Sonoma, CA

Overview

Sonoma lies about 22 miles southeast of the larger city of Santa Rosa with Marin County and the San Francisco Bay Area to the south. Known as the heart of the California wine industry along with Napa Valley, this picturesque, affluent city sits nestled against scenic hills and an abundant agricultural valley. Residents range from working-class families to upper-middle-class professionals and retirees who take advantage of the multitude of amenities close to home as well as the proximity to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Restaurants & Nightlife

Sonoma dwellers enjoy a wide variety of restaurants throughout the city with most dining options clustered near the historic Sonoma Plaza. Indulge in the flavors of modern Mediterranean and Portuguese cuisine at the upscale, award-winning LaSalette, where the head chef recreates authentic dishes from his home country. Start off with plates of Portuguese cheese, olives and traditional sausages before moving on to fresh seafood entrees, such as the wild-caught blue nose sea bass and savory cod cakes. Transport yourself to India, Tibet and Nepal at Taste of the Himalayas with crispy samosas, spicy bowls of curry and soft, fluffy pieces of naan bread. Locals line up for the lamb momo dumplings and the tandoori platters of meat broiled to perfection in a traditional oven. For a quick, affordable meal outside of the central plaza, head to Rancho Viejo for Yucatan-style Mexican fare. Diners crave the signature dish, cactus and pork chile verde, which consists of bits of cactus and pork simmered in a grilled tomatillo sauce served with rice and black beans. The more upscale nightlife scene buzzes around the Sonoma Plaza as crowds of people sample flights of bubbly at the revered champagne bar, Sigh. Sip on glasses of world-class champagne varieties at this local gem as you hear that celebratory pop of corks leave the bottles. As your taste buds explore the subtle nuances of exquisite local wines at the Eric K. James tasting room, delight in the lively tunes of the New Orleans jazz band that plays every weekend. Make this just one of the stops on the Sonoma Plaza Wine Walk, on which you can visit up to 18 wineries and tasting rooms within walking distance of the central plaza.

History & Culture

Built during the period of Mexico’s independence from Spain and the establishment of the Mission San Francisco Solano, the town’s original layout still exists with the Sonoma Plaza as the focal point. Visit the northernmost mission in California along with other historically significant buildings at the Sonoma State Historic Park, located in and around the Sonoma Plaza. Known as the first vineyard on the West Coast, the city's Buena Vista winery gave birth to California’s wine-making legacy and propelled economic growth in the region. Tourists and settlers have flocked to this area over the decades to revel in the area’s natural beauty and the mild temperatures perfect for agriculture and grape growing. Join a grape stomp, taste local batches of wine and celebrate the area’s wine culture at the annual Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival. Catch the latest and greatest in cinema at the Sonoma International Film Festival each year.

Transportation

Residents of this small city rely on vehicles to travel around with the exception of the pedestrian-oriented zones in Sonoma Plaza. In this popular commercial area, park on the street for a maximum of 3 hours or in one of the free public day lots. Otherwise, parking remains widely available and free throughout the rest of the area. Plentiful bike lanes make this city and surrounding areas perfect for cyclists. Call ahead to schedule a cab ride with a local taxi company. Several bus lines in the Sonoma County Transit system run through the busier parts of the city, transporting residents around town as well as to other points in the county. California State Route 12 runs east to west through town, connecting Sonoma residents with Santa Rosa to the west and Napa to the east. The VINE transit system also has one route that runs from Napa to Sonoma.

Cost

The cost of living in Sonoma hovers at about 12 percent above Santa Rosa’s average cost of living. Take the bus locally within Sonoma for $1.25, or travel to Santa Rosa for $3.05. Expect to pay an average rent of $1,130 for a one-bedroom apartment. Grab a beer at a local pub for around $6 per pint. Gas prices in the Sonoma area sit at about 20 percent above the national average.

Shopping

The central Sonoma Plaza serves as the shopping hub in the area with high-end boutiques, souvenir shops and specialty stores lining the streets. Find any nostalgic toy, game or candy imaginable at Tiddle E Winks Vintage 5 & Dime. This charming vintage shop sells unique, retro-inspired gifts for the inner 50s child in everyone. For your kitchen needs, head to Sign of the Bear Kitchenware for high-quality staples and hard-to-find culinary gadgets. The handcrafted wooden dishes and local restaurant cookbooks serve as perfect gifts for the chef in your life. In addition to Whole Foods Market and Safeway that service the area, Sonoma Market provides residents with a local option for everyday groceries, artisan goods and health foods. For seasonal and locally grown produce, head to the Sonoma Valley Certified Farmer’s Market on Friday mornings or the Valley of the Moon Certified Farmer’s Market on Tuesday nights from May to October.

Parks

Within the central Sonoma Plaza lies a public park equipped with a duck and fish pond, old historical trees, a children’s playground, a rose garden and picnic tables. The Sonoma Plaza hosts a number of festivals throughout the summer every year, such as the Ox Roast, the Vintage Car Festival and the 4th of July Parade. The nearby 5-acre Depot Park also provides residents with a free area to hold barbecues, play fetch with a dog or enjoy a game of bocce ball. In addition, Depot Park houses an old-fashioned train and history museum on its grounds, open to the public year-round.