Anywhere one goes in the town of Sonoma, they’re surrounded by history. Indigenous people lived and hunted these lands in the shadow of the Mayacamas Mountains for 12,000 years. Franciscan friars built their last mission here in 1823. And in 1844, General Mariano Vallejo turned the former mission and military barracks into the town of Sonoma. And it’s also where the modern California wine industry began when Count Agoston Haraszathy opened Buena Vista in 1857.
The Sonoma Plaza, with its flags and monuments, looks like an ideal spot for a Fourth of July parade and picnic. But there’s another side to Sonoma emerging, as wineries, restaurants, and shops that merge history with modern design and experiences open and flourish. The hipness that started over in Healdsburg is finally making its way to the town of Sonoma.
“There’s a resurgence of fun retail stores and restaurants,” said Sarah Anderson, who owns Chateau on the Square. “It’s just been a gradual change. Everybody used to complain there’s no shopping in Sonoma, it’s such a bore. But now it’s interesting.”
Here are a few of the best places to explore both the hip and historic in the town of Sonoma:
Wine tasting in Sonoma means Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; the Burgundian varietals thrive in the cool regions like the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast.
For those who like wine paired with high-end historic design, head to Three Sticks at The Adobe. The circa 1842 residential adobe built by Salvador Vallejo is unassuming from the street. But inside, visitors are enveloped by vivid melon and terracotta walls balanced by Mediterranean dark furniture, metal curiosities, and a hand-carved Italian chandelier in the main room designed by San Francisco designer Ken Fulk.
Wine club members get to enjoy the gardens, which feature jasmine and rose bushes that a previous owner planted in the 1940s. Garden seating features a dining table under a twig covering, a pair of domed all-weather wicker chairs perfect for a tete a tete, and two fluted concrete barrel chairs.
The outdoor courtyard was already a desirable setting, and they just added more seating and dining space. “With enhanced safety protocols, the experience remains tranquil, exclusive, and delightful as always,” said cofounder Prema Behan. Accompaniments for tastings come from El Dorado Kitchen, Vella Cheese, Ovello Salumeria, and Miyoko’s Creamery.
Wines include the refreshing Casteñada Rosé, plus a winery- exclusive tier that includes the Three Sticks Walala Vineyard Pinot Noir and Cuvée Eva Marie One Sky Pinot Noir, named after the wife of owner Bill Price III. Be sure to check out Rafael Arana’s black and white mural of Vallejo surrounded by motifs that tell a story and the bathroom that feels like stepping into a Mediterranean vivarium. “It’s an opportunity to feel like you’re in a tranquil oasis in the heart of Sonoma,” said Hospitality Manager Maggie Staines. “Feel a part of the history.”
For a chic, understated experience, make an appointment at Auteur. Kenneth Juhasz is a star when it comes to lyrical cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Find a spot on the newly renovated patio and experience the subtle differences in wines sourced from noted vineyards, including Gaps Crown, Hyde, and Savoy. The drive to Buena Vista Winery leads to a rustic section of Sonoma. After parking and taking a short hike up to the winery, past massive eucalyptus trees, a boxwood maze that’s trickier than it seems, the hillside is covered in life-size cutouts of historical figures from the development of the west and the winery. So arriving at the check-in desk and being greeted by the winery’s founder, Count Agoston Haraszathy, isn’t that surprising. The Count is channeled by George Webber, an interactive docent, who portrays Haraszathy, telling charming stories about wine, the history of Buena Vista since being established as California’s first premium winery in 1857, and stories about its current owner, Jean-Charles Boisset.
If sitting by a fountain sipping supple Pinot Noir or sharing bright Chardonnay under an allee of trees sounds like a good time, then add it to your itinerary. Currently, guests are required to make a reservation and book an experience that includes a cheese plate. Visitors can also order lunch from Oakville Grocery, with 48 hours advance notice.
Anyone who loves perusing French country flea markets filled with antique furni- ture, old clocks, and linens, will appreciate Chateau on the Square. Owner Sarah Anderson is a Francophile, and she recently brought an outpost of her Cornerstone Sonoma store to the plaza. “We wanted to recreate the flea markets of Avignon, Bezier, and Montpelier,” Anderson said. “Here we have 4,000 square feet in the back for gypsy bands for Bastille Day and a little cafe.”
The front of the shop is filled with eclectic art sourced from around the globe. Stock up on sweet plum elderflower jam, savory Moroccan tomato jam, or lavender simple syrup in the pantry section. Popular picks in the self-care area include lavender sachets and French-milled soaps. Go out back and wander the colorful garden stocked with French antiques and art. And when hunger strikes, drop by the Sonoma Sausage Emporium booth for a sandwich shop.
For the latest in accessories, pop into Myriad. It’s the latest boutique from Erica Heald, who owns clothing shop Perlé around the corner. Her lineup includes shoes, handmade jewelry from California artisans, plus giftable pampering products. “My goal is top-notch customer service,” said Heald. “No matter what you’re wearing, or if you have a lot or a little to spend. We wanted to break that boutique mold.” Expect to see lots of gold and warm metals, tortoise, turquoise, oversized hoops, and long delicate necklaces perfect for layering: Love Heals, a fam- ily-owned brand from Ojai that specializes in charm necklaces and wire-wrapped gemstones and pearls. The brand donates a portion of each sale to planting fruit trees in African villages, as well as another charity that funds vitamins for children during their first year. Heald looks forward to hosting sip and shop evenings and trunk shows for local artisans. “We use the business as a platform to support the community,” she said.
It’s hard to miss Taub Family Outpost, an imposing white building with black trim that dominates the corner of First Street West and West Napa. Owner Linda Taub, comes from a family of restaurateurs, and her family runs a wine import business, so she knows hospitality.
The three-story space includes a coffee and tea bar with baked goods, a wine shop, seated dining, and an upstairs lounge and a speakeasy space with a private entrance called The Beacon. They had the misfortune of opening as the pandemic shelter-in-place started. Still, they’ve been doing brisk business from a takeout window.
“Comfort food has been the biggest hit, everything from a dry-aged burger to our fried chicken has been popular,” Chef Trevor Anderson said. The chicken is brined before being fried and paired with a salad of organic field greens, strawberries, and pickled onions. Anderson’s resume includes stints at the acclaimed Farmhouse in Forestville and Peter Lowell’s in Sebastopol.
They source produce, sustainable meats, honey, and flavored salts from local farms through FEED Sonoma, which connects small farms and ranchers with restaurants and families who want to buy their produce. Taub’s son supplies them with tomatoes, squash, apples, persimmons, and eggs from his Saracina Winery in Hopland.
Interesting local wines paired with seasonal foods drive the experience at Valley, which opened late this spring. The four owners all met working at Scribe Winery, where the tasting includes a multi-course lunch sourced from the garden. Partners Lauren Feldman and Tanner Walle run the front of the house, while Emma Lipp and Stephanie Reagor hold it down in the kitchen.
Their combined experience includes stints at acclaimed restaurants, including Husk Nashville, Blackbird in Chicago, plus Terroir and Marlowe in New York. They’re bringing fresh, big-city ideas to their all-day menu. Think flawless New York bagels, bar bites like a perfectly cooked egg with chili crunch, artisan bread with cured sardines, and entrees such as schmaltzy chicken with crispy rice. “It’s going to be crave-able and delectable stuff you want to eat when you’re drinking fun wine,” Feldman said. “It’s California cuisine, but we’re bringing more of a Brooklyn comfort element.” Besides local natural wines, including their own pétillant naturel sparkling wine, they’ll stock international discoveries. Valley is in an original adobe that feels cozy and cave-like in front, with touches of natural wood, and light and warmth coming from the open kitchen that’s painted a warm mauve. Cactuses and succulents adorn the back patio, which also boasts a cabaña-covered table. They’re excited that the Chamber of Commerce is encouraging restaurants to seat guests on the Plaza. “We may end up letting people take picnic baskets over there,” Feldman said. “It’s got great shade when it’s hot.”