Sonoma Things to Do Tips by Rixie Top 5 Page for this destination
Sonoma Things to Do: 129 reviews and 277 photos
Dining room, Toscano Hotel
The Toscano Hotel, built in the 1850s, is a quick and interesting historic stop if you're in Sonoma on the right afternoons. Take a tour through the parlor, bar, and hotel in the main building, and the kitchen and dining room in the back building. The docents are friendly and willing to answer your questions.
Because it's staffed by volunteers, the hotel is open for only a few hours each week: Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 1:00 to 4:00 pm.
Address: 20 East Spain Street
Directions: North side of the Plaza, next to the Barracks
Whenever I go to Sonoma TrainTown, I'm reminded of the Robert Louis Stevenson poem that goes
"I am the giant, great and still,
Who sits upon the pillow hill
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane."
I'm a short person, but when I ride on the miniature steam railway at Traintown, I'm a giant surveying my estate. It IS a "pleasant land," too, with tiny Victorian houses, bridges, waterfalls, and geysers. Everything is built strictly to scale; TrainTown bills itself as The Most Well-Developed Scale Railroad in the Americas. Although that title tends to make one think of Mae West, wipe that thought from your mind; this is a family activity!
People of all ages enjoy visiting TrainTown. A ride on the train is $5.75 per person. Take along a pocketful of coins: the train makes a short stop at a petting zoo and kid-sized village that you can walk through. Buy food pellets from a machine to feed the animals. Having hand sanitizer in your bag wouldn't be a bad idea, either ... :)
There's plenty to do while you wait for the train to come through. There are carnival rides - a carousel, an airplane ride, a small dragon roller coaster - tickets sell for $2.75 each or 6 for $12. A concession stand sells sodas, popcorn, and candy, as well as TrainTown T-shirts and engineer's caps, and you can play air hockey, climb up to an observation deck and walk through a real railway car.
Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and rainy days.
Address: 20264 Broadway (Highway 12), near Leveroni Rd.
Phone: (707) 938-3912
If you're in Sonoma on a Tuesday evening, May through October, stop at the Sonoma Farmers Market in the Plaza.
It's a real local experience. Along with the fresh produce stands, there are also food booths, local crafts, and live music. Many families come and have their dinner here, and I have seen groups of friends who get together and put up tables and chairs, with tablecloths and crystal wineglasses.
Try some pain biologique from Mike Zakowski's wood-fired oven (Mike won the silver medal in the World Cup of Baking in 2012), local creamed honey from Hector, chicken pumpkin curry from the Thai food stand, fresh plums, cherries, and nectarines in season.
Most of the stands get going around 5:30 pm, and the market is open until dark.
Address: Front and back of City Hall
An array of Ravenswood white
This winery deserves its own tip.
Friends of my daughter's were visiting us, and I had intended to take them on the Sebastiani Winery tour. However, there wasn't another tour for an hour, so the rep very kindly gave us a pass and sent us up the road to Ravenswood Winery.
It was even better than a tour. The chatty white-haired man behind the counter was very knowledgeable about wine and poured samples, lecturing on the history, taste, and preparation of each variety. Very educational. The girls said later that he reminded them of their professor, Dr. L, who is famous for striking fear into students’ hearts by firing unexpected questions at them.
While they were tasting and learning and choosing bottles of Zinfandel and Chardonnay to take home, I, the designated driver, wandered around the gift shop. Ravenswood is known for its sense of humor, e.g. Ron Zak's photos of the staff clad only in wine barrels, and the winemaker in a tuxedo, up to his knees in crushed grapes. Their slogan, “No Wimpy Wines,” was translated on T-shirts into several languages. The Spanish version is “No Vino Sin Huevos," and the Italian version, loosely translated, means, “No Little Fly Wines.”
A large black cat wth a white bib approached, purring, for a head scratch.
“What’s the cat’s name?” I asked the tasting guy.
“Clackamas,” he said.
“Clackamas,” I repeated. “Like the county?”
“Yes!” he said. “And where is that?”
I now understand what the girls meant when they said he was like Dr. L. I was very proud of having given the right answer.
Unfortunately, my fur allergies later kicked in, and my fingers itched for an hour. It would have been less painful to buy an image of Clack. His face is on pillows and doormats that are sold in the gift shop.
Tours and tasting begin at 10:30 a.m. daily.
Address: 18701 Gehricke Road
Directions: East side of the Plaza, past the Sebastiani picnic grounds. Follow the signs up the hill.
Phone: 707-933-2332 or 1-888-669-4679
Looking from the inside out, General Hooker House
General Joseph Hooker was a West Point graduate who became famous in the American Civil War. He was called "Fighting Joe Hooker," and it's a popular belief that the term "hooker" was coined as a result of the prostitutes who followed his soldiers. However, that's apocryphal, as the term pre-dates the Civil War by at least 20 years.
Before his Civil War service, General Hooker lived in Sonoma and headed up the Army of the Pacific. His two-story wooden house has been moved to the east side of the Plaza and has been partly renovated. If you happen to be there during the odd times it's open (Wednesdays and Saturdays, 1:00-4:00), stop in and look at the historic photographs of Sonoma.
History buffs will be interested in the timeline painted on the wall. Each event is color-coded to indicate whether it was local, state, or national, and docents are on hand to answer your questions.
Don't forget to drop a donation in the box to help with the restoration.
Address: First Street East, El Paseo
Directions: East side of the Plaza, through the passageway painted with a trompe l'oeuil mural. Near the Hipkiss Gallery and the rock and mineral shop.
The Maxwell Fun Center's mini-golf course is hidden in the corner of a shopping center. The golf course has a local slant to it: the first hole is in a miniature version of Sonoma City Hall. It's a fun diversion for all ages.
You pay for your game and get your equipment inside the Fun Center's small game arcade. If you have small kids with you, you may never get them out of the arcade.
Address: 19171 Sonoma Hwy
Directions: About two miles from the Plaza, in the Maxwell Village shopping center on Highway 12
There's a reason it's called "Sonoma Overlook."
The Sonoma Overlook Trail is an easy hike on a dirt trail. It's roughly a two-mile loop that offers some beautiful vistas from the higher elevations. Wear good walking shoes and take water with you.
On your way back, take the path through the cemetery (the end of the trail in more than one way) for an interesting glimpse into Sonoma's history. There's even a veteran of the American Revolution buried there. You can also stop and pay your respects to Sonoma's military dead at the adjacent Sonoma Veterans Memorial Park.
Address: First Street West
Directions: Follow First St W north, past the Plaza. It's easy to miss. When you see the Veterans Memorial Auditorium (126 First St W) on your right, signal for a right hand turn. Just past the Vets parking lot is a small lot for the cemetery and the trail.
Happy Segway tourists. Used with permission.
If you’re coming to Sonoma and are looking for a new and different way to see the sights, check out Sonoma Segway. The Segway Human Transporter is basically a platform on wheels and is a “green” way of getting around: it runs on powerful, rechargeable batteries. No special skills are required, but a mandatory one-hour training is included in the rental price.
After you’ve learned to operate the Segway, you can explore the town on your own, or you can opt for a guided tour, which is a good deal. Tours begin at $99 and include a certification lesson, over 3 hours of riding time, a visit to historic Sonoma and one or more wineries, and a complimentary bottle of wine or T-shirt. For current prices and more information, see their website.
Sonoma Segway also rents electric bicycles.
While you're there, say hello to the owners, Hunt and Yuni, whom I’ve known since they were kids. They’re lovely people and will take good care of you. And if they don’t, those old musical kindergarten photos just might find their way onto the Internet, bwahahahaha!
Directions: All reservations are now made through their website.
Other Contact: P.O. Box 1745, Sonoma, CA 95476
General Vallejo's house
This is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon and to see how a well-to-do California family lived in the 19th century.
Lachryma Montis (Tears of the Mountain) is the home of Mariano Vallejo, who was the Commandante General of California when it was under Mexican rule. It's a charming two-story house set back from West Spain Street along a tree-lined driveway.
The Vallejos had 16 children, but most had left the nest by the time this house was built -- thus its small size. General Vallejo named the town of Benicia after his wife, which I feel is the least he could do after all of those babies.
The former stable is now a museum, and you can tour the house, which is beautifully furnished and displays some of the family belongings. Warning: Watch your step on the stairs. Parents with small children should hold their hands -- the railing on the second floor is very low.
Behind the house are the Chinese servants' quarters. Meals were cooked here due to fire danger and also to keep the main house from becoming uncomfortably hot. Evidently, no one worried about the servants becoming uncomfortably hot.
There are ducks swimming in the reservoir that once supplied the house with water. Natural springs fed the reservoir and inspired the Lachryma Montis name. At the top of the path there's a tiny cottage where Napoleon Vallejo, the youngest son, a teenage zoologist, lived with his specimens for two years before heading off to college.
In recent years there has been a program to replant the vineyards and gardens with original varieties.
Lachryma Montis is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $2 per person, 17 years and over. There is no charge for those under 17. The same ticket will admit you on the same day to the Mission, the Barracks, and the Toscano Hotel.
Address: West Spain Street at Third Street West
Directions: A few blocks west of the Plaza. Also accessible from the bike path.
Trixie, surveying the Plaza
The restored Sebastiani Theatre, on the east side of Sonoma Plaza, is a great place to see an independent, classic, or foreign film in an old-fashioned setting: chandeliers, plush seats, and a stage that's still used for concerts and plays.
This is a picture of Trixie, the life-like mannequin who sits in the glass ticket booth outside the theater.
I love the small-town atmosphere here. Roger Rhoten, "The Magic Man" and the driving force behind the Sebastiani, often makes announcements before the movie starts. One year when a young employee of the theatre died, there was a big glass jar in the lobby to collect contributions for her child. In a city, the jar would probably have been stolen, but in Sonoma it was still there and filled with money when the movie ended.
Address: 476 First Street East
Directions: East side of the Plaza
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