You’ve finally booked that once-in-a-lifetime trip to San Francisco so, naturally, you’re already imagining cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge or smelling the salt water as you sail across to Alcatraz.
There are so many things to see and do in the city but did you know that you can explore even more of California’s natural beauty in the same break?
Well, you’re just 45 minutes away from giant Redwood trees, whale watching and a world-famous wine region, so why not add a visit to Sonoma County to your itinerary?
Think of our video below as the ‘tasting session’ before you choose which vintage experiences you want to savour.
Sonoma County in three days
Here’s the itinerary for the trip you saw in our video.
We packed too much into three days so we will definitely spread it out over a couple more days when we go again.
This is just a snapshot of our trip so you won’t be surprised to find out that there are many more hotels, wineries and towns to visit, simply head to sonomacounty.com for more options and inspiration.
Day 1 – Winery
Unsurprisingly, the Francis Ford Coppola Winery is owned by the world-famous film director, but he places a focus on family, which is one of the reasons he installed a pool for children and adults to relax in.
We’d never been to a wine tasting before so made the most of asking as many questions to our friendly sommelier, Ron, who didn’t seem to judge us for our lack of knowledge!! Check out our uncut interview with him below.
The winery has a museum packed with props, costumes and artefacts from Coppola’s famous movies.
There are more than 425 wineries in Sonoma County alone, ranging from posh palaces to laidback locations in a rustic setting.
We were travelling with our three kids but – as we’d never been to a vineyard before – we still wanted to have a taste of a classic Californian winery.
With a pool pass, you could easily spend a whole day here – plan which one of you is going to drink or whether you’re going to take an Uber back to your hotel!
For more information, or to book at Francis Ford Coppola Winery, visit: https://www.francisfordcoppolawinery.com/
Day 2 – Whale Watching, Redwoods and Russian River
We probably packed too much into this day!
Sonoma County boasts 55 miles of coastline which on the famous Highway One road so all views of the ocean are epic.
Bodega Bay is a cute fishing town with loads of restaurants which are certain to have fresh seafood caught from the water that morning.
On the other side of the natural harbour is Bodega Head, which is the best place to go whale watching in the area.
We went in August so didn’t think we’d get to see anything but some locals told us that there is pod which lives off the coast of Bodega Head all year round.
This website has some great tips for what you should be able to see – and when: http://coastaltraveler.com/northern-coast/whale-watching-bodega-bay.html
Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve
You will never forget the first time you see or touch a giant Redwood tree, there’s something special about being in their company.
We travelled three hours to the Drive-Thru tree in Leggett but Sonoma’s Armstrong Redwood Park was just as good and so much closer to San Francisco.
You can drive through the reserve for a fee but if you park next to the visitor’s centre, on the right, it’s free and you can walk around the forest instead.
It’s not the longest or hardest hike in the world – it was all stroller accessible and our three kids found it a breeze – in fact, they wanted to keep going and it was adults who wanted to stop and get some food!
Capture the kids’ imagination by going to the visitor centre and getting a ‘Treasure Map’ which includes some fun clues for children to hunt, while also guiding you around the park.
There are more challenging hikes, if you normally like to hit the trails, so there is something for everyone here.
For more information: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=450
The Russian River
We had never heard about a Russian River in California before!! It’s 110 miles long and winds its way out to see at Bodega Bay.
It got its name from when the region was owned by Russian explorers who settled at Fort Ross between 1812 and 1842.
The river begins to twist and turn at Guerneville, which is the town next to Armstrong Redwood Reserve, so the gentle current and wide banks are perfect for those who want to paddle.
Kayaking is a popular form of transport on the water but lazing with a beer on an inflatable is number one!
Johnson’s Beach at Guerneville has a fully stocked bar and grill, plus a boathouse where you can hire anything from canoes to pedal boats.
Two other tips for food here: the Taco Truck in the Safeway car park has some of the best burritos around, plus Guerneville Bank Club is home to an amazing ice cream parlour and artisan bakery.
You could easily spend half a day on the water and the other half in the forest, so for more ideas for Guerneville, check out: https://www.sonomacounty.com/articles/48-hours-guerneville
Russian River Brewing Company
Sonoma isn’t just famous for its wine, it’s also well known for its craft beers, including one of the most decorated breweries in the world: Russian River Brewing.
In 1997, the owner of Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville decided to hire someone to brew some beer and he ended up making some of the first double IPA’s which the country is now famous for.
In 2003, Korbel decided to leave the beer industry and transferred all beers and rights to the Russian River Brewing Company, who have a microbrewery in Santa Rosa and a huge resort-style brewery and gardens in Windsor.
We didn’t find out just how big its beers were until we were back in Southern California and we were told off by our friends, so make sure YOU try Pliny the Elder and Blind Pig IPA when you’re there!
More info: https://russianriverbrewing.com/
Day 3 – Safari West
Looking for something different to do while you’re in California?
Why not go on an African safari and sleep next to the animals in a tent imported from Botswana?!
Safari West is a 400-acre enclosure, which is home to 90 species of animals, including rhinos, giraffes and many more.
Peter Lang bought the land as cattle ranch in the 1980s but quickly turned it into a breeding and conservation facility.
After several years operating behind closed doors, he opened to the public on 4 July 1993 and has been offering trips into the Sonoma Serengeti ever since.
There are several tours a day – be warned that children under four aren’t allowed on the main tour. There is a walking tour available but it’s quite expensive for what it is.
Authentic meals and luxury accommodation is available in the form of glamping style tents which include a double bed, bathroom and running water.
Book your visit: https://www.safariwest.com/
We stayed at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa for another authentic experience.
In its 1950s heyday they used to say, “it was the only place to stay north of the Bay.”
Movie stars like Jane Mansfield were often found sunning themselves by the pool so it became a society hot spot during the golden age of Hollywood.
The pool is still the centrepiece and has great drinks service.
Next door the spa, with its pool, tennis courts and gym, feels more like a country club than part of the hotel.
The hotel was named a historic landmark in 1996 so the upcoming renovations will be sure to keep the same charm that made the Flamingo famous.
More information: https://www.flamingoresort.com/
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