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Valley of the Moon – Sonoma Wine Country
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Once known as the “Valley of the Moon” by its native inhabitants, the Sonoma Valley’s modern history stretches back almost two centuries. It was originally established as a Spanish mission site in 1823, but by the late 1850s was already home to California’s first wineries. Over the years and even through Prohibition, the Sonoma Valley’s vineyards survived and thrived. Today they come together as one of the world’s most compelling and vibrant winetasting destinations, complete with top-shelf dining, lodging and other attractions reminiscent of an earlier time.

If you’re considering a vacation to the Sonoma Valley, don’t make plans blindly. Read on for an expert’s view of the must-hit attractions and other Sonoma Valley experiences worth your while.

Best Fine Dining

Excellence is found in many forms in the Sonoma Valley, and the food is one of the highlights. The region attracts many classically trained chefs sharing their inspired dishes with the refined palates drawn to the region. The Meritage Martini and Oyster Bar’s Chef Carlo Cavallo is one such chef, abandoning his work in genetic engineering to pursue his passion in Southern California. Over the years, Cavallo has been invited to cook for a wide range of celebrities, including Dustin Hoffman, Sylvester Stallone and the prime minister of Italy. He came to the Sonoma Valley in 1999 to open Meritage Martini and Oyster Bar and continues to run the restaurant well-known for its cocktails as much as the food.

Meritage is one of the highlights in Sonoma, but it’s far from the only option. Dozens of fine dining options await you, including Della Santinas Trattoria, one of the best Italian leisure dining venues around. Other must-hit restaurants include Harvest Moon Cafe, LaSalette Restaurant and Hot Box Grill. Or, if you’re looking for more economical fare, check out The Fremont Diner.

World-Class Wineries

Amid the many wineries deeply entrenched in the Sonoma Valley, visitors will also find a number of boutique wineries cropping up. These boutiques are a new trend not just in Sonoma, but throughout the world, and each aspires to provide its own handcrafted touch to a modest collection of wines. These boutiques aim to provide an artisanal quality not only to their wines, but to their tasting rooms and grounds, and the end result is a valley dotted with less-known finds that transform your visit into a true choose-your-own-adventure.

Bryter Estates is one such boutique that has impressed wine experts with high-scoring bottles, including its 98-point Cabernet Sauvignon. But there are a number of other wineries that are well-known not far beyond the reach of the Sonoma Valley. Wine enthusiasts will want to be sure to fit in trips to the Benziger Family Winery, Gloria Ferrer Winery, Imagery Estate, which as been voted “Best Sonoma Winery” for two straight years.

Top Tasting Rooms

Wineries provide a great setting to enjoy the valley and its finest products, but it’s hard to find a better wine education than the tasting rooms populating the area. Sonoma Enoteca is one of the most expansive and comprehensive tasting rooms you’ll find anywhere, bringing together 10 different wineries into a stunning tasting room cooperative. There’s always someone ready to take you through a tasting tour of various wines, but that’s far from the limit to the venue’s attractions. Whether it’s wine gadgets, commemorative gifts of furniture inspired by wine country itself, you can peruse the sales floor with drink in hand and maybe pick up some gifts to ship home.

For a different ambiance, check out the private confines of the Roche Winery tasting room, which has indoor and outdoor spaces for you to float between. A myriad of other tasting rooms can be found in Sonoma, many of them within walking distance so you can fit more into your day.

Best Valley Tours

You can always tour the valley on your own, but there’s so much to do making decisions can get a little overwhelming. The easy solution is to schedule some tours to take you on a guided, decision-free tour of the area. And these tours come in many different forms. The Sonoma Wine Trolley tour takes you around on a vintage cable car for a day of visiting local wineries. A catered lunch is provided, and a variety of pick-up and drop-off spots are available to save you from making a long commute from wherever you’re staying.

For a more in-depth look at the trendy biodynamic approach to grape-growing, schedule a tour at the lovely Benziger Family Winery. The 45-minute tour takes you around the vineyard grounds and teaches you about organic growing methods both unique to Benziger and embraced throughout the Sonoma Valley.

Lastly, Sonoma Valley Bike Tours provide a number of bike tour options, whether you want to ride from winery to winery or whether you’re interested in an off-road tour taking you directly through the rows of vines. While it might be a more rugged approach to touring, it’s a fun change of pace from the standard method of seeing the Valley.

Top Lodging Venues

Like everything else found in the valley, where you stay is totally up to you, and there are plenty of options to choose from, whether you’re looking for a bed-and-breakfast, a historic setting or a hotel that simply aims to pull out all the stops. The Sonoma Renaissance Lodge can be found right at the heart of Sonoma and is one of the most exceptional destinations to be found in the valley. The resort spa is in walking distance to exceptional tasting rooms and fine dining, and the grounds itself are intimate and beautiful, offering plenty of incentive to stick around and delay your excursions for a little longer.

Meanwhile, the Ledson Hotel is a historic-looking six-room boutique and French bistro. It has received acclaim as one of the world’s best new hotels and offers easy access to a number of attractions. Other top lodging options include the MacArthur Place and El Pueblo Inn.

Other Top Attractions

Wine figures to be the focal point of any visit to the Sonoma Valley, but there are plenty of other attractions waiting for when you’re ready to take a break. Annual events like the Sonoma Film Festival(Event) Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival and the seasonal changes at the Cornerstone Festival of Gardens are all vibrant attractions that enrich the cultural amenities of the area. The Sonoma Film Festival delivers an annual influx of film industry buffs into the town, and the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival is a celebration of the wine grapes harvest and the end of the growing season.

There are also year-round attractions worth hitting, such as the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sonoma Coast State Beach and the historic Sebastiani Theatre. Golfers will love the beautiful setting of the Sonoma Golf Club — not to mention the incredible year-round weather. And other historic venues let you trace the valley’s history from its native American days to the strong influences of Spanish missionaries, which can still be seen today in the historic downtown’s architecture.

Of course, one of the greatest attractions is simply the valley itself. The rolling hills covered in vines provide a stunning scene at any time of year, leaving no doubt why the area was so quickly settled by settlers. The rich soil and climate of the valley are what endeared it to farmers, but it’s the California weather that continues to attract wine enthusiasts, celebrities and other travelers simply looking for a relaxing getaway from life’s daily grind.

If you’re considering a visit to the Sonoma Valley, this should serve as a strong starting point to help you form your travel plans. But don’t be afraid to step outside of the box and take a chance on a new experience. Options may abound in Sonoma, but it’s hard to make a bad choice.

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