Spending Time In The Heart Of Sonoma Valley
It’s taken a while to work up the courage to write an article about one of our favourite places on earth. Not only is it a very special place to us, but I am afraid I won’t be able to do it justice. Sonoma Valley is where we have spent a good chunk of our life together. It’s our home away from home. It’s also where we got married.
In 2017 wildfires threatened to destroy everything we loved in the area, and it may happen again in the very near future. But the valley, just like everything else in life, operates in a cycle. A constant circle of death and rebirth every year which yields magical things. We discover something new every time we visit. It’s no coincidence that it is dubbed the Valley of the Moon, and we love to watch in awe all of its different phases.
Located about 60 miles north of San Francisco and sandwiched between the Mayacama and Sonoma Mountain ranges, Sonoma Valley is the more authentic, down-to-earth alternative to the famous Napa Valley. No matter the season there is always something to celebrate in the Valley of the Moon.
In this article, we will mainly be focusing on the heart of the valley, which includes the town of Sonoma itself, Glen Ellen, and Kenwood.
Things To Do In Sonoma Valley
What kind of article about wine country would this be if we didn't mention wine tasting? There are countless wineries in Sonoma Valley, and we've been to quite a few, but more are constantly popping up. One of our favourites is Kunde Family Winery, which is in Kenwood, conveniently located right off of Highway 12. Take a tour of their wine cave, taste some delicious wines, and enjoy the beautiful estate. Benziger Family Winery is also one of our favourites because not only is it located in our favourite town, Glen Ellen, but it is also certified organic and biodynamic! They offer tractor-pulled tram tours of their estate and vineyards followed by wine tasting.
Take a stroll around the city of Sonoma
The city of Sonoma is a charming, historic town perfect for an afternoon stroll. Their 8-acre plaza in the centre is home to its city hall and a lush green park and duck pond. All sides of this plaza are lined with charming shops and restaurants making good use of the bounty of the valley. In downtown Sonoma, you will also find historic structures and exhibits from its Mexican colonial past.
Head to a farmer's market
Every day year-round you will find at least one farmer's market open in Sonoma Valley. Specifically, in this area, you will find the farmer's market in Kenwood and Glen Ellen open on Sundays during the summer, and in Sonoma the market is open on Tuesdays in the summer and Fridays year-round. Nearby Santa Rosa, Sonoma Valley's biggest city, has several as well.
Take a hike
Being surrounded by hills, there is no shortage of places to hike in Sonoma Valley. One of the best places to go is Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen, where there are numerous trails, as well as historic buildings to explore since the park was once the famous writer and adventure's estate. Quarryhill Botanical Garden is another venue for a more leisurely walk with plenty of flora to look at, featuring mainly plants native to Asia.
Take a day trip to the coast or the redwoods
If you've run out of things to do in the valley, head west to the coast for an entirely different landscape and scenic drives along Highway 1. Or head a little north up to Guerneville to explore Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, where you can gaze up at some of the oldest and tallest trees on the planet! Also, give one a hug. They deserve it.
Where To Stay in Sonoma Valley
I'm a little afraid to put this information out there because this is OUR place and it's already getting super popular. We don't really want even more people flocking to our place, but it must be known that Beltane Ranch is one of the most magical places on earth. We first visited on a road trip back in June 2013, and haven't been able to get enough. We got married there in September 2014, and have visited countless times since. We even planted a tree at the ranch for our wedding which we try to visit as often as possible.
Beltane Ranch is a family-owned historic property located in Glen Ellen dating back to the 19th century and currently consists of 105 acres filled with vineyards, olive orchards, organic produce gardens, and hundreds of native oak trees.
The inn consists of five rooms in the historic ranch house, and one cottage. We almost always stay in the cottage which has a private garden, but the views are actually more stunning from the main house.
We could go on and on about this place, but we think the pictures speak for themselves. Another great place to stay in the area if it's in your budget is the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, which happens to be sitting on a natural hot spring. Definitely check out their spa even if you aren't staying there!
In October 2017, this part of Sonoma Valley was devastated by wildfires. We watched in horror as "our place" was engulfed in flames, our eyes glued to Twitter and ears tuned into the news stations trying to grasp the extent of the damage. Our hearts and breath quickening and tears shed as the death toll kept rising. Stories of families who couldn't make it out of their houses on time, videos of people attempting to drive through the blazing inferno, photos of empty lots where neighbourhoods used to be. The constant thoughts running through our heads, "What's going to be left? Will there be anything left?". We thought of our wedding tree and knew for sure it must be gone. We thought of the Beltane Ranch family and wondered if everyone was okay.
Luckily we soon learned everyone at the ranch was okay. They were one of the very first 911 calls when the fire started and had everyone on hand pitching in to keep the fire back from the historic buildings. Parts of the vineyards and olives trees were lost, as well as the chicken coop and other smaller outbuildings, but the main part of the property was okay. They were able to evacuate all the animals from the ranch, so none of them were harmed. On our most recent visit, we finally learned that our wedding tree was okay. The fire has come within about 10 feet of it but the universe (and fire department!) managed to spare it. It is free to continue growing to its full potential.
We were nervous on our way to Sonoma on our most recent visit because we had no idea what to expect. On the drive down, we noticed Calistoga in Napa Valley was hit pretty hard, but then everything seemed fine like nothing had happened until we got between Kenwood and Glen Ellen. I gasped in the car when I saw how black the entire hillside was behind the ranch, showing us just how close the fire came from destroying the place we loved so much. Much of it is already regrowing and looks a lot better than it did right after the fire, but it was still a lot to take in.
Driving through residential Glen Ellen we were faced with many empty lots where houses used to stand. One of which was a house we rented the few days before our wedding, completely gone. Some people were already rebuilding, others remained bare. A stark reminder of nature's power and that whole lives can be changed in an instant. We can only imagine how thankful the community is to the brave firefighters who risked their lives to protect the people and property. Thank you will never be enough.
What To Eat In Sonoma Valley
What would one of our articles be if it didn't talk about food? Let's end this article on a much more positive and tastier note!
The Girl in the Fig is a staple restaurant in downtown Sonoma, featuring "country food with a French passion" and utilizing the best local ingredients. We've never been disappointed with a meal here, and they are open all day. Some of our favourites include the Sonoma Mountain Beef Burger and the Duck Confit. They also have specials that change weekly highlighting whatever is in season. Oh yeah, and they catered our wedding, so there's that. :)
The Fig Cafe is a smaller, more casual bistro owned by the same people and is located in Glen Ellen, and is just as delicious, offering slightly different fare but with the same French wine country feel.
Glen Ellen Star is a small but hopping restaurant in Glen Ellen and is only open for dinner. Almost all of the items on their menu are cooked in a wood-fired oven, which is one of our favourite things in the world! This also happens to be the place where Marcin dared me to take a bite of our table neighbours lamb ragu and claim I thought it was family-style. I'll leave you to wonder if I actually did or not.
Located in Historic Jack London Village, Yeti is a fabulous Nepalese/Indian fusion restaurant that highlights local ingredients. On our first visit, we went in thinking we were just going to get a light lunch so we would still have room to go out to dinner later, but couldn't resist ordering more and more things on the menu, so needless to say dinner didn't happen that night. But it was worth it!
A little over a month ago I put a pretty big claim on an Instagram post as a teaser. I promised to tell you about the BEST MEXICAN FOOD OUTSIDE OF MEXICO. Well, here it is. El Molino Central in our opinion is the best Mexican food we have ever had. There may be better in Mexico, but this place would be hard to beat. We've eaten a lot of Mexican food. In fact, Mexican food is the thing we miss the most when we are in Europe.
So what makes El Molino Central so special? For starters, their menu is seasonal and uses fresh, local ingredients. Everything they use is made in-house, and you can even buy their tortillas and salsas to take home. Located in-between Sonoma and Glen Ellen in Boyes Hot Springs, this is a no-frills kind of place where you order at the counter and walk through the kitchen to get to the outdoor-only seating area. We love trying their new seasonal menu items, but keep coming back for their mole enchiladas and tamales the most. Last year they were even were named the Bay Area's best Mexican food by the San Fransisco Chronicle, so if that plus our word isn't enough evidence for you I don't know what will be.
So there you have it, one of our favourite places on the planet. Where is your favourite place? Have you ever come close to losing "your" place? Let us know in the comments!
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