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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What will surprise you on a visit to Sonoma County

If you haven't been to this corner of the world before here are some things that may surprise you on your first trip to Sonoma (or Napa) County.

You may find lodging, restaurants, gasoline, and sales taxes to be a bit higher than at home. That depends on where you're visiting from as I expect someone from NYC will find things a bit inexpensive while someone from Topeka may gasp at a hundred dollar restaurant bill.
Most wineries charge for tasting so if your plan is to get in as many tastings as possible over a three-day period, for instance, it's gonna cost you. If this is an issue look for 2-for-1 offers. If you have a Visa Signature card check their website.
In Napa Valley two people can ring up $200 just in tasting fees in a day! 

You can buy a day pass that covers tasting fees
image from

It can be cold in the winter and can be very hot in the summer or autumn though those weather spells are fairly rare. What will surprise is the daily variance in temperatures. A thirty or forty degree swing in temps from day to night isn't unusual. That's why you should dress in layers as the morning starts off cool, then it warms quickly mid-day before cooling rapidly in the evening.
We have micro-climates. This means that ten miles away it can easily be five or ten degrees warmer or cooler. Another reason to keep those layers of clothing handy.
I can pretty much guarantee you that you'll be cold sometime during your stay. 

Check out the fog layer moving inland straight off the chilly Pacific

Number of wineries
There are a lot of wineries with tasting rooms, literally hundreds. For every one winery you've heard of there are a couple dozen small wineries you've yet to discover because their wines never make it as far as your hometown.The fun is in exploring new wines.

Variety of wines available
It's not just oaky Chardonnay and Cabernet. There's a world of wine types out there--blends of Syrah and Grenache plus Zinfandel everywhere. You might just find you prefer Sauvignon Blanc to Chardonnay or discover that Sangiovese is your perfect dinner wine.

Variety of styles of wines
How can a couple hundred winemakers all make Cabernet so different? It's fun to see the variety available. It's a whole lot more than what you probably see on the store shelf at home. Why? Because there are a couple big boys that control most of the market once you get out of wine country.

Lack of nightlife
Yes, there isn't much. It's still mostly an agricultural region. You can find some live theater and music, but this ain't L.A. or N.Y. or even Austin. Besides, after a day of wine tasting and a big dinner how late do you plan on staying up?

Evening in Sebastopol. Looks purdy excitin', huh?

This ain't L.A., but there are only a couple main arteries so they can be full of weekday commuters and weekend visitors from the Bay Area. US 101 is the only north-south route available from San Francisco so it can be really crowded. State Highway 12, especially in the south end of the county, can be full of visitors Friday afternoon through Sunday. Highway 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) will be full on warm weekends.

Beauty of the Pacific Ocean
This ain't L.A., so you don't really get to lay on the beach or swim because it's often too cold, but it is one of the most beautiful places around especially near sunset. You've seen photos, but like the Grand Canyon, they don't do it justice--you'll want to see it in person. Remember where I talked about the weather above--it can be mighty chilly along the coast.

Sonoma Coast: It's bigger in person
Plus you have the sounds of the waves crashing, the birds and the seals