Sonoma County: From Ag Tours to Ziplines

In beautiful Sonoma County you’ll find plenty of ways to fuel your adventurous yearnings from mild to wild.

Published: 3/21/2018

In beautiful Sonoma County, home to more than 60 regional and state parks, splendid redwood forests, exciting winding rivers, a windswept Pacific coastline, bountiful farmlands, and more than 425 wineries, you’ll find plenty of ways to fuel your adventurous yearnings from mild to wild.

Keep in mind that Sonoma County is a big place. Spanning more than one-million-square acres, it is home to 17 distinct wine regions (AVAs)—impossible to cover in just a few days. Instead, concentrate on one or two AVAs and take time to smell the roses and a plethora of other wonderful things that come from Sonoma soils with an ag tour or a visit to a farmers’ market. Throughout the county, in valleys, hills, and plains, there are family farms and artisanal growers producing agricultural products with their own sense of terroir. Discover them in local markets and maybe find a farm that welcomes visitors for tours, classes, and other activities at farmtrails.org.

Glen Ellen is home to an exotic 25-acre botanical garden. Quarryhill Botanical Garden is a wild Asian woodland featuring mature, flowering plants. Along the garden’s paths you’ll find hidden places to sit, relax, and enjoy the flora set among ponds and waterfalls. The first of its kind in the United States, Cornerstone Sonoma has a gallery-style format with an ever-changing series of walk-through gardens showcasing innovative designs from the world’s top landscape architects and designers. It’s a great source for inspiration, plus there are boutique shops and tasting rooms to explore. In Dry Creek Valley, check out Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery’s five acres of spectacular gardens including 10,000 tulips and daffodils that bloom each spring. Stroll the meandering paths and footbridges and don’t miss the Portuguese cork trees, a rare find in this region.

Vineyard walks are an inspiring way to begin to appreciate the origin of wine and in Sonoma County, it’s easy. The free Sonoma County Vineyard Adventures program invites visitors to take no-appointment, self-guided vineyard tours. Just stop in the tasting room of a participating winery and ask for the winery’s detailed walking tour map. The tours cover no more than a mile on level terrain. You’ll get a close-up look at the vines and a greater appreciation for everything that happens in the vineyard. Several wineries participate in the Sonoma County program and their schedules sometimes change, so make sure to check online before you visit. sonomavineyardadventures.com

Beyond natural beauty, the hills of Sonoma County serve a practical purpose: the perfect cooling conditions for the wine aging process. Many wineries in this region utilize underground caves, and some open them to visitors for special events, barrel tastings, and guided tours. In Sonoma Carneros, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards offers a variety of tours—from a basic educational tasting that includes the main cave overlook to the 90-minute Bubbles and Bites food and wine pairing tour— demonstrating the important role caves play in the winemaking process. Just outside Healdsburg, Alexander Valley Vineyards offers two free cave tours each day. The massive 25,000-square-foot cavern begins just outside the winery’s tasting room door. Grander still, the wine caves at Kunde Family Winery in Kenwood cover more than 32,000 square feet dug from ancient volcanic rock. Guided tours are available daily at no charge. Keep in mind that cave temperatures average around 63 degrees Fahrenheit, so bring a jacket!


TREE TOPS ZIP LINE FLYING

Strap on a specially designed harness and zip through the treetops 250 feet above the forest floor at speeds up to 40 miles per hour! Sonoma Canopy Tours in Occidental offers three amazing zipping options: Forest Flight, Sunset/Night Flight, and the new Tree Tops course, which takes you nearly two-thirds of a mile along a course of seven zip lines—the longest measuring 1,500 feet! This high-flying equipment allows you to glide effortlessly through the forest as you take in the beauty of Northern California’s Coastal Redwoods. Each course takes about 2.5 hours. Hint: Tours fill up fast, so it’s best to book two weeks in advance. sonomacanopytours.com


Many Sonoma wineries have fascinating exhibits, such as Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s Movie Gallery and Buena Vista Winery (California’s oldest commercial winery), whose ancient caves are decorated 1850s style with gilded tasting bars and period-costumed mannequins. Other wineries offer action-packed tours. Powered by bio-diesel fueled tractors, Benziger Family Winery’s biodynamic vineyard tram tour whisks you around the winery’s expansive acreage while you learn the ins and outs of biodynamic farming. Chalk Hill, along with Wine Country Trail Rides, offers a guided trail ride through its exquisite terrain, alongside vineyards, ponds, and into the wilderness. For a real adrenaline rush, Williamson Wines’ Helio Flight & Tasting is a 30-minute helicopter flight that departs from Sonoma County Airport. You’ll get an exhilarating bird’s-eye view followed by a wine and food pairing in its downtown Healdsburg tasting room.

Want to ditch the car for a while? Bring your bicycle or take advantage of one of the many bike rental companies located countywide. Take a bike tour through wine country with a guide or set off on a self-guided tour planned by a touring company. Choose an outfit that offers to pick up your winery purchases for you. Our favorite wine tasting bike route is a 30-mile loop that winds through Dry Creek and Anderson Valley, but there are many more.

Anxious to get off road? A majority of Sonoma County’s 60- plus parks have mountain biking trails. Trione-Annadel State Park, with 40 miles of challenging trails, is so popular that it has its own meetup group—and you’re welcome to join.

 

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As seen in the issue Spring 2018 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.