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Visiting Sonoma Valley?
Happy to share with you some of our favorite haunts in the Sonoma Valley – nothing like the recommendation of a local when you’re visiting from elsewhere. We’ve had a house there since 1989, and spend every weekend and often parts of the week there. (Links are to places that have their own sites only.)
The best place for pizza in the Valley, with Mary’s (on the Plaza and in the Springs) in second. They call it “New Haven” style pizza – thin crust, with either red or white sauce. Our favorite is the margherita on a whole-wheat crust, with a Caesar salad to start. Pizzas are one size, but certainly adequate to share. Located just off the southwest corner of the Plaza.
There are good, decent Mexican restaurants in the Springs northwest of town (including my place for burritos – Tacqueria Sonoma; $7 for a super that you can only eat half of), but Juanita Juanita is the place for a great sit-down meal. The chipotle chicken and carne asada platters are outstanding, as are beans con todos, tortilla soup, and the Guadalajara sandwich. Say hi to owner Kathy, or on the weekends Kathy, who runs the show then.
Of the higher-end spots in town, this is our favorite (we had our wedding day luncheon here). Sit in the bar area for a cocktail and snack, or dine on the patio or in the main room. Outstanding food and service. Not cheap, but worth it for a special occasion. Located in the Sonoma Hotel on the northwest corner of the Plaza.
Always in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 restaurant rankings, this is a destination spot just off the southeast corner of the Plaza. Make reservations.
In Kenwood: Café Citti
If you head up Valley for wine tasting (see below), Café Citti is a great place to stop for lunch or dinner (note they are closed in the afternoon). Order on the way in and take a seat, or order to go. Lots of great salads; very reasonable prices, including wine.
For a complete listing of Sonoma Valley wineries, visit the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau site.
Advice and Admonitions:
- Pick no more than three wineries to visit – more and you won’t be doing them or yourselves justice.
- Most wineries now charge a nominal tasting fee (at $5 less than in Napa, though). Don’t sweat this, as the fee is usually waived with a purchase. This means that if you are a couple or in a small group, you can simply buy one bottle of wine and think of the tasting as gratis.
- Our experience is that the tasting room folks love it when you take an avid interest in the wines. Taking notes and paying attention may result in wines being pulled out that are not on the tasting list, or certainly a waiver of any limit on how many wines you can taste.
- Seriously, watch your intake, and designate a driver. We find that doing “split tastings” works really well. (A couple both tastes, but each glass gets a different set of samples – great for comparing vintages of the same varietals.)
We divide our winery visits into two tranches: up Valley and down Valley.
Down Valley (south of Sonoma):
Part of the larger Chalone Group, Acacia nevertheless distinguishes itself with solid Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, and has a truly great tasting room crew. Reservations required (simply phone ahead with an hour or two notice). Features great views across the North Bay, all the way to San Francisco.
Okay, it’s located in an industrial park, so no points for ambiance, but really great wines and lovely staff. Michael is often behind the counter, and if you get a chance, visit when the Eighth Street Wineries group is having an event.
Great location, reasonable wines, great history, great location for a picnic. Their advertising is a joy.
In what was once the Valley’s hospital, the setting is simply glorious, and is probably the pre-eminent spot for a picnic.
Prepare to be gob-smacked by intense reds. Lovely setting – actually a nice walk from downtown through a bit of the rural area surrounding Sonoma.
Up Valley (north of Sonoma and the Springs, towards Santa Rosa):
As Peter Wellington admits, not a lot of money is tied up in the tasting room, but they make great wines here. Be sure to ask Jon or John for a taste of the Blanc de Noirs, which they often serve with a bit of chocolate.
We call Phil, the winemaker, Fabio, on account of his do and attractiveness to women. He has opened a tasting room in Kenwood staffed by passionate people, and the wine he makes is simply stellar. (Enkidu is part of the Eighth Street Wineries group, and is a hotbed during their two annual events.)
Other Things To Do
For children, visit Train Town for a few hours, and the duck pond on the Plaza.
Fan of modern art? Book a tour of the di Rosa Preserve, just over the border of Napa County on Highway 12.
Gardens? Visit Quarryhill Botanical Garden just south of Kenwood on Highway 12.
Hiking? Do the Sonoma Overlook Trail (I was a volunteer on the building crew, and Nicole and I chose to have our wedding there), or the Bartholomew Park trail.
In town on a summer Tuesday? Gotta go to the farmers’ market on the Plaza.