sonoma valley

Sonoma is well-known as a wine country destination, but it's very much at the center of 19th century California history. Seven flags have flown over Sonoma – flags from Spain, England, Russia, Mexican Empire, Republic of Mexico, Bear flag, and flag of the United States. Visiting Sonoma, kids can see a replica of the Bear Flag, flown over Sonoma Plaza, when a group of settlers declared the "Republic of California" and independence from Mexico.

Sonoma Plaza - Sonoma Plaza is an oasis on a hot summer's day. Relax on the grass under leafy shade trees, on park benches and outdoor tables, or in two large playgrounds with climbing structures and swings. The duck pond is fun for little kids, especially the baby ducks. (If you're picnicking on the grass, look out for ducks waddling your direction, hungry for handouts.)
You never can tell what you'll find at the plaza. On the weekends you might see a beautifully groomed two-humped camel (the owner will let you pet it), an ox roast picnic, or vintage cars. On July 4th, a big old-fashioned celebration with parade, Tuesday night is farmers market May to October.
Sonoma State Historic Park -
Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma -The Sonoma Mission is 21st and last California mission. Mission San Francisco Solano was founded on July 4, 1823, and functioned as a working mission until 1834. Originally, around the mission quadrangle – church, living quarters and workshops – were orchards, vineyards, pastures for livestock.
Entrance to mission is through the padre's quarters, with diorama of the mission quadrangle.
The interior of the chapel (made with adobe bricks) is painted with Stations of the Cross on the walls, and life-size figures of Mary and Jesus around the altar, typical of an early 19th century California church.
Wander out into the outdoor courtyard, complete with beehive-shaped bake ovens, a fountain and shady spot to rest under the olive trees, and huge clumps of prickly pear cactus (the nopal cactus is edible and was planted for food).
Events - Children's Day at the Mission - Kids can step into 19th century activities: make candles, rope, corn husk dolls, shell and bead necklaces, learn how to weave baskets, cattle roping, branding, watch Native American dancing, listen to storytelling, pet farm animals, taste cornbread made in the wood burning bake oven. Highly recommended.
Also as part of Children's Day, at the Barracks across the street, cannon firing, learn how to become a barracks soldier, and Jr. Ranger program.
Sonoma Barracks - In 1836, General Vallejo, the commander of the presidio in San Francisco, sent in a contingent of Mexican soldiers to keep an eye on the Russian colony at Fort Ross. The soldiers wore blue uniforms with red trim and dashing wide black hats, carried pistols, swords, muskets, and rode horses with vaquero style saddles. One room in the barracks is a re-creation of the soldiers' living quarters and lifestyle. Don't miss a copy of the California Bear Flag, a hand sewn flag raised in 1846 as a declaration of the "California Republic."
Vallejo Home - General Vallejo, a Mexican commander, created a lovely family home with his wife and daughters here in Sonoma, preserved amidst acres of open land today. The house, called "Lachryma Montis" ("tears of the mountain," named for a spring on the land), has a spiffy parlor, dining room (note the baby's high chair), and study on the first floor. Upstairs are bedrooms, and a nursery with porcelain dolls and doll houses.
Outside the house is lovely shaded picnic area - bike to the house and bring your lunch.
Tip: Admission to the Mission also includes the Barracks and Vallejo Home.
Rent bikes - Rent bikes and go for a bike ride around town and into the surrounding countryside. Near the plaza you can rent bikes at Wine Country Cyclery on West Napa Street or Sonoma Valley Bike Tours on Broadway.
Our favorite bike route: From the plaza, bike east on Lovall Valley Rd. to Castle Rd. to the Bartholomew Park Winery. Bring a picnic lunch (picnic tables under the trees). Bike back down to the Sonoma Valley Bike Trail, and bike west, past Depot Park and Vallejo Home, to Maxwell Farms Regional Park.
There's more bike routes around town, such as the Nathanson Creek Trail (also can combine with the Sonoma Valley Trail).
Mini golf - Next to Maxwell Farms Regional Park, stop into Sonoma Fun House for 18 holes of mini golf. One hole is decorated with the Sonoma Mission, play the ball through door.
Hiking Trails - Two hiking trails are a short distance from downtown Sonoma.
Bartholomew Park - You'd never guess that a five minute drive from Sonoma plaza, you'd find yourself on a hilltop, surrounded by vines and wooded hillsides, as far as you can see.
Next to the parking lot are picnic tables shaded under the oak trees and large grassy areas for kids to run around. With toddlers, you could spread out a picnic and spend the afternoon here. The park is free.
Grape Stomp and You-Walk Miwok Trails - Delightful 2.5 mile hike through oaks and redwoods, overlooks with views of San Francisco skyline on a clear day, hop over bubbling creeks, colorful wildflowers in spring - pink shooting stars, orange monkey flowers, red clover, yellow mustard in the vineyards.
For tips and details about this hike, read our blog post: "Sunday in Sonoma: Bartholomew Park"
Sonoma Overlook Trail - From Sonoma Plaza, take First Street north, in five minutes you're at the parking lot for the Sonoma Overlook Trail. Several easy trails wind up the hillside and through oak trees, manzanita, with panoramic views of the Sonoma Valley. In spring are seasonal wildflowers - lupine, California poppies, buttercups, "gold nuggets," lilies.
We took the Overlook Trail to the Upper Loop Trail (perfect spot for a picnic along the way), and Montini Preserve - Valley of the Moon Trail to Two Goat Point.
Depot Park - Depot Park surrounds the old Sonoma train depot, now a small museum. The unused tracks are still there, and a rust red caboose and dusty orange freight cars sit out front.
In the Depot Park Museum, kids can ring a train bell, try their hand at Morse code, punch a ticket, listen to an antique music box. Check out exhibits of 19th century life in Sonoma: Victorian kitchen, dining room, schoolroom, parlor, and don't miss the a hunting souvenir - grizzly bear feet! Museum is free.
The park also has picnic tables and barbeque grills, toddlers can play in the small playground.
TrainTown (on Hwy 12, south of Sonoma Plaza) - Take a 20 min. ride on the Sonoma TrainTown Railroad, a pint-size steam train that rolls through a 10 acre park, past a waterfall and small lake. Along the way, there's a stop at the petting zoo, where you can feed fluffy llamas, goats, sheep and rabbits. Train Town also has amusement rides, perfect for little ones, and carousel, and ferris wheel.
Cornerstone Gardens & Marketplace (Arnold Rd. - We first visited Cornerstone gardens for an October harvest festival (see video).
Each garden is different. In the Sonoma Children's Garden are colorful bird houses and rows of vines inviting kids to run through. Humming bees land on colorful flowers in the Pollinator Garden. This is a great spot to relax with a picnic lunch, there's also a cafe in the marketplace.
November to January, ice skating rink, fun for the whole family, and charming display of plastic snowmen and penguins, under bright sun and blue sky on a winter day in wine country.


Fun food
Valley of the Moon Farmers Market - In Sonoma Plaza, Tuesday nights, plan on a picnic supper, stock up on local goodies, and listen to music. May to October 5:30pm - dusk.
Sonoma Valley Farmers Market - Locally grown fruits and vegetables, breads and baked goods, everything you need for a picnic. Fridays 9:00am - noon (year-round), in the Arnold Field parking lot, across from Depot Park.

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