From its early inhabitants and European settlers to 1960s hippies seeking creative freedom, Sonoma County’s natural beauty has attracted all kinds of artists and artisans, from painters and sculptors to writers and performers of all kinds. As a result, Sonoma Valley has become a budding destination for aficionados, with plenty of world-class galleries, museums, music venues and arts festivals to enjoy. In fact, downtown Sonoma’s Art Walk, every first Thursday of the month, is a chance to appreciate it all, with live music playing as you stroll from gallery to gallery.
One of the valley’s most beloved attractions is the annual Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF). Since 1997, this five-day March event has showcased films from some of the world’s finest independent filmmakers, while also offering tastes of Sonoma Valley’s famous artisan wines and farm-to-table cuisine throughout the festival for filmgoers to enjoy. Shown in intimate venues all within walking distance of Sonoma’s historic plaza, this year’s Sonoma International Film Festival is Presented by United MileagePlus® cards from Chase*. Each hand chosen film that is screened is an opportunity to support filmmakers—both the renown and up-and-coming—while also falling under the spell of the valley’s charm. And who knows? You may even catch a glance of someone famous among your fellow ticket holders.
And SIFF is just the tip of the iceberg. For those who love the arts, there are tons of great options to choose from, featured throughout the year. Check out our guide below to find out what most appeals to you.
Sonoma offers a treasure trove of diverse and original art, often with a world-class reputation. Small-collection museums keep viewing focused and accessible, allowing visitors an intimate experience with the artwork.
Interested in photography? Scott Nichols Gallery is not to be missed. Collector, gallery-owner, and connoisseur Scott Nichols has amassed rare and vintage masterworks, featuring original, museum-quality prints from the likes of Ansel Adams, Edward Curtis, Edward Weston, and Dorothea Lange. For a more global viewpoint, dip into the Lisa Kristine Gallery just around the corner. Kristine enjoys an international reputation for her humanitarian documentation of indigenous cultures around the world. Her tender portrayals, often bathed in captivating, saturated colors, provide universal insight into humanity’s shared experiences.
Like its galleries, Sonoma’s museums are a welcome surprise in a small town. Since 1998, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art has showcased a stunning rotation of modern and contemporary artists from Sonoma County and beyond. Thoughtful exhibits and community events foster an educational atmosphere, making any visit inspiring and approachable.
The di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, much like the SVMA, features art from of 20th and 21st century Northern California artists that can’t help but inspire conversation. Started by patrons and collectors Rene and Veronica di Rosa in the 1960s, this once-private collection was recently gifted to the public, with multiple galleries, extensive grounds, and a sculpture meadow to explore. The outdoor art is appreciated any time of year in Sonoma’s gentle climate, with the large works changing with the light and the weather.
With the rising popularity of the comic and graphic-novel arts, Santa Rosa’s Charles M. Schulz Museum & Research Center is world-class stop for those who love Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang, as well as the art form itself. You’ll get a glimpse into the span of Charles Schulz’s career, influences, and cartoon characters, as well as insight into the art of illustration and comics – from the funny to the serious, the whimsical to the socially aware.
Sonoma County’s performing arts scene grows bigger each year, with dozens of local theaters and seasonal music festivals to choose from. We recommend booking tickets in advance, but you can always call the box offices to see what is available for last-minute opportunities.
In Sonoma Valley, the historic Sebastiani Theater, built in 1933 as a movie house, is now a nonprofit featuring vintage movies, independent films, and original live music performances. Grab some popcorn and a glass of wine and enjoy in art deco style!
For live performances set among the vines, don’t miss Transcendence Theatre Company for their summer season’s Broadway Under the Stars at Jack London State Park. With awesome pre-show picnicking and unforgettable performances by traveling Broadway stars, you’ll get a taste of Big Apple theater, right here in wine country.
For world-class acts and larger venues, Green Music Center at Sonoma State and Luther Burbank Center for the Arts are just the ticket. Green Music Center features everything from jazz to opera in the gorgeous Weil Hall. In the summer, GMC opens the back doors of the theater, pouring out to a terraced green, priming the audience for picnicking, great music and summer fun. When you’re in the mood for an immersive arts experience, Luther Burbank Center showcases some of the world’s top performers in music, dance, theater and comedy. Arrive early to stroll the grounds and visit their permanent collections of outdoor and indoor art.
THE WRITTEN WORD
With bucolic beauty at every turn, it’s no wonder that authors like Jack London and food writer M.F.K. Fisher have found their inspiration in Sonoma Valley. That local love of the written word lives on through Readers’ Books, an independent bookstore in downtown Sonoma that’s attracted longtime fans. Every month, Readers’ offers several author readings of largely local authors in their store, backyard garden, or with local organizations and libraries.
For writers and readers alike, May’s annual Sonoma Valley Author’s Festival is a great chance to learn tricks of the trade from famous authors, while also workshopping their pieces. Get the creative juices flowing with likeminded artists while getting to know Sonoma’s famous beauty.
Beyond viewing the arts, a visit to Sonoma Valley provides the chance to learn how to create your own.
Sonoma Community Center is a beloved hub of the local scene and an incredible resource for visitors, too. Consider one of their jewelry-making workshops, drop-in writing workshops, or fiber arts happy hours, all offered at a reasonable price. Sonoma Art Escape, just a few minutes’ drive north of downtown, provides an extensive list of interesting, multigenerational classes, including jewelry making, torch glass and glassblowing, printmaking and figure-drawing. Looking for a more intimate class for smaller groups?
On the Plaza, Musette is a new gallery, workshop, film studio, and event venue curated by Sonoma artists Shiloh Sophia and Jonathan McCloud. (They are the dynamic team behind MUSEA – an art museum and school with a global following.) Musette Atelier is the latest project and collaboration of Musea's school and museum. Small Intentional Creativity classes are offered within the walls of this unique creative space.