7 Things That You Only Get To Enjoy If You Live In Sonoma County

When you think of California, you probably think of Southern California: hot weather, suburban sprawl, and sunny beaches. But in Northern California, where I grew up, you get something a little different: a breathtaking mix of stunning mountains, dramatic coastlines, and ethereal forests. And there’s no place that embodies all the beauty and natural resources Northern California has to offer than my home of Sonoma County. There's much more to do in Sonoma County than just visit the hundreds of famous vineyards (although I can attest from many, many wine-tastings that those are pretty great, too.)

Sonoma County is the northernmost part of the Bay Area, and is one of the state’s most abundant agricultural areas. It boasts an ideal mix of city access (drive south for 45 minutes and you’ll end up at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge) and rural beauty, with miles of coastline and over 50 state and local parks. As a kid, I hiked among giant redwood trees, learned how to drive on winding country roads (with the cows watching me skeptically), and spent countless hours at the beach, hoping for a view of the friendly sea lions. And as locals know, Sonoma County is also home to a number of unparalleled experiences —some charming, some quirky — which you won’t find anywhere else. Here are a few of the things you only get to do if you live in Sonoma County.

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1. Hike Next To Thousand-Year-Old Trees

In Sonoma County you can hike near rivers and lakes, or summit vistas like Hood Mountain for amazing views (and a killer leg workout). It’s also home to an experience you can only encounter few places on earth: hiking in a majestic, towering redwood forest. Redwoods are the tallest trees on earth, and they're only found in California, Oregon and China. Sonoma County boasts Armstrong Woods, which is an entire forest of coastal redwoods. Whether you decide to take a long hike or just a quick one, nothing compares to the awe-inspiring feeling of being surrounded by these thousand-year-old trees.

2. Rock A Sweater At The Beach

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Sonoma County has incredibly beautiful beaches: ones that feature dramatic rock formations, others surrounded by forests, all peaceful and serene. But when you’re headed to the beach, locals know to swap the swimsuit for a sweater or jacket. The coastal fog makes the beaches chilly, but once you’ve caught a glimpse of the ruggedly beautiful Sonoma Coast, I promise you’ll forget that you’re wearing a sweater and hat at the beach. In July.

3. Soak Up Some Sun At The Vineyards

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Luckily, it’s not that cold everywhere else. Sonoma County is filled with diverse microclimates that can make it freezing at the beach, but 20 minutes away, it’ll be hot. One benefit of such fluctuating weather? All those microclimates help make some of the best wine. Sonoma usually boasts hot temperatures, so make sure to pack a dress or shorts — and sunglasses! — when you visit, whether you’re checking out the champagne caves at Gloria Ferrer or the biodynamic pinots at Joseph Phelps.

4. Tour Local Breweries And Distilleries

Yes, we’re (justifiably!) famous for our grape juice, but in recent years, there’s been a surge in new locally made spirits. There’s a booming craft beer scene, featuring breweries like Lagunitas (where you can get a delicious mountain of pork nachos to wash down your IPA), offering tours and beer flights to expand your palate. There are distilleries like Spirit Works, where you can try locally made gin, whiskey or an unexpectedly delicious Sloe Gin. Gluten-free? Try one of the many ciders, like Ace or Devoto, made from Sebastopol’s acres of apple fields.

5. All The Quintessential Perks Of Small Town Life

Sonoma County is packed with small towns that will make you feel like a local, even if you’re visiting from across the world. In Petaluma, you’ll walk a charming downtown packed with antique shops, artisan coffee joints and a bakery offering some of the best bread you’ll ever eat. At night, a nattily-dressed local named “Petaluma Pete” plays retro tunes at a piano downtown. In Sonoma, take a break from wine tasting to simply sit in the quaint town square, and enjoy the local people watching. Out on the coast in Bodega Bay, enjoy warming bowls of clam chowder at local favorite Spud Point, and stock up on taffy from the pink and white striped Patrick's Taffy Shop.

6. Spend A Day At The Farm

Sonoma County’s mild weather makes it an ideal place to grow food of every kind, from grapes to kale. And while you can experience that bounty on the plates of some of the area’s incredible restaurants, from hole in the wall taquerias to award winning farm-to table-spots, there’s nothing like experiencing the country life firsthand. Strap on some hardy shoes and walk into the dirt to meet the plants, animals and farmers that go into your food, from the juicy peaches at Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Peach and Produce to the best butter you’ve ever tasted from Petaluma’s McClelland's Dairy.

7. Celebrate Everything From Accordions To Ugly Dogs

No matter when you visit, there’s always something going on in Sonoma County, with events ranging from traditional to wacky. For example, you can get married for $5 at the quirky Rivertown Revival, a festival celebrating the Petaluma River. In Cotati, you’ll learn that there’s way more to the accordion than polka at the town’s annual accordion festival. You can even check out homely pooches at the Petaluma Fair’s World’s Ugliest Dog Contest.

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