What to eat, drink, and do on a three day trip to California’s Wine Country
I’ve written about San Luis Obispo’s spectacular wineries before, but now it’s time to dive into another wine region of California… somewhere a bit further north. It’s no secret that Sonoma Valley, California is a year-round destination for wine enthusiasts, foodies, and outdoor adventurists. It’s adjacent to Napa Valley, but its towns boast their own impressive range of fabulous activities to encounter for a weekend of romance or friendly fun.
With 100-plus scenic, award-winning wineries, world-class cuisine, 13,000 acres of state and regional parks, a diverse set of luxury spas, breweries, art galleries, numerous cute, cozy bed-and-breakfasts (as well as luxurious resorts), Sonoma Valley’s breathtaking 17-mile span feels like an opportunity for endless discoveries.
Geographically, this gem of a destination sits just 45 miles north of San Francisco, so it’s an easy trip from the city. Here’s how to spend three days for a fabulous weekend in Sonoma Valley.
Wine Tasting at Pangloss Cellars
Being at the Pangloss Cellar tasting lounge felt like being on the inside of a castle. This tasting room is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Sonoma town square, walkable from many of the destination’s other attractions (like the mission) and inside a restored 119-year-old historic building.
Pangloss Cellars is a celebration of Sonoma and the diversity of grape varieties for which the region is known. Named after Dr. Pangloss, the eternal optimist in Voltaire’s novel Candide, Pangloss Cellars stands for a “commitment to optimism as the best way to approach life.”
My favorite wine we tasted here was the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Moon Mountain District, “which boasts every compelling characteristic of this secluded appellation: deep fruit flavors, concentration and just the right balance of acidity and tannin.”
Enjoy Dinner at Glen Ellen Star
The 2021 Michelin Star restaurant Glen Ellen Star was first established in 2012, and is located in the quaint, two stop sign town of Glen Ellen. Led by Chef Ari Weiswasser and his wife Erinn Benziger-Weiswasser, and their talented team, Glen Ellen Star specializes in a wood-fire cooking technique that brings out the best flavors of their California inspired dishes with an open kitchen and a cozy indoor and outdoor setting.
The seasonally inspired dishes are created with ingredients sourced from gardens and local producers in order to craft daily menus that showcase the best of the region. In fact, much of the produce on the menu comes from local The Glentucky Family Farm, located high on a bench on Sonoma Mountain, (an old volcano) just four minutes from the restaurant itself.
Anything you order will be delicious, but their pizzas are a delicious crowd favorite — but of course, make sure to save some room for dessert at the end…
Spend the Night at Kenwood Inn & Spa
Located in Sonoma Wine Country’s fabled Valley of the Moon, the elegant Kenwood Inn & Spa is a tranquil hideaway nestled into the hillside in Kenwood, offering a one-of-a-kind retreat for relaxation and romance.
The space was designed with “serenity” in mind, and this desire was certainly met with success. The Mediterranean-style buildings sit on more than two-and-a-half peaceful acres surrounded by vineyards, orchards, and majestic ancient oak trees. The exquisite grounds are beautifully manicured to feature lush greenery with flowers, fountains, three courtyards, a sparkling pool, a warming pool, and a hot tub.
The property’s nightly wine and cheese hour is a favorite part of the magic. Each evening from 5 – 6 p.m., guests can gather in the courtyard and indulge in a wine of their choice. From the cozy fireplaces in the rooms and in the common spaces, the authentic keys used to open each guest room door, and the on-site micro vineyard — it’s all just a part of the greater sense of charm felt at Kenwood.
Coffee Experience at Abbot’s Passage Winery and Mercantile
Nestled between rows of 100-year-old vines and surrounded by the storied hills of Sonoma, Abbot’s Passage produces small production wines sourced from overlooked and storied vineyard sites throughout Sonoma Valley and beyond. This community-focused Winery & Mercantile is uniquely suited to this tucked-away valley and offers an eclectic collection of wines beside an inspired collection of curated merchandise. Now, there’s a coffee shop popping up on-site too.
Hedonic Coffee describes itself as “coffee for wine lovers,” for people who want to experience the sensory nuances that come with tasting coffee in the same way as wine. What’s super interesting about this concept is the brand’s attentiveness to one’s own subjectivity when tasting (For example, not everyone enjoys the same wine. I’m a red person, and I like bigger, bolder flavors and I’m not a huge fan of lighter, drier wines…) similarly, not everyone enjoys the same tastes in coffee. Just like wine, coffee comes from fruit.
Coffee and wine share sensory properties such as aroma, tastes, acidity, body, texture, flavor, and finish. Also just like wine, coffee’s individual sensory elements come from the “terroir” in which it is grown in addition to the processing and roasting process (similar to the viticultural and viticultural practices in wine)
That’s an extremely simplified version of the concept, but Hedonic’s founder, Kim Westerman details more on her personal story of venturing into wine from the world of coffee and how they’re more similar than most people realize, here.
Lunch at Sonoma Eats
After getting fueled up on coffee and wine, head over to Sonoma Eats which serves up Sonoma Valley’s finest Oaxacan specialties, specializing as one of the top authentic Mexican and Argentine restaurants in Sonoma Valley.
Chef Efrain Balmes creates tasty dishes that are adaptations of his favorites from his childhood — with new twists on tacos, empanadas, enchiladas and brunch dishes like chilaquiles.
In my opinion, an absolute MUST try while visiting would be the “Mexican hummus” which is made with pumpkin seeds, garlic and a habanero kick. I loved it so much I asked Chef Efrain for his recipe, so I could make it at home for myself!
Tasting at Benziger Family Wines
Benziger is proud to be focused on three things: family, great wine and healthy vineyards. For more than thirty years, this family owned and operated winery has farmed their ranch on Sonoma Mountain, and searched the region for the most distinctive and expressive vineyards. Benzinger tends their grape growing sites using certified Biodynamic, organic and sustainable farming methods (which you can learn more about, here!).
Plan for at least 90 minutes of time at this destination to have the chance to explore the sights of the gorgeously scenic Sonoma Mountain Estate and learn about the winery’s unique farming practices. There are a range of tours offered, such as the Estate Seated Tasting, Tribute Estate Tour & Tasting, the Parlor Group Seated Tasting and just the traditional Wine Tasting experience.
The outdoor space is beautiful, and the property is huge. My personal favorite of the few we tried was “Etta’s Blend” which has a really funny backstory; according to our tasting host, the grapes for this blend are grown on the land of a 90-year-old woman named Etta who only agreed to let the family grow grapes on her land in exchange for unlimited wine (and the resulting Pinot as her namesake legacy!).
Spend the Night at at Gaige House
After a day of exploration, spend a relaxing evening at the Japanese-inspired Gaige House which is tucked into Glen Ellen (it’s actually right next door to Glen Ellen Star), a destination B&B that feels like immersing yourself into a secret hideaway.
“Serene” is the best way to describe this B&B, with a modern, sleek feel, combining vintage and contemporary elements of design. There are just 23 thoughtfully appointed guestrooms on-site, each of which offer a modern, Asian flair. The property features an outdoor swimming pool and hot tub and is accented with calming fountains, a yoga enclave, private zen gardens and numerous other inviting outdoor spaces.
I’ll warn you that even after a day of wine tasting in Sonoma Valley, you must be sure to save some room for more! As this property is a member of the Four Sisters Inn collection, you can look forward to experiencing the brand’s signature bespoke wine and cheese tasting each afternoon. Each couple will receive their own to-go picnic bag with bite-sized cheese and cracker pairings to enjoy in the comfort of their own space (or somewhere out on the property).
Gaige House is set against the Calabazas Creek, and many of the rooms are creekside, so you can relax in peace and listen to the calming sounds of the water. If you’re interested in enjoying the best bath of your life (and you should be!), be sure to book a room with a soaking tub. They’re called “Ryokan Suites,” and they’ll help you rise to a whole new level of nirvana and relaxation.
Dinner at Glen Ellen Village Market
For something simple to munch on during a “night in” (to enjoy that soaking tub!) pick up some snacks from Glen Ellen Village Market which is just a few minutes from Gaige House, and enjoy dinner in your hotel room. The sandwiches at this cute local village market are very generously sized, and insanely delicious.
Bike Tour with Sonoma Adventures
Locally owned and operated Sonoma Adventures focuses on exploring wine country on two wheels. The pedal-assist bikes are a great way to enjoy Sonoma’s quiet country roads and Sonoma Adventures will provide maps of area trails.
You can either explore on your own with rented bikes, or sign up for a guided tour which includes insight from an expert tour guide. The tour will take you to two wineries and includes lunch, and our tour even made a pit stop for a delightful cheese tasting at Vella Cheese Company along the way…
Organic Vodka Tasting at Hanson of Sonoma
Finally, finish off your wine country experience with a unique endeavor — a tasting at the iconic family-owned and operated distillery, Hanson of Sonoma. In the spirit of artisan craft, the team on-site distills whiskey and vodka using organic grapes and infused with real, organic ingredients to create a pure, clean, and above all a deliciously smooth taste. There’s even no sugar added.
And I can speak from about how experience they taste great on their own. I enjoyed a tasting of four pure vodkas served neat, and was also spoiled with a range of cocktails to try. Everything we tried was phenomenal, I honestly don’t think I could pick a favorite.
There are different types of vodka tastings to indulge in like the Hanson Vodka Expression Tasting, the Hanson Vodka Cocktail & Expression Tasting, or the Hanson Vodka & Chocolate Truffles Pairing — or, you can just opt in for sipping a fun cocktail and sitting in their enormous, gorgeous outdoor space. There’s a pond with a fountain and dozens of Adirondack chairs to gather outside and enjoy the Sonoma sunshine.
To balance out the flavors (and internal effects) of tasting the vodkas and whiskeys, Hanson also serves a menu of wood-fired pizza pizzas from Friday – Sunday, made from scratch in house (like everything else at this distillery!) as well as selection of light bites.
If you’re interested in a deeper dive story into Hanson and the family’s story, read the story I had the pleasure of fact-checking for Marin Living Magazine, here.
Head Home to Recover
That’s just a sample itinerary for spending a weekend in Sonoma Valley. There are SO many more things to do in this region, which you can learn more about on the website here.
Have a suggestion of what to do, see, or where to stay while in town? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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