If you want to avoid the crowds and high prices of Napa Valley, consider visiting Sonoma. The sort-of-scenic valley is about 1.5 hours north of Mountain View, California. Since living in the Bay Area for 20+ years and having seen Napa Valley already, I decided to do a day trip to Sonoma in the Sonama Valley. The valley is home to many wineries (although not as many or expensive as Napa’s). It offers a lot of family fun, which Napa doesn’t promise. So if you don’t drink wine and/or have kids to entertain, then do consider Sonoma instead of Napa.
Last Sunday, we packed my sister’s Prius with food and ourselves and made our way to Sonoma with a planned itinerary. We went on a weekend AND it was summer so it was particularly busy. Although we didn’t spend much time finding parking, I recommend coming here earlier to get shady spots that do not have time limits. Also, important to note is if you are not wine tasting, you seriously can make a day trip out of it instead of looking for accommodations in a bed-n-breakfast. So onto the details of our day trip:
The central Sonoma Plaza dates back to the Mission era of the 1800’s. You will notice that this cute downtown doesn’t have the commercial shops like Starbucks or a Bank of America in sight. It has a very old town feel to it, which provides wonderful photo opportunities. The Sonoma plaza is a huge park with plenty of shady trees and a playground for kids to play on. The Sonoma City Hall is even there. We came here towards the end of the visit when we were tired from walking all afternoon. The plaza is surrounded by cute boutique shops and restaurants. I recommend visiting the Wine Country Chocolates and Sweet Scoops to cool your body because it can get HOT in the summer. Near these two shops is a cute little gallery (a walkway tunnel) where artists have done beautiful Italian style paintings with stucco. There is also a bead and crystal shop there, which I loved spending time in. It is called Sonoma Rocks & Beads and offers unique gifts and souvenirs. Lastly, the wish fountain is a cute distraction for little kids to toss coins in and make wishes.
The highlight of this little town is its mission and surrounding adobe buidlings like the Toscana Hotel/Kitchen, which is considered Sonoma State Park. The buildings in this state park also included servant quarters and a non-working adobe brick oven. The Mission San Francisco Solano is the last mission and most North of all the California Missions. As a psychic medium, I could sense there used to be a lot of tension back in the mission days. I didn’t meet a lot of friendly ghosts. I was also surprised to learn that many Italians settled here along with Mexicans, Spaniards, and Native Americans. The Mission is quite beautiful although not as beautiful as some of the other missions I have visited (Read HERE). Inside there is a tiny bookstore, paintings of other missions and a church attached with a beautiful sanctuary/altar. It was interesting to observe there were no pews in the church. The Natives probably sat on the brick floor. For some reason, I wasn’t able to find an access to the courtyard. There is a big courtyard which you can walk around in. I am unsure why the entrance was blocked.
I highly recommend reading up on the mission system before coming here. It is quite wonderful to see how well the history is preserved here. And if you have any questions, ask docents who are itching to expand your horizons with their knowledge of the California history.
One attraction we didn’t have time for, but would be an excellent activity for young kids is the Sonoma Traintown Railroad. TrainTown handicap accessible train features a quarter scale railroad on four miles of track. Each train trip lasts 20 minutes and goes through tunnels, over bridges and makes a stop at Lakeview – a miniature town and petting zoo. TrainTown’s amusement rides are all railroad themed. They are painted in railroad colors and fitted with train attire.
· Iron Horse Carousel
· TrainTown Airlines
· Locomotion Scrambler
· High Iron Ferris Wheel
· Mine Train Coaster
· Air Scooter
All in all a great activity for a day trip. If you live in the Bay Area, do consider this town for one of your vacations. There are many bed-n-breakfasts in the area so you can even make a weekend trip out of it. If you are not from the Bay Area and if you have older kids, then I would suggest Napa Valley. Happy Traveling!!