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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Where to take pictures in Sonoma County

Sonoma County has many beautiful locations. You'll want to visit some of these places just to take in the sights and maybe get some photos. Here are some spots to get those shots.

The Coast

Where Sonoma County meets the Pacific is quite scenic and dramatic. Hills, bluffs, rocky cliffs, and many beaches. I'd suggest drive out to Jenner then down to Bodega Bay going south as that puts you on the ocean side for pulling over at the various overlooks and beaches. Don't miss Goat Rock and Bodega Head. The head juts out into the Pacific offering views up and down the coast plus it's a spot for whale watching.

During the summer months the coast can be fogged in especially during the mornings and evenings. During stormy weather is a nice time to get those pictures of a riled up Pacific. The weather is almost always cooler than inland so bring something warm to wear. Sunsets can be spectacular.

The Vineyards

The seasons of the vineyards are quite interesting and very photogenic. You don't need grape clusters to get great pictures. Early spring with bare older vines and green in between the rows makes for good photos. Fall color in the vineyards peaks late-Oct / early-Nov.

Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Valley all offer great photo opportunities and are easily accessible. Not all roads are light enough in traffic or wide enough to allow you to pull over for picture taking. The best routes I've found are Dry Creek Road, Olivet Road in the Russian River Vly, and  Highway 128 in Alexander Vly. Highway 12 is Sonoma Vly has some pretty fast traffic, but you can pull off at various wineries along the route.

Note: Vineyard land is private property so please respect that. If you wonder out a bit into the vineyards near a winery's tasting room they are probably okay with that. Several wineries offer self-guided vineyard tours.

The Wineries

The most photographed wineries are probably Korbel, Ferrari-Carano, and Buena Vista. Ferrari-Carano for landscaping, the other two for their old, historic buildings.

Wineries with Views

The best are Paradise Ridge in Santa Rosa with a view over the Russian River Valley towards the coast and Sbragia north of Healdsburg with a view of Dry Creek Valley. Iron Horse, Russian Hill, Hanna (in Alexander Valley, not the Santa Rosa tasting room), Armida, Passalacqua, Stryker Sonoma, and Twomey also have nice views.

Cute towns

The Sonoma Plaza is definitely number one here. There's history, shops, and lots of people walking around. Other towns that quality as "cute," are Healdsburg and Graton, but they aren't photogenic like Sonoma. Although Healdsburg has made several "cute" or "quaint" small town lists with various travel writers.


The best views in the county are from Hood Mountain Regional Park and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, but the hikes are strenuous. Somewhat easier hikes with good views are Taylor Mountain and North Sonoma Mountain Regional Parks. Fees required at these parks.
Photographing People

So far it's been about taking pictures of places, but what about people? There are several large wine events, beer events and fairs during the year, mostly in the summer. These are always good for people watching and photographing.

On the weekends and during the summer you'll find lots of people walking around the downtowns of Sonoma, Healdsburg and Petaluma.

Picking a route

A Dry Creek Valley route can include the town of Healdsburg then up Dry Creek Valley Road to Ferrari-Carano and Sbragia wineries. From the north end of the valley near these two wineries is Yoakim Bridge Road that heads to the other side of the valley. There are good photo ops on the way across, but the road on the other side is very narrow and you can't pull over for picture taking.

A coast route out River Road goes by Korbel Winery, then the don't miss old-growth redwoods at Armstrong Grove, to the coast where you can go right to the town of Jenner then backtrack down Highway 1 to Goat Rock Park to Bodega Bay and Bodega Head. South of Bodega Bay you can pick up Bodega Highway to go back inland. You may recognize the first little town on the way in, Bodega, used in the filming of Hitchcock's The Birds.

A Santa Rosa route can include Paradise Ridge Winery then a short drive over to Olivet Road. Lots of wineries and older head-pruned vineyards along here. This route can include Russian Hill and Iron Horse wineries.

Disclaimer: I'm employed by one of the wineries listed here.