Sonoma is the treasury of Northern California history. The town was founded in 1823 by Spanish Franciscan fathers as the twenty-first of their El Camino Real chain of California missions. It became the birthplace of California viticulture a decade later with General Vallejo, the first major non-missionary grower. Before the Civil War, Sonoma again made history when America’s first big experimental vineyard was established by Count Haraszthy, a Hungarian nobleman at Buena Vista.
The wine industry remains the key to Sonoma’s prosperity. Vineyards dating from early times have been joined by dozens more. Downtown, a spacious plaza surrounded by distinctive 19th century buildings delights strollers with specialty shops, restaurants, and atmospheric bars and lounges. Beyond, the normally sunny temperate climate beckons visitors into the Valley of the Moon for winery touring, bicycling, and hiking in the hills. Most of the area’s best lodgings are romantic small hotels and inns in skillfully transformed historic structures on or near the plaza.