Welcome to Sonoma County
People are drawn to Sonoma for its deeply rooted culture celebrating food and wine, charming communities, natural beauty, and slower pace of life. The county features a rugged, remote coastline of beaches, bays, and jagged cliffs, a lovely river valley winding through old growth redwoods, and fertile rolling hills and inland valleys. The county balances charming, small towns and villages with larger urban centers.
With its warm climate and ample sunshine, Sonoma County has an abundant agricultural industry, with dairies, farms, and ranches raising several crops. Clover Stornetta is known for Dairy, McEvoy Ranch for olive oil, and the Sebastopol area for apples. You cannot think about Sonoma without mentioning its best known crop: the wine grape. The state’s oldest winemakers are in Sonoma, including Buena Vista, which began in the 1850s and is the oldest commercial winery, and Gundlach-Bundschu, the oldest family owned winery. The Sonoma wine region comprises 16 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs or appellations) with more than 400 wineries growing 66 varieties of grape.
In addition to healthy agriculture, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, and Petaluma are experiencing growth in the tech, health care, and tourist industries. The economy is strong, and quality of life is high. Residents have several options for work—and for play.
Whether you’re hiking the bluffs of Gualala, combing the sandy beaches of Bodega Bay, meandering along the shady shore of the Russian River, investigating the eight-acre historic Town Plaza in Sonoma, or climbing the hills in Jack London State Park, outdoor activities of all kinds are available.
Lay of the land
Sonoma County is perched above Marin County and shares a border with Napa County, its wine country neighbor to the east. Two mountain ranges run through the county, the Sonoma and the Mayacamas Mountains. Highway 101 creates a corridor connecting many of the towns and regions. Petaluma anchors the southern, more industrial region, while Santa Rosa fills the center, with Cloverdale rounding out the north. The sleepier city of Sonoma sits in the southeastern area.
Sonoma County covers 1,575 square miles. It is the largest Bay Area county and has a population of 500,292 (according to the U.S. Census’ 2014 estimate), making it the fourth smallest population in the area. Like many of its neighboring counties, a smaller population in a larger area creates an environment full of open space. Santa Rosa, with a population of 171,190 (according to the 2013 U.S. Census estimate), is the largest city in the North Bay, and is the county seat.
Sonoma has a series of highways running through the county (1, 12, 101, 121, and 128), although Highway 101 is the main artery. Sonoma County Transit buses move residents within the county. Golden Gate Transit provides bus routes to Marin and San Francisco. The SMART train and pathway project is under construction and will connect Sonoma and Marin County from Cloverdale to Larkspur. Phase 1 is slated for completion in late 2016.
Sonoma County’s award-winning schools serve approximately 71,000 students in 181 public schools among a variety of 40 school districts, from the rural Kashia school district with only 11 students to Santa Rosa City High’s 11,000 students. A variety of Catholic, parochial, secular, and other independent schools offer K-12 instruction in the county as well.
For higher education, Santa Rosa Junior College is the tenth oldest junior college in California. Sonoma State University, part of the California State system, is located outside of Rohnert Park.
The county played a role in early statehood, and with nearly 70 spots listed on the National Register of Historic Places, history enthusiasts have plenty of places to explore, including: General Vallejo’s Estate, Sonoma Plaza, Petaluma’s Historic Commercial District, the Petaluma Adobe, Jack London Ranch, Duncan’s Landing, and Fort Ross.
For sports enthusiasts, Sonoma has its own baseball team, the Sonoma Stompers. The greater Bay Area has plenty of professional teams to root for as well.
Live music options include the larger Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa, the Green Music Center at Sonoma State in Rohnert Park, or, for a more intimate setting, the historic Phoenix Theatre in Petaluma.
Sea Ranch and Bodega Bay are popular for family getaways. For therapeutic hot springs, Boyes Hot Springs or Sonoma Mission Inn are popular options. The county is also dotted with wonderful small boutique bed and breakfasts and inns as well as larger full service resorts, too many to name here.
Other local highlights for family fun include the following: auto racing at Sonoma Raceway; trains, a petting zoo, and carnival rides at Train Town in Sonoma; wild animals and tent camping at Safari West in Santa Rosa; and ice skating at Snoopy’s Home Ice, named for local Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts.
The great outdoors
Balloon rides over the Sonoma Valley are popular in nice weather for the early risers.
The Russian River offers opportunities for paddle boarding, canoeing, and tubing along the slow moving river under the redwood trees.
If you’re an avid hiker or runner, trails abound in Sonoma. Gentle hiking is available at Sonoma Valley Park in Glen Ellen, Gualala Point in Sea Ranch, and Riverfront Park in Healdsburg. For more of a challenge, check out historic Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen, Helen Putnam Park in Petaluma, Shiloh Ranch Park in Windsor, and Hood Mountain Park in Santa Rosa.
Mountain bikers are welcome to ride on trails in some of the parks mentioned above, as well as in Spring Lake Park, Annadel State Park, Helen Putnam Park, and Shiloh Ranch.
Several options are out there for campers, from Doran Beach and Westside Park in Bodega Bay and Gualala Point in Sea Ranch, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Kenwood, Schoolhouse Canyon Park in Guerneville, and Spring Lake Park in Santa Rosa.
Cities Located in Sonoma County
- Bodega Bay
- Camp Meeker
- Duncans Mills
- Glen Ellen
- Monte Rio
- Rohnert Park
- Santa Rosa
- Stewarts Point
- The Sea Ranch
- Valley Ford
- Villa Grande
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