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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ten Sonoma County Secrets

As a visitor to Sonoma County you want your trip to be as enjoyable as possible. Here are a few things you probably didn't know about that could enhance your visit. Call it "Tips from a local."

1. Free Wine Tasting

Some wineries offer complimentary tastings all the time. Check for a list of those in northern Sonoma County. Many have coupons they hand out to hotels and other wineries. Others show up on Groupon or other discount web sites. Many Sonoma County wineries give free tastings to Visa Signature card holders.

2. Buying Wine

You best selection will be at the winery tasting rooms, of course. A very good selection at excellent prices can be found at the Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa

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3. Wine Flies Free

Alaska Air flies up and down the west coast from the Santa Rosa airport. You can check through a case of wine, packed in a shipper box, for free.  

4. Sparkling Wine (aka champagne)

Many don't think about sparkling wines when visiting Sonoma County, but there are lots available. Some of the major producers are Gloria Ferrer, Iron Horse, J, and Korbel. Korbel has a number of quality sparklers you don't find at home. Tasting and tours are free, but it will be crowded on weekend afternoons. Iron Horse has a great rustic, outdoor tasting area.

In Napa Schramsberg, Mumm, and Domaine Carneros are worth visiting.

Bubblies at Iron Horse

5. Driver's Roads

The Pacific Coast Highway is famous, and often crowded. There are a number of less-known roads to give you a thrill if you have the right vehicle. Some are Bohemian Highway, Coleman Valley, Green Valley, Lytton Springs, Skaggs Springs, Trinity/Oakville Grade, Westside, and many others.

6. Beer

There are several beer tasting events in Sonoma County with the June Beerfest being the largest.

Sonoma County has three of the top breweries in the country: Bear Republic, Lagunitas, and Russian River plus there are several others. There are a number of beer bars serving mostly west coast micro-brews such as Hopmonk and Sprenger's.

You have to stand in line to get this seasonal beer
after it was rated the best beer in the world

7. Food

There are quite a few famous restaurants that get a lot of Internet chatter, such as Dry Creek Kitchen, Farmhouse, Girl and the Fig, John Ash, and Zazu. These are all great, but here's a few you don't hear much about except amongst the locals.

Restaurants: In Santa Rosa, Chloe's (weekdays only), La Gare, Spinster Sisters, and Three Squares. Underwood Bar & Bistro in Graton. Ravenous in Healdsburg.
Bakeries: Costeaux, Scandia, and Wild Flour
Coffee: Forget Starbucks and find the nearest Flying Goat Coffee store.
Fruit products and more: Kozlawski Farms for jams, jellies, apple pies and cider, salad dressing, mustard, sauces, and a host of other products.
Groceries - If you are staying somewhere with a kitchen and in or near Santa Rosa then forget Safeway. Get your fresh produce at Imwalle Gardens. Do your other shopping at Oliver's Markets.

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8. The Russian River

Everyone knows about the Pacific coast, but not many visitors use "the river" much. There are beaches and redwoods. You can rent a canoe or kayak.

9. Art

Sonoma County has a large artist community. Many wineries have art displays. There are numerous galleries in the county. ARTrails is a good place to start.

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10. Late October-Early November

The last half of October through early November is the best time to visit. It's harvest still, the crowds are mostly gone (except in the weekend in Napa Valley), and the weather is usually great. The second best time to visit is late March to early April

Dry Creek Valley in early November