Ledson was one vineyard that even drew oohs and ahs from me. The castle-like showpiece houses well appointed tasting bars, a fine dining restaurant, an upscale B & B and a gourmet deli. The grounds are marvelous and after doing a tasting of their fine wines ($8 for five tasters), you can purchase a bottle or two and get your money back from the tasting. Their wines were by far our favorite of the trip, with an especially spicy zinfandel a highlight alone or paired with some local cheese
The eight acre town square of Sonoma is the largest in California and its Wild West charm is lost on few visitors. All they’d have to do is ban cars and bring in a few horse drawn stage coaches and you’d be transported back in time quite easily. Actually on our midweek visit, there were not all that many cars around and it was quite pleasant to wander the square and do some window shopping. There is a big cheese store but the best cheese is found at Vella just off the square. They’ve been making their fine wares since 1931 and it’s a fun place to shop too, with lots of free samples and helpful staff. They also have great salami and gave us the heads up on where to find the best bread in town. Great stuff
Sebastiani may lack a bit of the ambiance of Ledson but it is a nonetheless popular stop on the wine tasting circuit. They have fantastic grounds and the surrounding area offers lots of great picnic opportunities. The tasting room is somewhat touristy but the staff are friendly and helpful and again your tasting “fee” is deducted off any purchases you make, making that picnic all that more tempting!
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.
If you are in Sonoma with your car you can do it on your own, but if not or if you don't want to waste your time looking for the wineries I suggest you join a wine tour.
I used California Wine Tours and was very pleased with their services and the wineries we visited. They can also personalize a trip for your specific needs.
They offer 5 hour Napa Valley group tours in a strech limo where you enjoy 5 set itinerary winery stops with time for tasting at each. These tours include a stop at a winery with a gourmet deli where you can purchase lunch and have a picnic in the vineyards if you like.
Prices range $69 plus taxes.
Its formal name is Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma, but it's more familiarly known as The Sonoma Mission.
Because the California missions were secularized in 1834, the mission is no longer a functioning church but is maintained by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. (Its successor, St. Francis Solano Parish, is located two blocks away, and the site of the original mission is now on the grounds of Cline Cellars on Highway 121.)
The chapel in the mission is small but quite beautiful, and the historical exhibits are interesting.
The memorial in this photo honors the Native Americans who died while in service (some would say "in servitude") at the Mission. Most had been given Spanish names by the missionaries, but some had retained their original names.
Open to the public. The same ticket will admit you to the Barracks and the Toscano Hotel at the north side of the Plaza, as well as the Vallejo House, three blocks northeast of the Plaza.
The Sonoma Valley is famous for its wineries. Sample list:
Bartholomew Park Winery- Castle Rd, Sonoma. Open 11-4:30. Beautiful hilltop views.
B.R. Cohn– 15000 Sonoma Hwy, Glen Ellen. Open daily, 10-5. Sponsors an Oct music festival.
Buena Vista Carneros Estate - 18000 Old Winery Rd., Sonoma. CA’s 1st premium winery, founded by Agoston Haraszthy in 1857. Self-guided tour.
Cline Cellars – 24737 Arnold Dr. Beautiful grounds with picnic tables. Site of the original Sonoma Mission.
Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves, 23555 Carneros Hwy, Sonoma. Open 10:30-5:30. Tasting fee.
Gundlach-Bundschu, 2000 Denmark St., Sonoma. A famous local saying is, “You’re not drunk if you can still say ‘Gundlach-Bundschu Gewürztraminer’ !”
Ravenswood, 18701 Gehricke Rd, Sonoma. Motto is "No Wimpy Wines!" Open 10-4:30. 10:30 tour by reservation; tasting fee. See also my separate tip on Ravenswood.
Schug Carneros Estate Winery, 602 Bonneau Rd, Sonoma. Founded in 1980 by Walter and Gertrud Schug, both from winemaking families in Germany. Open 10-5.
Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery, 389 4th St East, Sonoma. Family owned since 1904. Good guided tour. I like to take visitors here but liked it better before the huge, upscale remodel.
Valley of the Moon Winery, 777 Madrone Rd., Glen Ellen. Historic winery dating from 1863. Tasting room, gift gallery.
Viansa Winery, 25200 Arnold Drive, outside Sonoma. Started by another branch of the Sebastianis, recently sold to a conglomerate. Gifts and gourmet foods. Sweeping views of the valley, overlooking a wetland preserve.
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.
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.
The Sonoma Barracks were constructed by General Vallejo to house Mexican soldiers against rebel uprisings. Work on the barracks was started in 1836 and most likely was completed in different stages up to 1841. The barracks were made out of adobe which was a typical building material used by the Mexicans in California.
The barracks are part of the Sonoma Historical State Park and have been refurnished in order to give a glimpse of what life was like in a Mexican army barracks at that time. The building is located between the Toscano Hotel and just down the street from the mission.
There is a film one of the downstairs rooms of the barracks that depicts the Bear Flag uprising in 1846 and how the soldiers responded to it.
i enjoyed my brief walk through the barracks and the climb upstairs to look at the large unfurnished rooms. It is a great place to go out on the porch and take pictures of the Town Plaza. Unlike the Mission, admission to the Barracks was free the day that I arrived.
There are so many wineries in the region, that I was unable to visit them all, only the wino and I know, apology and credit to Jimmy Buffett.
So I will just give the website for the Sonoma Wineries and you can be the judge of where to go to sample and purchase the wines of your choice.
Okay, so, my bad. I am partial to the Buena Vista Carneros Winery. This was and still is the Buena Vista Winery that in 1857, Agoston Haraszthy decided to plant the vines that would begin the growth of California wines into a world class region. Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley produce award winning wines year after year.
The addition of the Carneros region to Buena Vista has given the winery the intensely flavored estate grown Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons noted for this area. Buena Vista has always had a crisp yet mellow Chardonnay that was delicious with the Sonoma Jack Cheese.
Ledson Winery is located in the heart of Sonoma Valley. The huge house, originally designed as the family home, is impressive! It appears as a gothic castle in the middle of the vineyards.
It's one of the best known wineries in the region. They have six beautifully appointed tasting bars where you can taste the wines and a gift shop where you can buy souvenirs and gourmet items for a picnic in their gardens or anywhere else.
The Ledson family specializes in small lots of hand-crafted wines reflecting Sonoma County's uniquely diverse terroir. Their wines age in a combination of French and American oak barrels representing the finest coopers and forests .
You can buy the wines there or they can ship them home to you if you are buying a large quantity. They are open daily from 10am to 5pm .
As I was wandering through Sonoma town I came across a funny store. A patisserie for dogs! It's true. They had beautiful mouthwatering cakes and cookies made specially for dogs.
You could find there birthday cakes, small cakes, all of them saying the ingredients. I had never seen anything like this! Carrot cakes, brownies, you name it!
As it was almost Easter time they also had Easter packs for the pets, wonderfully wrapped. So, if you go to Sonoma, make sure you stop by and buy something for your dog.
Its name is "Three Dog Bakery" and it's situated downtown Sonoma.
The Sonoma Valley is a wonderful place to do a picnic. With its beautiful landscapes and vineyards, nothing more pleasant than doing a picnic .
We had a great picnic while we were there. Bought some cheeses, salads, wine and other items and sat under the oak trees in Ledson winery eating and enjoying it. Nothing more relaxing !
Before I even knew I could visit this winery, I fell in love with their 2000 Cabernet. The opportunity to see the place in person made me love their wines even more. Located on the top of a hill, the building is camouflaged by grasses and walking up the hill inspires thoughts of Beetlejuice with the abstract sculptures, fountains and pools. The inside of the winery is another treat for the eye with beautiful wood floors, glass walls and amazing artwork.
All the wines were good but would suggest trying the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.
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