Stroll a historic plaza, visit a writer’s lair, meet a giraffe or two, and see where California winemaking was born
Jack London State Historic Park
The gifted, hard-living writer installed himself and his wife/muse Charmian on these 800 acres―which he dubbed Beauty Ranch―in 1909. Their cottage is open to visit, as is the House of Happy Walls, which holds London memorabilia preserved by Charmian after his death. The 8-mile trek up Sonoma Mountain gives you IMAX-worthy views of the whole Valley of the Moon. jacklondonpark.com; 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen; 707/938-5216.
Thomas J. Story
At this unique and beautiful spot on the road into Sonoma, you’re invited to explore 16 cutting-edge gardens designed by noted landscape architects. In 2016, Cornerstone became home to our Sunset Test Gardens and Outdoor Kitchen. Tour five distinct spaces created by Homestead Design Collective: the Cocktail Garden, the Farm Garden, the Gathering Space, the Backyard Orchard, and the Flower Room. Be sure to visit the boutiques, tasting rooms, and cafe by the gardens. cornerstonesonoma.com; 23570 Highway 121, Sonoma; 707/933-3010.
DJ Ashton / Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center
A must-stop for anyone who grew up reading Peanuts, this airy museum is big enough to house Snoopy, Linus, Charlie Brown, and the other characters indelibly inked by Schulz, who for decades called Sonoma County home. The museum holds the largest collection of original Peanuts artwork in the world. Find a replica of Schulz’s art studio with his original comic strips. Try your own hand at drawing cartoons in the Education Room. Before leaving, meander through the Snoopy-shaped labyrinth outside. schulzmuseum.org; 2301 Hardies Lane, Santa Rosa; 707/579-4452.
The Serengeti comes to Sonoma at this 400-acre preserve filled with the animals of the African savanna: giraffe, antelope, and oryx, seen on guided tours. Experience the Amani Oasis aviary, home to the most brightly colored birds on Earth. Iridescent Nicobar pigeons soar among south American scarlet ibises and tall demoiselle cranes strut about in pairs. If you really want to live your Out of Africa fantasies, bunk down in one of the surprisingly elegant tent cabins. 30 cabins from $260. safariwest.com; 3115 Porter Creek Road, Santa Rosa; 800/616-2695.
No one took advantage of Sonoma County’s rich soil and welcoming climate more assiduously than self-taught botanist Burbank, who, during his half-century career, developed the Shasta daisy, the Santa Rosa plum, and some 800 plant varieties. Today’s visitors can tour his home with a docent April through October. The gardens are free to the public throughout the year from 8 a.m. to dusk. lutherburbank.org; Santa Rosa Avenue at Sonoma Avenue, Santa Rosa; 707/524-5445.
The Olive Press
Located in the same building as Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, the Olive Press sells olive oils and olive-related items from dozens of California growers. The Olive Press shares the tradition of olive oil production as Sonoma’s first olive mill. Taste their award winners, such as Lime, Limonato, and Italian Blend, in their old world tasting room. Reserve a spot online or by phone for a tour and tasting. theolivepress.com; 24724 Arnold Drive, Sonoma; 707/939-8900.
Glenn Van Der Knijff / Getty Images
The city wears its past gracefully, with some of California’s most historic buildings―among them Mission San Francisco de Solano and Lachryma Montis, General Vallejo’s still-Edenic estate―centered around the lawns and spreading trees of its 8-acre central plaza. Find more than 100 shops, 25 tasting rooms, and 30 eateries within one block of the park. May through October, enjoy live music at the Tuesday Farmers Market from 5:30 to dusk. sonomaplaza.com; 453 First Street East, Sonoma; 707/996-1090.
Brian Baer, California State Parks, 2011
Highlights of this 5,500-acre state park a few minutes east of Santa Rosa include strands of California oaks and brilliant displays of wildflowers in the spring. The best months to catch the floral display are April and May. Explore Lake Ilsanjo for prime viewing. If you’re older than 16 and have a California fishing license, find an abundance of black bass and bluegill in the lake. More than 40 miles of trails keep hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians active. parks.ca.gov; 6201 Channel Drive, Santa Rosa; 707/539-3911.
At the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, little ones drop toy fish into a stream, then dash to the river’s end to catch them in tiny nets. There are also tires for fort building, bubble stations, and a see-through painter’s wall. Exhibit signage offers nuggets of science, but the real point here is to let kids (the sweet spot is ages 3 to 8) mess around and investigate. cmosc.com; 1835 W. Steele Lane, Santa Rosa; 707/546-4069.
A K Potts Photography / Getty Images
This 3,900-acre park, with 25 miles of trails, preserves the headwaters of Sonoma Creek. Visitors can horseback ride up to views of Napa and Sonoma Valleys on many of the park’s trails. At night, gaze upon the stars at Robert Ferguson Observatory, the largest in the West dedicated to education and public viewing. sugarloafpark.org; 2605 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood; 707/833-5712.