Sonoma and Carneros
The Sonoma and Carneros wine regions lie in the southeast part of Sonoma County. The scenery here features oak forests and vineyard-covered open spaces. The last California mission in the great chain and the terminus of El Camino Real sits in the small city of Sonoma, which includes the famed Sonoma Mission Inn.
Wineries cluster here, though not as many as in the Russian River Valley; the tasting rooms still see plenty of traffic, but the crowding can be less vicious than in the ultra-popular Napa and Dry Creek Valleys.
The town of Sonoma lies over the mountains west of the Napa Valley. The main route through the Valley is Highway 12, also called the Sonoma Highway. From Napa, drive south on Highway 29, turning west onto Highway 12/121. Turn north on Highway 12 to reach downtown Sonoma.
If driving from the Bay Area, take Highway 101 north, take Highway 37 northeast. It becomes Highway 121, then Highway 116 as it winds into the city of Sonoma. If you’re driving south on U.S. 101, you can turn off onto Highway 12 south in Santa Rosa and take a scenic journey down into the Sonoma-Carneros wine region.
Parking in downtown Sonoma is easy in the off season and tougher in the high season (summer and fall). Expect to hunt hard for a spot during any local events, and prepare to walk several blocks. Most wineries provide ample free parking on their grounds.
For your public transit needs, use the buses run by Sonoma County Transit (707/576-7433, www.sctransit.com, $1.15–3.10). Several routes service the Sonoma Valley on both weekdays and weekends. You can use SCT to get from Sonoma Valley to Santa Rosa, Guerneville, and other spots in the Russian River Valley as well.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition