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Visitors and locals will love this four-day itinerary featuring some of the best restaurants, wineries, breweries, outdoor activities and things to do in Sonoma County. Swipe left to start your trip.
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DAY 1: Into the Armstrong Woods and to the coast.
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Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Guerneville is a great place to introduce visitors to the natural superlatives of Sonoma County. 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. Redwoods are among the natural wonders of the world and among the planet’s oldest living organisms. And they’re an easy drive from anywhere in the county. (Kent Porter)
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The Armstrong reserve features a 1½-mile, ADA-accessible trail, making this an easy outdoors experience for everyone in your group. Arrive early and with jackets to combat the marine chill. At 7:45 a.m., you’ll find an empty parking lot and the quiet woods, sans Segways and smartphone selfie-taking hordes. By contrast, visitors to Marin’s Muir Woods have to make a reservation. (Christopher Chung)
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After an hour among the gentle giants, depart as the parking lot begins to fill. Those arriving have had their breakfast, so now it’s time for yours. 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. (Beth Schlanker)
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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. If you still have Christmas shopping to do, then Duncans Mills is a good place to browse. Don’t miss Jim Raidl’s Jim and Willies, a real curiosity shop of quirky antiques and curios with a friendly proprietor. (John Burgess)
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On the road again, continue west. For some sea air and wide-open ocean views to amaze visitors from land-locked places, stop at the Vista Trail in Jenner at the mouth of the Russian River. If you're lucky, you'll spot some harbor seals. (John Burgess)
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After watching waves crash in the fresh sea air, you’ll be ready for the drive south on Highway 1 to Bodega Bay. This is the classic Sonoma Coast scene of crashing waves, and trails along the bluff are accessible to most people. 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. (Alvin Jornada)
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Start heading inland for a hit of Alfred Hitchcock in the tiny town of Bodega. Snap a “The Birds” selfie outside the old Potter School, immortalized in the scene where schoolchildren run screaming and flailing from their classroom. It’s a private residence, so stay on the road. Then swing by the nearby Saint Teresa of Avila Church, also featured in the film. (Alvin Jornada)
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This white New England-style church with its tall steeple looks like something out of an old-fashioned Christmas card. And just before Christmas, it is lit up around the door and decorated inside with garlands. The great photographer Ansel Adams immortalized St. Teresa’s in a photograph that became one of his favorites. (Kent Porter)
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You’ll be hungry by now. For lunch, consider the Estero Cafe in Valley Ford just a few minutes’ drive away. The restaurant pays homage to local farmers with its hand-lettered chalkboard menus and homestyle food, including inventive sandwiches and salads and one of the best burgers in Sonoma County. (Chris Hardy)
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DAY 2: Healdsburg for the holidays.
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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.
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Costeaux French Bakery is a frequent winner in baking competitions, and its fresh breads are served in Sonoma restaurants. But not many people know that Costeaux serves great breakfasts and lunches. (Kent Porter)
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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. (Kent Porter)
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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. Don't miss the eclectic collection of British Cigarette Cards at the Gallery Bar. (Crista Jeremiason)
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DAY 3: In search of lost time, and more wine, in Sonoma Valley.
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Winter is a good time to check out the new museum exhibit in Jack London State Historic Park. Even if it’s too cold or wet to hike, you can take cover in the House of Happy Walls museum dedicated to the great writer and his wife, Charmian. The new $800,000 exhibit includes multimedia and interactive displays entertaining even to kids.
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A fall scene from Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen. (Courtesy photo)
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Right outside the park gate, Benziger Family Winery offers vineyard tram tours that will get you out of the tasting room and among the vines, which have their own sculpted beauty in winter.
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Make it an outdoorsy day at Quarryhill Botanical Garden, one of Sonoma County’s secret spots. Few travel writers have discovered it, meaning you may have this 20-acre garden of rare Asian plants collected from seed in the wild all to yourself. Easy paths wind past ponds and through dense plantings of trees and shrubs with something of interest in every season. There is a nice gift shop for garden lovers and golf cart tours by arrangement for those with mobility problems. (Charlie Gesell)
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In the town of Sonoma, the walkable square offers places to sip, shop and dine. For celebratory sparkles for the holidays, there’s SIGH Champagne bar. No reservations needed, and they always offer three flights of French, Californian and other tantalizing sparklers. If you have teetotalers or beer drinkers in your party this is a great tasting room option. They also offer draft beer, regular wine and non alcoholic beverages, as well as snack-sized bites, both savory and sweet. (Robbi Pengelly)
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Another interesting wine tasting room is Abbot’s Passage, the brainchild of Katie Bundschu, which offers a collection of small-lot field blends. It also has an array of artisan apparel and home décor and a maker-space. (Robbi Pengelly)
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Sonoma Plaza offers holiday cheer and attractions for history buffs, from the Sonoma Mission to the barracks and Toscano Hotel, all within two blocks. There’s a big parking lot behind the barracks on First Street East. (Kent Porter)
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When you’re ready for a bite to eat, consider Tasca Tasca (TT Tapas). Tasca stands for tavern or pub in Portugal. Chef Manuel Azevedo offers updated Portuguese tapas with a fresh Sonoma spin. They’re also open late. Or head down Broadway to HopMonk Tavern for bar bites and beer, washed down with live music on the weekends. (Erik Castro)
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DAY 4: Petaluma, Sebastopol and a farm-to-table finale in Forestville.
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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. But first, start with breakfast at Della Fattoria, one of the country’s finest bread bakers, famous for its Meyer lemon rosemary boule. Try the breakfast toast with ricotta cheese, banana slices, toasted pecans and honey.
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Breakfast toast with ricotta cheese, banana slices, toasted pecans, honey and salt at Della Fattoria in Petaluma. (Beth Schlanker)
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Downtown, check out the vintage guitars and mandolins at Tall Toad Music and the 1,800 varieties of heirloom seeds at The Seed Bank, owned by Baker Creek, one of the country’s leading purveyors of heirloom seed. (Beth Schlanker)
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For the afternoon, get behind the wheel and drive the 17 miles to Sebastopol’s The Barlow. Designed to look like old farm industrial buildings — without the dirt and rust — the Barlow is good for browsing. Watch local makers in action at restaurants (Barrio, The Farmer's Wife, Fern Bar, Sushi Kosho), breweries and cideries (Crooked Goat, Golden State Cider, Seismic Brewing, Woodfour Brewing), and art, jewelry, glass, crafts, design and clothing studios (including Elsie Green, Gallery 300, Lori Austin Gallery, California Sister Floral).
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Have lunch at the Barlow, or walk a few blocks and choose among a great selection of Sebastopol restaurants (that also are vegetarian friendly), including Handline (pictured), the Gypsy Cafe and K&L Bistro. (John Burgess)
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If you want to arrange for a farm-to-table grand finale, you could make reservations at Farmhouse Inn (pictured) or Backyard in Forestville. (Charlie Gesell)
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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. (Charlie Gesell)
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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.