Just 45 minutes from San Francisco, a trip to Sonoma Valley is doable in one day—but you need a gameplan. With an overwhelming bounty of world-class wineries, locavore cafes and Michelin-starred fare, it’s hard to fit it all in. Kristin Braswell harvests the perfect itinerary
For full wine indulgence, turn over the wheel to someone else like Vin de Luxe Luxury Wine Tours. Start with a Mexican breakfast at El Molino Central, which serves classics like the chilaquiles merida and Blue Bottle Coffee (a Bay Area favorite). Grab a seat near the kitchen to watch the staff hand-press tortillas (you can buy some to bring home, along with fresh masa and locally grown tomatoes for salsa). After breakfast, things start to look up—as in, up in the sky—as you board a 1926 Travelair biplane (through Coastal Air Tours) to survey the Sonoma Valley’s sun-drenched farmland, mountain tops, forests and rushing rivers.
Time for wine—start things off with a four-course lunch with wine pairings at St. Francis Winery and Vineyards. The family-owned sustainable winery brings its two-acre farm directly to the table for its epic meals. Think heirloom tomatoes, served with compressed watermelon, the creamiest of burrata and fennel pollen paired with their buttery 2012 Chardonnay. And for dessert, brûléed figs drizzled with honey crème anglaise and pistachio brittle.
Not that you’d want to rush through a lunch like this, but you’ve got a few more wines to taste (it’s a tough life). St. Francis is less than five minutes away from some great ones (e.g., Paradise Ridge Winery, Ledson Winery & Vineyards, Ty Caton). For a more immersive experience head 15 minutes down Highway 12 to Chateau St. Jean, where you can learn to blend your own wine with their Bordeaux varietals.
All this wine understandably may have you craving cheese and The Epicurean Connection in downtown Sonoma is the answer. Order the Fanucchi Plate, which includes Delice de la Vallee (an award-winning creation by the store’s owner Sheana Davis), Vella Cheese Company’s Mezzo Secco and Two Rock Goat Cheese served with sundried tomato pesto.
Depending on your level of tipsiness, you might have time for a quick bike ride (a classic way to see Sonoma and work up an appetite for dinner). Rent a cycle in town, where the famous Sonoma Bike Path picks up right near the cobblestoned, mission-style plaza. You can also shop the boutiques, or head back to your inn for a disco nap.
For dinner, head to The Girl and the Fig, a lively local bistro serving up French classics with a distinctly NorCal flair (basil crème fraiche, heirloom radishes with anchovy butter, and a rotating parade of local fish); the wine list emphasizes Rhone varietals. Pass the wait people-watching from a table on the patio—it’s one of the nicest in town and a great place to rehash the day’s events (ideally over a bottle of syrah).