From rolling hills furrowed with vineyards to roiling Pacific surf, Redwood forests and lazy river, the landscapes of Sonoma County offer a fine introduction to California's varied geography. Though Sonoma Valley, of note for its historic wineries, might be the county's best-known tourist destination, the region at large has a broader selection of charms with which to lure in savvy travelers, whether it's a summer retreat on the Russian River, lively farmers markets or cultural attractions that top the agenda.
Sonoma, a small city in Sonoma Valley, is an increasingly popular weekend destination that provides ready access to this section of wine country, an up-and-coming alternative to crowded Napa Valley, to the east. Between all-in wine tasting sessions, consider a detour out to see the old mission at Sonoma State Historic Park, peruse boutiques in downtown, enjoy a wander under the grand old oaks in Bartholomew Park and brush up on literary heavyweight Jack London at the state park of the same name. Outdoorsy types will find camping, hiking and mountain biking in undeveloped areas to the north like Annadel Park, which sprawls out just east of the counties largest city, Santa Rosa. Check out the Charles M Schulz Museum (of Peanuts fame) and stroll the lush Luther Burbank Gardens in the city before continuing on to explore the agricultural roots of Healdsburg, to the northwest.
There are plenty of atmospheric B & Bs in the Healdsburg vicinity, and thanks to the proximity of Lake Sonoma, a clutch of local tasting rooms and a strong emphasis on the arts it ranks as an increasingly sought-after weekend spot, particularly during summer months. Pinot noir profilers will find it an easy detour southwest to the Russian River Valley, a wine producing region also of note for its chardonnay grapes. Sip your way around the major wineries, then find a spot to catch a picnic lunch or do some paddling on the Russian River as part of your Wine Country escape.
For ocean access, consider the sweeping sands of coastal destinations like Bodega Bay or catch a romantic sunset (with a bottle of county-produced beverage) over the rocky promontories edging Oceans Cove and tiny Stewarts Point.
Sonoma County stretches along the California Coast above the Bay Area, just west of Napa County and south of Mendocino County.