Sure, there are garlands to be hung and latkes to be fried, but there’s also a special sense of serenity that accompanies the holiday season in Sonoma County. From a weekend getaway to the coast, to meandering through a forest of redwoods, to basking in the glow of twinkling lights, these ten close-to-home jaunts offer joyful, relaxing respite.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Coastal Getaway
There are moments when the Sonoma Coast almost doesn’t seem real. One twist of Highway 1 reveals craggy cliffs, while the next unveils windswept meadows and sandy beaches fringed by churning seas. No matter how many times you’ve done the drive, the sheer immensity of it all remains staggering.
Roll down your window. Take a deep breath. The rest of the world might be hustling, but there’s no reason to be in a hurry in these parts. Losing cell signal and getting lost in the fog only adds to the list of wonderful reasons to come here.
If you need a break during the winding journey, consider stretching your legs at Jenner Headlands Preserve, where even the views from the parking lot are stellar. But as you wind along, it’s when you hit the Sea Ranch that you’ll truly feel that all your troubles are out of sight.
Lodging options are blissfully scarce along this stretch of the coast. Weekend vacation home rentals at the Sea Ranch, known for their natural forms and weathered-wood facades, are an excellent option for those looking to get lost in the beauty for a weekend. Settle into your seaside digs, maybe scope out the perfect spot to bundle up in a blanket to watch the sunset or sunrise, then get outside and get moving.
Sonoma County Regional Parks maintains a network of trails in the Sea Ranch; hiking any one of them can instill a sense of calm. For dramatic views of the Pacific that will keep you happily on the move for hours, layer up and set out on the Bluff Top Trail. You can take it as far as Gualala if you’re motivated.
The Shell Beach Trail offers a delightful snapshot of the coastal enclave’s beauty. Less than threequarters of a mile each way, the trail weaves through pines and alongside a meadow with ample opportunities to see birds and deer. Somewhat surprisingly, you won’t find seashells scattered about Shell Beach, but if the tide is down, you can easily lose an afternoon tide pooling. Have a seat on a driftwood log and admire the landscape. You might catch sight of a seal or sea lion, and although peak whale season officially begins in January, you never know when a returning visitor might be lured back into town.
Later, make the most of the sweeping seascape in a cozy corner of the recently remodeled Sea Ranch Lodge, a gathering spot for locals and visitors. Grab a cup of coffee from the cafe or a book from the general store, then settle into one of the wooden Adirondack chairs that look out at rocky cliffs that stretch for miles. If a storm rolls in, the fireplace in the solarium will keep you warm. There’s even a record player and collection of LPs to choose from—though you’ll never top the moody sound of the serenading surf outside.
Jenner Headlands Preserve: 12001 Highway 1, Jenner. 909-797-8507, wildlandsconservancy.org
Shell Beach Coastal Access Trail: 39200 Highway 1, The Sea Ranch. 707-785-2377, parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov
Bluff Top Public Access Trail: 40101 Highway 1, The Sea Ranch. 707-785-2377, parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov
The Sea Ranch Lodge: 60 Sea Walk Drive, The Sea Ranch. 707-579-9777, thesearanchlodge.com
O Holy Night
There’s something magical about welcoming the start to the season at downtown Sonoma’s Mission San Francisco Solano. The annual holiday open house at the surrounding state historic park centers around a bonfire in the courtyard of the nearly 200-year-old barracks, crafts, storytelling, and live music in the lobby of the old-timey Toscano Hotel.
The tradition of candlelight caroling at the historic mission began in 1986 but evokes a feeling of times long ago. Though plans for this year’s candlelight service inside the Mission’s main chapel are still taking shape, in years past, tickets for the popular service could be purchased in person at the Mission on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
For many longtime Sonoma locals, it wouldn’t be Christmas without the old-school warm feelings this evening imparts.
December 10. Mission San Francisco Solano and Sonoma State Historic Park, 114 East Spain St., Sonoma. 707-938-9560, sonomaparks.org
Over the River and through the Woods
It’s the quieter season along the Russian River, as summer splashers give way to misty mornings and a peaceful solitude. As we cross fingers for winter storms to bring needed water back to the ecosystem, take a day trip to explore the river’s byways.
Begin along River Road on the deck at Farmstand, the new casual eatery at Farmhouse Inn, and treat yourself to a wood-fired pizza topped with goodness the likes of maitake mushrooms, black truffle-leek cream, and goat cheese.
Consider a post-pizza stroll at nearby Sunset Beach River Park to rack up some steps while soaking in photo-worthy views of Hacienda Bridge and hillsides covered with towering redwoods. From here, you may be able to spot steelhead trout running upstream, especially after a heavy rain.
End your serene ramble along the river with a sparkling wine tasting at Korbel Champagne Cellars, where the historic brick buildings, excellent bubbles, and early winter color in the vineyards make for a serene holiday getaway.
Farmstand, 7871 River Rd., Forestville. 707-887-3300, farmhouseinn.com
Sunset Beach River Park, 11403 River Rd., Forestville. 707-433-1625, parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov
Korbel Champagne Cellars, 13250 River Rd., Guerneville. 707-824-7000, korbel.com
All Is Bright
Squeeze the most out of the holidays with a visit to Sonoma Botanical Garden for the Glen Ellen landmark’s first-ever indoor, living botanical exhibition, From East to Zest. The garden’s propagation greenhouse was spiffed up for the show and will be filled with hundreds of rare specimen citrus trees in flower and in fruit. Decorated by Mother Nature herself, the citrus trees brim with vibrant colors and calming scents.
“I think to go into the greenhouse and to be surrounded by all these fragrant fruits, it just feels like an extraordinary plant spa,” says Scot Medbury, the garden’s director. “Plants are such a wonderful common ground for everybody.”
Hold onto the feeling of calm even longer by heading outside to explore the nearly 70-acre garden, with steep trails up the hill topping out at views of the Sonoma Valley.
Meander along the new California Trail to learn about native plants, picnic, and watch for frogs near the ponds.
12841 Hwy. 12, Glen Ellen. 707-996-3166, sonomabg.org
Find solitude and comfort with an overnight stay in a guesthouse just steps from the vines, now in their post-harvest season of changing colors and dropping leaves. Here are five favorite vineyard cottage retreats: The owners at Forestville’s Enriquez Estate Wines turned an old milk barn into a two-bedroom Wine Country retreat. 5960 Eastside Rd., Forestville. 707-347-9719, enriquezwines.com
DeLorimier Winery has a guest house and two suites surrounded by 17 acres of estate vineyards. 2001 Hwy. 128, Geyserville. 800-546-7718, delorimierwinery.com
Powered by solar energy, the Reeve Wines Villa boasts four bedrooms and three bathrooms, and can sleep eight adults. 4551 Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg. 707-235-6345, reevewines.com
Beltane Ranch (above) boasts a handful of rooms with perks like clawfoot tubs, French doors, and seemingly endless views. 11775 Sonoma Hwy., Glen Ellen. 707-833-4233, beltaneranch.com
Pezzi King houseguests can soak in vineyard views while soaking in the hot tub. The estate guest house features four bedrooms with ensuite baths and a full kitchen. 412 Hudson St., Healdsburg. 866-4734309, pezziking.com
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Like something out of a Hallmark movie, the holidays are the hap-happiest season of all in smalltown Geyserville. Those dreaming of a white Christmas might have their wish granted at the top of Geyser Peak, northeast of town—when a rare spot of winter weather arrives, it’s one of the few places around to pack a snowball.
But even if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate with some snowflakes, it’s hard not to feel festive while strolling the narrow ribbon of businesses that shape Geyserville’s tiny downtown area. Each weekend in December, Gin’gilli’s Vintage Home makes shoppers’ lives a little sweeter thanks to its hot chocolate bar and seemingly endless supply of apple cider.
Nearby, the expert mixologists at Geyserville Gun Club Bar & Lounge mastered the art of making spirits bright long ago.
And don’t miss the traditional Japanese hoshigaki display of drying persimmons at Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria. The orange fruit, strung up above the bar in garlands for all to see, is striking as it dries. Eventually, the dried delicacy finds its way onto the menu in dishes like winter Brussels sprouts with butternut squash, pancetta, and pomegranate seeds.
The window seats at Diavola are the perfect place to grab a bite, stay warm, and watch the Geyserville Tractor Lighted Parade go by.
Always the first Saturday after Thanksgiving, this year parade’s is set to light up the town on November 26.
Gin’Gilli’s Vintage Home, 21079 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville. 707-857-3509, gingillis.com
Geyserville Gun Club Bar & Lounge, 21025 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville. 707-814-0036, geyservillegunclub.com
Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria, 21021 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville. 707-814-0111, diavolapizzeria.com
Geyserville Lighted Tractor Parade, Saturday, November 26, 5:30 p.m. visitgeyserville.com
All Is Calm
Have the weight of the season lifted off your shoulders at Osmosis Day Spa and Sanctuary in the tiny west county town of Freestone. The unique cedar enzyme bath experience at Osmosis, based on Japanese tradition, is the only one of its kind in the U.S.
Find your zen as you’re enveloped in a tub full of comfortably warm, finely ground cedar and rice bran.
The aromatic, full-body compress provided by the cedar relieves soreness and boosts metabolism, bringing you to a state of dreamy, blissful solace. After your cedar bath, enjoy a tea service overlooking the pond and explore acres of exquisitely maintained Japanese-style gardens.
209 Bohemian Hwy., Freestone. 707-8238231, osmosis.com
So This Is Christmas
“Traversing through the redwoods on the Bohemian Highway in December is magical,” says Barbara Gonnella, who owns the landmark Union Hotel along with her husband, Frank. “Upon climbing to the summit of Occidental, lights glimmer through the woods inspiring a nostalgic sense of Christmas.”
There isn’t a bad time of year to hop in the car for a road trip to Occidental—the community’s charm is woven into its foundation. But the celebration shines even brighter throughout the holiday season. Whether it’s walking under the shade of towering redwoods at the Grove of Old Trees or along the darling, two-block long stretch that makes up downtown, Occidental has a way of reminding guests that life doesn’t have to be exceedingly busy to be fulfilling.
Shop for gifts at the local artisan marketplace at Altamont General Store, then reward yourself with a visit to the historic Union Hotel, where come December, the comforting scents of fresh redwood and bay greens meld with the aroma of thousands of gingerbread cookies, minestrone soup, and hot apple cider. Gingerbread stars fill the wood-paneled café, and mistletoe hangs in the saloon. Familyowned and operated since 1925, it’s here that families, friends, and visitors gather to celebrate the spirit of the season.
Impromptu holiday songs often fill the air on weekends and holidays when Barbara Gonnella’s daughter, Gien, takes a seat at the hotel’s beloved piano. Snap a photo in front of the 12-foot Christmas tree, then gather around the courtyard fire pit with a bowl of ravioli or giant meatballs to watch the sun set over the west ridge of town.
Grove of Old Trees, 17599 Fitzpatrick Lane, Occidental. landpaths.org
The Altamont General Store, 3703 Main St., Occidental. 707-874-6053, altamontgeneralstore.com
Union Hotel, 3731 Main St., Occidental. 707874-3555, unionhoteloccidental.com
Away In a Manger
Whether it’s feeding hay to a contented cow, or providing belly rubs for a sweet pig, a visit to Charlie’s Acres nonprofit farm animal sanctuary can warm your heart in a way you didn’t realize you needed this holiday.
“We often hear from our visitors that stepping onto our sanctuary with over 150 rescued farm animals gives them a chance to take a deep breath and relax,” says founder Tracy Vogt.
The chorus of animal voices make for a light-hearted, tranquil afternoon getaway. It’s nearly impossible not to smile ear-to-ear as you watch cuddly and sometimes (OK, often!) muddy farm animals living their best lives. A visit here is a respite from the commercialization of the holidays—a perfect outing for families in search of memorable moments.
After winding your way around the farm, settle in at one of the picnic tables for a glass of wine or juice and a beautiful vegan cheese and charcuterie platter. The farm animals make for great company. If you’re lucky, you might even meet Charlie the Chihuahua, the farm’s namesake and Vogt’s very first rescue a decade ago.
3281 Napa Rd., Sonoma. 707-204-0020, charliesacres.org
O Christmas Tree
Get outside and into the holiday spirit at one of Sonoma County’s family-owned, you-cut Christmas tree farms. Whether you’re hunting for an 8-foot beauty or are more of a Charlie Brown tree fan, it’s a rosy-cheeked, rejuvenating way to spend an afternoon in nature.
Larsen’s Christmas Tree Farm: From saws and measuring poles, to helpful “lumberjacks” and tree stands, this farm has everything you’ll need. 391 Marshall Ave., Petaluma. 707-762-6317, facebook.com/PetalumaChristmasTrees
Celesta Farms: Dog biscuits are waiting for those four-legged friends joining the hunt for the perfect tree. 3447 Celesta Court, Sebastopol. 707-829-9352, celestafarms.com
Little Hills Christmas Tree Farm: Santa Claus is known to stop by every weekend, in case you still need a Christmas card photo! 961 Chapman Lane, Petaluma. 707-763-4678, littlehillschristmastree.com
Garlock Christmas Tree Farm: Along with the perfect tree, there are hay rides, farm animals, and handmade wreaths for sale. 2275 Bloomfield Rd., Sebastopol. 707-823-4307, facebook.com/garlocktreefarm
Pronzini Ranch: This farm has two Petaluma locations, but only the Adobe Road spot has you-cut trees. 3795 Adobe Rd., Petaluma. 707-778-3871, pronzinifarms.com