Whether you’re visiting for the first time or returning to an old favorite, Sonoma is as charming as ever.

By Julia Heffelfinger
Updated: June 11, 2019
Akira Yuan / EyeEm/Getty Images

In 2017, Sonoma County was devastated by three weeks of aggressive wild fires. Thousands of homes were reduced to ash, winemakers lost hundreds of acres of vines, and ongoing projects ground to a halt. Many producers were left with unusable wine that was either tainted by smoke or boiled from the heat. There is still a long road to recovery ahead of Sonoma County, but it’s clear when you visit today that locals are eager to move forward. New houses are sprouting up, many wineries are reopening with new and improved facilities, and tourists are returning to the area. There’s a buzz of energy in a community that has spent much of the last year and a half focused on rebuilding.

Whether you’re visiting for the first time or returning to an old favorite, Sonoma is as charming as ever. Book a room at a luxurious new hotel, dine out at a crop of new restaurants, and sip on free-flowing local wine. There are a lot of reasons to head to Sonoma right now, but the most important is to visit, explore and show your support for this historic wine region. To help you plan your next trip, here’s how to spend a dreamy 48 hours in Sonoma County.

DAY ONE

Check in at MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa

This luxurious 64-room property is located just outside Sonoma Plaza and has been a local institution for over 125 years. After an extensive renovation, MacArthur Place reopened in the spring of 2019. From the exterior, the bucolic villas and winding garden paths have not changed much, but each building has undergone a complete gut renovation. The rooms are light, airy, modern, and cozy and come equipped with every thoughtful amenity you can imagine. Snack on complimentary local chocolates and olive oil potato chips, relax with a lavender sheet mask (from Petite Amie Skincare), or wash up in your own outdoor shower with the in-house Grown Alchemist soaps. Each night of your stay, MacArthur surprises you with new simple luxuries (think a box of warm cookies waiting by your bed after dinner, or a CBD bath bomb by Onyx & Rose for a late-night soak). When you visit you can book a romantic stay for two, or reserve the entire ten-room 1869 manor house for a home-away-from-home experience. Rooms starting at $409/night, macarthurplace.com

Head Out with Bohemian Highway

For a truly unique wine excursion, book a day trip with Bohemian Highway Travel Co.. One of their knowledgeable local guides will pick you up at the hotel in a retro 1987 Land Rover and then escort you around the region for the day. This is not your average tasting experience: Bohemian Highway specializes in off-the-beaten-path wineries and helping you with those impossible-to-get tasting appointments. Visit three very different boutique producers, or opt for an in-depth experience with one winemaker. For lunch, choose between a gourmet picnic in the vineyards or lunch at a winery. $175/person, bohohwy.com

Tasting at Hudson Winery

Hudson Winery is a dreamy destination for serious wine people. Just over the border in Napa, the owners are longtime grape-growers who have been supplying reputable wineries with grapes for over 40 years. The serene, rolling property expands over 2,000 acres, but only 200 of that is devoted to vines: the rest of the land is for nature preservation, ranchlands, gardens and olive groves (they make an award-winning olive oil, too). Recently, Hudson began making their own wine, from bright, un-oaked Chardonnays to juicy red blends. They’re only producing about 5,000 cases a year. In September 2019, they opened their brand-new tasting rooms and facilities. The industrial adobe-style buildings blend in flawlessly with the surrounding views. This winery is by appointment only, so be sure to plan ahead. Hudsonranch.com

Stephanie Rudy

Lunch at Scribe Winery

You know that gorgeous California Hacienda you keep seeing on Instagram? This is it. Your first glimpse of Scribe Winery’s renovated 1910 home is from the palm tree-lined driveway. Upon arrival, you’re greeted with a glass of rosé and escorted to a table under their shaded veranda. Peek your head into the open-front kitchen and you’ll see a team of impossibly good-looking people working their way around a center island heaped with fresh produce, wild flowers, and bowls of toasted almonds and marinated olives. It’s peak California aesthetic. Scribe added their full kitchen two years ago, and now you can dine here for lunch. The food is simple, but flawless: perfectly roasted chicken sprinkled with za’atar, house-made cucumber pickles, a creamy potato salad with chive blossoms, and fresh fava beans. A reservation is required, so book early! This place fills up fast on weekends and holidays. scribewinery.com

Recharge with a Spa Treatment

For a post-wine tasting reboot, book one of MacArthur Place’s rejuvenating Uppercase Tea treatments. This local, women-run company provides phenomenal, single origin teas for the entire property, plus tea-infused essential oils for the spa. Kick off your massage or body scrub with a meditative tea ceremony, then relax by the garden-enclosed pool or outdoor firepits.

Dinner at Layla

Finish your first day strong with dinner at MacArthur Place’s restaurant, Layla. Executive chef Cole Dickinson (who has worked closely with reputable chefs like Wolfgang Puck and the Voltaggio brothers) is creating playful, fresh Mediterranean food in a stunning space right out of a Nancy Meyers movie. The food is creative, but accessible, and not your expected Mediterranean fare. The food goes beyond Greece and Turkey and incorporates flavors from Spain, Portugal, and France. There’s also a bit of New American familiarity on the menu, like the Parker House Rolls with Broken Chicken Fat Gravy and the Hamachi Crudo with Seabean Tartar Sauce and Panko Crispies that eats like a spin on fish and chips. Whether you’re stopping in for a few light bites (Dickinson is a master of dips and spreads) or a lavish dinner, this food does not weigh you down. Macarthurplace.com

Nightcap at The Bar at MacArthur

Adjacent to Layla is the very sleek Bar at MacArthur. Before the renovation, this bar was known for its cowboy-themed horse murals and saddle-clad bar stools. Now, the space is unrecognizable. The Western décor has been replaced by plush velvet armchairs in rich jewel tones and modern brass light fixtures. In a town where few places stay open past 10 p.m., The Bar at The MacArthur is the go-to late-night spot for people looking for a good cocktail. We recommend The Forager, an herbaceous drink made with Italicus, a bergamot-scented liquor, fresh cucumber juice, and Butterfly Pea Tea. When the tea mixes with acid, it turns from a vibrant blue to a deep purple. Macarthurplace.com

DAY TWO

Breakfast at The Porch

This sunny, all-day café and market is next to the entrance to MacArthur, so it’s easy to pop in for coffee and a bite even if you’re not a guest at the hotel. Do not miss their insane gluten-free pastries like the buttery Maple Bar (if asked to have it warmed up, always say YES) and the creative coffee menu. Layla’s chef Cole Dickinson is also behind the drinks here and it’s clear that they’re from the mind of a chef. In addition to your classics, you’ll also find an Espresso & Tonic with Lime and a Brown Butter Bullet. Macarthurplace.com

Bike into Town for Some Shopping

MacArthur Place is a short walk from downtown Sonoma, but to truly explore the area, reserve their (complimentary) electric Blix Bikes. Each bike has a basket on the front for your shopping bags and a bottle of wine. Take a spin around the historic Sonoma Plaza and check out some of the downtown shops. A few favorites are Frenchie, a must-visit for Francophiles and picnic-lovers. Check out their collection of cookbooks, kitchen gear and gifts and then grab one of their ready-to-go picnic bags. If you’re looking for modern home goods, go to G’s General Store. They have everything from Marimekko bedding to Swedish clogs.

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Lunch at West Handmade Burgers

Located about two miles from the downtown square, West Handmade Burgers serves up perfectly griddled patties on squishy potato buns. The popular burger spot, which opened in April 2019, serves a limited menu of burgers, shakes and fries made with local, high-quality ingredients. Go all out and order the epic Pt. Reyes Burger with Pt. Reyes blue cheese, bacon, garlic-basil aioli, and grilled onions. Or, keep it light with the West Salad, a mix of local greens, roasted vegetables, crispy chickpeas, blueberries, quinoa, chicken and a creamy tahini-cilantro dressing. You’re guaranteed to leave here full (thank goodness for those electric bikes).

Tastings in Town

Return to downtown Sonoma and enjoy a few tastings around the central square. Pangloss Cellars has a stunning tasting room in a renovated historic building. The handsome space has deep leather sofas, sky-high cobblestone walls, and towering redwood pillars. Pangloss’s wines are diverse and only available for tasting at this location. If available, be sure to try one of their full-bodied pinot noirs from Anderson Valley. For another unusual tasting experience, make an appointment at the Three Sticks Adobe. Three Sticks makes phenomenal wine (mostly chardonnays and pinots), but it’s worth visiting just to see their adobe tasting room designed by Ken Fulk. The rooms are adorned with handmade Mexican tiles and a mix of custom and antique furniture. The tasting room opens up to a private enclosed courtyard with a veranda and trickling fountains.

Grab a Cone at Sweet Scoops

Before cruising back to the hotel, stop for a treat at Sweet Scoops Homemade Ice Cream. Situated on the northeast corner of Sonoma Plaza, they have a rotating menu of over 200 flavors made with fresh, local ingredients. The Mint Chip tastes like fresh garden mint and sweet cream and is studded with generous bricks of dark chocolate. For you dairy-free ice cream eaters, try their shockingly-good Pistachio made with coconut milk. sweetscoopsicecream.com

Dinner at El Molino Central

Located in neighboring Boyes Springs, this fun local taco shop has been around for a few years. When you arrive, walk through the kitchen and grab a seat at the dining room in the back. The food is authentic Mexican made with very fresh California ingredients. All tacos are made on homemade corn tortillas and served with heirloom tomato salsa. Do not miss the massive enchiladas or the guacamole (ordered by the avocado!), either. This spot is beer and wine only, but they also allow BYOB.  elmolinocentral.com  

Drinks and Live Music at Starling Bar

Head back towards downtown Sonoma, but first stop for a drink and some live local music at Starling. This place has a New Orleans vibe and serves up “backyard-to-table” cocktails made with seasonal ingredients from their own garden. The menu is constantly rotating, but expect drinks like the Meyer Lemon Smash and the Li Hing Margarita made with Li Hing plum syrup and salted plums. If you’re still hungry, order their signature Bird-Dog, a Chicago(ish)-style hot dog. starlingsonoma.com

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