Any person can pick up a guide book of the fun and exciting things to do in Sonoma Valley, but it takes some local wisdom to know where you can find the hidden gems that everyone doesn’t already know about. We've put together this compilation of local businesses that you need to check out--the first of a quarterly series to highlight all the spots locals' love. Stay tuned for more more as the year progresses...
FIND YOUR FITNESS IN SURPRISING PLACES
You may like yoga, and you may like wine, but have you ever done yoga at a winery? Essential Whole Body Wellness is the ultimate marriage of fun and wellness. Former Oakland Raiders dancer, Jen Bakane, leads monthly yoga classes at Viansa Sonoma Winery & Marketplace. Now a yogi and wellness instructor, Jen’s classes also allow you to taste her hand-made juices, from her Dandelion Detox and Carrot Sunrise to Green Goddess. In addition to her mindful yoga instruction, she offers guided meditations to create the ultimate Wine Country wellness experience. Stay after class to taste wine at Viansa, shop their marketplace and take in incredible views of the North Bay. Call Viansa to find out when Jen’s yoga is on the schedule or follow her on Instagram @ewbw_sonoma to contact her.
EXPERIENCE AN EVENT SPACE UNLIKE ANY OTHER
Have you ever imagined a bespoke event space that left as big an impression as the event itself? Consider booking your rehearsal dinner or next family reunion at Songbird Parlour, Glen Ellen’s newest gem, right in the charming Jack London Village. Inspired by Victorian décor but with modern flair and conveniences, chef-owner Lauren Kershner has brought her successful catering company, Goodness Gracious, to this colorful and imaginative space—perfect for hosting gatherings of up to 75 people. Specializing in French and pan-Mediterranean cuisine, she brings a magic touch to her food and to her warm hospitality. Ask about her Grilled Tri-tip Chimichurri and homemade kombuchas, and outdoor seating possibilities—wow!
SHOP SONOMA SUSTAINABLY
For quite some time now, Sonoma County has been dedicated to going towards 100% sustainable, but anyone who knows Sonoma also knows that sustainability in Sonoma is far more than wine and cheese: it’s also about lifestyle. No one understands this better than Jana Wang, owner of the store, Refill Madness. This soap refillery and zero-waste shop entices shoppers to bring in any bottle or container from home and refill it with staples like laundry detergent, dish soap, bath and body products and more. While local love Jana’s sustainable solutions, visitors delight in upping their toiletry case with clean, biodegradable and responsibly made products—all in beautiful, sustainable packaging. Some even bring her products home. Refill Madness is at the cutting edge where function and form meet common sense and old-fashioned retail therapy.
DELIGHT IN HOT DONUTS, MADE TO ORDER
Locals know Harvey Cohen well, the top hat-wearing owner and charming face of Harvey’s Gourmet Donuts in El Verano. In 2021, Harvey and his family opened up Harvey’s Gourmet Donut Bar downtown in the El Paseo, right off the plaza. Using his vintage, 30-year-old donut making machine, Harvey and his family offer dozens of different flavors from the classics like cinnamon-sugar and powdered sugar to maple-bacon and lemon meringue—always served hot and made-to-order. Whether you take your kids or feel like a kid at heart, the Cohen family can’t help but warm your heart with their passion, their fun stories, and their incredible donuts. Try ‘em in the morning with their signature coffee for a sweet breakfast or end your day after a day of wine tasting with a late-night dessert. Yes, they’re that good!
VISIT SONOMA VALLEY’S NEWEST TASTING ROOMS
Over the pandemic, two new wine tasting rooms have opened up—La Prenda, just off the Plaza in downtown Sonoma—and Wine Snob* in downtown Glen Ellen. For many years, the Hill family sold La Prenda’s grapes to wineries such as Schug, Roche Family Winery, Bartholomew Estate, and Bennet Valley Cellars, among others. In 2013, the Hills started bottling under their own label, and during the pandemic, they opened their first tasting room to showcase their own wines! This beautiful space, just catty-corner to the Sonoma Plaza, offers a classy, yet relaxed atmosphere to appreciate their wines.
At this same time in Glen Ellen, the husband-and-wife team of Lindsay Blanchard and Ryan Kuhlmann took their big dream of winemaking to the next level by opening Wine Snob*. Moving from the Midwest to Sonoma, they started bottling their own, fresh, European-inspired wines, offering regular tastings. Their Saturday afternoon tastings are affordable and fun!
BRING YOUR CAR, THEN HIRE A DESIGNATED DRIVER
Coming to Wine Country with a car is always a great idea, particularly for the flexibility and all the options you can explore while you’re here; however, when it comes it wine tasting, it’s not exactly helpful. In these cases, what you need is a designated driver. Destination Drivers is a unique transportation company in that they drive your car for you, whether it’s a rental or your own. In addition, they offer concierge service, which means you have the luxury of a chauffeur to help you manage multiple tasting appointments and help carrying your wine, all with the comfort of your own vehicle. No limousines necessary! Call them up and book them for an afternoon, a day, or a whole weekend. No fuss, no muss.
LET HISTORY BE YOUR GUIDE
Those who’ve been to Buena Vista Winery in the past several years might remember George Webber, who immortalized the role of its founder, Count Haraszthy. For years, George was not only known around town as “The Count,” but also Mark Twain, and Sonoma’s founder, General Mariano Vallejo. More than his embodiment of some of Sonoma’s greats, George is best known for his incredible knowledge of history. After leaving Buena Vista in 2020, George started leading his own historical tours of downtown Sonoma. If you want to get the whole story behind the founding of Sonoma, the history of California’s last mission, and real scoop behind the infamous Bear Flag Revolt, George is your man! His 90-minute tours of the Plaza are as affordable as they are entertaining. Don’t think twice—any tour with George is an incredible experience!
TAKE A SLICE OF WINE COUNTRY HOME
Jason Tinacci cut his teeth in photography as a commercial photographer for the food, wine and travel industries. His dreamy landscape photos and bold close-ups of Wine Country make you feel like you’re right in the middle of one of his compositions. With stunning aerials, inspired candids, and transporting locales, he immortalizes the spirit of Sonoma Valley into each and every one of his photos. Stop by his gallery in its new location behind the Plaza on your way to your next wine tasting, and bring home a piece of Wine Country that you can appreciate forever!
OPT FOR BRUNCH OR DINNER AT A LOCAL’S HOTSPOT
Kina’s Kitchen and Bar opened right before the pandemic, but it has quickly become a local hotspot for its fresh Mexican-inspired cuisine, healthy options to accommodate every dietary restrictions, and craft cocktails—many of which are made from their own imported mezcals. Whether you lounge in one of their comfortable booths for a lazy and decadent brunch, or sip off their signature cocktail menu over dinner, you’re sure to be greeted with great service and warm hospitality. Nestled in Maxwell Shopping Center up on Highway 12, you’ll slide in and out as easy a local would, with all the tasty treats that tempt the seasoned traveler.
SETTLE DOWN FOR SOME FARM STAND FUN
The Sonoma lifestyle and pace makes farm visits a ton of fun. Take in the flavor of this lifestyle at Oak Hill Farm, a biodynamic farm off Highway 12 that is as picturesque as it is productive. Open on Saturday mornings for tours and visits to their farm store, you’ll find the postcard perfect views of rows of flowers, vibrant produce, and gifts to delight the senses. On the opposite end of town, you’ll find Charlie’s Acres, a sanctuary dedicated to retired farm animals, where volunteers will share stories of each of the four-legged friends you’ll meet, as well as information on the benefits of a vegan diet. Both farms are a pleasure to visit, especially for families. Be sure to call ahead if you’re interested in a tour. (Please note that Charlie’s Acres is not a petting zoo.)
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Hidden gems are all over the place in Sonoma Valley! Stay tuned for our next seasonal installment of Hidden Gems to see what other local favorites there are to explore.