Sonoma Essentials

Take advantage of Sonoma’s best dining, entertainment and more.
By: David Bolling
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Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to ...


Life in Sonoma revolves around the 8-acre Plaza (Broadway at Napa Street), the largest town square in California and site for many of the town’s celebrations and parades. From spring through fall, there’s a farmers market with free music in the bandstand and picnicking anywhere you want to spread a blanket. Children’s playgrounds and a duck pond invite kids all day long while parents lounge on park benches drinking lattes or local wine.


First try the Plaza. Then try Sonoma Village Market. The Tuesday night farmers market is also a good bet, and so is the bar at El Dorado Kitchen, also known as EDK (405 First St. West, 707-996-3030). Then try the girl & the fig (110 West Spain St., 707-938-3634) and Murphy’s Irish Pub (464 First St. East, 707-935-0660). If all else fails join the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (551 Broadway, 707-939-7862), or become a member of the Sonoma Valley Film Society (707-933-2600). Film Society members get discounts for the annual film festival and meet other starstruck movie mavens.


Murphy’s Pub again; EDK; the Plaza; hiking the Overlook Trail (First Street West just past Arnold Field and the Veterans Memorial Building) which zigzags up the side of the ridge above town offering spectacular views all the way to San Pablo Bay.


It’s called Train Town (20264 Broadway, 707-938-3912) and it’s all about trains. A 20-minute tour on a scale steam train takes you and your kids through a 10-acre forest, over trestles, through tunnels and past miniature waterfalls. There are full-size train cars to play in, along with vintage amusement rides including a Ferris wheel and a petting zoo. After that, take the kids to the Plaza or up the Overlook Trail.


There are spas all over the Valley but our votes go to:


If you don’t go to Hipkiss Family Gallery (414 First St. East, 707-938-5477) just off the Plaza, and at least look at Cynthia Hipkiss’s oversized porcelain people, you’ll be missing a local treasure. Her figures are plump, provocative, sometimes profane and profoundly funny. Cynthia shares gallery space with her artist daughter Caroline who paints serious cows and farmyard scenes.


Little Switzerland in Boyes Hot Springs (401 Grove St., 707-938-9990) tops the list with rotating bands playing everything from rock and salsa to (if you’re old enough and have the energy) polka, one night a week. It is the place to dance in the Valley when there isn’t an organized event going on.

Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to ...

You’re kidding? You could start Monday morning and drink your way 24/7 through the week to Sunday evening and you wouldn’t see or even find them all.

  • Buena Vista (18000 Old Winery Road, 800-926-1266) has the oldest building and some of the best wine.
  • Bartholomew Park (1000 Vineyard Lane, 707-935-9511) is great for weddings.
  • Chateau St. Jean (8555 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707.833.4134) looks elegantly French and makes great Chardonnay.
  • Ledson Castle (7335 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707-537-3810) is extravagantly grand and has 77 different bottlings with some fantastic reds.
  • Gundlach Bundschu (everyone calls it Gun Bun) is touched with whimsy, brilliant vintages and an outdoor stage where Shakespeare is performed (2000 Denmark St., 707-938-5277).
  • Kaz (233 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood, 877-833-2536) claims to be the smallest winery in the Valley and, if you want a big, bare-chested, organic Zin, that’s where you’ll find it.
  • But the best wine the Valley has to offer, like Petroni’s Brunello di Sonoma (Petroni Vineyards, 990 Cavedale Road, 888-290-9390), can only be tasted with a private reservation or membership in a club.


That’s easy. Sonoma Valley Market (500 West Napa St., 707-996-3411) and Glen Ellen Village Market (13751 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, 707-996-6728) are sister stores with gourmet, organic groceries where almost everyone shops. Second place is a Whole Foods Market (201 West Napa St., 707.938.8500) with fantastic local produce and great warm meals to go.


Mondo (707-938-8013) is a gourmet beer and burger joint very much worth a visit. Murphy’s Pub has an impressive range of brews and as much Guinness as you can handle.


Hands down that would be Maya restaurant (101 East Napa St., 707-935-3500). Sit at the bar below the pyramid of tequila and try to make a choice. Their tequila flights are fabulous.


The El Dorado Kitchenette (405 First St. West, 707-996-3030) is a gourmet cafe with pastries from Chef Octavio Alcantar, formerly of the French Laundry. Yummy. Another good latte source is the Sunflower Caffe (421 East First St., 707-996-6645) on the same block as EDK with a good lunch menu and an outdoor garden patio.


Sonoma rolls up the sidewalks by 11 p.m., so don’t make late-night too late. EDK is good for an after-movie nibble, and the girl & the fig stays open Friday and Saturday nights until 11 p.m. with a “late night brasserie” menu. If you’re starving, grab an authentic and cheap taco from the taco trucks parked along Highway 12 in The Springs. They're there well past midnight.

Outdoor Essentials: Best Places to ...


  • The Overlook Trail is an easy mile and change to the top of a ridge overlooking the Sonoma Valley and, on clear days, you can see across the Bay to Mount Diablo. At the base is Sonoma’s historic Mountain Cemetery where the town’s founder, General Mariano Vallejo, is buried.
  • Jack London State Park (2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, 707.938.5216) is gorgeous, historic and flanks Sonoma Mountain with hiking and horseback trails.
  • If you consider motorsports outdoorsy, Infineon Raceway (29355 Arnold Drive, 800-870-RACE) has one of the best tracks and fullest race cards in the country so whenever you visit chances are something’s going on.
  • The Sonoma/Napa Slough is a wetland paradise (try Hudeman Slough, 28020 Skaggs Island Road, 707-565-2041) for fishing and duck hunting, and it’s mere minutes from the Plaza. Take a biplane ride at the Schellville Airport (23982 Arnold Drive, 707-938-2444).
  • Two bicycle liveries (Good Time Touring, 888-525-0453, or Sonoma Valley Cyclery, 20091 Broadway, 707.935.3377) offer rentals and guided tours of wine country.


Again, the Overlook Trail. Or you can drive to the top of Cavedale Road (off Highway 12 between The Springs and Glen Ellen) for a breathtaking view from the top of the Mayacamas Mountains. Parts of it are one lane and if you don’t pay attention you’ll drop into a canyon.


There are three fenced dog parks where Fido can run off leash:

  • Sonoma Dog Park is just three blocks from the Plaza and across from the Police Station, (175 First St. West).
  • Ernie Smith Park (18776 Gilman Drive, El Verano).
  • Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen (13630 Sonoma Highway) adjoins a maze of hiking trails that are dog-friendly if you use a leash and lead to a sizable state-owned reservoir with a 1.5-mile trail all the way around it.

There is also a doggy day care at Sonoma Dog Camp (1061 Broadway, 707-935-3645) and a Three Dog Bakery treat shop (526 Broadway, 707-933-9780). Several restaurants are dog-friendly. Plus there’s a website -- -- that tells you everything you and your dog could possibly want to know about things canine in Sonoma.

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