Sonoma County Summer 2021: Top 10 Things to Do
Wine Country summers are made for one thing: getting outside. As Sonoma County emerges from 16 months of COVID-19 restrictions, local wineries, restaurants and outfitters are embracing the outdoors like never before. From attending a concert or a picnic at a local winery and dining alfresco among the vines to camping beneath the redwoods and floating down the refreshing Russian River, here are the top 10 things to do in Sonoma County this summer.
10 Things to Do in Sonoma County During the Summer
Attend a Wine-Fueled Concert
Summer and Sauvignon Blanc (or any chilled white or rosé, really) pair perfectly with live music, and there are a bevy of music events to enjoy across Sonoma County and even into Napa. Considered the Wine Country concert event of the summer, Bottle Rock, usually happens in downtown Napa late May but is being held the first weekend of September this year, and several Sonoma wineries pair pours with every performance. Healdsburg’s Rodney Strong Vineyards this year is hosting an Americana Music Festival with three separate concerts featuring The Highway Poets (July 31), The John Courage Trio (Aug. 28), and David Luning (Sept. 25) Also check out Sonoma’s Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery’s free Friday Night Music Series, which runs through the end of September. Another popular winery-related show is the all-ages Huichica Sonoma, which is held annually at Gundlach Bundschu in Sonoma and this year features Yo La Tengo and Vetiver, among other acts. Healdsburg’s Tuesdays in the Plaza music series–with several tasting rooms within earshot of the band’s gazebo –also runs through the end of August.
Dine Alfresco at a Winery
Every summer, many Sonoma wineries take advantage of warm weather and long days to host fabulous outdoor dinner parties. On August 14, for instance, Jordan Vineyard & Winery will set gorgeous farm tables out on their chateau lawn for the Thrill of the Grill winery dinner. The evening will feature multiple courses of vegetables, meat, and seafood cooked over an open flame. Executive Chef Todd Knoll sources ingredients right from Jordan’s own garden and pairs each course with a different vintage of Jordan Chardonnay or Cabernet. If you can’t make it on that date, there are plenty of other soirees to consider, like Kendall Jackson’s Farm-to-Table Dinner Series, and the wine dinner series at Bricoleur Vineyards in Windsor, held every two weeks starting July 31.
Relax Poolside During a Summer Staycation
Summer temperatures in Sonoma can get up and above the 90s, in which case a pool day is in order. If you don’t have one at home, treat yourself to a relaxing staycation at a local hotel. We love catching rays in downtown Healdsburg at Hotel Healdsburg’s secluded oasis, but there are plenty of others to choose from throughout Sonoma County. The Olea Hotel in Glen Ellen narrowly survived the 2017 fires and reopened last summer after completing major renovations, which includes the addition of a brand new pool. Santa Rosa’s Vintners Inn put in two pools and a gorgeous new spa back in 2018 and The MacArthur Place, just off the Sonoma Plaza, is also a must-visit as well after a $30 million dollar renovation just before the pandemic started. Make sure you grab cocktails at their new bar and dinner at the Mediterranean-inspired Layla restaurant after sunning on the pool deck, followed by a rinse in your room’s private outdoor shower.
Cruise Down the Russian River
If you’re looking for a different and more affordable way to cool off in the summer, head to the Russian River. One popular option is to BYOF (Bring Your Own Float) and pick up the current out of Steelhead Beach, located in Forestville, just north of the Forestville Inn. Then let the river carry you down to Mother’s Beach or if you want to go a little further, Sunset Beach. Keep in mind you’ll need to park one car at each to get back. You can also rent kayaks, canoes or standup paddleboards from companies like River’s Edge and Burke’s. River’s Edge now also has private beach rentals just north of Memorial Bridge in Healdsburg; $50 a day gets visitors four chairs, a blanket and a designated space on the beach. At least one summer visit to the river is always on the list of things to do in Sonoma County for locals.
Broadway Under the Stars
One of the most unique summer events in Sonoma County is Broadway Under the Stars. Inspired by real Broadway musicals, these lively, musical performances by Transcendence Theatre Company take place literally under the stars in Jack London State Historic Park and in a seriously-cool venue: the winery ruins. There are 18 performances to attend July-September and you’ll want to arrive early for picnicking and wine by the vineyards before the show.
Lunch at a Winery
Spend a warm summer’s day enjoying a casual winery lunch with friends. Jordan Winery is hosting its annual Harvest Lunches throughout September. Enjoy chef Todd Knoll’s alfresco luncheon alongside winery employees five days per week at the winery; the menu changes every day but always includes an entrée, salads and vegetables and dessert. In Sonoma, Ram’s Gate Winery hosts a five-course wine and food pairing throughout the summer, and the experience can be enjoyed outside or in, depending on the weather. Other great Sonoma County wineries that allow BYO picnics are Dutcher Crossing Winery in Geyserville, Landmark Vineyards in Kenwood or Cline Cellars in Sonoma.
Eat and Drink Your Way Around the Healdsburg Plaza
Many new restaurants, bars and tasting rooms have opened this summer in Healdsburg, and aren’t food and wine at the top of the list of things to do in Sonoma County? Park the car and set off on foot for a day of sipping and noshing in what we think is the most happening town in Wine Country. From The Matheson and Bloodroot Wines to Burdock Bar and Quail + Condor, pick your hit list over at our latest scoop on What’s New in Healdsburg.
Catch an Outdoor Flick
Take movie night outside this summer. Petaluma’s Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds and Events Center shows movies at dusk once a month, like Grease on August 20 and The Goonies on Sept. 17. Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center hosts Movies at The Green, including a high-school sports double feature on July 24 of Remember the Titans and Bring It On, and a kid-friendly double-feature on Aug. 7 of Shrek and Monsters, Inc. Movies are shown on Weill Lawn and cost $5 per person.
Frolic Through Lavender Fields
In the spring, we can’t help but pull over and snap a photo in Wine Country’s bright yellow fields of mustard, but in the summer, it’s purple fields of lavender that have us packing our camera gear. Petaluma’s Lavender Bee Farm, which can be toured by appointment, grows more 5,000 lavender plants (plus have multiple bee hives that help produce their signature lavender honey) across two acres, using all-natural farming methods. Wine and lavender collide at Matanzas Creek Winery in Santa Rosa. Since 1991, their gorgeous purple gardens have lured in hordes of passing cars all summer long, but those in the know stay for the wines—they have an unusual amount of Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot to sample—and don’t leave without shopping for bath and body products at the on-site Lavender Market.
Take a Gourmet Ice Cream Break
Wax nostalgia on the hot summer days of your childhood with an ice cream break in Sonoma County, where you don’t have to settle for the standard ice cream truck popsicle. There are so many sweet spots to choose from, but we’re highlighting some of our favorites here. With locations in both Healdsburg and Santa Rosa, Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar scoops creative flavor combos (that somehow just work) like almond cardamom, blood orange raspberry and pistacchio cherry. In Guerneville, Nimble & Finn’s had us at Maple Bourbon Bacon Brittle ice cream. Located in the Guerneville Bank Club, the sister-owners have created more than 150 unique flavors using local produce and organic dairy from Straus Creamery. Sweet Scoops on the Sonoma Plaza boasts more than 200 rotating flavors, among them mocha oreo, PB&J and oatmeal raisin, which can be consumed in a cup, cone, milkshake, float, or stuffed between two cookies.
Go Camping (or Glamping)
Even in the hot summer, Sonoma cools down significantly at night, making it the perfect setting for s’mores by the campfire. Sonoma has a myriad of campgrounds to choose from, with tons of activities to engage in by day, especially along the Sonoma Coast (check out Doran Beach or Bodega Dunes and Wright’s Beach within Sonoma Coast State Park). More inland, Santa Rosa’s Spring Lake Regional Park has 31 campsites and three cabins, while Sugar Loaf Ridge State Park in Kenwood has recovered from the Glass Fire of 2020 and now has 44 campsites and even tents for rent if you don’t have one. If you want to sleep under the stars without having to really rough it, book a luxury Airstream or tent at Wildhaven Sonoma, located just down Highway 128 from Jordan Winery with easy (and private) access to the Russian River.