and, of course, a tasty sip or two.

Don’t forget that the town of Sonoma is situated amid some of the most striking mountains in America, and just about an hour’s drive from the Pacific coast. With 13,000 acres of state and regional parks where you’ll want to hike, bike, and run, the Sonoma Valley’s wild spaces may make it a little difficult to drag yourself back to civilization. One of my favorite day trips out of Sonoma is to head over to Bodega Bay, with headlands overlooking the ocean. Pick up a portable feast of local artisanal cheese, bread, charcuterie, and wine in the plaza and take the winding route up west to the sea—in summer, you may even experience a refreshing temperature drop from around 90 in Sonoma to the mid 60s along the coast.

Sonoma boasts an array of distinctive, comfortable lodging. We enjoyed Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn for well under $200 a night, and the splurgey, elegant El Dorado Hotel & Kitchen, right on the plaza.


Below is from Budget Travel, July 2018 article.

10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2018

Combining cultural diversity, cutting-edge cuisine, natural beauty, and vibrant community spirit, these towns offer visitors a truly authentic experience, and the Coolest Small Town in America 2018. Here, the 10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2018.

#2 Sonoma, CA

In its own charming way, California’s Sonoma is like a theme park for grownups. An easy road trip from the San Francisco Bay Area, the Sonoma Valley town has retained much of its Spanish Colonial flavor, including a historic mission and former military headquarters, and it feels a bit like stepping back in time, thanks to decades of forward-thinking preservationists. But the present and future are very much the focus of Sonoma’s stylish boutiques, great Mexican, BBQ, and Asian restaurants, and, of course, the chic wine-tasting rooms that line the Plaza, welcoming sippers of all experience levels and pouring the best wines of the Sonoma and Napa valleys (which is to say, some of the best in the world).

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