Visiting Sonoma County, California, is a must for any wine lover’s bucket list. Just fly into SFO, rent a car, head north on Highway 101, drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, and before you know it you’ll be in the heart of one of the top wine destinations in the United States. The Sonoma wine region is home to more than 400 wineries and rests along a 50-mile stretch of the Pacific coast. Even if you’re not a fan of wine (heaven forbid!), the allure of the mountains, hills, valleys, rivers, redwood forests, and coastline make Sonoma County irresistible for anyone owning a camera…or a stomach, as Sonoma has become a culinary Mecca for farm to table dining. Here are some of our suggestions for experiencing the wine, food, and beauty of Sonoma County to the fullest.

Book a tour: Your hotel concierge should be able to provide you with an array of options for exploring the region. Whether you tour in a vehicle, pedal a bicycle, trek on foot, or float in a hot-air balloon, there is sure to be something that fits your travel style and budget. 

There are several advantages of booking a guided tour. Most tours include prearranged visits to several wineries, the tasting fees and round trip transportation. The cost of the tours can be less than it would be if you visited each of the wineries on your own. By not having to drive, you can drink instead of just “taste” (if you are so inclined), and you can take in the magnificent scenery without worrying about how to get from Point A to Point B. 

The biggest drawback of prearranged tours is that visits to wineries you really wanted to explore may not be included. So be sure and check the full itinerary before booking. 

Viewfinder Tip: Visit some of the small boutique wineries that you’ve never heard of to experience something different.

Take a self-guided tour: Self-guided tours are a great option for people who like to do things at their own pace. Like we do! With this approach, if we’re having a blast and want to linger at one place, we can! If we’re bored out of our minds and want to split, we can do that too! You don’t have that luxury with a tour company where you’re on their schedule. 

While a self-guided tour is the surest way to see all the wineries on your wine country bucket list, it does take a bit of planning and preparation. Three of our favorite wine regions are in Sonoma County: Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley. We like to spend a full day in each region so we can immerse ourselves into the food and wine there. When we go, we generally select 4-6 wineries, check their schedules, make appointments when necessary, and plan our route! 

Eat like a local: Wherever we are, we always ask the locals for recommendations of restaurants and specific dishes to try for lunch and dinner. We have never been let down. In Sonoma County, with so many Michelin-starred restaurants, this is no surprise. On our most recent trip to Sonoma County, several locals had mentioned the Healdsburg Bar & Grill, a small restaurant in downtown Healdsburg where they said we had to order the Parmesan fries cooked with truffle oil. We took their advice; they were the best fries we’ve ever tasted! 

Do something different: Believe it or not, there’s a lot more to Sonoma County than great food and wine. When you’re visiting, budget some of your time and money for a little adventure. Kayak down the Russian River, hike through the redwood forest, go horseback riding, fishing, or whale watching. We’re hoping on our next visit to take a hot-air balloon ride over wine country. We’re hoping it’s soon!

How would you like to experience Sonoma County?