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Sonoma by Day

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Al FRESCO Picnicing in the Plaza is a favorite local pastime. Photos courtesy of Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau

Wine Country fave is back

Those who are able to make it to Sonoma during the next week or so are in luck, because with Covid restrictions lifting—though we’re essentially back to masks—and summer in full swing, the City of Sonoma has put on her summer best and is ready for us all.

Morning

Head in off Hwy 12—or up Broadway from Hwy 101, whichever direction makes sense—and park across from City Hall, which is unmistakable because of the two giant Jun Kaneko heads waiting to stare all passersby down.

These exceptional works are part of Sonoma Valley Museum of Art’s bi-annual outdoor installation, in partnership with the City of Sonoma. This year’s exhibition, titled “A Delicate Balance,” features four different artists—including Jun Kaneko—from different backgrounds and working with different media. Grab a map of the installation from the Sonoma Visitor’s Center—it’s in the Sonoma Library, near the Rose Garden—and take a leisurely tour of each piece after brunch.

Yes, I said brunch! And here’s where to eat it: 497 First St. W., at the Taub Family Outpost.

In a gorgeous old building on the corner of W. Napa Street and First Street W., this tasting room/restaurant/retail market/secret cocktail bar is not to be missed. Head in anytime after 8am for a coffee and breakfast fare, but for the real-deal brunch menu, get there on Saturday or Sunday at 10am. Customers should prepare to have their taste buds sung to by a choir featuring acai bowls with stonefruit jam and almond butter, and the Outpost Benedict with slow-roasted pork and a whole-grain mustard hollandaise.

Pair this nosh with a cappuccino featuring Cafe Vita espresso or, if this is a “hot girl” summer—and that applies to absolutely everyone—with a frozen strawberry margarita, featuring Bribón blanco tequila, Watmaugh strawberries and fresh lime.

After Brunch

After perusing A Delicate Balance and walking off the marg buzz, take a stroll over to 130 E. Napa St. and pop into Reader’s Books. This sweet bookshop is a little time capsule in today’s tech-driven world, where a bibliophile can peruse mystery novels, biographies and local Sonoma history books at their leisure while breathing in that special aroma that only bookshops possess.

If it’s roasting hot outside after the book encounter, check the movie times and head up First Street E. to Number 476 and into Sebastiani Theatre, for a phenomenal cinema and an unbeatable viewing experience. Built in 1933 by Samuele Sebastiani, and designed by the well-known theater architect James W. Reid, the Sebastiani rolled film on its first screening in 1934. Truly a landmark, the Sebastiani also hosts the Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF), which begins Aug. 5 and runs through Aug. 8! Google “SIFF SummerFest 2021” for more info, and to buy tickets. The lineup this year is not to be missed, and the opening night party features the Tom Petty cover band Petty Theft—it’s too good to miss. 

If no movie is desired at this early-ish hour, head back to the two staring heads in front of City Hall and follow their gaze to Sonoma Valley Museum of Art proper, at 551 Broadway. This 20-year-old institution rotates stellar exhibitions, and the two standing right now are more than worth a visit. “Question Bridge: Black Males,” by Chris Johnson, is a transmedia video exhibition on the Black male experience in America, and couldn’t be shown at a more pertinent time. And for those in Sonoma on Aug. 1, Chris Johnson himself will be at the museum to lead a talk on his multi-year journey creating this body of work. Find out more and reserve seats at svma.org.

Also at the museum is “Sacred Landscapes,” a retrospective of Bay Area artist Ynez Johnston’s work, spanning seven decades of her career. Johnston’s bronze sculptures and intricate ink paintings possess a mythos all their own, pulling viewers into a dreamscape where they can wander freely. Her work possesses its own unique language, which visitors subconsciously decipher throughout their viewing experience. Not to be missed by art appreciators, and hey, the Bay Area–proud!

Lunch 

Lunch may be required at this point, in which case I highly recommend crossing back through the plaza toward First Street W., and heading to Sunflower Caffé, which serves lunch in a back patio so full of flowering greenery that patrons may feel they’ve tripped into Eden. Order literally anything off the menu, though I highly recommend the Golden Bowl with quinoa, roasted sweet potato and golden beet slaw; or the Roasted Cauliflower Wrap, with roasted garlic hummus and arugula. Regarding beverages, this might be the moment for a Watermelon Frosé—local Sonoma rosé and fresh watermelon juice, served ice cold. Or, for those preferring something sans alcohol, one can’t go wrong with an Arnold Palmer or a lavender lemonade. Sip, take a bite and watch the bees drift over the flowers.

Evening 

Night falls over the Sonoma Plaza—we’ve eaten lunch, we’ve taken in a film or bought our next summer read—I suggest Klara and the Sun: A novel, the latest from Kazu Ishiguro—or we’ve taken some time to view “Question Bridge: Black Males and Sacred Landscapes.” No, wait, we’ve done all three! And now, as twilight begins to descend, and an aromatic breeze slips through the Plaza eucalyptus, our thoughts turn restlessly to cocktails and dinner.

I’m leading us to El Dorado Hotel and Kitchen—at 405 First St. W.—for multiple reasons. First, because Executive Chef Armando Navarro curates a mouth-watering menu—tuna poke bowls, seafood paella and churros with Dulce de Leche—speaking of which, how have we not had dessert yet? But also because a night at the El Dorado is a night to remember, and those feeling a bit sleepy from their delightful day can now snag a room and order up dinner as room service, or take it poolside or on the garden patio. This building was originally built in 1843, and has seen iterations as a schoolhouse, a church, a wine-making operation and now a fully modernized four-and-a-half star hotel. Have a Manhattan, have some truffle fries. Crack open a book, decipher the afternoon’s movie or art, and then sit back … and gaze at the stars. 

And that—is a day in Sonoma.