Guide to Visiting Sonoma County for the First Time

Drone view of the Bricoleur Vineyards large pond and vineyards in Russian River Valley at sunset

Sonoma county is renowned for its breadth and depth of quality in both wine and tasting experiences.

It’s underrated when thought of beside our neighbor, the Napa Valley, but just as excellent (if not more so!), and just as family-friendly and oriented, rooted in a longstanding family history, including our own estate here at Bricoleur Vineyards,

If you’re visiting Sonoma County for the first time, it can be overwhelming – there’s so much to do and see, even if you’re just doing winery visits! So here’s our guide for visiting this great region, to help you pick the best route for you in your Sonoma adventure:

The Area: Sonoma County vs. Sonoma Downtown vs. Sonoma Wine Country & AVAs

A vehicle drives past rolling Sonoma vineyards

Photo Credit: Woodfield Properties

When people say “Sonoma,” it can mean several different things.

First, there’s Sonoma County, which stretches all along the coast to the west of Napa, from Preston up in the north to San Pablo Bay in the South.

Then, there’s “Sonoma,” as in Sonoma’s historic downtown area, a quaint little town nestled in the heart of the Sonoma Valley with tasting rooms, locally sourced fare, and plenty of local artisans to visit.

Lastly, and most importantly, we think, is Sonoma wine country, with 19 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), including our own home AVA of the Russian River Valley.

So, when planning your trip, be sure to make these distinctions, and you’ll be set for whatever type of journey you plan!

The History: Haraszthy to Mondavi

A historic photo of a bearded man wearing a suit

Photo Credit: Sonoma State University Library

Napa has Mondavi, and Sonoma (and, all of California, really) has Baron Agoston Haraszthy as one of the founding fathers of California wine.

Haraszthy, of fame for his world-traveling and wine-spirited lifestyle, was one of the first to establish a long-standing tradition of California, and Sonoma, wine that really started the winemaking region.

In other words, Haraszthy established the California wine industry, and Mondavi, among others, put Napa and California more in the eye of international acclaim.

Sonoma’s history stretches from Sonoma in the south of the winemaking region, to Santa Rosa – and our hometown of Windsor in the north, each town with its own piece of history in the tapestry of the region.

Bricoleur Family History on the Scene

Three historic photos of the Rossi family

Our estate’s own family history is rooted in both the Italian and American wine industries. Beth Wall Hanson’s great-grandfather, Pietro Carlo Rossi, was the original oenologist at Sonoma County’s historic Italian Swiss colony. A trained Italian chemist, Rossi revolutionized 19th century California winemaking and crafted the Italian Swiss Colony into one of America’s leading wineries.

The Rossi family’s winemaking legacy was carried on, and many of Beth’s extended family members still work in California wine today. We love this region and are dedicated to continuing both the best wine and best winery hospitality from the heart of our own little family – touching on the deep roots of Sonoma’s winemaking history itself.

The Nature: Beaches to Mountains

The green hills of Sonoma overlooking the rocky shore of a beach

You can’t visit Sonoma without seeing the plethora of natural trails, hiking spots, beaches and mountains that span this huge region, with some of the most beautiful places in the entire country.

Here’s a hit-list of some must-see spots as you journey through Sonoma’s great outdoors:


Coast and Beaches


  • Try the Hood Mountain Regional Park for some hiking among the rugged mountain ranges that frame Sonoma
  • Sonoma Valley – you can hike around this beautiful valley starting right in the quaint town of Sonoma, from the Sonoma Overlook Trail


The Food: Local Cult-Followings to Michelin Star

Several tables sit on a beautiful patio surrounded by greenery with lights hung overhead

Photo Credit: Dry Creek Kitchen

From authentic local spots to Michelin Star cuisine, Sonoma has a wide range and depth of food and restaurant scenes as well.

Some highlights , with its fresh, progressive local cuisine, and The Matheson and SingleThread Farms in downtown Healdsburg. We’re also big fans of Catelli’s and Diavola, both of which are located in the cute town of Geyserville.

Other Sonoma stops that aren’t to be missed? The Farmhouse Inn, a boutique, luxury resort right along the river with high-end cuisine, and the Sea Ranch Lodge, with a romantic restaurant setting right at the river’s end, overlooking the sea.

Wineries with food, however, are rare – and we at Bricoleur pride ourselves on three private, premium wine and food experiences open to all who love great wine and food – check out our in your foodie wanderings as you build your Sonoma itinerary.

The Wine: The Best California Wines from Sonoma

A woman’s hand holds a glass of wine next to a dark wine bottle

Sonoma is unique for its wide range of varietals. With cooling coastal influence, the region experiences cooler climatic effects overall that is perfect for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the two star grapes of the region. Zinfandel, especially from the Dry Creek and Rockpile AVAs, reaches an unparalleled richness in our region as well.

There are many microclimates however, due to the wide range of geography in the Sonoma wine region, from coast to the rolling, foggy hills (like the Russian River Valley AVA that we call home).

This can make any wine from the region, even if from the same varietal, utterly unique from one AVA to the next.

Check out our wines for some great examples of both the breadth and depth of great Sonoma wine, or our post on the best wineries in Windsor, our hometown, to get a good idea of some great offerings around us here in the Russian River Valley AVA.

Bricoleur: a Must-Try for a First Time Visit to Sonoma (and Staple for Future Visits!)

A hand drizzles dressing atop a plate of gourmet food

Our family at Bricoleur Vineyards, both in the sense of our winery family and our club members, is a rare point of offering in the landscape of Sonoma, for our wine and food pairings and warm hospitality blooming from our beautiful estate like no other Sonoma winery.

Be sure to stop by and try one of our handcrafted wine and food experiences as you journey through the great wine region of Sonoma for the first time, to make it a first time like no other.

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