by Annette Lucido

As elsewhere in California Spanish missionaries knew a good thing when they saw it. Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma AKA Sonoma Mission, the north anchor of the chain along the coast of "Alta California centers an eight acre plaza that?s now a state park and the center of Sonoma's lively historic district. The nearby Depot Park Museum and Sebastiani Indian artifacts exhibit introduce visitors to the history of the area. The Generald Mariano G. Vallejo Sonoma Home deserves a look too.

On warm days the ice cream parlor across the plaza from the mission offers a cool break. The Sonoma Grill and Bakery offers fresh bread and cheeses for al fresco lunch at winery picnic areas. A collection of arts and crafts shops delight shoppers who find quality goods from the many skilled craft persons in the area.

Just up the scenic towards Glen Elen you'll find many wineries that cluster around Healdsburg and Geyersevile. Wine tours are, after all, a prime reason for visiting the wine country. We try to plan trips to sample white wines before red wines or stick to a specific varietal. Last visit we enjoyed samples of more than a dozen champagnes. Tip: Serious wine tour types should consider a designated driver.

Another way to view the Sonoma Valley is by balloon. Airborne of Sonoma County and several others offer tours. Tours by boat suit summer visits. We particularly enjoy canoe trips on the Russian River. An early start near Asti, and a noon takeout at the campground near Highway 128 leaves plenty of time for afternoon wine. There are even new day and overnight boat tours that come to the Wine Country from San Francisco. More sedentary visitors might enjoy sailing cruises on Lake Sonoma. The sunset cruises are the most romantic. Winter trout fishing is decent and summer bass action can be quite outstanding.

Horseback tours in Jack London State Park overlap into the Napa Valley. The Sonoma rides high in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. For those who want to relax after a horseback ride, try the The Sonoma Mission Inn Spa. A full service coed adult Spa facility, or you can enjoy the peace and tranquillty of The Courtyard Spa at the Sonoma Coast Villa on it's sixty acres nestled in the pasturelands of Western Sonoma.

Very few areas in California offer such an outstanding mix of attractions, food, lodgings and scenery. About the only thing you can fault is the summer weather, and the summer crowds, so visit fall or spring and enjoy the Wine Country many consider "the best in the West." Back to Part I Napa Valley