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Sonoma County was named the top wine destination in the U.S. by TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice Awards in October, 2012

According to TripAdvisor, award winners were determined based on their popularity as wine destinations, taking into account travelers' reviews and opinions for local wineries, restaurants, attractions and accommodations.

Rounding out the top 10 were Napa Valley, Calif., Willamette Valley, Ore., Finger Lakes, NY, Long Island, NY, Paso Robles, Calif., Temecula Valley, Calif., Walla Walla, Wash., Palisade, Colo., and Plymouth, Calif.mixed group wine tasters in Sonoma Picmonkey

Sonoma County, located 30 miles from San Francisco, provides an adventurous wine country experience, featuring more than 370 wineries, 100-plus organic farms, and 55 miles of Pacific coast.

"Sonoma County may not produce as much wine as nearby Napa, but what it lacks in volume, it more than makes up for in variety," stated TripAdvisor. "You'll find everything from Chardonnay to Zinfandel here, and TripAdvisor travelers love the laid-back, unpretentious vibe of the wineries. After a strenuous day of wine-tasting, spoil yourself at one of the many local spas."

Ken Fischang, president/CEO of Sonoma County Tourism, said, "This honor shows that Sonoma County is a world-class wine region. Millions of users of TripAdvisors have recognized us for the authentic experiences we provide to independent and adventurous travelers. We are very thankful to all those TripAdvisor users who selected Sonoma County as the top wine country in the United States."

Sonoma County provides a genuine, independent, and adventurous wine country experience. Travelers find millions of reasons to visit Sonoma County, including 1 million acres of pristine, rugged land, more than 370 wineries, 55 miles of stunning Pacific coast, over 40 spas, dozens of regional and state parks, and 500-plus eateries.

"Sonoma County is inviting, open and welcoming," said Tim Zahner, director of public relations and marketing for Sonoma County Tourism. "I think the savvy travelers of TripAdvisor recognized that and it is reflected in what they say about us. From the slopes of the Mayacamas to the redwood forests to the beaches along the Pacific coastline, we offer new experiences around every corner and small towns worth discovering."


TravMedia sources contributed to this article.


Editor's note: Visitors to Sonoma County can access links to the websites of all the wineries there, as well as sites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. Also in that section is a new directory of hundreds of California brewpubs and other craft beer-oriented businesses.

While there are always celebrities and stars visiting Santa Rosa and Sonoma Wine Country, the next 30 days are a great time to meet them up close and personal. Who knows, you maybe even be able to ask them a question or get a personal picture with some of the stars.

If you consider yourself a foodie or just love watching The Food Network, you will have a chance not only to meet Mario Batali but also Santa Rosa's own Guy Fieri. On Friday, September 14th Guy and Mario will be hosting Chef's Tables in the Vineyard. The event is in conjunction with 16th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival and benefits the Cooking with Kids Foundation. A limited number of extra special VIP tickets are available with assigned seating at the head table, hosted by Guy Fieri and Mario Batali. If you prefer to dine with other Celebrity Chefs, also sponsoring tables are John Ash, Douglas Keane, Top Chef Season 6 contestant Eli Kirshtein and Top Chef Season 3 contestant Casey Thompson, just to name a few. While the Tomato Festival tickets are sold out, you can still dine with celebrity chefs. Tickets are available at www.kj.com/chef-tables-in-the-vineyard.

Basketball fans will want to know that Phil Jackson and Chris Mullin will be speaking on September 16th. Jackson is widely considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA). As head coach of the Chicago Bulls and the LGuy Fieri PicmonkeyFormer Santa Rosan Guy Fieri.os Angeles Lakers, he won a total 11 NBA titles as a coach, the most ever. Mullin is an NBA Hall of Famer and Bay Area and New York City basketball legend; he is recognized as one of the best shooters of all time. Winner of the 1985 John Wooden Award, 2 Gold medals and was a member of the "Dream Team.", as a professional Mullin was named to the All Star Team 5 times. Phil and Chris will be discussing the spiritual nature of sports, overcoming challenges, and the essence of teamwork. Following their presentations Phil and Chris will answer questions about their philosophy and experiences. Tickets are available at www.innergame.us.

If cycling, the Amgen Tour of California and the Tour de France are more your style then you can come ride with Levi Leipheimer's Gran Fondo on September 29th. Levi was the overall winner of the Amgen Tour of California in 2007, 2008 and 2009. He also has four top ten finishes in the Tour de France along with third overall in 2007 and a bronze medal from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Cyclists have a chance not only to ride with Levi on the 29th, they also have a chance to purchase VIP tickets for an up close and personal chance to share dinner with Levi at the Fiesta del Fondo on the 27th. Tickets are available for the Fiesta and the Piccolo Fondo at www.levisgranfondo.com.

If politics is your specialty, on October 15th you can hear Washington D.C.'s "odd couple," Mary Matalin—staunch Republican and Bush advisor—and James "The Ragin' Cajun" Carville—steadfast Democrat and Clinton campaign strategist. The couple will give audiences an enlightening and entertaining look at today's most important political issues, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at politics inside Washington and how today's headlines are playing out around the country. Matalin and Carville are key players on the national political stage—they each have over 30 years of experience in politics and have individually worked for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. VIP tickets include a meet and greet reception before the performance with both James Carville and Mary Matalin. Patrons will have the opportunity for autographs and pictures. Tickets are available from www.wellsfargocenterarts.org.

Of course if you do not want to meet your celebrities at dinner or one on one, you can still visit Santa Rosa and enjoy shows from such performers as Lang Lang (September 29), Alison Krauss (September 30) and Bill Maher (October 20) at the Green Music Center www.gmc.sonoma.edu or Trombone Shorty (September 19), Anjelah Johnson (October 19) and Loretta Lynn (October 22) at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts.


TravMedia sources contributed to this article.


Editor's note: Thinking of visiting the Santa Rosa area? You'll find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options in the area, as well as links to area wineries and beer-centric pubs and restaurants, in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.


Land ho, Matey. After a rigorous journey on the waters of San Francisco Bay, America's Cup competitors and fans are invited to America's premier wine, spa, and coastal destination for a little R&R - Sonoma County style.Bodega Bay boats PicmonkeyCommercial fishing boats at Bodega Bay.

Known for its more than 350 wineries, miles of gorgeous Pacific Ocean coastline, and some of the most fertile earth in California, Sonoma County has been welcoming sailors and landlubbers alike since, well, since Sir Francis Drake landed in Northern California in 1579, beginning a long, rich maritime history.

Bunk down for the night

Reach back into history and experience a military-style R&R at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, in Sonoma Valley. The resort's rich wellness history stretches back hundreds of years, when Native Americans discovered the natural underground hot mineral waters. Developed as a resort in the late 1800s, the property underwent many ups and downs.

During World War II the hotel fell under the control of the Navy. It became an R&R site for sailors and marines until 1945. Various incarnations followed, including the use of the Inn by famous sports teams as a training headquarters.

Why should sailors and sailing fans choose Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn today? Simple - the Inn is the only full-service resort offering Michelin-star dining, an award-winning spa, and championship golf amenities to visitors with discerning tastes.

Details: Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, 100 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma, CA 95476, 707-938-9000, 866-540-4499, www.fairmont.com/sonoma

If you aren't quite ready to leave the sea behind, visit Sonoma County's western border - more than 55 miles of dramatic coastline. Bodega Bay Escapes vacation home rentals offer ocean-front homes.

These homes have some of the best views in the Bodega Bay area, and the proximity to the beach is second to none. Get a front-row seat to the Northern California coast in a cozy beach cottage. Each of the privately owned homes is uniquely appointed and equipped for comfort and leisure. Many homes have private outdoor hot tubs and free wireless internet service. All homes are furnished with full kitchens, linens, and no added cleaning fees. Choose from casual beach cottages along the Sonoma Coast, or distinctive golf course homes at The Links at Bodega Harbour.

Details: Bodega Bay Escapes, 707-875-2600, 877-809-7819, www.bodegabayescapes.com

Yo ho ho and a bottle of . . . red

Dry Creek Vinyd Fume label PicmonkeyVisiting famed wineries in Sonoma County doesn't mean you have to give up nautical ties. Dry Creek Vineyard patriarch, Dave Stare, combines his two passions: winemaking and sailing. Started in 1972, the winery was the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in the Dry Creek Valley wine region and is renown for its efforts with that grape, bottled in the Fumé Blanc style, as well as when labeled Sauvignon Blanc.

Dry Creek Vineyard also offers a proprietary red blend appropriately named, The Mariner. The 2008 vintage was just released and has garnered numerous awards.

Stare's passion for sailing includes sharing it with others. In fact, Sonoma State University has a sailing team that was founded by Stare.

Details: Dry Creek Vineyard, 3770 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448, 707-433-1000, www.drycreekvineyard.com

Sailors and winemakers share a strong sense of passion to take care of the environment. Helping the ocean, as well as the land, is Iron Horse Vineyards, which runs its Healthy Ocean Project with leading ocean conservation groups.

The winery produces its vintage Blanc de Blancs Ocean Reserve, created in partnership with National Geographic to help save the ocean. Iron Horse contributes $4 from each bottle sold to National Geographic's Ocean Initiative - establishing marine protected areas and reducing overfishing around the world. For more information, visit ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/i-am-the-ocean-wine.

Details: Iron Horse Vineyards, 9786 Ross Station Road, Sebastopol, CA 95472, 707-887-1507, www.ironhorsevineyards.com

While in Sonoma County, visit the home of America's favorite Chardonnay. Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates has been anchored in Sonoma County for nearly 30 years with the understanding that the cold Pacific Ocean allows the winemaking team to make superior quality wines.

Much like sailors on the sea, Kendall-Jackson's staff treasures what the ocean provides. That means the cool, maritime breezes and coastal fog that protect the grapes and coax the most intense and complex varietal flavors. Stop by Kendall-Jackson during your shore leave and experience a unique wine and food pairing adventure that will thrill even the most able-bodied sailor.

Details: Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton, CA 95439, 707-571-8100, 866-287-9818, www.kj.com

Become a landlubber for the day: All aboard the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley. One of the Bay Area's favorite modes of transportation now roams the quaint streets and vineyards of gorgeous Sonoma Valley, offering open-air views that allow guests to experience wine country like they never have before. Built from historic blueprints, the Sonoma Wine Trolley is a motorized replica of a late 1890s San Francisco cable car, the type that still runs on San Francisco's California Street cable car line.

Visitors can now choose from two routes. The new route begins at the historic Sonoma Plaza, meanders into Glen Ellen and Kenwood area, including stops at Benziger Family Winery, Imagery Winery, Paradise Ridge in Kenwood, and Deerfield Ranch Winery. The Trolley's original route includes stops at four boutique wineries located in and around the town of Sonoma. Both tours include a gourmet lunch catered by the acclaimed the girl & the fig restaurant.

The Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley experience begins with a daily passenger pickup at 10:30 a.m. from Sonoma Plaza. Arrangements for pickup at several Sonoma hotel locations can be made prior to 10:30 a.m.

Details: Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley, 707-938-2600, www.sonomavalleywinetrolley.com

Ports of Call

Sonoma County's southern border is San Pablo Bay, which leads into the San Francisco Bay. The influence on the region from the bays, rivers, and oceans can't be overstated, whether it was the possible landing of Sir Francis Drake in Bodega Bay in 1579, the arrival of the Russians from Alaska to establish Fort Ross in 1812, or the rechristening of the Petaluma Slough to the Petaluma River in 1959, making it eligible for federal dredging, and larger ship traffic.

Here are some spots to sail to, or in, Sonoma County:Spud Point Crab Co PicmonikeyThey also make the best clam chowder.

On the Pacific Coast, Spud Point Marina, in Bodega Bay, is located on the scenic Sonoma County coast less than 50 nautical miles from the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge. The quaint town is a perfect home base for sampling all that Sonoma County has to offer, from the rugged coastline to the inland vineyards. Local fishing fleets head out for Dungeness crab and salmon, and fishing boats and pleasure boats use the protected bay as a base for exploring the waters off the Sonoma coast. Insider tip - Spud Point Crab Company, located across the street and run by a long-time fishing famiy, has some of the best chowder in Sonoma County.

Details: Spud Point Marina, 1818 Westshore Road, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, 707-875-3535, www.spudpointmarina.org

Hey, why should the ocean get all the glory? Lake Sonoma, in northern Sonoma County, is a great spot for a sail, or a leisurely day spent exploring. Nestled in the beautiful coastal foothills, Lake Sonoma is surrounded by world-famous vineyards and land that is rich in history. Created by the construction of Warm Springs Dam in 1983, the lake provides for flood control, irrigation, and recreation. When full, the lake has a surface area of more than 2,700 acres and 50 miles of shoreline, forming the perfect setting for a wealth of recreational activities. Visit to hike, swim, ride, boat, camp, fish, or hunt at this beautiful lake.

Details: Lake Sonoma Visitors Center & Fish Hatchery, 3333 Skaggs Springs Road, Geyserville, CA 95441, 707-431-4533, www.spn.usace.army.mil/lake_sonoma/index.html

The waters of the Petaluma Marina are part of the Petaluma River, a channel that runs 14 miles from the north end of Petaluma into San Pablo Bay. With 167 slips, the Petaluma Marina offers many facilities and services to boaters and kayakers on the river including private restrooms and showers, full utilities, security gates, and kayak storage. The river is enjoyed for its excellent boating, fishing, and water skiing.

Details: Harbormaster Office, 781 Baywood Dr., Petaluma, CA 94954, 707-778-4489, cityofpetaluma.net/parksnrec/marina.html.

So, how about it, Sailor, ready to give Sonoma County a try? Located 10 leagues (30 miles for landlubbers) north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, Sonoma County is America's premier wine, spa and coastal destination, featuring more than 350 wineries, 100-plus organic farms, and 55-plus miles of stunning Pacific coast.

For a free visitors guide or information on hotels, wineries, events, spas, attractions, and dining in Sonoma County, visit www.sonomacounty.com or call 800-576-6662 (+001-707-522-5800 for those across the seas...)

Editor's note: If you're planning a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area to attend the America's Cup in 2013 or coming at any other time, you can find a lot of good information at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. In it you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as to the wineries in Sonoma and other nearby wine regions and to craft beer purveyors.


With new Alaska Airlines flights begun in June, Sonoma County now has three flights from Los Angeles non-stop to Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport- STS.

San Diego also began a new flight non-stop to Sonoma County Airport in June.

Fly Sonoma  SMALL 120295

Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport - STS, offers convenient service to this wine, spa and coastal destination. In addition to these new flights from Southern California, Sonoma County Airport is served by non-stop flights from Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

Visitors departing from Sonoma County Airport on Alaska Airlines can also ship home a case of wine for no additional luggage cost. The wine must be packed to shipping standards, which many Sonoma County wineries will provide after purchase.

Located 30 miles north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, Sonoma County has more than 300 wineries and is known for its local, farm-to-table cuisine. The region is also well-served by the airports in San Francisco (70 minute drive), Oakland (70 minute drive) and Sacramento (1 hour, 45 minute drive).

A free visitors guide with information on hotels, wineries, events, spas, attractions, and dining in Sonoma County is available at www.sonomacounty.com.

(TravMedia.com sources contributed to this article.)

Editor's Note. Visitors to the state's North Coast can find links to the websites of all the wineries, as well as links to hundreds of lodging and dining options at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

north coast highlight SMALL

The North Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA) in California, covering more than three million acres, includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, and portions of Marin and Solano counties. The area forms a slightly crooked rectangle, approximately 100 miles long and more than 50 miles wide. A winemaking mecca since the mid 19th century, today the area features about 800 wineries, nearly half of the total wineries in the state. American Viticultural Areas are to appellations of origin as grapes are to fruit. AVAs are delimited grapegrowing areas distinguishable by geographic, climatic and historic features, and the boundaries have been delineated in a petition filed and accepted by the federal government. In size, AVAs range from extremely small to extremely large. AVAs are one kind of appellation, but not all appellations are AVAs. An appellation can also be a political designation, such as the name of a country, the name of a state or states, the name of a county or counties within a state.


Napa Valley

Established in 1981, the Napa Valley AVA covers 225,300 acres of land, encompassing almost the entire county of Napa and is home to 400 wineries. Within that area, there are 45,000 acres of vineyards planted. Cabernet Sauvignon is king in Napa Valley with a total of 18,200 acres, and Chardonnay is the most widely planted white wine variety with 7,300 acres. Napa produces about five percent of total California wine.

The Napa Valley is bordered by two mountain ranges—the Vaca on the east and the Mayacamas, rising well above 2,000 feet and bordering the adjacent Sonoma County, on the west. Mt. St. Helena (4,343') stands sentry at the northern end of the appellation where the valley ends at the town of Calistoga. This is the warmest locale in the region. About 30 miles away, near the city of Napa, the southern end of the valley opens to San Pablo Bay, an interconnecting arm of the San Francisco Bay system.

A uniquely diverse winegrowing appellation, the Napa Valley formed—much like the rest of the North Coast—through a geological evolution active with colliding tectonic plates (large pieces of the earth's crust), volcanic activity and changes in sea level as water alternately advanced and retreated over the southern end of the valley several times. As a result of these geological events that took place over a 60-million-year history, the Napa Valley has soils of volcanic, maritime and alluvial origin, with more than 30 different types identified.

Defined by mountain ranges and a proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the Napa Valley enjoys a temperate climate with a long growing season of sunny, warm days followed by cool evenings. Within the Napa Valley AVA, there are 14 other AVAs with distinct microclimates and terrains formed by a varied topographical configuration of hills, exposures and elevations. The Napa Valley AVA is also part of the North Coast AVA.

  Sonoma County

The appellation of Sonoma County totals more than one million acres of land of which 60,000 acres area planted to winegrapes. The county includes 13 distinct AVAs as well as being a part of the North Coast AVA. The larger Sonoma Coast AVA has with 517,000 acres. Chardonnay takes the lead as the most planted variety with 15,100 acres, and Cabernet Sauvignon is the next most planted variety with 11,900 acres. The area produces about eight percent of California's total wine production.

Sonoma County is 52 miles wide and 47 miles long and is currently home to 260 wineries. On the east, Sonoma County borders Napa Valley along the Mayacamas Range. About two million years ago, volcanic eruptions deposited a series of ash and lava called the Sonoma Volcanics throughout much of Sonoma and Napa Counties, especially along the Mayacamas Range. The western edge of the County is the California coastline along the Pacific Ocean. Sonoma County borders Mendocino County in the north and Marin County in the south.

Luther Burbank called Sonoma County "the chosen spot of all the earth as far as nature is concerned." A vastly diverse range of topography, including numerous small valleys with distinct microclimates, the Russian River and the Pacific Ocean, all characterize the region. A moderate climate with a cooling maritime influence, Sonoma County embodies ideal and diverse grapegrowing weather: from valley to hillside, moist ocean coast to dry inland, and cool southern regions that complement the warmer, more northern areas.

  Mendocino County

Mendocino is an approved American Viticultural Area with 275,200 acres. The total area planted to vineyards is 16,700 acres. About 4,300 acres are planted to Chardonnay, 1,900 acres to Pinot Noir, and 2,600 acres to Cabernet Sauvignon. Approximately 25 percent of the total vineyard acreage in Mendocino County is certified organic. There are 10 official American Viticultural Areas in Mendocino County. There are 56 wineries and over 250 growers harvesting approximately 62,000 winegrape tons, representing about two percent of the state's wine tonnage.

Located directly north of Sonoma County and about 90 miles north of San Francisco, the Mendocino wine region is bounded by California's Coastal Mountain Range, the Pacific Ocean and the great northern redwood forests. A mountainous region, it is part of the seismically active Coast Range and is also the place where the San Andreas Fault reaches the ocean. Almost 60 percent of the county is blanketed with coniferous forests. Most of the vineyards are located in the inland valleys in the south and east areas of the region. The vineyards growing white wine grape varieties are located on flood plains and alluvium along the Navarro and Russian Rivers. Most of the red varieties are grown on the bench lands above.

  Lake County

The western portion of Lake County comprises the North Coast AVA. It encompasses the Clear Lake AVA, which in itself has 168,900 acres of land, the Red Hills Lake County AVA, and High Valley AVA. Within Lake County, a total of 8,530 acres are planted to winegrapes. This is expected to double in the next few years, as many new vineyards are being planted. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted variety with 3,300 acres. Sauvignon Blanc is the second with 1,790 acres. Fourteen wineries are located in the region. About 20 out-of-county wineries purchase Lake County grapes from independent growers. Lake County crushed 32,000 tons in 2005, about one percent of California's total winegrape tonnage.

Lake County surrounds Clear Lake, the largest natural lake in California. The vineyards are planted throughout the county, from the agriculturally rich valley at 1,370 feet elevation (lake level), to the rocky red volcanic soil at more than 2,000 feet elevation around Mt. Konocti—a dormant volcano in the Pacific Rim chain. These elevations provide cooler winter conditions and a later start to the growing season. Summer growing conditions are suitably warm to ripen the grapes and the elevation allows rapid cooling in the evening. Few grape pests can tolerate the altitude and cool climate. Lake County growers are committed to sustainable farming and participate in year long educational programs to this end.

  Marin & Solano Counties

Marin County has 80 acres of vineyards and 13 wineries. Bordered on three sides by the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, the area grows mostly the early maturing Pinot Noir and some Chardonnay. The northeastern half of Marin is officially in the North Coast AVA. A small portion of Solano County, forming the southeast tip of the North Coast AVA, has three AVAs, covering an area of more than 21,200 acres. It too receives the cool maritime influence with ocean breezes flowing through the San Francisco Bay and the Delta.

The vineyards and wines of California's North Coast are recognized worldwide for their quality and diversity. There is a sense of place that identifies the region as well as the people. From the days of the Gold Rush of 1849, this part of the state has embodied the pioneering spirit and innovation that still energizes the California wine business.


(Wine Institute sources contributed to this article.)


Editor's note: Links to the websites of thousands of lodging and dining options in the North Coast region can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. Also in the Resource Directory are links to the sites of most, if not all, of the wineries in this region.




Whether grown from the fertile earth or harvested fresh from the sea, Sonoma County's eateries embrace an eat-fresh philosophy that offers visitors a true taste of wine country.

Sonoma Co wine at picnic tableDining has close connection with the land.

Venture out beyond your resort's borders to discover a food lover's paradise: 500-plus restaurants ranging from Michelin- and Zagat-rated to casual wine country cuisine use freshly harvested, locally-grown produce.

Pay attention as you explore the lush countryside; the bounty you see today may be on your plate tonight. An abundance of fruits, vegetables and herbs blanket the countryside. Cattle, sheep, and pigs graze the landscape, chickens and turkeys scratch in the pastures, and goats and cows offer up fresh milk and cheese. Dungenesss crab, salmon and briny oysters expand menu choices.

While the "locavore movement" is changing the way the nation eats, here it’s been that way for hundreds of years. Sonoma County Farm Trails is evidence of this rich heritage. It's a culinary charm bracelet of more than 200 orchards, farms, ranches and vineyards throughout the county, offering everything from apples to zucchini.


Some notable restaurants to visit would include:


Santé Restaurant is the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn's (www.fairmont.com/sonoma) premier dining room and has earned a national reputation for its outstanding food. Literally meaning “to your health,” the restaurant is a celebration of innovative California cuisine and good taste. Recipient of a prestigious Michelin Star as well as the AAA Four Diamond award, Santé is the only restaurant in the Sonoma Valley to receive these accolades.

Guests enjoy a seasonal menu, in a warm and casual yet stylish setting. Designed to exude the California wine country experience, Chef Andrew Cain showcases the region’s abundant local products and world-famous wines. Only the freshest local produce, meats, poultry and seafood are used to create elegantly simple dishes that let the natural flavors of the food speak for themselves.

The Farmhouse

Located in the small town of Forestville, California in the Russian River Valley Region of Sonoma County's famed wine country, the Farmhouse (www.farmhouseinn.com) represents the finest level of Sonoma inns, restaurants and spas - where sublime guestrooms, farm-fresh food and seasonal body treatments come together in one unforgettable experience.

Nestled in the heart of the Russian River Valley wine region, the "country-chic" Farmhouse is a Michelin-star, top Zagat-reviewed restaurant for the San Francisco Bay Area and has been a San Francisco Chronicle's Top 100 Restaurant four years running. Chef Steve Litke offers "sublime" seasonal California-French cuisine showcasing local, artisan ingredients. The restaurant's signature dish is "Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit," rabbit prepared three ways, all delicious.

Viola Pastry Boutique & CafeBy opening Viola Pastry Boutique & Cafe (www.violapastryboutique.com), Jennifer McMurry celebrates her grandmother, Viola, who was the heart and soul of her family. McMurry has always wanted to share her grandmother's love of food and cooking with others. Cakes, cookies, pastries and cupcakes head the pastry menu.

Want something savory, a full menu for breakfast includes eggs Benedict, breakfast sandwich or burrito, chillaquiles, huevos rancheros, and veggie hash. Sandwiches, soups, paninis and more are lunch and dinner fare. Did we mention pastries?

Applewood Inn

This Sonoma County restaurant, located in the Russian River Valley, is highly regarded for its exquisite cuisine, soothing atmosphere, polished guest services, and its mellow earthy ambiance. The cozy restaurant was built to recall a French barn, yet gives one the feeling of being at a fine Italian villa. The restaurant is part of Applewood Inn (www.applewoodinn.com), a Sonoma County bed and breakfast boutique hotel.

Jackson's Bar and Oven and Petite Syrah

Diners rave about popular chef Josh Silvers’ two Santa Rosa restaurants - Jackson's Bar & Oven (www.jacksonsbarandoven.com)and Petite Syrah (www.petitesyrah.com). Both in historic Railroad Square, Jackson's is a more casual, family-friendly eaterie, with a menu that centers on dishes from the kitchen's wood-fired oven. Petite Syrah, created from Silvers’ elegant Syrah Bistro, offers small plates in a wine country casual atmosphere.

Jeffrey's Hillside Cafe

Chef Jeffrey Madura, former head chef at the epitome of wine country restaurants John Ash & Co., has opened the doors to his own cafe. Jeffrey's Hillside Cafe (www.jeffreyshillsidecafe.com) sees Madura moving away from elegant evening service to a hot breakfast, lunch and brunch spot.

After 20 years as executive chef at John Ash & Co., Madura left in 2008 to spend more time with his family. He realized he loved not working nights, but he missed the creativity of cooking. Now, if you want to sample his fare, be there early. The cafe is open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.


(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)


Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Sonoma County and other North Coast areas can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.


sonoma county farm scene  SMALL and wine barrel 

The vintage of 2011 was a great one for Sonoma County wines, as the wine industry's top publications and wine competitions honored many of the region's top producers, and the 2009 vintage of Sonoma County wines, most notably Pinot Noir, garnered outstanding coverage.

The 2011 San Francisco Chronicle's Top 100 American Wines report featured 27 Sonoma County wines, significantly more wines than any other region in the report. Sonoma County wineries were prominent among the sparkling wine, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon categories, a testament to the diversity of the region's appellations and climates.

In the Wine Spectator's October 15, 2011 California Pinot Noir issue, the cover story headline proclaims "How Pinot Became Sonoma's Signature", a huge coup acknowledging the evolution taking place as vintners and growers learn more about their sites, clones and nuances in winemaking. Senior editor James Laube's story, entitled "California's Burgundy" chronicles the wine's evolution in Sonoma County from the 1980s to the 2009 vintage and highlights 20 Sonoma County producers and 15 great vineyard sites before extolling the virtues of the critically acclaimed 2009 vintage. "In terms of the number of great wines,'09 is head and shoulders above any other vintage in California Pinot Noir history," Laube writes.

In another exciting acknowledgement of Sonoma County's Pinot Noir quality, 2009 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was ranked the number one wine in the Wine Spectator Magazine's Top 100 Wines of 2011, a huge accomplishment considering that over 16,000 wines from all over the world are reviewed each year by the publication. Ten Sonoma County wines were in the Wine Spectator Top 100 for 2011 from regions throughout the county, including Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Alexander Valley, and Knights Valley.

The Wine Enthusiast honored Pinot Noir from Sonoma County in 2011 by naming Joseph SwanVineyard's 2007 Trenton Estate Pinot Noir the number two wine of the year in their annual "Enthusiast 100 Must-Have Wines of the Year". Editors of the publication also lauded Bob Cabral from Williams Selyem, one of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County's pioneering wineries, as Winemaker of the Year in their 2011 Wine Star Awards. Russian River Valley was nominated this year as the top region of the year, as well.

Sonoma County Chardonnay also earned kudos from top wine publications. The October 2011 issueof Wine & Spirits "Best Chardonnays of 2011" featured 2009 Flowers Sonoma Coast Camp Meeting Ridge and 2009 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay in the top two spots among 579 wines reviewed. Two wines from Iron Horse Vineyards, 2009 Green Valley Native Yeast Chardonnay and 2009 Green Valley Heritage Clone Chardonnay, took two more of the top six slots in the review.

Diane Wilson, of Wilson Winery in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, won several awards including"Best Wine by a Woman Winemaker" at the 2011 International Women's Wine Competition.

Editor's note: For a free visitors guide or information on hotels, wineries, events, spas, attractions,and dining in Sonoma County, visit www.sonomacounty.com or call (800) 576-6662.


Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Sonoma County can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.


While known for the “summer camp” vibe of Guerneville and environs, Sonoma County has grown into agay guys picnic SMALL year-round gay and lesbian destination that mixes upscale wine country living with rural charm.

Less than 30 miles north of San Francisco, Sonoma County includes the rugged coast, the celebrated wine country, historic towns and quaint villages. Wine tasting is a top draw, as are spa getaways, sophisticated dining, world-class lodgings, golf and more.

Guerneville, along the Russian River, continues to be a hotspot for fun. The friendly town boasts gay and lesbian bars along its strip, as well as hotels, campgrounds and B&Bs.

Sonoma County offers great activities outside the Russian River area. Wine tasting at one of the more than 300 wineries is popular, as Sonoma County is known for its excellent wines and casual approach to enjoying them. Often the person offering you a taste of the wine is the winemaker herself.



Just north of San Francisco, gay and gay-friendly accommodations abound. Luxury resorts like the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, Doubletree Hotel Sonoma Wine Country, Applewood Inn, Gaige House Innand the Vintners Inn offer high-end amenities.

The Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel & Spa and Hilton Sonoma Wine Countryoffer centrally located convenience, and the Sheraton Sonoma County - Petaluma has its own marina. Bed & Breakfasts are found in scenic hamlets and the coast. In Guerneville, the Fern Grove Cottages, the Highlands Resort, the Woods Resort, and Russian River Resort are among the places to go. Monte Rio boasts gay-owned Village Inn and Rio Villa Beach Resort.

When hotels and resorts get full, cabin rentals are a good option. Accommodation information can be found at www.sonomacounty.com.



Wine Tasting: World-class wines that consistently garner awards sampled in a friendly, welcoming setting are common to the wine scene in Sonoma County.


Spas: Unique and luxurious spa experiences abound, with wine-country variations using locally grown products like wine, grapes, honey and more for facial and skin treatments.


Dining: Innovative cuisine meets a commitment to fine locally grown and produced products like cheeses, meats, wines, produce and more.


Coast: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” was filmed in Bodega Bay, but you don’t need to be a movie buff to enjoy fresh crab, great food and breathtaking scenery.


Redwoods: The Russian River is more than just gay bars and resorts, as towering redwoods offer quiet walks and cool relief from summer heat. Hiking, biking and kayaking are the order of the day.


Gay and Lesbian Events:

SFPride: One of the world’s largest pride parades and parties takes place less than 30 miles south of Sonoma County in San Francisco. Spend some time in Sonoma’s wineries, check out the Russian River resort area or just chill amongst the redwoods before and after Pride Weekend. www.sfpride.org. June.


Lazy Bear Weekend: For Bears and their fans, this week-long “weekend” celebration features nightly parties, campfires, river fun and more. Spread over multiple venues in the Russian River area. www.castrobear.com. August.


Russian River Food and Wine Fest: Celebrating the bounty of Sonoma County, the Food and Wine Fest is a seasonal highlight. Locally made artisan cheeses, chef demonstrations, cookbook signings and anything food related make this a must-see. www.russianriverfoodandwinefest.com. September.


Women’s Weekend: Hot pool parties, bumpin' night life, dancing, craft fair, dining, motorcycle run, auction, live music, camping, shows, contests, seminars. www.rrwomensweekend.com. May and September.


Air Connections

Direct flights to Wine Country from Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego (beginning June 5, 2012), and Seattle on Alaska Air. Nearby international airports are San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento.


On the Web

www.sonomacounty.com is the official tourism website of the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau

http://inside-sonoma.com/glbt is Sonoma County's official gay travel blog.

www.gayrussianriver.com shows off everything gay in and around Guerneville and the Russian River

www.russianrivertravel.com is an excellent website for general Russian River travel information

www.gaysonoma.com is an online guide for news, events, personals, and local businesses

Follow @gaysonomacounty and @SonomaCoPride on Twitter for the most up-to-date event, activity and travel information.


For a free visitors guide or information on hotels, wineries, events, spas, attractions, and dining in Sonoma County, visit www.sonomacounty.com or call (800) 576-6662.


(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)


Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Sonoma County and the rest of the North Coast can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.


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