City Guide: 48 Hours in Sonoma

Inside this city guide we show you how to maximize your precious 48 hours in Sonoma. We teach you some history, recommend restaurants, provide transportation and lodging advice, and ultimately show you how to have an amazing time in Sonoma.

The Skinny on Sonoma

Loosely translated Sonoma means “Valley of the Moon” and was the name given to this picturesque place. The bear you see today on California’s state flag was originally a symbol of the Bear Republic whose revolt against Mexico started right here in Sonoma.

While Sonoma is commonly used synonymously with Sonoma Valley it is much more than that. Sonoma’s wine regions expand far beyond Sonoma Valley. They extend up to Healdsburg and Santa Rosa and are known for producing some of the best Zins, Cabs, and Pinots that California has to offer.

This 48 Hours in Sonoma City Guide will focus on maximizing your time in Northern California from the San Francisco airport and on into Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Plaza. We exclude Santa Rosa and Healdsburg from this itinerary as there just isn’t enough time in the fully packed schedule.

48 Hours in Sonoma: Day 1 Highlights

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8:00 – 9:30 AM Breakfast and Drive to Muir Woods

After you score a few hours of sleep you should check out of the hotel by 7AM. We recommend grabbing a quick breakfast at the Embassy Suites which we found to be decent for a hotel breakfast. If you’re in need of a real pick-me-up then hop down the road to Starbucks, which is on the way to the highway.

Now that you’re fully caffeinated, its time to head to Muir Woods for one of the most memorable hikes of your life. It takes about an hour to get to Muir Woods from the Embassy Suites on a weekend – or at least it did us. You will likely find yourself cutting through downtown San Francisco and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Keep your camera close by during the drive for some quintessential shots of the city. 

Entering Muir Woods National Monument

Soon after crossing the bridge you will be driving down backroads and through beautiful neighborhoods thinking you’re lost. Next thing you know the homes disappear, the forest begins, and the drive becomes a maze of curving roads and hills. Don’t be surprised if you don’t notice a single red wood on this drive but trust us, they’re close. After entering the curvy roads it doesn’t take long to get to the visitor center where you’ll present your parking permit and enter the visitor lot (you MUST reserve a pass ahead of time here for ~$10).

9:30 – 10:30 AM Explore Muir Woods

It’s just a short walk to the visitor center where you’ll pay a ~$10 entry fee to get into Muir Woods. If you stick to the main trails like we did you will have no need for any real hiking gear and normal sneakers will do. The trails are either paved or covered with wooden planks for the entire stretch. The main trail is a big loop with multiple bridges connecting and closing the loop every quarter mile or so. This gives you the opportunity to hike anywhere from half a mile to a mile and a half, depending on your speed and mood. It is worth noting that you can see the redwoods from the moment you enter the park, so there is no minimum required distance to cover.

Redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument

Arriving early allows you to be essentially alone wandering through a forest full of trees that exceed the height of the Statue of Liberty. Stop and think about the fact that these trees outlive any historical building you will find in the United States. They pre-date the World Wars, Civil War, Revolutionary War, and discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. The history nut side of us still can’t wrap our heads around this. Sit down on one of the many cedar benches and take it all in because it’s truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Us Standing Amongst Giants

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Drive to Cornerstone Sonoma

Now that you’ve seen the redwoods, your caffeine buzz is likely fading. Make a quick stop in the quant town of Mill Valley on your way to Sonoma for a refresher. We dropped in a got a coffee and donut at Equator Coffee & Teas and couldn’t have been happier. They offer a variety of doughnuts including sprinkled, raspberry glazed, blueberry glazed, and chocolate glazed that pair perfectly with a warm cup of joe (we obviously opted for the photogenic sprinkled variety).

Sprinkle Doughnut from Equator in Mill Valley

Be sure to get your coffee to go because you’ve got to get to your first stop in Sonoma. The last half of your drive offers amazing views of vineyards, racetracks, hills, and pastures that leave you wondering how in the world you are only an hour from San Francisco.

12:00 – 1:15 PM Tasting at Cornerstone Sonoma

We recommend checking SonomaValley.com for any special events happening in the area to fill this time slot. We found a girl scout cookie and wine pairing at Meadowcroft Tasting Room and couldn’t say no. If there is one thing as good as wine – it’s girl scout cookies. The pairing included four wines and started on the lighter side with a Chardonnay and worked it’s way up to the chain to a Sauvignon Blanc, Zin, and finally a full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. The cookies included the Shortbread, Savannah Smiles (R), S’more, and Somoa (R) – all paired respectively.

Girl Scout Cookie Pairing at Meadowcroft

Once the sugar rush subsides stop by Obsidian Ridge next door for your next round. Included in the tasting is a wine they called “The Cinders”. The grapes used for this wine grew on a vineyard that was previously an old walnut orchard that stopped producing so they burned the old trees and replaced them with vines. The char and ash remained in the soil and the flavor is still transferring to the vines 20 years later. You won’t believe how hard the smokey flavor hits you when sipping this wine – so brace yourself.

Patio at Obsidian

1:30 – 4:30 PM Gourmet Food and Wine Tour – Sonoma Plaza

We won’t go into a great level of detail on this one since we have an in depth review you can read here. That said, we will give you the highlights because we had a blast on this tour. The tour starts off at Delhi Belly Indian Bistro where you’ll enjoy Indian Cuisine with a California spin. The dishes are paired with a crisp white wine, Cline Cellars Viognier. Next up is the El Dorado Kitchen for some ahi tuna tacos and truffle fries. This tasty snack was balanced by glass of Trefethen Dry Riesling.

Once you’ve washed down the tuna and truffle fries you will walk a few steps down the road to visit the girl and the fig. Here you will enjoy a small charcuterie board with selections made just for the Sonoma food and wine tour. Ours included creamy goat cheese, spiced nuts, and decadent fig jam. All of this was paired with Le Grand Cros, La Rivale bubbles.

On your way to the last stop you will walk to the Presidio of Sonoma for a quick history lesson on Sonoma and it’s role in the revolution. Finally you will walk through an ivy lined alley to the Galatea Effect tasting room. Here you will sample a couple of their red wines while nibbling on Cocoa Planet chocolate.

Alley leading to Galatea Effect

4:30 – 6:30 PM Downtown Sonoma and Tasting Rooms

Since the last stop of the food tour is at Galatea, we recommend hanging out here a little while longer. Order up a tasting and continue the wine buzz well into the evening. They’ve got Cocoa Planet chocolate for sale so you might as well go all out and get some more of that as well.

Now, enjoy your mild wine buzz and start exploring the plaza. There is no shortage of cafe’s and shops around the square. We recommend a cute little cafe called Basque Boulangerie Cafe that has good coffee and great baked goods.

There is also a fantastic olive oil store in the plaza that is worth checking out. It’s called Figone’s and they do free sampling and tasting. We know, it sounds a little weird to taste olive oil but we promise its much, much better than it sounds.

If you’re feeling historic you can wander down to the original Williams-Sonoma store. It’s historical relevance makes it worth a quick drop in.

7:30 PM Depot Hotel Sonoma

Hopefully you’ve walked off the one million calories you’ve consumed today and are ready for a delicious dinner. The Depot Hotel and Restaurant is a charming Italian restaurant that is about a block away from the plaza. Don’t be dissuaded by the fact it’s not in the plaza because this place is worth the short walk. Be sure to make reservations at least a few days in advance as they get busy when the weather is nice.

Depot boasts about their hand made pastas and salumi and both lived up to the hype. If you’re a seafood lover you should definitely consider ordering the Tonnarelli. It’s black pasta base is topped with an array of shellfish including prawns, mussels, and clams. Each of the individual ingredients were cooked to perfection. The bolognese is another solid choice and came via a recommendation from the waiter and chef. The sauce lacks no flavor as it consists of pork, beef, and veal. All in all Depot Hotel and Restaurant was delicious and has a great selection of pasta, pizzas, and secondis that you shouldn’t pass up.

48 Hours in Sonoma: Day 2 Highlights

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9:45 – 5:00 PM Valet of the Moon Wine Tour

The scoop on Valet of the Moon Wine Tour

Book a wine tour with Valet of the Moon and you won’t have worry about anything other than tasting wine and enjoying the winery’s. Valet of the Moon picks you up in your rental car and drives you to each winery you plan to visit. Give them a call and Sharon will help you craft a custom itinerary or use one that you’ve already made. One thing worth noting is that there is no limitations on where you go as they simply charge by the hour. So, if you have a must-see winery in Napa, Healdsburg, or elsewhere then Valet of the Moon can take you there.

The full itinerary of our day can be found here. Be sure to leave around 15 minutes between wineries if you follow our itinerary.

10:00 – 11: 00 AM Valley of the Moon (Madrone) Tasting 

Get an early start to your by getting to Valley of the moon as soon as they open. Inside you will find rustic finishes and tons of natural lighting. If weather permits you could find yourself enjoying a few glasses out on their patio which sits amongst some 120+ year old vines. You can expect a friendly wait staff who are willing to walk you through all of the intricacies of their wines.

Valley of the Moon (Madrone) Winery

11:15 – 1:00 PM Benziger Wine Tour 

Booking a tour with Benziger through Valet of the Moon is super easy. Sharon will take care of everything for you and you will also receive the tour at a discounted rate. She typically sets you up with the Tribute Estate Tour and Exclusive Tasting which gives you access to their top of the line, tribute wine. This tour was voted one of the best in Sonoma by Wine Enthusiast .

The great thing about Benziger is the fact that they are certified biodynamic. While on the tour you’ll learn that they were actually a pioneer in the biodynamic farming space as they have been certified since 2000. You can tell while touring the vineyard how much passion there is for the wine and how much each employee genuinely supports the biodynamic practice. You will learn about how they have brought in sheep, cattle, birds, and even insects that allow them to eliminate the need for unnatural fertilizers and pesticides.  

Vineyard or Farm? Benziger Vineyard

After touring the vineyard you will get insider access to the cave where the barrels are stored and aged. Inside is a freshly barreled wine that you will to taste from in order to learn how the aging process impacts the flavor of the wine. After sipping from the barrel you will take a seat in their cozy, private tasting room where you’ll try a selection of exclusive red wines.

1:15 – 2:45 PM Lunch at VJB 

VJB is an Italian Kitchen and Winery with an inviting atmosphere. Jump into La Cucina and order up anything ranging from artisan cheeses, fresh salads, or a delicious crispy pizza. The outdoor seating is ample and they have umbrellas available to shield you from the Sonoma sun, if needed. Most importantly there is no appointment needed in the tasting room attached to the kitchen.

VJB Patio

3:00 – 4:00 PM St. Francis Wine Tasting 

St. Francis winery and vineyard are absolutely stunning from the moment you pull up. They have a beautifully finished tasting room that offers views of the mountains and vineyards in distance. They allow you to take the wine from the tasting outdoors so you can enjoy the wonderful views while sipping on a delectable wine.

View of the St. Francis Winery

Saint Francis Winery is rated an OpenTable Top 100 Restaurant in America for its amazing food and wine pairing, so try and eat here. It makes it an ideal alternative to VJB for lunch but you have to make reservations far in advance (we booked our trip last minute so this wasn’t an option). If you choose to do VJB for lunch and don’t get quite enough food then St. Francis also offers a cheese and wine pairing that requires no reservation.

4:30 – 5:00 PM Buena Vista Wine Tasting 

Buena Vista is a short stop and made the list because of the historical relevance of the winery. It is California’s first premium winery and pre-dates every Sonoma or Napa Valley vineyard you’ve heard of. The tasting room is as extravagant as it expansive and the rustic feel matches the historical charm. Grab a wine (likely won’t have time for a full tasting) and grab a seat outdoors to cap off your amazing tour. You’re only a short drive from the plaza and its just about time to get cleaned up and head to dinner.

View from inside Buena Vista tasting room

7:30 – 9:00 PM the girl and the fig

After getting a taste of this restaurant on the Sonoma Food and Wine Tour, we knew we had to have more. The girl and the fig features a French inspired seasonal menu paired with a unique cocktail and wine list. While the interior has a cozy elegance, we suggest you take a seat in the outdoor garden patio. The patio is covered and heated so, even in winter, it is spectacular. Be sure you make reservations in advance so you can experience this Sonoma classic.

The charcuterie game here is on point. We suggest ordering either the Cheese & Fruit or The Works depending on how hungry you are. Order some of their home made fig jam and fig cakes. These jams, when paired with creamy cheeses and spiced nuts, will make you leave wishing you had more.

Girl and The Fig. Source: https://www.thegirlandthefig.com/?lightbox=dataItem-itaez2v6

For dinner, we recommend the Wild Flounder Meunière. The flounder is fresh, flakey, and finished with a buttery crispness. We can see why the waiter was so quick to suggest this offering. The staff here were all exceptional, whether they were making wine and meal recommendations or ensuring our meals came out exactly as we wished.

And if after all this if you’ve saved room for dessert, which we always do, you have to try the Milk and Cookies. A vanilla milkshake helps to wash down two gooey chocolate chip cookies sprinkled with coarsely ground salt. This dish is far beyond your typical Oreo and a glass of milk.

48 Hours in Sonoma: Lodging

If you choose to take a late night flight it puts you in a minor predicament in terms of lodging so you should try staying at a hotel near the airport to get a few hours of shut eye before a busy first day. We chose the Embassy Suites in South San Francisco and it served its purpose well. Nothing too fancy but a complimentary breakfast, hot shower, and comfy beds are all you really need. The key is really just getting a decent hotel at a good price since you wont be there for very long.

For the main portion of your stay you should consider an AirBnB like Wisteria Gardens. We stayed there and Bill was an excellent host. He was so helpful in recommending wineries and restaurants to try during our stay. It’s a super clean AirBnB with a great kitchen and the beds are really soft and comfy.

Wisteria Gardens

The only negative is that it’s about a 10 minute drive into downtown Sonoma. That said, the Lyft’s only cost around 10 bucks if you think you will be indulging in wine (we definitely were). Not only is it close to the square but you will find a Starbucks, grocery store, and other essential stops within a half mile or so of Wisteria Gardens. This is clutch for extracting the most out of 48 hours in Sonoma.

48 Hours in Sonoma: Transportation

Since the goal is to maximize your 48 hours in Sonoma, a late fight out on Friday night is the best option for east coasters. It allows one to work a full day on Friday (we have real jobs with real vacation day limitations) and still make it to the airport for a flight. Taking the late flight likely gives you an arrival time at SFO of around 1:00 AM if you’re traveling from the east coast.

To make the most of your 48 hours in Sonoma, we recommend renting a car from the airport, allowing you to jump on the SFO Airtrain over to the rental car center. Keep in mind, this might take a while. You can spend 10-15 minutes waiting on the Airtrain at this time of night and if you fly JetBlue you may end up in the furthest terminal from the Rental Center, ugh.

Getting around Sonoma can be a little difficult if you have a party of 5 or more due to the limited number of Lyft Plus’s and Uber XL’s in the area. Don’t worry though – this just means you need to plan ahead! When getting back and forth from dinner simply order up your Lyft 20-25 minutes ahead of time. Using a service like Valet of the Moon for winery tours and tastings is the most economical option for large groups.

That’s All, Folks!

That’s it for our 48 hours in Sonoma city guide. Don’t forget that you can view our mobile friendly, easy to read itinerary here. It has direct links to every place mentioned in this guide which makes your life that much easier!

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