Get the insiders scoop on the best places to host the ultimate Sonoma wine country picnic. No other article will honest or in tune with the land, the wineries and the people.
I spend a lot of time in Sonoma County (particularly in west county). Since I grew up in San Francisco, it’s really hard to pick out only ten best wineries and public spots to picnic in the incredibly vast space that Sonoma County encompasses. It’s really a massive region and is easily 4X bigger than Napa Valley. I have way more than ten favorites, but I’ve done my researched, compared my notes with friends and am sharing it with you! I apologize in advance to locals and any visitor reading this blog whose favorite spot is not mentioned. Hey, but maybe that’s a blessing in disguise and you get to keep that property your own secret. Do you really want the whole world to know anyway?
Unlike Napa Valley, Sonoma spans over one million acres. There are over 30 small towns, quaint villages and bustling cities embedded in the county. It can take more than two hours to drive from rolling vineyards in Carneros (on the south east side) to the warmer north end of Geyserville. There are many back roads however, which if you discover can offer a more scenic and less congested journey. Just remember that Google may take you on the route with the shortest distance, but that won’t necessarily be the fastest way to get from point A to point B.
Sonoma is organized into areas or wine growing regions. Each has a unique climate (we call them microclimates) and geography and the wines produced in the various areas are distinct to their origins. The areas in Sonoma County are Alexander Valley (40+ wineries), Bennett Valley (15+ wineries), Carneros (20+ wineries), Chalk Hill (5 wineries), out on the Sonoma Coast is Fort Ross (5 wineries). Three of the most popular areas are the Dry Creek Valley (60+ wineries), Russian River Valley (94 wineries) and Sonoma Valley (boasting 100+ wineries). If you really want to geek out more, please visit the Sonoma Wine website. It’s full of interesting facts and figures, which will keep you busy well into the wee hours of the foggy morn. https://sonomawine.com/
Now that we’ve given you a crash course on the popular areas of the Sonoma County wine region, let’s get back to hosting picnics and the best wineries and public spaces to have them. Since there are so many options and now that you know what the areas are, I will identify my selections in the area they are found.
Before you can have a picnic, you will need to pick up something to put in your picnic basket. Of course, if you are a chef or have access to a kitchen, you can prepare your own fare and disregard my list of great places for picnic provisions.
Getting Your Picnic Provisions
If you are on a budget and don’t have the time to put your own picnic spread together, let the local pros assist! Here’s some of the more popular places that locals and the wineries rely on daily to deliver the ultimate wine country picnic basket.
Big John’s Market (Healdsburg)
Dry Creek General Store (Healdsburg)
You’ll absolutely love this place, but drive slowly when you are getting close as you’ll fly right by it.
Oakville Grocery (Healdsburg & Napa)
Sonoma’s Best Modern Mercantile (East Sonoma)
Basque Boulangerie Café (Sonoma Square)
Glen Ellen Village Market (Glen Ellen)
Café Citti (Kenwood)
Picnic or not, you’ll want to drop in for lunch or dinner as this is the real deal. One of our most favorite Italian dining spots.
VJB Cellars (Kenwood)
Spud Point Crab Company (Bodega Bay)
Once you have your picnic put together, you can visit any one of the wineries listed below and they will welcome you (and your basket) to their estate. We know it can be daunting to look online at 425 wineries and know which ones will allow outside food. Aren’t you glad you found this article?! The list below will make your life easier and your visit to Sonoma wine country one you will never forget. All of the wineries are stunning, have excellent wine portfolios and incredibly friendly staff. If you do plan to picnic at any of these properties, it’s proper etiquette to buy a few bottles or do a tasting, in exchange for use of their picnic area. And of course, share the space and keep it tidy so everyone can host their own epic wine country picnic.
Wineries That Allow Outside Food
Of course there are wineries that will allow outside food, other than the ones I have chosen. However, the selected few are top-notch in setting, service and of course, wine. Good luck and happy picnicking!
Landmark Vineyards has been around since the 70’s and is loved by all. Its owned by the Rudnick’s who also own POM Wonderful, Fiji Water and JUSTIN Vineyard (in Paso Robles). The winery is situated in the heart of Sonoma and is a great place to have a picnic. On Saturdays, they usually have complimentary horse drawn vineyard tours and bocce ball. You will love it here and never want to leave.
Benovia Winery will allow you to bring your picnic lunch and sit out on the patio. In every direction you look, the only things you can see are vines. The space is elegant and comfortable. Sometimes they have the fireplace going, which is a nice touch for the cooler seasons. The staff is wonderfully well-versed and the wines are exceptional.
Buena Vista Winery is one of my favorite places. The winery is historical and owned by the very flamboyant Jean-Charles Boisset. What is unique about Buena Vista is that there are many places you can find to have your picnic. In other words, there isn’t just one designated area where you have to sit, you have plenty of options. Plus this is the home of the very first winery in California! It’s refreshing to go exploring and discover the grounds as its rich in history- take a tour of the Tool Library and learn all about it. The Boisset Family has done an excellent job of preserving the history and taking it to the next level. PSST, if you happen to be visiting around mid-August through September, be sure to purchase tickets to their annual summer Shakespeare festival that places in the evening, making for one memorable Sonoma wine country experience. You will not be disappointed!
Dutton Estate Winery has six generations invested in the land. As soon as you drive up to the tasting room, you can feel the heart and soul that lives here. Be sure to grab a chilled bottle of 2015 Kyndall’s Reserve Chardonnay, 2017 Warren’s Collection Chardonnay or the 2015 La Familia Pinot Noir. In all the bottles, you will taste the layers and layers of care and thought that has gone into every step of wine production. It’s easy to fall in love with the winery and the people who work here. The picnic area is relaxing and offers some shade and pretty backdrop for photos.
Alexander Valley Vineyards will make you feel right at home. Grab some grub at the Jimtown Store around the corner and find a seat under the trees. Time will stand still as you sip on the well-crafted wines (cabs are my fav) and contemplate the meaning of life. Be sure to ask about the cave tour if you have time as it’s totally worth it! The regular tastings are complimentary, which is almost unheard anywhere in wine country these days.
Dry Creek Vineyard is an idyllic setting for a picnic. The gardens are perfectly-maintained and the adorable bistro tables all have umbrellas to shield you from the sun. Enjoy the lush green grass and gentle breeze while you sip on their award-winning wines and forget about the rest of the world.
Martinelli Winery continues to be a legacy in Sonoma County. The winery is right off the busy River Road, but you wouldn’t know it after you park your car and walk up to the terrace. The whole area was recently remodeled and has a bubbling water feature that flows. Martinelli is well loved by all - visitors and locals alike and it should be on your list, too.
Thomas George Estates may very well be my best find ever. Tucked away in a magical cove behind the mountains, it’s really special. The wines are incredible, the staff is full of character and they are always doing something new and interesting at the estate. The picnic area overlooks the valley and has lots of shade. The standard of excellence on every level is obvious the minute you drive up the driveway.
Kunde Family Winery is massive and nestled in the lovely knoll of Kenwood, where all is calm and harmonious. Many of the scenes from the movie Bottle Shock, were filmed here on the 1800-acre estate. In fact, the area is also called the Valley of the Moon. There is a designated area called the Winemaker’s Plaza where you can picnic and enjoy a bottle or glass of Kunde wine. It’s a well-known fact that if you go to Kunde, you should not have a pressing appointment on the horizon, as you’ll find yourself losing track of time as you soak in the stunning views from just about any seat on the patio.
Benziger Family Winery is another estate that seems to go on forever. There are paths and patios to explore, lots of shade and smiling people. Take your time here, as it’s an oasis from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With lots of history, the wines are well developed and exactly what one needs while on a wine county picnic. If you have some time, be sure to sign up for the Tram Tour as you get driven around the estate’s vineyards.
My Favorite Places to Have A Picnic (That Are Not A Winery)
Sonoma as I said earlier, is sprawling. I’ve selected a few places that I love (and go to regularly) to enjoy the beauty all around. There is something really magical about each and every one. I hope you can find the time to explore and get outside to at least one of the places loved by locals and visitors alike.
Sonoma Plaza (Downtown Sonoma)
Bodega Head State Park (Bodega Bay)
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve (Occidental)
Rangle Ranch Park (Sebastopol)
Salt Point State Park (Jenner)
Doran Regional Park (Bodega Bay)