Slow down and savor it
Centered around the town square that was the site of California’s Bear Flag Rebellion, the city of Sonoma is probably the most readily recognized part of the entire county. For many visitors coming from Napa, the city is the first-and only-part of the county they see. And, with its multicultural flavor, tradition of historical preservation and long-standing heritage of fine wine and food production, perhaps Sonoma and the surrounding area best encapsulate what the whole county is all about.
While the village of Kenwood sometimes is designated as part of southeast Santa Rosa, locals consider it to be the entrance to the Sonoma Valley, situated as it is at the northern tip of the Valley of the Moon. The area also includes Glen Ellen, once home of famed novelist Jack London, and the former summer resorts centered around the valley’s natural warm springs: Agua Caliente, Fetters Hot Springs, Boyes Hot Springs and El Verano. At the southern end of the valley, just 20 minutes to Petaluma in the west or Napa in the east, is the city of Sonoma.
Just across the street from the famed square are the restored barracks that housed the Mexican soldiers and Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma, the last of the 21 California missions built by the pioneering padres during the early 1800s. General Mariano Vallejo’s Sonoma home is just a few blocks away. The city hall in the square, the vintage Sebastiani Theater and countless homes and shops throughout the town’s central area likewise have been beautifully preserved.
Appreciation for quality is further reflected in the area’s emphasis on fine food, fine wines and wide array of arts events, shops and galleries.
The Vella Cheese Company and Sonoma Cheese Factory both are highly regarded by locals and visitors alike, as is Artisan Bakers, also in Sonoma. Scores of chefs have opened their restaurants in Sonoma, offering fare ranging from gourmet Mexican to a taste of Tuscany. The annual Sonoma Salute to the Arts in late July is a showcase of the area’s wine, food, and visual, performing and literary arts that each year draws thousands of visitors.
Theater lovers flock to Gundlach-Bundschu Winery throughout July and August with picnic baskets in hand to watch work by the Shakespeare Sonoma Company. The Sonoma Valley Chorale’s “Songs for a Season Miracles” performances bring the community together every December, and the Los Posadas Event at Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma, a candlelight celebration of Christmas in the Mexican tradition, has become so popular that advance tickets are advisable. Also uniquely Sonoma is “Carols in the Caves,” a series of weekend concerts in local wine caves featuring dulcimers, harps, bells and panpipes.
Not surprisingly, housing in Sonoma has appreciated rapidly in recent decades. In addition to the chic reputation and alluring small town feel, the area’s proximity to Hwy. 121 and 29 offers a commute route to the greater Bay Area that avoids the congestion of Hwy. 101 north of Novato.
Views from the surrounding hills attest to the beauty of Sonoma Valley.
Families with children in the area can choose from the city’s public and private schools. Notable is the bilingual immersion program at Flowery Elementary, offering parents an opportunity to have their young students educated to be fluent in both Spanish and English.
Homes in the area vary as widely as the residents, and high demand tends to translate to a limited supply. In downtown Sonoma homeseekers find Craftsman-style California bungalows and impressive Victorians as well as homes built more recently. Newer neighborhoods offer high demand features such as DSL, hot tubs, hardwood floors, 2-car garages and quiet streets close to schools. Other shoppers seek the unique, and find it, among the cottages and former summer homes in the unincorporated “springs” communities. Features like French doors, cozy breakfast nooks, artist’s studios and private decks give these vintage homes each their own charming character.
The high-end homes typically are 3,000 sq. feet or more, frequently located in the hills that surround the famed valley. Some come with acreage, nearly all have spectacular views. Homes in Sonoma’s Armstrong Estates, which sell for approximately $2 million, are impressive manors on huge parklike lots just minutes from downtown Sonoma. Other older homes, such as Victorians on large parcels of land, also are commanding seven-figure prices.
Regardless of the type of home one chooses in Sonoma, however, they all come with the opportunity to be a part of a wonderful community. “The greatest human need is to feel connected,” says Bair, “I value that and enjoy helping other people find it here.”
Sonoma Valley Vital Statistics
Year settled: 1823
Year incorporated: 1850
Area (square miles): 3.0
? Sonoma Certified Farmers Market – 9 a.m. to noon Fridays, year-round, at Arnold Field, First Street West. Food stamps accepted. 538-7023.
? 5:30 p.m. to dusk Tuesdays, April through October, on the Plaza. Food stamps accepted. 538-7023.
? Oakmont – 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays, year-round in Wells Fargo parking lot, corner of Oakmont Drive and White Oak. 538-7023.
Sonoma Valley History For more information about the Sonoma Valley from the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, click here