picnic day guests on blankets at Jordan Winery

Sonoma Summer 2019: Top 10 Things to Do

Sonoma summers are made for one thing: getting outside. From attending a concert or a picnic at a local winery and dining al fresco 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 each summer.

10 Things to Do in Sonoma During the Summer

The Sonoma Harvest Music Festival comes to Glen Ellen in September.

Attend a Wine-Fueled Concert

Summer, Sonoma and Sauvignon Blanc (or any chilled white or rosé, really) pair perfectly with live music. The concert event of the summer, the Sonoma Harvest Music Festival at B.R. Cohn Winery has extended to two weekends this year (September 14-15 and 21-22) for double the fun, each featuring a totally different lineup. Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals and Ms. Lauryn Hill will headline the first weekend, while CHVRCHES and Death Cab for Cutie headline the second. Healdsburg’s Rodney Strong Vineyards hosts its Summer Concert Series through September with popular acts like The Beach Boys and Rick Springfield. Other Sonoma County wineries bring in local acts. Check out Sonoma’s Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery’s free Friday Night Music Series, plus free concerts at Trione Vineyards and B.R. Cohn. Healdsburg’s Tuesdays on the Plaza music series–with several tasting rooms within earshot of the band’s gazebo –also runs through the end of August.

Dine Al Fresco at a Winery

Every summer, many Sonoma wineries take advantage of warm weather and long days to host fabulous outdoor dinner parties. On August 17, for instance, Jordan Vineyard & Winery will set gorgeous farm tables out on their chateau lawn for their annual Bounty of Sonoma County Wine Dinner. The evening will feature multiple seasonal courses from winery chef Todd Knoll—who sources ingredients right from Jordan’s own gardens—and each will be paired 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, Patz & Hall’s Dinner in the Vineyard in Sonoma on August 10 or Seghesio Family Vineyard’s annual Chef’s Dinner in Healdsburg on August 30. 

The Vintners Inn has an indoor and outdoor pool.

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 recently reopened after completing major renovations, which include 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. Make sure you grab cocktails at their new bar and dinner at the Meditteranean-inspired Layla restaurant after sunning on the pool deck, followed by a rinse in your room’s private outdoor shower. 

drone kayaking russian river
Photo courtesy of Lightspeed Films

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. For nearly 100 years, the iconic Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville has been a Russian River hot spot for sunbathing, swimming, floating, or canoeing, and it even has a kiddie pond for little ones. 

The Transcendence Theatre Company puts on Broadway Under the Stars every summer at Jack London State Historic Park.

Broadway Under the Stars

One of the most unique summer events in Sonoma 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 14 performances to attend July-September and you’ll want to arrive early for picnicking and wine by the vineyards before the show. 

The ultimate picnic basket on the lawn with cheese, charcuterie, games and Jordan Chardonnay.

Pack a Wine Picnic

Spend a warm summer’s day enjoying a casual winery picnic with friends. Jordan Vineyards & Winery is hosting a Picnic Day on August 9. Choose your spot—sun or shade—on the chateau lawn and Jordan will provide a custom basket and blanket. Walk over to the Butler’s Pantry and fill your basket with all kinds of tasty provisions, like meats, cheeses, salads, and desserts. You’ll even get a bottle of 2017 estate Chardonnay to share and a taste of the 2015 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. In Sonoma, Ram’s Gate Winery hosts Summer at the Pond every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Harvest. Bring your pals down to the banks of the estate pond where groups get a wicker basket, choice of one bottle of wine and four savory or sweet bites to pair with it (plus additional wine and snacks can be purchased on-site). Other great Sonoma County wineries that allow BYO picnics are Dutcher Crossing Winery in Geyserville, Landmark Vineyards in Kenwood or Cline Cellars in Sonoma. Also check out Noci Sonoma’s new picnic program, noted in our What’s New in Healdsburg post.

Catch a free outdoor movie at the Green Music Center.

Catch an Outdoor Flick

Take movie night outside this summer. St. Francis Winery is in the 10th year of its Stars Under the Stars Outdoor Film Festival, where admission and popcorn are complementary and wine and other concessions are available for purchase. Remaining showtimes for 2019 are La La Land on July 23 and The Goonies on July 30. Santa Rosa’s Howarth Park puts on Friday night movie screenings through August and September—this year’s lineup features family-friendly films like The LEGO Movie 2 and Dumbo—and Petaluma’s Luchessi Park shows movies at dusk once a month, like Space Jam on August 23. Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center hosts Free Movies at The Green, including a double feature on September 21 of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

Snap a lavender selfie at Matanzas Creek Winery in Santa Rosa.

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. 

Nimble & Finn’s in Guerneville set up shop in the Guerneville Bank Club. advicefromatwentysomething.com photo.

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. 

Don’t want to rough it when looking for things to do in Sonoma? Go glamping at AutoCamp by the Russian River.

Go Camping

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 by the popular swimming lagoon and water park and Sugar Loaf Ridge State Park in Kenwood has 47 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 AutoCamp or Boon Hotel + Spa, both located amongst the redwoods in Guerneville with easy access to the Russian River.

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About the Author

Born and raised in rural Kansas, Lisa Mattson fell in love with wine during college in South Florida and worked for a wine magazine before moving to Northern California. Her days are spent being a writer, photographer and videographer for Jordan Winery and nights cooking Thai food or microgreen salads. When she’s not eating and sipping her way through Sonoma County, she travels the world with her husband in search of the best restaurants, snorkeling spots and tiki bars.

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