Wintertime Magic in Sonoma County
Wintertime in Sonoma County is a magical time of year to visit. Twinkling holiday lights lend a festive air to Sonoma’s historic town plazas and wineries. The vineyard-draped hills bloom with carpets of yellow mustard flowers. Tasting rooms and trails through the redwoods beckon visitors with far fewer crowds. It’s the season for ice skating, whale watching, and feasting on Dungeness crab. The daytime temps are mostly mild, and the crisp nights are perfect for cozying up by the fire. Below are just some of our favorite Sonoma County attractions and places to snuggle up in the winter.
Just 45 miles from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, the historic town of Sonoma is a gateway to Sonoma wine country and some of the state’s oldest wineries. Its historic, eight-acre town plaza is lined with shops, galleries, tasting rooms, restaurants, bakeries, and a theater. Through the holidays, the plaza is all aglow with thousands of twinkling lights. The plaza is also home to Mission San Francisco Solano, which was the last Spanish-Mexican mission built in California. Sonoma State Historic Park preserves the mission and other nearby historic sites, including the home of General Vallejo.
Where to stay: Just two blocks from the plaza, the Inn at Sonoma is a delightful base for exploring the town. All of the rooms feature fireplaces and most have private decks. A rooftop deck and hot tub provide relaxing spots to unwind. Stays include a wine and cheese reception, breakfast for two, and complimentary bicycles.
Venturing further north, the charming hamlet of Glen Ellen is steeped in wine, fine dining, and natural beauty. Glen Ellen was home to novelist Jack London, who wrote “The Call of the Wild.” His bucolic ranch is now the 1400-acre Jack London State Historic Park. The park features the original cottage where London wrote his books, the austere ruins of his grand home which was destroyed by fire, a museum, and 29 miles of trails through redwood groves and meadowlands. Reserve a tasting at the nearby Benziger Family Winery and then indulge in wood-fired specialties at Glen Ellen Star.
Where to stay: Nestled along a creek, Gaige House + Ryokan is an elegant boutique hotel blending vintage and modern styles with an Asian flair. The tranquil setting features a pool and hot tub with calming fountains, outdoor fire pits, and a yoga and meditation enclave. The inn’s Ryokan Zen Suites offer private rock gardens and deep granite Japanese soaking tubs.
At the north end of the Sonoma Valley, the tiny town of Kenwood is a dream destination for oenophiles. Grand wineries steeped in Old World charm offer incredible wines with unique tasting experiences. Book the five-course wine and food pairing at St. Francis Winery and Vineyards, the seasonal chocolate and wine pairing at Muscardini Cellars, or a tasting with a pet-friendly hike through the vineyards at Kunde Family Winery. Other don’t-miss wineries include VJB Cellars, B Wise Vineyards, Chateau St. Jean, Ledson, and Landmark Vineyards. In the mountains above the town, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park features a 25-foot seasonal waterfall, miles of trails with ridgeline views, and an observatory for stargazing.
Where to stay: Kenwood Inn & Spa is a Mediterranean-inspired hideaway on two-and-a-half acres with views of the surrounding vineyards. The exquisite grounds feature three courtyards with lush gardens, fountains, outdoor fireplaces, two pools, and a hot tub. Book a massage at the spa or a private poolside cabana for the ultimate in relaxation.
Santa Rosa shines through the winter with its dazzling performing arts scene, vibrant downtown, and ice skating. The Green Music Center at Sonoma State University is home to the Santa Rosa Symphony and Sonoma Bach while the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts stages theater, dance, concerts, and more. Downtown Santa Rosa’s Fourth Street is a fabulous shopping destination lined with redwoods, historic storefronts, and with one-of-a-kind boutiques. During the holidays, the town square hosts Winter Lights with a synthetic outdoor ice skating rink and weekend markets. You’ll also find skaters twirling around Snoopy’s Home Ice on the campus of the Charles M. Schulz Museum. The museum celebrates the life and work of the famed Peanuts cartoonist.
Where to stay: Located between downtown Santa Rosa and Sonoma State University, the Gables Wine Country Inn is a beautifully restored 1877 Gothic Victorian. The mansion boasts three antique Italian marble fireplaces, an opulent mahogany spiral staircase, 12-foot ceilings, antique furnishings, and claw foot tubs in each of the main house guest rooms.
Healdsburg is a wine and culinary epicenter in Northern Sonoma County. The town sits at the intersection of three wine appellations: the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley and offers more than half a dozen Michelin-starred restaurants. During the holidays, downtown Healdsburg is dressed to the nines with festive window displays and a gorgeous Christmas tree in the central plaza. Take a tour in a horse-drawn carriage or join a Holidays in Healdsburg guided tour combining wine tastings with delectable pairings. Upcoming wine events include Winter Wineland January 14-15, 2023, and Barrel Tasting March 3-5, 2023. Both events require advance reservations.
Where to stay: Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza’s prime location right on the plaza places guests just steps from Healdsburg’s Michelin-starred restaurants, boutique shops, art galleries, and wine-tasting rooms. The historic inn was originally built in 1901 as a stagecoach stop, but now houses elegant guest rooms with chic, modern décor.
From Healdsburg, the Russian River lazily winds its way through the redwoods and a series of charming small towns on its way to the coast. Among the largest of the towns is Guerneville, which exudes a laid-back, bohemian vibe. Stroll the main drag for its eclectic shops and art galleries and enjoy the farm-to-table menus at Boon Eat + Drink. Two miles north, hike amid the tranquil majesty of the redwoods at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. Afterward, toast the start of the new year at Korbel Champagne Cellars with tastings featuring their finest bubbly and still wines.
Where to stay: Mine + Farm offers a refreshingly modern B&B experience housed in a historic farmhouse. The rooms blend mid-century modern design with farmhouse elements and a touch of whimsy. Challenge your partner to a game of ping pong, curl up with a book amid the treehouse-like views, and savor an organic breakfast each morning complete with house-made juices.
Winter on the Sonoma Coast brings brisk weather, whales, and Dungeness crab. Pack a warm windbreaker and head out to Bodega Bay, where the small fishing village offers a picturesque setting for experiencing all three. Through the winter months, you can spot migrating whales from the rocky cliffs of Bodega Head and enjoy the stunning ocean views. You can also hop aboard a chartered whale-watching tour leaving from the harbor. Dungeness crab season starts in November and the crustaceans appear on the menus of local restaurants throughout the winter. To prepare your own, you can pick up live, fresh crabs at the Spud Point Crab Co.
Where to stay: Just up the hill from the water, Bodega Bay Inn exudes a casual, laid-back vibe. The 14 guest rooms offer dreamy California king beds, private baths, smart TV, and high-speed WiFi. Some rooms offer private decks or balconies and/or jetted spa tubs. Outdoor spaces feature intimate seating areas among the gardens.