Things to Do in Sonoma County in Winter: Sonoma Travel Advice & Events
The months of December, January and February are considered “off-season” in Wine Country. But for many travelers, winter is the best time to visit the beautiful region of Sonoma.
Winter is when the weather shifts to cool and rainy but sunny days still abound. It’s when you only need to wear a fleece jacket (not a parka), and when you don’t need a reservation to snag a table at Valette or The Brass Rabbit restaurant in Healdsburg. It’s also the time of year for some of Sonoma’s best events, epic wildlife watching and the ever-photogenic annual mustard bloom. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Sonoma County each winter, including travel advice and tips.
Fun Things to Do in Sonoma County in Winter
Best Places for Mustard Photos & Mustard Selfies
Late winter is mustard bloom season across Sonoma County, which means it’s time to prepare for the most spectacular selfies you’ll take all year long. The secret, of course, isn’t how you take your picture, but instead where and when—which mustard field you choose and what time of day you decide to walk amid the golden flowers for the prime shot. The strategy on timing is easy: The earlier in the day, the better the light. It’s all about location, location, location, and here are some of the best places to take mustard photos in Sonoma, in our opinion: on Alexander Valley Road just past Jordan Winery just before Medlock Ames on the left side (this is a giant meadow of mustard with no grapevines); on Highway 128 north of Medlock Ames on right side (thick mustard in a vineyard with mountains in the distance); the Sonoma Valley near B.R. Cohn Winery; Kenwood near Kunde Winery; Sebastopol just off the Joe Rodota Regional Trail; and Carneros near Gloria Ferrer, to name a few.
Whale-Watching and Seal-Watching on the Sonoma Coast
Late winter brings two of California’s marine mammals close to shore for the best whale-watching and seal-watching on the Sonoma Coast. Exhibit A: Grey Whales, who are returning to Alaska following their time birthing and rearing their young down in the protected lagoons of Baja California. As the whales return north, they hug the coast, in most cases making mother-calf duos visible from shore. Exhibit B: Harbor Seals, who usually birth and rear their own babies in late February and early March. One of the best haul-out spots to witness seal moms do their thing is the mouth of the Russian River near Jenner. From the southern bank at the end of Goat Rock State Beach, you can look across the river and watch a population of 40-60 seals on the northern bank.
Sonoma Coast, Jenner, CA, sonomacounty.com/cities/jenner
No Wait List for the Jordan Winery Tour & Tasting
During summer and fall, the Jordan Winery Tour & Tasting books up weeks in advance, but during winter, it’s far easier to reserve seats with shorter notice. Only offered once a day Monday through Saturday during winter, the experience takes guests on a walking tour around the French-inspired chateau and its towering oak tanks and features a chardonnay tasting with hors d’oeuvre pairing before a seated tasting featuring a flight of cabernet sauvignons with cheese pairings, an hors d’oeuvre and extra virgin olive oil tasting. Price is $45 per person.
Jordan Vineyard & Winery, 1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448, 707-431-5250, jordanwinery.com/visit
Wine Road Barrel Tasting Event in March
As far as regional wine tasting events go, Barrel Tasting is by far the least offensive—think more sophisticated wine drinkers stealing tastes from the barrel than young punks slugging heavy pours from a free glass. This ticketed wine tasting event takes place in Healdsburg and Geyserville over the first two weekends in March, and is designed around futures, giving real wine collectors a chance to get a sneak peek at what might end up in bottles next year. If you’ve never tasted wine from a barrel with the help of a “thief,” the experience is an unforgettable way to connect with a particular vintage. Many wineries participate; some even offer food and music. Tickets are $70 at the door; $60 for Sunday only.
Wine Road Barrel Tasting, Healdsburg & Geyserville, CA, wineroad.com/events.
Pigs & Pinot Event in March
Celebrity Chef (and local restaurateur) Charlie Palmer breaks the bank every year at his Pigs & Pinot event in March—an entire weekend of festivities celebrating pinot noir at Hotel Healdsburg on the Healdsburg square. The “Taste of Pigs & Pinot” brings together dozens of other chefs from around the country who prepare dishes to pair with pinots strutting their stuff. Participating wineries vie for the title of best pinot of show. Palmer is committed to philanthropy, and there’s a huge charity component to the event as well. Over the years, the Pigs & Pinot event has aligned with a variety of different nonprofit organizations and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for those groups in the process. Ticket prices range from $125 to $175, depending on the event.
Pigs & Pinot, Downtown Healdsburg, 707-922-5249, pigsandpinot.com
New Exhibits at the Charles. M. Schulz Museum
Late winter/early spring is all about new beginnings at one of Santa Rosa’s most popular attractions: the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center. Though the museum’s calendar changes every year, there’s almost always a new exhibit opening in February or March. This year, a new exhibit about favorite Peanuts comics opens March 17; the exhibit spotlights favorite comic strips and characters from Charles Schulz’s wife, Jean, as well as from family members and friends. Museum curators say a version of the exhibit debuted at the Snoopy Museum in Tokyo and far exceeded expectations. The Santa Rosa exhibit apparently will incorporate some of the pieces from that installation. Admission price ranges from $5 to $12.
Charles Schulz Museum, 2301 Hardies Lane, Santa Rosa, CA 95403, 707-579-4452, schulzmuseum.org
Smaller Waits for a Table at Hog Island Oyster Farm
Picnicking at Hog Island Oyster Company in Marshall has become one of the most iconic experiences in all of Sonoma County. With the oyster farm right there on-site, the shellfish experience doesn’t get more local and authentic. The only downside: The place books up months in advance and most tables require reservations as of spring 2016 (see my news story in Sonoma magazine’s website). In winter, however, it can be easier to score a reservation through Yelp SeatMe, especially if you’re gunning for the Boat Oyster Bar seating area, which includes waiter service, as opposed to the Shuck-Your-Own Picnic area where you buy your own, shuck your own, and can bring your own wine and beer. Look online before you call, and call before you go, but be prepared to move on a moment’s notice if you’re on the Yelp SeatMe text alert wait-list; often the easiest way to get it is to jump at a cancelation.
Hog Island Oyster Farm, 20215 Shoreline Highway Marshall, CA 94940, 415-663-9218, hogislandoysters.com
Sonoma International Film Festival in March
Okay, okay, so the Sonoma International Film Festival technically isn’t in winter (it’s always in late March), but it’s still one of the hottest tickets in Sonoma during the slower months. SIFF, as it’s become known, draws a huge audience from all over the world to the town of Sonoma, offering intimate settings for film premieres and up-close interactions with some of the actors and directors who make the films possible. There are more than 100 films each year, ranging from features to documentaries, and more. Most of the movies are screened in and around Sonoma proper, with the old Ledson Theater on the historic Sonoma square being the de facto festival headquarters.