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Historic Sonoma is where the last California Mission was built. This Sonoma Valley city is the place where the "Bear Flag" was first raised and it's the birthplace of the modern wine industry in the state.
Napa Valley & Sonoma Wine Tasting Tours
Located approximately 33 miles north of San Francisco in Sonoma County, the City of Sonoma has about 10,000 residents.
Sonoma Plaza—a National Historic Landmark, Sonoma State Historic Park, interesting retail shops and art galleries, internationally recognized slow food culture, award winning gardens (CornerStone), a quarter scale train park (TrainTown), wine tasting rooms and nearby wineries all make this an interesting city to visit or live in.
William Sonoma, the food assessory chain founded by Chuck Williams, began here before moving to San Francisco. Jack London, author, spent his last years in nearby Glen Ellen and Robin Williams, actor and comedian, grew up in Sonoma.
Wineries in the City of Sonoma
California's wine industry got its start in Sonoma at historic wineries like Bartholomew Park and Buena Vista, founded in 1857 by Count Agoston Haraszthy, Gundlach Bundschu founded in 1858 and Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery founded in 1904.
Each of these wineries expands on the wine tasting and touring experience with opportunities to learn about the colorful history of this part of California.
In addition there are several wine tasting rooms either on or near Sonoma Plaza, some featuring the products of multiple local wineries, and another half dozen or so wineries nearby.
Visit Buena Vista Winery, Viansa Winery and Vineyards in nearby Carneros AVA and the wine tasting bars around Sonoma Plaza on the Sonoma Experience Tour from San Franicsco.
Follow the links in the sidebar to the right for descriptions, photos and wine tasting information or use our interactive Sonoma wineries map to plan a visit.
Native Americans: Local Native American tribes including Coast Miwok, Patwin, Pomo-Kashaya and Wapo lived for thousands of years in the Sonoma Valley along with elk, grizzly bears and pronghorn antelope. Mild winters and plentiful food allowed time for pursuits such as basket weaving for which the Pomo became quite famous.
Mission: Concern over Russia's presence at Fort Ross (1812–1841) on the northern coast of what was then known as Alta California helped Father Jose Altimira convince Governor Don Luis Arguello, and eventually the Roman Catholic Church, to establish what was to be the last California Mission.
Twenty missions had been previously established by Spain prior to Mexican independence in 1821. Dedicated on July 4, 1823, Mission San Francisco Solano eventually grew to some 30 buildings one with 27-rooms. It was during this period that wine grapes were first planted in Sonoma Valley by the padres.
El Pueblo de Sonoma: Mexico ordered secularization of all California missions in 1833—from the begining the land was to be held in stewardship by the padres for the Indians. 27 year old General Mariano Vallejo was sent by Governor Figueroa to take charge of Mission San Francisco Solano, establish a parish church and return the land to the natives. Instead he took control of the land for himself and added it to the 44,000 acres he had been given in the Petaluma Valley to develop a private rancho.
Vallejo built a pueblo, laid out a central plaza and established a garrison. See our Sonoma State Historic Park page for more information and pictures of surviving buildings from this period.
Now a National Historic Landmark, Sonoma Plaza—at eight acres the largest in California—began as the Mexican style central plaza of El Pueblo de Sonoma laid out at the direction of Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo when the missions were secularized by the Mexican government.
Sonoma City Hall, in the center of the plaza, was designed with four identical sides so that merchants on every side could say that City Hall faced their business.
Dedicated in 1908 and made of locally quarried stone, City of Sonoma government still has offices in the building.
The Bear Flag Revolt
Two monuments (one a plaque on a rock) in the northeast corner of Sonoma Plaza commemorate the events of the Bear Flag Revolt.
For twenty-five days, Sonoma served as the capital of the Bear Flag republic. Captain John Charles Fremont, U.S. Army topographer, explorer, and trail blazer encouraged Yankee settlers to capture the Northern Headquarters of General Vallejo at Sonoma. The Bear Flag revolt ultimately led to California's entry into the union as a state.
The uprising began on June 14, 1846, culminating in the raising of the Bear Flag on the Sonoma Plaza. William B. Ide led the Bear Flag party. William L. Todd, nephew of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln designed the flag, with the words California Republic and a rough illustration of a grizzly and a star, using rusty nails and blackberry juice. Todd's rendering of a bear wasn't very accurate and Native Californians looking up at it were heard to say Coche, the common name for pig. The current California State Flag, adopted in 1911, is based on the original Bear Flag.
Pictures of the homes of two participants in the Bear Flag Revolt, David Hudson and Col. J.B. Chiles, as well as the Bale Grist Mill where planning for the revolt is believed to have taken place on our St. Helena and Oakville/Rutherford pages.
The Swiss Hotel
An adobe building that was the home of General Vallejo's brother, Captain Salvador Vallejo, and his family before the Bear Flag Revolt is now known as the Swiss Hotel.
Possibly used as a stagecoach stop in the 1870's the Toroni family bought it in 1890 and ran it as the Ticino Hotel later changing the name to the Swiss Hotel.
The Sebastiani Theatre, on the east side of Sonoma Plaza, was built in 1933 by Samuele Sebastiani—founder of the Sebastiani wine dynasty—as a movie house. Designed by San Francisco architect James W. Reid, the first movie screened was "Fugitive Lovers" starring Robert Montgomery.
The Sebastiani Theatre continues to provide live entertainment and cinema, though admission prices are now well above the original $.30 charge.
Folow the link below to continue to Sonoma wineries (in alphabetical order) or click a winery name on the interactive map or the list above to see profiles, contact info and more of specific wineries.
Slideshow—all photos on this page
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Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2015 Lee W. Nelson