While the first thing many people think when they hear “Sonoma County” is wine, the region is stunning in its natural beauty, of course, but this gorgeous area is rife with locally produced foods that will keep your picnic basket full of delicious and local flavors.
Heading in a different direction? Check out these foodie experiences in Bologna.
Let’s start by differentiating between Sonoma and Sonoma County.
Sonoma is a historic town situated on the eastern edge of Sonoma County in Northern California. Originally home to Native American tribes including the Pomo, Coast Miwok, and Wappo, the area was drastically altered by the the arrival of Spanish missionaries in the early 19th century.
The influence of the Spanish incursion and the eventual settlements of Mexican families when Mexico won independence from Spain is still apparent in the architecture of Sonoma. The eight-acre central plaza that still exists as the town center today, was designed by General Vallejo.
The County of Sonoma stretches from the Pacific Coast, and encompasses the Sonoma Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley wine regions. It’s home to cities and towns like Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, and Glen Ellen, where author Jack London had a home. Sonoma County abuts Napa County, similarly famous for its wines.
The area is a popular destination for visitors, especially those living in the San Francisco Bay Area; it’s an easy drive from the city to all that Sonoma County offers.
Sonoma County for Foodies
Sonoma County’s local food scene features an abundance of fresh, seasonal produce readily available at farmers markets and grocery stores. From fresh berries and cherries to vine-ripened tomatoes, stone fruit, and sweet corn, visitors can sample fresh produce or try assorted condiments made from the local abundance.
In addition to its fresh produce, Sonoma County is home to a multitude of artisanal food producers who craft high-quality products using local ingredients, including cheesemakers, bakers, and brewers who use locally sourced ingredients to create delicious products.
Sonoma County’s thriving food and beverage industry has so much to offer. Here are some must-try options to add to your shopping list for snacking, picnicking, and souvenirs!
The cool, foggy climate and fertile soil of Sonoma County provide the perfect conditions for growing a wide variety of apples. From sweet and crisp to tart and juicy, there is an apple for every taste.
One of the most popular varieties grown in Sonoma County is the Gravenstein apple. This spicy, somewhat tangy apple is perfect for eating fresh or cooking into pies, sauces, and other baked goods.
Visit West Sonoma County during the late summer months to indulge freshly harvested apples when Sonoma County’s apple season kicks off with the Gravenstein apple harvest, followed by an assortment of apples including Jonathan, Golden Delicious, and Roman Beauty that are picked fresh until about October.
Some grocery stores do a good job of making local apples available, but you’ll have more fun if you seek out farm stands where you’ll have a chance to sample a variety of apples before choosing which ones you’d like to take with you.
There are not one but two festivals in Sebastopol dedicated to apples. Time your visit to include one of them! The Apple Blossom Festival happens in April and features a small town parade, craft booths, and food. The Gravenstein Apple Fair in August features all things Gravenstein, from apple pie to cider, craft booths, farm-inspired food, and live entertainment.
Situated just an hour north of San Francisco, Sonoma County bakers do a reputable job of crafting loaves of bread, including an assortment of sourdough breads.
Franco American has long been a grocery store staple in the region, offering simple loaves of French bread in a paper sleeve. The number of artisanal bakeries has grown immensely since I lived in the area, meaning access to a wide variety of breads, including sourdough, rye, and whole grain.
Pick up a loaf at gourmet grocers, direct from the bakery, or see what’s available at farmers markets.
If artisanal cheese is your jam, grab some crackers and a cheese knife. High-end grocery stores in the area offer a wide array of gourmet cheeses, but visiting the cheesemakers right at the source allows you to enjoy guided tastings and tours featuring cheese made from the milk of cows, sheep, goats, and even water buffalo!
While the rising interest in good-quality cheese has spurred the creation of some new ventures, cheese isn’t new to Sonoma County. The Sonoma Cheese Factory is a family-owned business that has been producing award-winning cheese for more than 50 years. The Matos family has been making cheese in Santa Rosa since the 70s, when the owners moved from Portugal to Sonoma County.
Check out the California Cheese Trail map for more information.
Home to more than 30 craft breweries and pubs, beer lovers can have their day in the sun in Sonoma County. Whether you prefer hoppy ales, IPAs, or stouts, you’ll find a brew for you!
Some of the standout craft breweries in the area include Bear Republic Brewing Col, Russian River Brewing Co., Third Street Aleworks, and Hopmonk.
You’ll find that most breweries offer on-tap beer as well as pub fare like pizzas, sandwiches, and appetizers.
Want to add a bit of sweetness to your Sonoma County vacation? Look to the bees! The area is home to many beekeepers who produce a variety of locally-sourced honey.
You’ll find honey from small producers at farmers markets, gourmet food shops, specialty stores, and some grocers.
A fairly recent addition to Sonoma County’s local harvest, olive trees were first planted in the area in the 1990s. The warm, dry climate — similar to that of the Mediterranean — is ideal for growing olives and curiosity got the best of some growers who planted trees in an effort to harvest a new crop. Now, there are many local producers of olives that are turned into high-quality olive oil.
You’ll find locally produced olive oils available at specialty shops and gourmet grocers, or from the source. Some to look for:
- DaVero Farms and Winery (Healdsburg)
- B.R. Cohn Winery and Olive Oil Company (Glen Ellen)
- Dry Creek Olive Company (Geyserville)
Not to be outdone by its famous wine, Sonoma County is home to numerous craft distilleries that produce a wide range of artisanal spirits, including whiskey, gin, vodka, and more.
Visiting the distilleries themselves often gives you a chance to sample directly from the source, and in some cases, gives you a chance to see the production in action.
- Spirit Works Distillery (Sebastopol)
- Sonoma Brothers Distilling (Windsor)
- Hanson of Sonoma (Sonoma)
Ah, yes, WINE. Sonoma County is home to many award-winning wineries, producing a wide variety of red, white, and sparkling wines. There are wineries around just about every corner, each with their own specialties. Many offer tasting rooms, giving visitors an opportunity to sample a variety of wines in a single stop — be sure to designate a driver if you’ll be indulging.
Tasting rooms featuring an assortment of Sonoma County wineries are popular, and great if you don’t want to spend the time driving from vineyard to vineyard. The towns of Sonoma and Healdsburg have a particularly robust wine scene.
Most grocery stores have a large selection of Sonoma County wines, too, including popular options from local producers like Korbel, Benziger Family Winery, and Dry Creek Vineyard.
More on Sonoma County wines here.
Overall, Sonoma County is a paradise for foodies and those who appreciate locally grown products. While you might be headed there for the beaches, parks, and hiking, be sure to take the time to explore the local food scene and support the hardworking farmers and producers who make it all possible.
Besides the products included here, there are a multitude of fruits and vegetables available in the region. Be sure to look for a Sonoma County Farm Trails map to find all of the delicious options, from farm stands to U-pick options.
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