Solo Travel for Introvert Ratings
Sensory Calm (5 / 5) – Serene and idyllic countryside.
Solo-Friendliness (4 / 5) – While most people visit the valley in groups, there isn’t anything exclusively group-specific, and wine-tastings are available solo.
Commute Friendly (3 / 5) – You need to come by car and if you book a ride-sharing app, then make sure you pre-arrange the return journey.
Predictability (3 / 5) – At the time of writing this article, most vineyards take online reservations for specific time-slots. Make sure the vineyard you’re visiting takes walk-ins or can provide same-day reservations.
Safety (5 / 5) – Completely safe.
Nerdy stuff – (5 / 5) – A lot to learn about missions, rancheros and barracks, with passionate historians who are happy to give tours or answer questions.
What and Where?
Sonoma valley is in the Wine County of California, which includes Napa, along with other places like Santa Rosa, Petaluma, St Helena, Yountville and Castilloga.
It is suitable for a day-trip from San Francisco. During my visit, it was springtime, the perfect window for rolling green meadows dotted with golden mustard blooms.
Planning for wine-tasting can get finicky. At the time of writing this article, most wineries took online reservations for specific time-slots a day in advance, or have limited seat capacity or shutdowns. Compounded by large distances and unpredictable traffic from the city, things can get complicated. However, I was able to find one – Viansa – which allows walk-in tasting and has separate spaces for various events.
I was able to get an individual glass of their best wine, and a cheese picnic board, and have a table with a beautiful view of the valley beyond. The sommeliers were friendly and informative. There was a wide range of food options to pair with the wines.
Petaluma Adobe Ranch
The Adobe Ranch at Petaluma was founded by General Vallejo of Mexico. This Ranch house was built in the Spanish Hacienda style – a quadrangle with a beautiful courtyard in the middle. This rachero was responsible for the production of grains, vegetables, hide and tallow.
Here, many rooms showcased the living and activity quarters – including places for corn-grinding, saddle-making and looming. The courtyard had walnut trees and a line of cactii hugging the border. On the backside, the buildings’ verandas opened into a magnificent view of meadows of grazing cows as far as the eye could see.
I was in time for a historically costumed elderly lady giving tours. She explained she has been doing historic interpretations here since the 1950s. The park rangers also informed us that buying tickets gave us access to the Sonoma Missions and Barracks as well as a combination package.
Sonoma Mission & Barracks
Next, I visited the historic buildings in Sonoma’s central plaza. The Mission San Francisco Solano is the northern-most and last Spanish mission in California, with the Presidio de Sonoma by its side. Mexico needed to build barracks to keep check against the Russian settlement in Bodega and Fort Ross.
Like the Petaluma adobe before, these building are built of thick adobe walls which act as insulation against the desert heat. When we entered the building, the inside was refreshingly cool, and the drop in the temperature was noticeable. The long corridors and the beautiful courtyard also provided shaded areas to stroll.
The park rangers have placed many exhibits in the former church showcasing its long history going back to Native American times. Converted Native Americans were the primary workers in the Mission, and their produce and handcrafts was crucial to supporting the Mexican base at San Francisco.
Food & Shopping
The Sonoma Plaza has an eclectic collection of restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and wine-tasting rooms. These buildings are in the old Mission style, and made me feel like I have gone back in time to the old West of the cowboys.
Lunch was at a Potuguese tapas place – Tasca Tasca. I got some sardine pate, beet salad with walnuts, peri-peri style oysters and escargot. The meal ended with some Portuguese flan.
To me, Sonoma Valley is the most interesting part of the wine county, as it is not just about wine-tasting, but also, a connection to the history of the region. The 200-year old adobe missions and rancheros provide a unique sense of place and time.
Wine tasting at https://www.viansa.com/
Petaluma Adobe Ranch – https://www.petalumaadobe.com/
Sonoma Mission & Barracks – https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=479
Portuguese Tapas at https://www.tascatasca.com/