Things to do on a Day Trip to Downtown Sonoma
My husband loves me this I know. How you ask? Because when I went to watch him race recently at Sonoma Raceway, just because he asked, he ducked out a day early to spend a slow day with me in downtown Sonoma. Then again, maybe he simply loves these things, too.
We went to Sonoma Plaza to dine at downtown Sonoma restaurants, sip fine wine at Sonoma tasting rooms, browse Sonoma specialty shops, and stroll around the square on a sunny Sunday in Sonoma — no car needed. We even considered staying over at one of Sonoma Plaza’s boutique hotels.
All of this instead of gorging on the smell of race fuel and the sound of unmuffled engines? Who knew?
Why Go to Sonoma Plaza?
Sonoma Plaza features unique boutiques, restaurants, wine-tasting rooms and art galleries. The Spanish Colonial-style Plaza is surrounded by green space, with Sonoma’s early 20th-century City Hall at the center of it all.
You can walk around the main square and meander through the courtyards and alleyways, stopping here and there at places like the quaint old movie house. And if you like history and architecture, venture just outside the Plaza to see Sonoma’s many historical buildings.
If you’re coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma Plaza is an easy day trip. It’s the largest plaza in California, giving locals and visitors a full eight acres of wine country wonderful.
SAVVY TIP: Free on-street parking around Sonoma Plaza has a 3 hour limit from 9am-5pm except Sundays. Downtown parking is available at two public parking lots, including charging stations for electric cars.
3 Popular Sonoma Plaza Restaurants
On this visit, we walked around the Plaza for a while and then grabbed a table for lunch at the Girl & the Fig. Of all the great dining choices at Sonoma Plaza, this restaurant tops my list, for the name alone. Still, all the eateries are excellent. Here are three restaurants at Sonoma Plaza you may like as much as we do.
The Girl & the Fig
110 West Spain Street, Sonoma, California
707-938-3634 | thegirlandthefig.com
The Girl & The Fig features an outdoor patio, antique bar with an extensive cocktail and wine list, a gourmet farm-to-table French country menu.
Dishes that caught my eye include Quiche Lorraine, Fried Green Tomato BLT, and Croque Monsieur (applewood-smoked ham and St. George cheese). Cheeseatarian alert: They have a delicious section of the menu for Fromage alone.
Just for fun, order something at The Girl and the Fig with figs in it. You’ll have plenty of menu choices, like the Fig and Arugula Salad, or the Duck Liver Mousse with Fig Jam on Toasted Brioche. For a little romance, order the Chocolate-dipped Dried Figs, and for drinks try the Fig Kiss cocktail.
421 1st Street West, Sonoma, California
707-996-6645 | sonomasunflower.com
For brunch, the locals were patiently waiting out front for a table. It was worth the wait. We’re talking Smoked Salmon Tartine, Grilled Aged-Cheddar on Sourdough with Tomato Chutney, Smoked Duck bon Mi on Toasted Baguette, and Apple Pie Pancakes. Organic. Locally sourced and lovely.
The bright and casual Sunflower Caffé is set in the original home of Captain Salvador Vallejo, the brother of General Vallejo who founded Sonoma and reportedly lost this house in a poker game. Ask about that story when you order the Bloody Mary.
El Dorado Kitchen
405 1st Street West, Sonoma, California
(707) 996-3030 | eldoradokitchen.com
The setting is typical Sonoma, relaxed and refined, with outdoor tables for days like this. The Kitchen is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On Sunday they also serve brunch.
3 Sonoma Specialty Shops
We wandered around the shops without a plan, as usual, poking our heads in here and there when something in the shop windows drew us in. Here’s where we lingered this time around.
100 West Spain Street, Sonoma, California
(707) 933-8810 | www.summervinesonoma.com
Summer Vine sells beautifully displayed pottery, dish ware and table linens, unique gifts and some home furnishing accents and decor. This was our first stop after lunch, and we found plenty of eye candy here. I found several items perfect for people on my gift list.
The people who work here are helpful, friendly, and most importantly, they will ship anything you don’t want to carry but can’t resist.
Global Heart Fair Trade
423 First St. West, Sonoma, California
707-939-2847 | globalheartfairtrade.com
Global Heart Fair Trade sells hand-crafted gift items made by artisans from around the world that are fairly traded. The items you’ll find there are too varied to list here, but you can be sure no sweatshop labor was involved at all points of the supply chain. Bring a reusable bag and they’ll treat you with chocolate at checkout.
Tiddle E. Winks
115 East Napa Street, Sonoma, California
707-939-6933 | tiddleewinks.com
Tiddle E. Winks is Sonoma’s vintage 5 & dime. With a perennial sense of play, the shelves are stocked with old-fashioned fun, from 50’s toys and games, to kitschy gifts, candy and wine country collectibles.
Plus, great Wine Country mementos for visitors. nostalgia to your home.
3 Wine Tasting Rooms that Don’t Disappoint
When in Sonoma … well, you know what to do. Here are three (of many) Sonoma Plaza places to go for unpretentious wine tasting experiences.
380 First Street West, Sonoma, California
707-933-4440 | waltwines.com
Tastings at Walt Wines feature chardonnay and pinot noir sourced from up and down the California coast. You’ll find it just off the northwest corner of Sonoma Plaza in a cozy country house with a charming patio. Open every day from 11am until 6pm. Reservations are recommended.
143 West Spain Street, Sonoma, California
707-996-3328 | www.threestickswines.com
Tastings at Three Sticks feature Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon. They produce world-class wines from in outstanding Sonoma County vineyards, such as Durell and Gap’s Crown Vineyards. Tastings are by appointment only and typically take one to two hours.
122 West Spain Street, Sonoma, California
707-935-7115 | www.rochewinery.com
Tastings at Roche Winery feature Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Muscat Canelli, and more. Roche has daily tastings with light bites at their indoor and outdoor wine tasting bars.
They also have a shaded outdoor patio with fireplaces, perfect for cool winter weekends.
3 Sonoma Boutique Hotels at Sonoma Plaza
After spending a day at Sonoma Plaza, we usually just drive home to Half Moon Bay, or stop and visit my sister in Napa. But if we find ourselves drinking wine too late in the day, or lingering over dinner, we may just stay over.
Sonoma Plaza is centrally located — actually in the center of Sonoma — making it a good choice for staying over during any Sonoma getaway.
Here are three hotels at or near Sonoma Plaza in downtown Sonoma to check out.
480 First Street East, Sonoma, California
Inside Sonoma Plaza, Ledson Hotel has larger than expected rooms for a boutique hotel. A Sonoma farmer and winemaker built the six room hotel, and each room is uniquely designed.
We like the wood-carved ceilings. You’ll also see interesting chandeliers, oriental rugs and marble vanities. Ledson luxuries include fireplaces and whirlpool tubs.
El Dorado Hotel
405 First Street West, Sonoma, California
Built in 1843 for Sonoma Valley’s founder’s brother, El Dorado Hotel & Kitchen is located in the historic Salvador Vallejo building. Now redesigned, the ambiance is rustic/modern. Rooms are spacious, with French doors leading to private balconies that overlook Sonoma Plaza.
Solar-heated pool, a fireplace lounge, and the El Dorado Kitchen, mentioned above, make this boutique hotel a great place to stay for more than a day.
29 E. MacArthur Street, Sonoma, California
You can walk four short blocks to Sonoma Plaza from MacArthur Place and still feel like you’re away from it all. A 64-room luxury boutique hotel and spa set on 300 acres, we were intrigued by the ten rooms in the original 1850’s Manor House.
Rooms feature fireplaces, hydrotherapy tubs or rain showers, wet bars, and other luxuries.
This wasn’t our first visit to downtown Sonoma, and it won’t be our last. Have you enjoyed a day like this at Sonoma Plaza? Share your favorite places in comments.