3 Days in Sonoma County: 27 Things to Do, Eat & Drink

Visitors and locals will love this three day itinerary of things to do, see, eat and drink in Sonoma County.

Tolay Lake Regional Park, located between the Petaluma River and the Sonoma Valley. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly)
Tolay Lake Regional Park, located between the Petaluma River and the Sonoma Valley, is a must-visit for visitors and locals alike. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly)

When you live in Sonoma County, you’re never lonely for out-of-town visitors. Family, friends, college roommates, even casual acquaintances, are all eager to catch up with you and take in all the region offers. Thanksgiving through New Year’s is high season for houseguests, with the number of invading out-of-towners larger than the kids’ gift lists.

For local hosts, it can be a challenge deciding where to take eager-beaver visitors. Farm-to-table restaurants and taquerias are a given. Winery tasting rooms? Natch. Same for Safari West, the Charles M. Schulz Museum, Jack London State Park and a drive to Bodega Bay for steaming clam chowder.

Too many choices? Want to try something fresh and new – even to you? Here’s a three day itinerary that includes some not so obvious explorations of Sonoma, guaranteed to please your guests as much as you.

DAY 1: INTO THE WOODS AND BEYOND

Take a "forest bath" in Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve. (Photo by Kent Porter)
Take a “forest bath” in Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve. (Photo by Kent Porter)

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Guerneville is a great place to introduce visitors to the natural superlatives of Sonoma. Magnificent, 1,200-year-old Sequoia sempervirens, commonly known as coastal redwoods, tower in a way that makes humans feel very small and very serene. Arrive early, and with jackets to combat the marine chill. At 7:45 a.m., you’ll find an empty parking lot and the ultra-quiet woods, sans Segways and a horde taking smartphone selfies.

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After an hour among the gentle giants, the first rays of sunlight filtering through the trees, depart as the parking lot begins to fill. Those arriving have had their breakfast, so now it’s time for yours.

Stop in for a cup of Gold Coast’s finest house roasted coffee and pair it with a homemade pastry baked in the cafe’s wood fired oven. (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)
Gold Coast Coffee in Duncans Mills. (Photo by Beth Schlanker)

Coffee Bazaar in Guerneville provides house-roasted coffee and homemade pastries. Or drive a little farther west, along the Russian River, to Duncans Mills’ Gold Coast Coffee and Bakery. Founded in 1877, Duncans Mills is a quaint station on the way to the coast from the river towns, with a charming general store and a depot museum next to where the Northwestern Pacific Railroad once ran.

The bluffs above Goat Rock Beach in Jenner. (Photo by John Burgess)
The bluffs above Goat Rock Beach in Jenner. (Photo by John Burgess)

On the road again, continue west to Goat Rock Beachor the Vista Trail in Jenner, for wide-open ocean views at the mouth of the Russian River, and occasional sightings of harbor seals. After watching waves crash in the fresh sea air, you’ll be ready for the drive south on Highway 1 to Bodega Bay. Check out the whimsical wind spinners at Second Wind and Candy & Kites, the colorful array of saltwater taffy at Patrick’s, and the Japanese prints at Ren Brown Collection Fine Art Gallery.

After an Alfred Hitchcock “The Birds” photo op at St. Teresa of Avila Church in the town of Bodega — not to be confused with Bodega Bay — it’s time for lunch at Estero Cafe in Valley Ford, a few-minutes’ drive away. The restaurant pays homage to local farmers with its hand-lettered chalkboard menus and dishes.

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St. Teresa of Avila Church in Bodega. (Photo by Alvin Jornada)
Cinnamon French toast made from Village Bakery brioche topped with butter, fresh whipped cream, organic raspberries and real maple syrup with orange slices, sparkling wine and a cappuccino at Estero Cafe in Valley Ford, California on Wednesday, January 27, 2016. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)
Cinnamon French toast made from Village Bakery brioche topped with butter, fresh whipped cream, organic raspberries and real maple syrup with orange slices, sparkling wine and a cappuccino at Estero Cafe in Valley Ford. (Photo by Alvin Jornada)

DAY 2: HEALDSBURG FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Start your day by taking in one of the most spectacular gems of Sonoma County – Lake Sonoma. Then head to Healdsburg (a 10 minute drive) for a leisurely breakfast at Costeaux French Bakery. Despite being a frequent winner in baking competitions and with its breads widely served in Sonoma restaurants, not many know that Costeaux offers great breakfasts and lunches.

A variety of award-winning breads at Costeaux Bakery in Healdsburg. (Photo by John Burgess)
A variety of award-winning breads at Costeaux Bakery in Healdsburg. (Photo by John Burgess)
Costeaux
Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg. (Photo by John Burgess)

After breakfast, let the bookworms and audiophiles in the group browse the fiction, vinyl and CD selection at Levin & CompanyTake the stairs to the mezzanine for its collection of local art, jewelry and crafts. Next, visit the antique markets — Mill Street Antiques, Antique Harvest, Healdsburg Vintage and Shoffeitt’s Off the Square – all within easy walking distance of the plaza. 

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Browse books… (Photo by Erik Castro)
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… and then antiques. (Photo by Kent Porter)

For lunch and high-end shopping, visit Healdsburg SHEDwhere Michelin-starred chef Perry Homan prepares seasonal, locally sourced dishes in an informal space that belies his culinary expertise. SHED also has an eclectic stock of cooking vessels, implements and ingredients, and a fermentation bar serving innovative, house-made kombuchas, kefir waters and shrubs, plus local wines, beers, ciders and sodas.

Healdsburg SHED. (Photo by Kent Porter)
Healdsburg SHED. (Photo by Kent Porter)
A bowl of homemade ramen soup topped with sliced pork belly, bok choy, maitake mushrooms, scallions, chives, nori (dried seaweed), an yuzu wedge, and sesame seeds, at a ramen workshop at SHED in Healdsburg, on Sunday, October 30, 2016. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat) Beth Schlanker
A bowl of ramen soup at SHED in Healdsburg. (Photo by Beth Schlanker)

No Healdsburg visit is complete without a winery stop or two. Holdredge Wines on Front Street, a few steps from the Veterans Memorial Bridge, is a great place to sip a wide range of excellent Pinot Noirs, and sit in the huge Adirondack chair out front. A dozen other wineries are adjacent. Across the street from Holdrege is Davis Family Vineyards, where you can stroll through the produce gardens, try your hand at bocce, and taste wines on par with those of Holdredge.

(Photo by John Burgess)
The Adirondack chair at Holdredge Wines in Healdsburg. (Photo by John Burgess)

As the sun goes down, head to Barndiva for a craft cocktail and dinner, and watch the outdoor lights twinkle over the quirky art on the patio. 

George Klemme makes a "Bitches of the Seizime," at Barndiva in Healdsburg, Friday, July 10, 2015. (CRISTA JEREMIASON
George Klemme makes a “Bitches of the Seizime,” at Barndiva in Healdsburg. (Photo by Crista Jeremiason)
Day boat scallops with summer squash and tomato confit Wedding at Barndiva
Day boat scallops with summer squash and tomato confit at Barndiva in Healdsburg. (Photo by Chris Hardy)
Barndiva Gallery Bar in Healdsburg.
Barndiva Gallery Bar in Healdsburg.

DAY 3: PETALUMA-SEBASTOPOL TWO-FER & A FARM-TO-TABLE FINALE

The age of Petaluma, settled in 1850, might not impress visitors from Europe, but the downtown’s quaint storefronts, heritage homes and retro memorabilia will make even your English uncle or Swedish aunt melt.

Della Fattoria in Petaluma. (Photo by Beth Schlanker)
Della Fattoria in Petaluma. (Photo by Beth Schlanker)

But first, start with breakfast at Della Fattoria, one of the country’s finest bread bakers, famous for its Meyer lemon rosemary boule. Stroll the Petaluma River Bridge, and downtown, check out the vintage guitars and mandolins at Tall Toad Music and the 1,800
varieties of heirloom seeds at The Seed Bank.

A variety of guitars on display at Tall Toad Music on Wednesday, April 20, 2011, in Petaluma, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)
A variety of guitars on display at Tall Toad Music. (Photo by Beth Schlanker)
The Seed Bank in Petaluma. (Photo by Conner Jay)
The Seed Bank in Petaluma. (Photo by Conner Jay)

Get behind the wheel and drive the 17 miles to Sebastopol’s The Barlow to watch local makers in action at restaurants (Zazu Kitchen + Farm, Vignette Pizzeria, Ultra Crepes), breweries (Woodfour BrewingCrooked Goat), cafes and bakeries (Taylor Maid Farms, Village Bakery), and art, jewelry, glass, crafts and clothing studios (including Circle of HandsBronze Plus Art Foundry, The Passdoor, Pigment + Paste, Tibetan Gallery & Studio, Littlefour, Tamarind and Mad Mod Shop).

The Barlow in Sebastopol. (Photo by John Burgess)
The Barlow in Sebastopol. (Photo by John Burgess)
A bottle of Black Pig pinot noir to accompany buttermilk fried Petaluma chicken with fiscalini cheddar biscuit, red pepper jelly and elote at zazu kitchen + farm in The Barlow in Sebastopol, California. June 18, 2016. (Photo: Erik Castro/for Sonoma Magazine)
A bottle of Black Pig pinot noir to accompany buttermilk fried Petaluma chicken with fiscalini cheddar biscuit, red pepper jelly and elote at zazu kitchen + farm in The Barlow in Sebastopol, California. (Photo by Erik Castro)
Taylor Maid Farms in The Barlow in Sebastopol. (Photo by John Burgess)
Taylor Maid Farms in The Barlow in Sebastopol. (Photo by John Burgess)
Woodfo
Woodfour Brewing in Sebastopol. (Photo by Chris Hardy)

After a locally sourced lunch (soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches and breakfast all day) at the casual, comfortable Gypsy Cafe, browse the stock of 15th to 19th-century culinary books at Ben Kinmont Bookseller on Main Street.

southern barbecue tiger prawns at the Gypsy Cafe in Sebastopol on Friday, July 18, 2014. (Conner Jay
Southern barbecue tiger prawns at the Gypsy Cafe in Sebastopol.

For a farm-to-table grand finale, make reservations at Farmhouse Inn, or Backyard in Forestville. Farmhouse Inn houses an upscale, but surprisingly low-key, Michelin-starred restaurant. The ambiance is sophisticated yet cozy, the Cal-French cuisine delicious yet unpretentious, the decor chic and the service snappy. The chefs at Backyard source the menu from their own backyard: meats from local ranchers, fish from local fishermen, fruit from local orchards, vegetables from local farms, wine and beer from local producers. Be sure to try the Buttermilk Onion Rings first with their signature hot sauce. You won’t regret it.

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Buttermilk Onion Rings at Backyard in Forestville. (Photo courtesy of Backyard Forestville)
Backyard in Forestville. (Photo courtesy of Backyard Forestville)
Backyard in Forestville. (Photo courtesy of Backyard Forestville)
Farmhouse Inn. (Image courtesy of the Farmhouse Inn)
Farmhouse Inn in Forestville. (Photo courtesy of Farmhouse Inn)
ranch goat prepared by Chef Steve Litke, includes roasted loin, mustard crusted braised shoulder sun choke carrot puree and salt cured olives. Farmhouse is now ranked by Travel and Leisure Magazine as the fourth best inn in America, and is number 28 on its WorldÕs Best Hotels list. Shot on Friday, February 20, 2015 at Farmhouse Inn in Forestville, Calif. (Photo by Charlie Gesell
Ranch goat with, mustard crusted braised shoulder sun choke carrot puree and salt cured olives at the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville. (Photo by Charlie Gesell)

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