When Super Bowl 50 rolls into the San Francisco Bay Area in January and February 2016, it’s expected to bring a million more people into the area. Which is exciting – and a bit alarming, if you’re not fond of traffic jams, crowds, and general craziness.
Super Bowl festivities are planned from Jan. 30, 2016, to game day on Sunday, Feb. 7 – making this a good time for a road trip. Just 45 minutes north of the Golden Gate, beautiful Sonoma County provides a wide variety of entertaining getaways from Super Bowl mania.
Here are 10 suggestions for enjoying a quick escape to Sonoma Wine Country. These include great insider tips for San Francisco residents who want to escape the city, as well!
#1 – Sip and Nibble
Savor the Sonoma Wine Country lifestyle by sipping premium vintages deliciously paired with farm-to-table delights designed by the winery’s estate chef. Wine-and-food-pairings make the perfect way to sample the best that this area has to offer. Find all Sonoma County wineries here.
For example, stunning vineyard views and fine dining blend beautifully in the five-course Wine & Food Pairing at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards off Highway 12 in Santa Rosa; Open Table named this luncheon pairing the number 1 restaurant in all of America. Or get the ultimate inside look at Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Healdsburg. For more options, read “Wineries with Food Pairings” and “Luxury Wine and Food Experiences in Sonoma County.”
#2 – Go For the Brews
With at least two dozen operating breweries, more than half a dozen cider producers, and close to a dozen distilleries, Sonoma County is a craft beverage paradise. Which may be why RateBeer, an independent site for craft beer enthusiasts, hosts its RateBeer Best International Beer Festival in Santa Rosa on Sunday, Jan. 31.
You can taste award-winning brews from around the world, and enjoy food from top Sonoma County chefs. On February 5, 2016 Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa will release the award-winning Pliny the Younger for just two weeks. But don’t overlook the amazing local talent – follow the Sonoma County Beer, Cider, and Spirits Map to find your favorites. And if you don’t want to taste and drive, North Bay Brewery Tours and Brew Brothers Brewery Tours offer fun and entertaining guided tours to local breweries and distilleries.
#3 – Get Down on the Farm
Small farms flourish in the rolling hills and lush pastures of rural Sonoma County. Follow the Sonoma County Farm Trails Map to experience life on the farm with cows, sheep, llamas, honey bees, and more. Chat with local cheese makers and sample their distinctive, hand-crafted wares at the sites listed on the Sonoma Cheese Trail and Map.
Or browse the county’s agricultural bounty and artisan crafts at one of the year-round farmers markets, held Tuesdays in Petaluma, Saturdays in Santa Rosa, and Sundays in Rohnert Park and Sebastopol. For more visit-the-farm options, read “Agri-Tourism, Farm Tours Offered Throughout Sonoma County.”
#4 – Have a Whale of a Time
January and February are peak times for spotting gray whales migrating along the Sonoma County coast, and Bodega Head is one of the county’s top whale-watching spots. About four miles long and one mile wide, this small peninsula juts well out into the ocean, providing great views of these magnificent creatures spouting water through their blowholes, displaying their tails as they dive in search of the tiny shrimp (krill) that they eat, or just swimming by.
On weekends from January to May, volunteer docents are on hand at Bodega Head to help would-be whale watchers. There are several other sites along to coast to watch for whales, and several companies offer whale watching boat trips. See all the options in our Whale Watching listings.
#5 – Savor the Bounty of the Sea
Enjoy a culinary tour of the small town of Bodega Bay on Chowder Day, slated for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Jan.30. It can take three to four hours to meet the chefs and sample all the delicious offerings at participating sites in this celebration of all things chowdery. The $10 ticket includes a map and a ballot; tickets are sold onsite only, with a maximum of 1,000 tickets available. But chowder is just one of the many coastal options.
Winter is the heart of the Dungeness crab season, and you’ll find these delicious crustaceans on menus at restaurants all along the coast. On select Fridays each winter, the Tides Wharf Restaurant hosts special reservations-only crab feeds. Or if you’re in a do-it-yourself mood, you can pick up live, freshly caught crab at the Spud Point Crab Co., or simply eat crab sandwiches or crab cakes at outdoor picnic tables.
#6 – Go on Safari
Ride in an open-air vehicle, catching sight of gazelles, zebras, cheetahs, antelopes, giraffes, cape buffalo, and other exotic animals at Safari West Wildlife Preserve & African Tent Camp. Located in the rolling hills on the eastern edge of Santa Rosa, this 400-acre preserve houses about 700 animals, in conditions close to their natural African habitat.
Watch them socialize, eat, and play. After enjoying the day tour, you can choose to spend the night sleeping in a luxury tent imported from Africa. Pale green canvas walls enclose plush beds, hot showers, and rustic but elegant trappings. It’s glam-camping at its finest.
#7 – Visit Peanuts
This isn’t just Wine Country, it’s “Peanuts” Country, too. Famed cartoonist Charles Schulz – the creator of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, and the entire Peanuts gang – called Sonoma County home for more than 40 years. At the 8,000-square-foot Charles M. Schulz Museum you’ll find the world’s largest collection of original Peanuts artwork, watch animated Peanuts specials, view Peanuts products from the 1950s onward, and get to know the entire peanuts gang a little better.
Next door you’ll find the Redwood Empire Ice Arena (also known as Snoopy’s Home Ice) and the Warm Puppy Café snack bar. And scattered throughout Santa Rosa you’ll find 5-foot-tall fiberglass statues of whimsically-decorated Peanuts characters, created as fund-raising art projects. For the location of the statues and other Peanuts-related sites, read “Explore Snoopy and the Peanuts in Sonoma County 2-Day Itinerary.”
#8 – Enjoy Live Performances
From small venues to large, the performing arts are blossoming in Sonoma County. On Sunday, Jan. 31, Charles Rus, former organist with the San Francisco Symphony, works his magic on the 1,248 pipes of the Brombaugh Opus 9 organ in Schroeder Hall at Green Music Center in Rohnert Park. And on Saturday, Feb. 6, Lisa Fischer (known for her smoldering duet with Mick Jagger in “Gimme Shelter”) performs rock, pop, and jazz in Weill Hall, also at Green Music Center.
For theater buffs, the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa offers two options: “Other people’s Money” by North Bay Stage Company, 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 30, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31; and “A Steady Rain” by Left Edge Theatre, 8 p.m. Jan. 29 and 30 and Feb. 5 and 6. Or catch “One Man, Two Guvnors,” at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, through Feb. 7. For more options, check our listings for Live Music and Live Theater.
#9 – Appreciate Art
Sonoma County’s pounding surf, rolling hills, neat rows of vineyards, and dynamic communities inspire artists to create towering sculptures, handcrafted pottery, cool watercolors, vibrant paintings, and one-of-a-kind jewelry. Everywhere you look, you’ll find artistic visions brought to life. In almost every town you’ll find a thriving arts center.
Experience the dynamic art scene in the quirky river town of Guerneville on its First Friday Art Walk, when art galleries, art studios and merchants host receptions from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 5. Visit Healdsburg, with some two dozen art galleries within walking distance of its downtown plaza, for example the Paul Mahder Gallery (see photo). Follow the Sculpture Trail to view more than 35 outdoor artworks in the towns of Geyserville and Cloverdale in northern Sonoma County. Enjoy the whimsical art made from recycled materials on three-block-long Florence Avenue in Sebastopol. For more options, read “Walking to Art in Sonoma County” and “Discover Amazing Art in Sonoma County: 3-Day Itinerary.”
#10 – Explore the Great Outdoors
Home to 11 California State Parks, more than 50 Sonoma County Regional Parks, miles of trails, and acres of pasturelands and vineyards, Sonoma County offers a multitude of delights for nature lovers. Walk through vineyards or stroll under towering trees at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.
Hike along beaches and rocky bluffs on coastal trails. Climb the rugged trail to Gunsight Rock in Hood Mountain Regional Park on a clear day, and be rewarded with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. Discover even more possibilities by reading “Guide to Hiking in Sonoma County” and “Guide to Cycling in Sonoma County,” or check our Outdoor Activities Listings.
Find 10 cozy winter getaway resorts here. Of course, a list of 10 activities in Sonoma County is just a starting point. Find Things to Do, Hotels & Lodging, Restaurants & Dining, and Sonoma County Wineries.