Photo: © 2020 John Baston

Winter is Sonoma Valley’s best-kept secret. While much of the United States is covered in snow and sleet, our landscape turns emerald green, thanks to our seasonal rains. With temperatures that rarely drop below freezing it’s as mild a winter as they come, while still getting to take advantage of all the cool weather charm! Sonoma Valley is built for all seasons, but locals will tell you that there’s nothing like outdoor dining in a sea of heat lamps, wine tasting around a roaring fire, or hiking by yourself in a field of yellow mustard or clover. Simply put: it’s only in the winter that you get access to this kind of fun, coziness and quiet.

So, if you’re traveling to Sonoma Valley when it happens to rain, consider yourself lucky! We’ve put together this little list of great things to do when the rains come, and we hope you’ll take advantage of it.

INDOOR FUN ON A RAINY DAY

There’s nothing like a rainy day to inspire creativity! Sonoma Valley is big on the arts. The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art is easily accessible in downtown Sonoma and features thought-provoking exhibits and installations from contemporary local artists. While downtown, consider visits to the Jason Tinacci Gallery to see wine- and food-inspired photography or to the Scott Nichols Gallery to browse California-inspired photography from famous photographers. If you're heading to Napa, consider stopping by the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art. This one-time private collection is now available to the public with interesting and whimsical exhibits that are in a regular rotation. Stroll the grounds with a raincoat or umbrella on one of their hikes for a chance to see breathtaking sculptures.

But if getting creative is more inspiring than seeing other’s creativity, consider signing up for an art class at the Sonoma Community Center or bring the kids to Art Escape for a rainy afternoon art project. Also make sure to check out the Charles Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, where regular illustration classes keep children engaged for hours.

As Sonoma Valley’s greatest artistic treasure, wine makes the ultimate rainy-day activity. Call ahead to one of our transportation partners to bring you to local wineries, breweries and distilleries. Bookend your tastings with lunch and dinner reservations at one of the valley’s many delicious restaurants, cafés, and bistros. And, while it seems counterintuitive, don’t be shy about asking for outdoor seating. Many of Sonoma’s restaurant parklettes and wineries offer covered patios, cozy fire pits, and abundant heat lamps to keep you warm. Don’t know where to go first? Tap into the expertise of Gourmet Food & Wine Tours and let them tour you around some of the Sonoma Plaza’s greatest hits.

Speaking of greatest hits, no visit to Sonoma Valley is complete without a visit to local monuments like the Mission San Francisco de Solano, the Sonoma Barracks, and to the former home of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. History buffs will love to learn about Sonoma’s place in early California history, while coming to appreciate the dynamism and politics that has shaped the valley throughout the ages.

If your idea of good rainy-day fun is more in the realm of relaxation, Sonoma Valley’s spa and wellness scene is second to none! Book a therapeutic massage, soak in thermal hot springs, or treat yourself to a facial or salt scrub treatment. Then, make sure to pop by Readers Books or to spend the rest of the day cuddled up with a good book, or browse Sonoma’s other boutiques and shops for a little retail therapy.

OUTDOOR FUN ON A RAINY DAY

For those with a good waterproof coat or umbrella, rainy days are ideal for outdoor fun. Our proximity to the Pacific Coast makes our local storms very mild, with thunder and lightning on only exceptionally rare occasions. Gray skies tend to brighten the colors, making winter wildflowers like mustard, clover and milkmaids pop in technicolor along the landscape—a photographer’s paradise.

Hikers will rejoice at the variety of terrain, from the rolling oak meadows of Sonoma’s Overlook Trail and the mountaintops of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park to the redwood forests of Jack London State Historic Park. There’s plenty to explore! If you love the outdoors but are looking for less physical activity, a slow stroll through Sonoma Botanical Garden or Cornerstone Sonoma reveals stunning and often rare plants, not to mention gorgeous gardens.

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Whether you opt to spend your rainy day indoors or outdoors, Sonoma Valley is filled with plenty of activities to keep you engaged and totally at ease. Regardless of which you choose, you’ll come to see why winter is indeed the valley’s best-kept secret. Quiet, relaxed and dazzlingly beautiful, Sonoma Valley is a little piece of paradise.