One Perfect Day in Sonoma Valley: Day the First

To do ahead of time:


You're on vacation. The last thing you will likely want to do is to climb out of bed early. But this is Sonoma -- wine country extraordinaire. I've lived here for over 20 years and I have to tell you that you will regret sleeping late. There is simply too much to see, to do, to eat, and to drink. There is too much life to give it up for a few extra minutes of sleep. So leap out of bed so you can head out for breakfast no later than 9am. You can linger over your coffee, I promise. And you will thank me later.

Head for the Basque Boulangerie (picture at right) [map] for a latté and a baked good (they are loaded with them) or some other amazing comestible. Be sure to grab a sidewalk table on your way in — they go fast. This is one of a few really great places in town for breakfast, but it also shines as a place for lunch or an early (and inexpensive) dinner. It is also one of the few places on the Plaza to get an inexpensive glass of wine. But then, you won't need wine once I'm done with you. But I digress, you haven't even had breakfast yet.

Be sure to finish up by about 9:30am, so you can head down the street (but not too far) to your first winery. Don't worry, I'm not suggesting heavy wine imbibing at this early hour. No, there is a special treat that awaits you at the Gundlach Bundschu Winery [map], which is just minutes away from the Sonoma Plaza. They have a very special tour of their property in a Pinzgauer High Mobility All-Terrain Vehicle. Get on the 11:15am tour. You will learn more about wine making than you possibly knew you didn't know, plus have a great time in the bargain. You'll end up in their wine cave for a tasting of some of the best wines in the valley, and by that time you'll be awake enough to take it.

By the time you finish talking with those nice people about great wine and how it's made, as well as checking out their wonderful historical exhibits, you'll be ready to pick up some picnic supplies at one of the best places to do that in the entire country. Yes, I'm talking about the Sonoma Cheese Factory (picture at left) [map], which must surely be in the ensconced in the Picnic Hall of Fame. If it isn't, it should be, trust me. Pick your poison — perhaps a Deli sandwich with gourmet chips is your choice, or maybe a couple blocks of different cheeses (use their free samples to find your favorites!) and a smattering of other goodies such as crackers, breads, olives, what have you. If you've ever had it on a picnic, they probably have it here, and if they don't you don't need it anyway.


So once you're stocked up, it's time to head for another winery and one of the best picnic spots in the valley. I kid you not, I go there even when I'm not tasting the great wines. It is not only a great spot but it has a history that should not be missed. If you aim for Bartholomew Park Winery [map]you will get three great experiences in one: a great place to picnic, wonderful wine tasting, and a nice museum to peruse. The secret of great wine tasting experiences, you see, is to intersperse the tasting with food, interesting experiences, and well, time, so you don't end up too wiped out too soon. Plus, learn to spit. Otherwise you'll be heading back to your hotel by 3pm and that's no fun. Well, unless you have plans.

Once you've had a nice repast and have sampled the best of Bartholmew Park, it's time to contemplate your next steps. Since you're on this side of Sonoma, we may as well visit some of the finest wineries East of the Plaza. This would include Buena Vista [map], which also has a wonderful history and great displays, and Ravenswood [map], which is your home for Zinfandel. If you are unfamiliar with the varietal that is probably the signal varietal of California, spend some time here to become acquainted. You will not be disappointed, unless you limit yourself to white. Sebastiani [map] is also not to be missed, which has an amazing array of wine country products as well as carved wooden wine barrels that are completely unique.

I hope you remembered to spit, since if you haven't by now you are likely ready for a nap. If so, head off to your room and get it over with, since the day is not yet over. Also, remember to drink plenty of water. Not only is alcohol dehydrating, but so is our dry California air.


Around 6:30pm head on over to Saddles [map], not far south of the Sonoma Plaza (in MacArthur Place), to have a martini. You can make yourself comfy on a couch or sit in a saddle (yes, a saddle!) while sipping one of their many concoctions based on Vodka or Gin. If you don't wish to have a martini, that's your own darn business — just don't tell me about it.

Since you called ahead (you did follow my instructions at the top of this page, didn't you?), your dinner reservation for 7:30pm at Cafe La Haye [map] is ready and waiting. An intimate venue, and an even more intimate kitchen (in full view particularly for those who sit at the bar), produces a consistently excellent menu. You may not find a huge selection of choices, but the ones presented you can be sure are all good choices.

This is without a doubt one of the favorite restaurants in town for my wife and I. The problem is getting in. So be sure to call ahead for a reservation (see admonishment at the top of this page). Otherwise, we might beat you out, being local and all.

This is probably all you can take, but if not, take a stroll around the Plaza (just steps away down Napa Street), and find a place for a nightcap. There are plenty of cool spots for a relaxing end to an amazing day. Take my word for it. - Roy