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Day Tripping in Sweet Sonoma


Day Tripping in Sweet Sonoma

By Jonathan Cutler

Sonoma… Say the word and vivid images of rolling hills and verdant vineyards spring to mind. And the crazy thing is, even in these times of out-of-control commercial hype, the picture you’re visualizing is still exactly what Sonoma is all about.

This sweet little burg is centered on the historic plaza, where time moves more slowly and locals on the street smile and say hello. There is a warmth and honesty about this wine-making town dotted with world-class restaurants, old family wineries, olive orchards, champion Clydesdale horses, 100 year-old barns and a resident population with a near mania for growing heirloom tomatoes. How can you not love a place where tomatoes are a very big deal?

If you decide to treat your sweetie and your psyche to a dose of the Sonoma experience, here are a few off-the-beaten-track things to do, all cost-free and guaranteed to boost the human spirit in the space of a few hours.

The Clydesdales

Walk a block east of the plaza on Spain Street, just past the Mission, and you’ll come to the picturesque Castagnasso Farm. You’ll find a couple of gentle giants grazing in their pasture. They have hooves the size of dinner plates and huge wise-looking faces that say I’ve seen it all before Clydesdales are friendly and gregarious animals with a distinct sense of humor and a penchant for joking around. But maybe the most striking thing about these horses is how they position themselves with one another, then standing still as statues. And, if you’re really lucky, you might get to see them run, and if they do, the ground beneath your feet will thunder and shake as they work off some pent-up energy. Note: The Castagnasso family asks that you refrain from feeding these charming moochers though, as they do have sensitive stomachs.

Bartholomew Park

This is the mother of all gorgeous picnic spots. Grab a boxed lunch at the Basque Bakery or pick up the fixins’ for an al-fresco feast at the Cheese Factory, then hike, bike or drive east to the park. Here, you’ll find ancient heritage oaks and plenty of other century-old specimen trees, rolling lawns, a pond and scattered picnic tables with perfect vineyard views. And, don’t miss a peek at Count Haraszthy’s home on this amazing preserve set in Bartholomew’s vineyards. To get there, head east on Spain to Fourth Street East. Turn left, then right on Lovall Valley Road. At the stop sign, take a left onto Seventh Street East. After the next stop sign, choose the middle of the three roads (Castle Road) and follow it to Bartholomew Park.

Mountain Cemetery and the Overlook Trail

Now that you’ve gorged on grilled veggies and locally produced bread and cheese, an easy 3-mile hike to counterbalance the meal. For a bird’s eye view of Sonoma and the surrounding valley, stroll a country mile to the Overlook Trail. This well-maintained walking loop is open all year from dawn to dusk, and there’s a small parking area right past the Veteran’s Memorial Building next to the Mountain Cemetery.

Then, if you’re so inclined, stop and visit the old cemetery where California’s first governor, General Mariano Vallejo, is buried. This is a wonderfully overgrown and decadent final resting place…like a scene out of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  

At day’s end, when it’s time to pack up and head home, you can expect to leave reluctantly…already thinking about when you can return.

© Jonathan Cutler, Sonoma, CA 95476