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WINE-TASTE, EAT AND SHOP AROUND THE HISTORIC PLAZA | SONOMA, CALIFORNIA

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A few months ago I showed you the historic side of Sonoma in this post. Though practically every building around the Plaza is historic, today I will take you around the Plaza in search of the lighter side of life, also known as fun!

You may have figured out that Sonoma is one of my favorite places not just in California, but overall of what I have explored so far on the planet. Maybe it is the vintage feel of the town, maybe is the old-fashioned style layout that gathers around a park, maybe I have lived here in another life, but I have loved this place from my first visit, and the whole Valley, too.

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We have to start somewhere, so let us assume it is morning and you are in need of breakfast. Sunflower Caffé is one of my two favorite places (the other being The Girl and The Fig, which you will see further down) to have breakfast in Sonoma. Open daily from 7am to 4pm, their espresso drinks are top notch, their menu changes seasonally and features delicious breakfast and lunch fare imprinted with California flavors. The other big plus for me is that they use responsibly sourced ingredients that are local, fresh, organic and gmo-free, something that is becoming increasingly important.

It is a popular place, so it tends to get very busy, especially on weekends, but there is a reasonably fast turn around. You order at the counter and then go get a seat and they will come find you when the food is ready.

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Above is the Sunflower Grilled Cheese Sandwich and the latte I thoroughly enjoyed on my recent visit.

Let us now continue counter clock wise around the Plaza and take a look at some lovely shops and galleries. Know that I usually tend to head out for photos on weekday mornings so there are less cars parked around the place and also less people, so I don’t get in anyone’s way while taking pics, especially if I need to set up my tripod.

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Shopping-around-the-historic-Plaza-in-Sonoma-California
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Christian, if you are reading this, know that each time I walk in or past the olive oil shop in the image above I think of you… and giggle.

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I have not yet had the pleasure to dine at Harvest Moon Cafe, but I keep hearing good things, and is at the top of a short list for my “can’t wait to eat there” in Sonoma. This cafe is open for dinner only, which is one of the reasons I haven’t yet been, as my preferred meals are breakfast and lunch.

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Shopping-around-the-historic-Plaza-in-Sonoma-California

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The view above from the opposite corner shows you a “summary” of what we just walked past. If you turn the corner and go right (left in this image) before crossing the road, you will find some lovely shops within walking distance on both sides of West Napa Street (Ca12). I did not take photos because on both days I had my camera along, construction was happening on one of the buildings, and scaffolding and machinery obstructed the view to quite a few spots.

And here I need to insert a sidebar.
Dear Sonoma tourist board, I love your town so much, but might I suggest that you take hints from Disneyland as far as your trash cans go? Necessary they may be, but they are really ugly and really everywhere, and they get in the way of showcasing your lovely town in pretty pictures, which is important in this very visual (read, Instagram) age. Thank you.
Sidebar closed. Moving on.

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We are now strolling along the south side of the Plaza towards Broadway, which you can’t miss. There we want to turn right and edge out of the Plaza for a moment so we don’t miss a few treasures, including the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, which is just before Peet’s Coffee – for those who need another boost – followed by the original Williams-Sonoma store (full feature on that and its fascinating story in this post).

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You can, if you like, continue on and have a look at the many lovely cottages along both sides of Broadway, or wait until the next Sonoma post in which I will show them to you, and cross the street for more shops while walking back towards the Plaza. Let’s do that, shall we?

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Shopping-along-Broadway-in-Sonoma-California

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Alas, after thirteen years in business, the doggie bakery closed recently. I have photos of the interior and back entrance as well, but there is no point in including them now. I will see what has taken its place (if anything already) next time I head over for some leisurely exploring.

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We are back on the Plaza and still on the south side along what is now East Napa Street and we come to one of my favorite restaurants in Sonoma: OSO Sonoma. Open for lunch, afternoon menu, and dinner from Thursday to Sunday, and dinner only Monday to Wednesday, this award winner is a Sonoma must. Here you will find a very satisfying “small plate” (not that small) menu which, both in selection and style, is a fine-tuned blend of cuisines and flavors. Here are a couple of pics, but do have a look at the full feature I have on OSO at this post. Oh, and those Dungeness Crab Deviled Eggs are not to be missed.

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After some deliciousness, more lovely shops to follow, and then….

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Uh oh…. what is that? Wine tasting!!! I’m not saying that there isn’t fabulous wine tasting to be had in other spots around the Plaza, but you will find it in concentrated form down that pink alleyway. They call it a shopping alley, but seriously, it’s a wine-tasting alley. Take a peek!

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For some reason I do not have a photo of it (maybe it was closed when I walked past and so it did not make for a good pic), but in this courtyard is also the back entrance to another restaurant that is high on my “got eat there” list: Delhi Belly Indian Bistro. I have heard really good things from just about everyone who has been. If you have been yourself, or make it there before me, do let me know how you like it and what your favorite dish to order is.

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Back on the Plaza, whether by backtracking your steps or looping via Broadway, before crossing the street to get close and personal with those famous historic buildings in the image above, more shopping, wining and food can be found by walking along East Napa for about a block.

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Ristorante Della Santina’s with its Enoteca (Italian word for wine shop/wine bar) next door, is an Italian restaurant that was my friend Valerie’s favorite. She used to be a regular there whenever she and Jack drove up to Sonoma, but I have yet to experience it. It most definitely is on my go-to list, though with my being Italian, it is not at the top. But I will make my way there as soon as I have a craving for some gnocchi, and then I will let you know. Della Santina’s has been a long-time feature in Sonoma, having first opened almost 30 years ago, and is very popular.

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More shops and galleries are to be found across the street from Della Santina’s, along with Cafe La Haye, which is also at the top of my go-to list. Two forks on this year’s Michelin guide, and open only for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday, everything on the menu sounds really good at this charming restaurant. Have you been already? Do let me know.

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Turning the corner and getting back on the Plaza, in the image above you see one of the little shops I particularly enjoy browsing as there are always treasures to be found. Not that it’s the only one, but it is one of my favorites. More wine tasting, shops and galleries to follow! And recently, the historic Sebastiani Theatre has been the center of attention during the (23rd) annual Sonoma Film Festival.

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Above and below are a couple of images of the big park at the center of the Plaza as seen from the Sebastiani Theatre side. Below is the Visitors Bureau, so you can stop by and nag them about the ugly trash cans. Wink wink!

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Moving on past the theatre, more delights await further on, including within a wide alleyway (can it still be called that if it’s wide?) at the end of which you will find La Salette Restaurant, where Portugal’s own Chef Manuel Azevedo features his “New Portuguese Cuisine”. La Salette is another place on my to-go list I am looking forward to checking out sooner rather than later. With all these good restaurants, I had better make a list and stick it on the wall in front of me so I don’t forget!

Basque Boulangerie & Cafe (image above) is a popular place on the Plaza, not to mention the only bakery on the Plaza, so it is a popular meeting place by default. I have been about two or three times and I have always been disappointed, so I have stopped going. There is one thing I did enjoy though: their Beehive Cake, which is also available by the slice. That is worth stopping in for! Just remember though, that if you are ready for a sweet treat, a couple of doors up the street is a seriously good artisanal ice cream shop!

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Historic buildings keep propelling us forward and we find one more restaurant I have yet to visit: The Plaza Bistro, which features Mediterranean infused California fare. Have you been? Anything you would like to recommend?
At this point I want to ask you a question: do you enjoy my “restaurant only” posts? That is, posts when I feature a single restaurant because I think it is amazing and worth the trip? Or do you prefer “summary posts”, like this one for example, where I take you around town and show you as much as I can in one post. Please let me know in the comments or on social media, or by e-mailing me, as that would be very helpful. Though do know that whenever I come across a really good restaurant, bakery or any other type of eatery, I will be taking pics and won’t be able to resist sharing about it.

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And here we are! The drive-from-Napa-with-a-cooler-worthy ice cream shop! Sweet Scoops may be small in size, but big in quality. I finally remembered to bring that cooler a recent drive down to Marin (County), so on my way back I stopped in to get some ice cream to take home. The plan was to get a couple of pints of one flavor each. I came home with four quarts and a pint: Cappuccino Crunch (OMD!), Oreos & Cream (OMD)!, Peaches & Cream (OMD!), Banana Pudding (OMD!) and Lemon/Lavender (OMD!). Yes, I OMDogged each one because each one is oh-so-good!

I am not into that, but they also have some non-dairy flavors so that the vegans and lactose-intolerant among you may also get to enjoy these delights. Last week, among other flavors, they had Lavender-Fig.

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Sweet Scoops also make their own waffle cones on site, which means that, besides enjoying your ice cream on freshly-baked waffles, the enticing fragrance will follow you for a while. This is a perfect pit stop for a pick me up: you can get a cone or a cup and sit outside while relaxing, or you can take your ice cream and stroll into the nearby Paseo Courtyard via the beautiful alleyway right next door (to the left as you exit), and look at more shops while wondering why you didn’t get that extra scoop.

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Food wise, this courtyard features a chocolate shop, the back courtyard of The Plaza Bistro, as well as the open patio side of a Mexican restaurant called La Casa which features cuisine from the Jalisco region.

A few months ago, a very tempting artisanal and locally-owned sausage shop opened near the fountain offering delicious sounding sandwiches and other sausage-centric preparations. It is called Hare & Hatter Sausage Emporium, but I have yet to check it out because the two times I decided to swing by, they were closed even on days and times when they were supposed to be open. I hope that has changed, and their website says they are open Thursday to Monday between 8:30 am and 4:00 pm with last food orders at 3:30 pm. It has gathered really good reviews in the meantime, so it sounds like a good place for a savory lunch or snack! Tim, if you are reading this, yes, this is the place I was telling you about for your next trip to Sonoma.

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Shopping-wining-and-dining-around-the-historic-Plaza-in-Sonoma-California

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Above you can glimpse another of my favorite shops, one that has been in this courtyard forever: the Sonoma Rock & Mineral Gallery.
Below is yet another bit of Sonoma history: the restored house of civil war General Joseph Hooker.

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The main entrance to La Casa Restaurant is off of East Spain Street, right across from the Old Sonoma Mission, and can be reached from the courtyard via the alleyway you see below.

Right next to the alley and cornering the Plaza is also the Whiskey Bar & Grille, which resides in the location of the what used to be the Historic Sonoma Creamery. This award-winning, upscale gastro-pub concept has a lot to offer: from a whiskey bar (of course) to a local infused menu that include good old fashioned burgers.

Something that social media has done is that hardly anyone minds being photographed; some people (like this friendly guy below) are actually eager to be in my pics. I don’t know who you are, sir, but if you see this, here’s me saying “Hello there!”

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Moving on and crossing the street to the opposite corner, then walking past the Mission Barracks and historic buildings (which we visited already here), we find more food to be had! The Sonoma Cheese Factory is a must-visit, whether for purchasing cheese and a selection of other specialty foods, or even for lunch or a snack from the deli. It has evolved a lot since my early visits eons ago!

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More historic buildings housing more restaurants follow. Mary’s Pizza Shack is a local chain that started back in 1959. If you are into chain pizza places, Mary’s is one of the better ones, but for this real-deal spoiled Italian…. I tried it once and it’s not my kind of thing.

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The Swiss Hotel & Restaurant has been here for as long as I can remember, yet I have never been. In part because I have never needed to stay at a hotel in the area, but also because, hey, I am from an Italian town a stone’s throw away from the Swiss border. I have the same hesitations about a Swiss restaurant out of bounds as I have about an Italian one: I approach with caution until I am sure. The place has quite the history, both as a building and a business (you can read about it here) with Hank Marioni being the most recent generation in the family to run the business.

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I always enjoy browsing The Candlestick (above) and The Summer Vine (below) when I have a chance, and it usually happens when I am early for lunch or dinner at my other favorite restaurant in Sonoma, The Girl and the Fig, which is on the next block.

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Just cross the street and here we are, at possibly my nr. 1 favorite restaurant in Sonoma: The Girl and the Fig! Housed on the ground floor of the Sonoma Hotel, this is a charming place where you will find delicious food in the French country style all the time, as in all-day-dining (I love that!), as well as breakfast on Saturday mornings and brunch on Sunday. The menu has seasonal changes, and every week it features a special “Plat du Jour” menu which you will find on the board outside the front door. Below you can see Cantaloupe, Coppa and Burrata Salad on the left and English Pea Agnolotti on the right, though I suggest you go and take a peek at the full feature on The Girl and the Fig I have at this post. Reservations are a must at TG&TF, especially during weekends and the long high season (May to October), but if you are in town, this place is a must.

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Right next to TG&TF you can find another very pleasant wine tasting spot: the downtown tasting room for Roche Winery & Vineyards, a place where I have stopped several times with visiting friends.

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By crossing the street from TG&TF we find another hotel & restaurant: El Dorado Kitchen. The hotel upstairs means that this is another all-day-eating place, with breakfast, lunch and dinner served daily, as well as brunch on Sunday. The cuisine is very much creative California though infused with Mediterranean and Mexican touches, and features locally sourced produce. Below you can see their delicious fish tacos, but a full feature on El Dorado Kitchen is also available at this page on the blog.

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No tour of the Plaza would be complete without mention of the wonderful Tuesday Farmers’ Market that takes place smack in the middle of it from 5:30 pm till sunset from May to October. This is more than a farmers’ market as besides the vendors, this popular event features live music and food trucks, with people gathering for a picnic on the lawn and under the trees. You can view a full feature on this market at this post. May is just around the corner, and I am looking forward to this market resuming soon.

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I hope you have enjoyed this tour and that this post will help you enjoy your next visit to Sonoma even more. As you have seen, it is quite possible to spend the whole day around Sonoma Plaza, but just as fun getting to it after a day of wine tasting around the Valley.

One more useful bit of information: there is quite a bit of parking available around the Plaza itself and in the adjacent streets, but at busy times (like on weekends) your parking Angel will need to work overtime to find a spot. Just in case you don’t know, there is ample parking available right behind the block with the Sonoma Cheese Factory and the old Toscano Hotel. Just go north on 1st Street E (between the Mission & the old Barracks) and take the first left into the parking area. From there you can easily reach the Plaza by walking through the Sonoma State Historic Park.

If you have already enjoyed Sonoma Plaza, I would love to have your recommendations for your favorite places and experiences in the comments so I can make this tour an even richer one. Thank you.

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Summary of personal eating recommendations:

THE GIRL & THE FIG
OSO SONOMA
SUNFLOWER CAFFE
EL DORADO KITCHEN
SWEET SCOOPS HOME MADE ICE CREAM

Top of my “eat there soon” list:

CAFE LA HAYE
HARVEST MOON CAFE
DELHI BELLY BISTRO

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CLICK ON THE IMAGE BELOW IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO EXPLORE MORE OF THE SONOMA & NAPA WINE COUNTRY

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