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Over the years, we’ve learned that “what is ideal California” varies based on who you ask. Because various corners of the Golden State check different items off different people’s bucket lists, be it going on wine tours or eating local food.
Northern San Diego county fits all the sunshine surfer beach vibes; Palm Springs gives all the midcentury modern feels. San Francisco shows how tradition meets innovation. And California Highway 1 makes road trip dreams come true. But, if we had to nominate a place representing California’s local produce and idyllic farm-to-table vibes, it would be Sonoma County.
But, if we had to nominate a place for California local produce, it would be Sonoma County.
What Is Special About Sonoma County?
The combination of its location, geography and climate make Sonoma County a place all its own. Situated at the northern edge of Northern California’s San Francisco Bay Area, it is about 50 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. There is a bit of it all in Sonoma, with miles of coastline along the Pacific Ocean and the San Pablo Bay, majestic redwoods, the sprawling Russian River, and rolling hills.
Though there is a mild, Mediterranean climate throughout the year, there are a ton of microclimates as the fog rolls up the coastline and sunny days warm up the inland stretches. The weather and topography make Sonoma an ideal place for growing much of the produce that makes California an agricultural superstar.
What crops are grown in Sonoma County?
A visit to a farm stand or a local restaurant is a great way to get a peek into all the Sonoma County produce. Its agriculture is diverse, with wine grapes, free eggs, dairy, meat, poultry, flowers, fruits, and vegetables grown across the region. While grapes in Sonoma are one of the biggest crops, local farms also grow and produce specialty crops like olives, apples, peaches, melons, honey, and mushrooms.
And it has a long-standing commitment to supporting local and sustainability in everything from agriculture to tourism. Farmers and food producers work as a community to provide watershed land and wildlife habitats as part of those initiatives.
What kind of wine is Sonoma known for?
Of all the Sonoma local produce, wine is the best known. Sonoma wine country needs no introduction, as some of California’s premier wines come from here. About 500 wineries exist across the 18 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs, or appellations), and the topography means it’s one of the most diverse regions with more than 60 varieties planted.
Even so, a handful of grape varieties make up over 90% of the grapes that go into Sonoma County wines. Namely, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel.
What food is Sonoma County known for?
There are even a few types of produce that originally come from Sonoma. Like the Bodega Bay Red Potato, the Petaluma Gold Rush pole bean, the Crane melon, and even mesclun lettuce mix. Here is some local produce you can find at Sonoma County farmer’s markets by planning farm visits or on menus as you eat across the region.
As you’ve read here before, California is a global leader in sustainable winemaking, which is the case in Sonoma. This ranges from classic wineries like Kendall Jackson to beloved high-end spots like Ram’s Gate. Even the Benziger family has been committed to sustainability for over two decades, and their wines are certified sustainable, organic, or biodynamic. Anaba winery has committed to making more energy than they use, while the hip Scribe practices non-interventionist winemaking.
Local Olive Oil
All that talk of Mediterranean climate means the warmer parts of the county are perfect for growing olives. You can tour a local mill at Figone’s Olive Oil Company, head to BR Cohn, which was the first single-estate olive oil produced in California in over a century, or visit the ranch and mill and do a tasting at the renowned McEvoy Ranch.
Meanwhile, the cooler climate areas of the region are ideal for mushrooms. In fact, the Trumpet Royale –a mushroom that’s similar in texture to a porcini–was created in Sonoma. Sebastopol-based Mycopia Mushrooms is credited with creating the mushrooms, and while you can’t schedule a visit, you can attend one of their events.
It’s believed that the first Gravenstein apples were brought over from Europe and planted in Fort Ross in the early 1800s. But Sonoma has its variety–the Winterstein apple– a cousin of the Gravenstein. The apples don’t ship well, so you’ll want to be on the lookout for them if you visit Sonoma when they’re in season from summer into early fall. Devoto Gardens & Orchards grows a slew of apples you can find at farmers’ markets, grocery stores, and regional menus.
The cheese scene in Sonoma is nothing to scoff at, with over 30 creameries and farms making cheese with everything from sheep and goat and cow’s milk to even water buffalo. Many of those spots allow you to visit for anything from cheese tasting or guided tours to even hands-on cheese-making classes.
For an account of cheese in California, head to the historic Vella Cheese Company in downtown Sonoma for Jack cheese or to Joe Matos Cheese Company for their acclaimed St. Jorge cheese. Make a cheese-focused itinerary by checking out the California Cheese Trail map. And be on the lookout for our favorite ricotta by Bellwether Farms and the acclaimed Laura Chenel goat cheeses on menus.
Sonoma Farmers Markets & Farm Trails
Want to dive into local Sonoma food when you visit? Check out the region’s best farmers markets and food halls. Or, head to Farm Trails for a complete list of all sorts of local activities like farm visits.
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