If Northern California was a Candyland board, the wine country region of Sonoma and Napa would serve as its paradisal terminus. Even a short day trip promises good food, good drink and numerous opportunities to bask in the warm, relaxed country setting.
We began a recent outing to Sonoma with a stop at The Fremont Diner to pick up some pie for a picnic. Behind their screen porch door lies a charming, retro diner that channels America’s most optimistic periods (and fondly recalls another Wine Country throwback: The Jimtown Store in Healdsburg).
With gooey strawberry crumble securely nestled in trunk, we headed towards the center of town to stock up on more picnic supplies. Our ultimate destination: a picnic at Bartholomew Park, one of the best kept secrets in Wine Country. There are many lovely picnic grounds throughout Sonoma, but none as peaceful and beautiful as Bart Park. Mature trees lend patches of shade to throw a blanket down upon while picnic tables are thoughtfully dotted about the property. The wonderfully scenic grounds of this former estate encapsulate the best of Sonoma with natural splendor, sweeping vistas, miles of hiking trails, a historic villa, and a winery with small museum that explains the history of the property.
Okay, be honest: how many placards do you actually read in small town history museums? The atmospheric museum at Bart Park shares a lot of text, but stick with it and you’ll learn that the sprawling estate originally belonged to a Hungarian count. Fleeing political persecution, he came to the area in the 1850s and become one of the first (if not the first) wine growers in Sonoma. It gets better: the count met his demise at the pointy tips of a South American alligator’s teeth, an heiress subsequently filled the property with 200 cats, and the sprawling mansion was eventually burned down by the “wayward women” of a correctional facility.
Afterwards, we headed to the plaza — whose historic, tree-lined grounds serve as the center of town — where we rationalized some ice cream and walked our cones around the shaded expanse. How do you follow that up? With wine of course. We poked our head into the always-buzzing The Girl & The Fig, but decided upon the more mellow El Dorado Kitchen. Their cool, shaded courtyard patio was the perfect spot to relax with a crisp glass of wine and a bite before heading back to San Francisco. It’s a fantastic city to return to but its summertime fog can make it feel like Molasses Swamp.