Sonoma County, California is known for its incredible wine offerings, but it has so much more for visitors. On a recent visit, I found exhilarating and eclectic wow moments in Sonoma County. If you love adventure—whether a little or a lot—Sonoma is the place to kick back and enjoy. Of course, there's plenty of great food and wine waiting at the end of the day.
Sonoma Kayaking for Soft Adventurers
Sonoma County’s temperate weather inspires outdoor adventures year-round. For a quiet and soothing day on the river, book a trip with Russian River Adventures. Trips are available on their calm, private segment of the river offering paddlers a carefree experience. The company specializes in group and independent kayak tours designed for a variety of adventurers.
The staff at Russian River Adventures drives you and your kayak to the water’s edge and assists you in getting on your way. Midway down the river lies a large grouping of deadwood, so be on the lookout as the tallest tree trunk is a favorite perch for resident eagles. As you paddle or float down this serene waterway, listen to the birds singing and take time to enjoy a quiet moment in life.
Bring the essentials such as water and sunscreen, and enhance your trip with a few snacks or even pack a lunch. Take a break and stop at one of the beaches along the way to eat while soaking up the sun. Your trip ends at a clearly-designated pickup point with a van waiting to bring you back to the shop.
Walking and Hiking for Every Level in Sonoma
Dress in your yoga pants or sweats, lace up your tennis shoes, or don your hiking boots and traverse the idyllic trails at Howarth Park or Spring Lake Regional Park. Sonoma County endured horrendous fires in 2017, yet these outdoor spaces remain unscathed. Choose to bike on paved flat trails, walk an easy loop around the lake, or work up a sweat with some elevation gain. This trail system has something for everyone.
Howarth Park in Santa Rosa makes a fantastic base camp. Picnic tables pepper the park inviting diners to feast in the outdoors, boats tied to the docks tempt paddlers to navigate the lake waters, and tennis courts beckon to those with a competitive nature. If you plan to spend hours on the trails, be sure to bring plenty of water to keep hydrated. For those feeling less energetic or for those who are toting children, ride the quarter-mile around the park on the simulated 1863 C.P. Huntington steam train.
Exhilarating Outdoor Fun for the Courageous
Sonoma Canopy Tours is not for the faint of heart. Meandering the redwood forest floor is awe-inspiring and breathtaking, but rushing over the forest canopy with the wind whipping in your hair presents a new perspective.
To begin this exploit, drive to Occidental, park your car, and take a few moments to savor the enormity of the behemoth trees. Breathe deeply and inhale the aroma of pine-scented air. Soon you will be thankful for that moment. As you step onto the platform for the first zip line, your heart begins to race, sweat beads on your hands, and, for a second, you question your decision-making skills. Within minutes your guide will have you snapped in and you’re off. Euphoria hits you as you fly over the treetops of the giant California redwoods.
Sonoma Canopy Tours designed two courses with different thrill-seekers in mind. One route allows guests to manage their own brakes, while employees manage the other route. You decide who is in control of your destiny.
Ziplines vary in length and grade of descent. Some lines are long and moderately steep affording riders the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the canyon and trees, while others are short and steep triggering squeals of joy or screams of terror from riders.
Eating for the Aficionado in Sonoma County
Of course, food is one of the most eclectic experiences in Sonoma County. If you're looking for a new kind of unique snack, stop at Amy’s Wicked Slush. This walk-up ice cream shop is well-known to locals, so be prepared to wait in line. Amy, originally from Boston, brought delicious treats from the East to the West.
Slush definitions differ based on their origin. A slush is neither a snow cone, nor shaved ice, and it is not an Icee® from the convenience store. Italians from New Jersey or New York call it Italian ice. Residents of Philadelphia refer to it as water ice, and in Boston, it is known as a slush.
The slush comes in a multitude of flavors, but the pièce de la résistance at Amy’s is the Split—half slush, and half soft-serve ice cream. Amy and her staff layer the Split in a parfait style that teases your taste buds and gives you brain freeze if you eat it too fast. Whether you pair mango slush and coconut soft-serve, root beer slush, and vanilla soft-serve or any combination of the more than a dozen slushes and 26 ice creams, you are sure to find a combination that leaves you gratified and anxious to return.
Craving more decadent treats? Stop at Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg. The bread is so good that restaurants in San Francisco regularly order Costeaux sourdough and have it shipped into the city. (Susan wrote about her experience at Costeaux years ago on Wander.)
Dieters beware—simply looking at the pastries and baked goods in the display case can cause you to gain a few pounds. The light and flaky croissants, heavenly chocolate eclairs, fresh baked cookies, and lavishly decorated cakes will create indecision for any first-timer. Compelled to order one of everything, control your urge, but also give yourself some grace and order a few, one to savor now and a few to enjoy later.
Wining and Dining for Connoisseurs
Proprietors in Sonoma County have mastered the art of combining passion with entrepreneurship. Their undying love of an idea or an activity catapults them into new and unique businesses. Longboard Vineyards, owned by Oded Shakked, is a perfect example. Oded paired his passion for surfing with his love of wine. Working in the industry for 30 years while simultaneously surfing in competitions, he finally joined his two loves and opened Longboard Vineyards in 1998. Oded loves the water and the waves. He says, “Winemaking is a combination of science, art, and agriculture. If you want to make great wine, you must stay on your toes, just like surfing.”
To add to your exciting and eclectic adventures, dine at Café Lucia. Sip on a delicious libation while dining on the covered patio. The Portuguese-influenced restaurant awakens your senses and tantalizes your taste buds. Order the Chourico Crusted Day Boat Scallops. These delicate scallops arrive pan-seared resting on a bed of sweet potato puree, leek confit, and molho cru. In the fall, the sea bass comes served over kale and fire-roasted corn with a mojo sauce. No meal is complete without the Malasadinhas, traditional Portuguese cinnamon-sugar-coated donuts.
Look beyond the expected and visit beautiful and bucolic Sonoma County to experience its more exhilarating and eclectic side. For more ideas about visiting Sonoma County, see these articles from our Wander writers.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals, tours, and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.