Profile: Sonoma, California

Discover some interesting facts about California's birthplace.
By: David Bolling
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Population: 10,000

USDA Hardiness Zone: 9b

Major Airports: Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Oakland International Airport

Companies with a Major Presence: The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, Sebastiani Vineyards, Buena Vista Vineyards, Gundlach Bundschu (the oldest family-owned winery in the West)

Sonoma is the true birthplace of both California and the California wine industry, but that’s just one slice of the historical pie. It’s also where Franciscan friars built the northernmost California mission. It’s the capital of the short-lived Bear Flag Republic that preceded statehood. It’s the site of the West’s oldest winery and home to the biggest town square in California. In short, Sonoma is overflowing with wine and history.

But don’t assume that grapes alone define the town. There’s a lot more to it than that. Sonoma is both old and sleepy, and young and hip, with a social calendar that fills almost every weekend. It has petanque courts, an annual jazz festival, an A-list film festival, two competitive drink-fests (Martini Madness and The Battle of the Bartenders) and a world-class racetrack hosting NASCAR, the IRL, NHRA national drags, the Jim Russell Racing School and several weekends of classic car events.

Still, wine is what keeps Sonoma at work and on the map. The city of 10,000 is nestled between low mountains in the picturesque Valley of the Moon. The Valley has enough romance, scenic beauty, culinary options and, of course, great wine to stimulate a pinch-me reflex among new arrivals.

In a frequently repeated scenario, people visit for the wine and then find a way to stay. Despite its fairy-tale charm, Sonoma is a real community where most people still don’t lock their doors and architecture ranges from Mediterranean and Victorian to Craftsman. There are stunning estates and modest bungalows. Before the subprime crash, the average selling price was close to $900,000.

There’s not a lot of industry in Sonoma and much of what there is connects in some way to tourism and wine. Sonoma’s historic neighborhoods, its wooded hillsides and ridge-top estates are home to numerous notables including Pixar’s John Lasseter, Tommy Smothers and numerous cashed-out dot-com millionaires.

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