How to Spend an Afternoon or Weekend in Sonoma, plus Fall-Through-Thanksgiving Outdoor Decor … It’s Weekend Meanderings

Today on Weekend Meanderings, how to spend an afternoon or weekend in Sonoma, including a couple of hidden gems, fall to Thanksgiving window boxes and front porch decor, plus more.

Happy weekend, friends!

It’s Saturday and I’m joining Kim and Elizabeth for Weekend Meanderings.

Our weekly roundup of inspiration and goings on.

Books on an entry bench with pumpkin on top.

Did you catch Ina Garten on 60 Minutes last Sunday?

She and Jeffrey are the cutest and I love her story and their story.

And I was thrilled when her latest book, Go-To-Dinners, arrived on Tuesday.

How was your week?

I had one of those epic weeks where everything that could go wrong did.

In a big, major, spectacular way.

One of those weeks where there’s only one solution.

To draw the curtains and take to ones bed.

Then get up the next day and jump back in.

And on that note …


Let’s go!



If you live in the Bay Area, the charming town of Sonoma is quick and easy drive. For us it’s less than an hour. Sonoma is a great town to spend a weekend, a day or just an afternoon. And a few weeks ago that’s what we did. We made a lunch reservation (much earlier in the week) at one of our favorite restaurants, The Girl & the Fig, and off we went. We got lucky and found a parking spot right on the plaza. (We have a secret spot just in case the plaza is full … if you need to know, just ask.)

Did you know I used to live in Sonoma? For about 12 years. It’s where I met Jim. At work. He was a muckity muck at a large wine and spirits company. They bought Buena Vista Winery, where I was the human resource director. We had to work together through a difficult acquisition period. And if you’ve ever worked for a company that’s been acquired, you know what I mean.

The Girl and A Fig restaurant entrance.

But back to lunch. We decided to eat on The Girl & The Fig’s back patio which is completely charming. I ordered a frose, which you might not expect to be served in the serious wine country, but this is not your slushy, machine produced frose. No this is a tiny scoop of strawberry sorbet topped with rose … not too sweet and so very good. I’m not usually a day drinker, but when in Rome …

Jim had this gorgeous (look at the color!) radish salad and a grilled cheese with matchstick frites.

I had the fig and arugula salad with roasted chicken and potatoes. Oh my. Delicious!

For dessert we ordered box of chocolate chip cookies to go. They come in 4’s. We shared one and took the rest home.

Large chocolate chip cookie on a plate.

After lunch we strolled around the plaza window shopping. Of course we stopped by our favorite, Chateau Sonoma. We belong to their French Bubble Club that I mentioned here.

Chateau Sonoma.

There’s a cute pop up coffee cart in the alley next door.

Pop up coffee shop in Sonoma alley.

There are so many wonderful shops, restaurants and tasting rooms on the plaza it’s impossible to name them all. These are some of my places to eat ~

The Girl & the Fig. Obviously.

The El Dorado Hotel & Kitchen

Della Santina

Cafe La Haye


Swiss Hotel (The front patio tables are a highly sought after spots to enjoy cocktails and nibbles while watching the world pass by.)

Mary’s Pizza Shack is a kid-friendly favorite (the original location is a real shack up the road a bit in Boyes Hot Springs)

For a casual, late night fun, with a dive-bar-ish vibe don’t miss Steiners Tavern (do not say one word, Jim) and Murphy’s Irish Pub.

Speaking of late nights, the historic bar and front patio at the Swiss is a great way to end a night with their signature drink, the Galarify.

A trip to Sonoma is not complete without a stop at The Chocolate Cow. Candy, handmade chocolate treats, and ice cream … something for everyone. We bring home their chocolate dipped s’mores. When my nieces were young they wanted to do only two things in Sonoma. Feed the ducks in the plaza pond and go the ‘the cow.’

Holy cow! I just discovered they have an online store.

Working backwards, be sure to start the day at the Basque Boulangerie. Score a table on the sidewalk out front (easier now with pandemic-expanded outdoor seating) and enjoy coffee and pastries with the locals. Oh, and they have the best inch-thick cinnamon raisin toast. Slathered with butter, of course. They’re open until 2pm and serve wonderful, casual lunch options. Oh, and the freshly baked bread … take some home.

Of course, there are many, many opportunities for wine tasing on and around the plaza. Where to begin? Well, you’ll have no trouble figuring it out. But if you have time to venture off the plaza be sure to visit Buena Vista Winery. Founded in 1857, Buena Vista is one of oldest, if not the oldest, winery in California. My memory is hazy, but it might be the oldest continuously operating winery in California. During prohibition they made wine for the Catholic Church – there’s always a loop hole. Since I left the winery in 2004 it’s undergone a much needed earthquake retrofit and renovation allowing visitors into the historic, original winery building. Jean Charles Boisset, the winery’s current owner, has a unique style and point of view and I’m half curious, half horrified to see it for myself.

Buena Vista Winery

via Buena Vista Winery

Of course, there’s so much history in Sonoma. Bear Flag Revolt anyone? On the plaza you’ll find Mission San Francisco Solano, the Sonoma Barracks, and a tad bit off the plaza but still walking distance, General Vallejo’s home. Jack London State Park is just a short drive north to Glen Ellen.

If you’re staying over night you can’t beat MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa. Emphasis on the spa. It’s a wonderful property with two amazing restaurants, and fabulous, intimate pool area. The perfect place to regroup after a hard day of wine tasting. And did I mention the spa? It’s less than a mile off the plaza so you can walk into town … or its an easy bike or Uber/Lyft ride. Wait, I just heard that the spa and pool may be undergoing renovation … so check first.

MacArthur Place Hotel.

A little further down Broadway, The Lodge is also a convenient and lovely place to stay. They have a larger pool area and a very nice spa. I used to live across the street  and used their restaurant as my auxiliary kitchen. It’s exactly a mile into town. I know this because when we got married and Jim moved into my house, we adopted our dog, Sasha, and walked her each morning to the Basque Boulangerie for cocoa, coffee and cinnamon raisin toast. Two miles round trip.

There are so many places to stay including the wonderful Sonoma Mission Inn (you’ll need a car) and, of course, VRBO’s and Airbnb’s. Check out Dove Cottage.

Sonoma’s known for being a more casual, laid back town in the wine country. They don’t take themselves as seriously as the Napa Valley folks. Read, it’s a lot less hoity toity. There’s a great book, The Tale of Two Valleys, that offers up an enjoyable romp through the amazing history and scandals of both valleys.

The Tale of Two Valleys

Buy on Amazon

Napa: The Story of an American Eden is another excellent book on wine country history and, if you really want to be scandalized, The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty is a must read.

I should do an entire post on visiting the wine country, it’s history, it’s scandals … and I could tell tales of some present day brouhaha.

And that concludes my afternoon (or weekend) in Sonoma … but wait, here are a couple of  hidden gems.



After lunch and window shopping, we headed over Vella Cheese Company to pick up a wedge of their amazing Dry Jack. Vella is a not-quite 100 year-old Sonoma cheese business still run by the founding family, the Vella’s. When I first started visiting Sonoma regularly in the late 70’s, I know, the dark ages, Ig Vella, the founder’s son presided from the mezzanine above the retail shop. He was quite a character, knew and chatted with everyone and was even polite to out-of-towners. Vella is a block off the plaza on Second Street East.

When I worked for Buena Vista Winery each holiday season we sent a wheel of Vella Dry Jack, and a magnum of cab, to our distributors throughout the country. For a couple of years, procuring the cheese and overseeing its disbursement was my job. Oh my gosh, what an ordeal. Our loading dock looked like a cheese factory, not a winery. And distributors would have their assistants call to inquire about the arrival date of their cheese … they counted on it for their holiday parties. I was relieved when I was able to pass this duty on to someone else. That said, I was also the recipient of a Dry Jack cheese wheel, which would last most of the year. My boss, the winery’s CEO, told me to treat it like Parmesan cheese. Delish!

Wedge of Vella dry jack in a wooden bowl of onions and herbs.

I also love Vella’s Toma and dry cheddar. Make sure to ask for a taste!

Man picking up cheese sample at cheese store.

If you’re in the mood for a picnic, you can pick up cheese, salami and baguettes made by Basque Boulangerie at Vella’s retail room then head to the plaza and enjoy.

Vella also has an online store for cheese and gift boxes, so order for yourself or people you like a lot. What a great gift.



Across the street from Vella Cheese is the Patch. I don’t know how to describe it, I guess it’s a farm stand. A local favorite, and a somewhat secret one at that. The sign is barely legible and the actual stand a bit hidden. Back in the day, it was an honor system where you selected from the day’s produce, weighed it and left your money in the till. It may still be that way on weekdays, but the Saturday we were there a charming woman was keeping a watch over things. We bought corn on the cobb and green beans and enjoyed both the next day for Sunday lunch which I mentioned here.

We left the Patch, toured a few open houses and headed home.



Monica Vargas, who’s been my blog photographer since before I had a blog, came by on Monday to photograph two upcoming posts. While she was here I asked if she’d snap the front porch. These days I’m doing ok with my photography, but her professional shots are next (next) level.

So here it is, unveiled at last, my fall to Thanksgiving front porch.

Front porch decorated for fall

My porch is so simple this year. Who am I kidding, it’s simple every year. The magnolia and eucalyptus wreath came from our local grocery, Diablo Foods. The assorted pumpkins came from Orchard Nursery, Diablo Foods and Trader Joes. The lantern is from Anthro. And flameless candle from RH, Pottery Barn carries similar. I’m using an older Target throw with my treasured Snowberry pillow made by Karen on Bainbridge Island. The garden stool is from Ballard Designs. I purchased the potted plant from Trader Joe’s and it’s sitting on a thrifted chinoiserie china plate.

I experimented with mums for the first time and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. When I bought them the buds were still tightly closed and for the last couple of weeks they’ve been in full bloom. Every weekend I plop them in a tub of water to soak for 30 minutes, then I reuse the water to fill watering cans.

The Anthro lanterns by the front door are filled with mini pinecones gathered from my yard (you can find similar here), and these pukta pods.

Front porch bench next to lantern and pumpkin.


Get the look ~



Our window boxes are one of my favorite things and the very first thing I bought for Snowberry’s renovation. They were also the last thing installed. Keeping them looking lush and thriving has been a huge challenge. First of all, they’re outside our fenced front yard and easy feasting for local deer. The next issue is uneven sun exposure. One window box gets more sun than the other and it effects plant growth quite a bit. Monica snapped these photos too.

Window boxes planted for fall with pumpkins and gourds.

Two weeks ago I replanted the window boxes to last through fall to Thanksgiving. I chose non-flowering plants in silvery hues. I’m hoping it’s less enticing to deer … and so far (fingers and toes crossed) so good. I also interspered the plants with mini pumpkins and gourds and the squirrels have left them alone … so far. These are some of the plants I used – centaurea gymnocarpa, artemisia, flowering cabbage, flowering kale, fistula and stachys.

window box planted for fall and decorated with pumpkins.

The window boxes were purchased from Amazon. They’re 4′ in length. They come in different sizes starting at 3′, so be sure to measure your windows. Jim drilled holes in the bottom of the boxes for drainage. We also have drip irrigation connected to each box. And we placed these decorative brackets underneath the boxes.

When it’s time to replant I may go faux with something like this or this as base plants, buried in the dirt. And experiment with adding real annuals for color, sprayed with deer repellent. I hate the spray though, it smells like fish. Uck. No wonder it repels deer, it repels me.


So there you have it, this weekend’s meanderings.

Let’s visit Kim and Elizabeth to see what’s they’re sharing.



Odds & Socks ~

Jim’s been in Healdsburg for a few days.

On a boondoggle.

I couldn’t go because of my back.

Yesterday, he was on the winning bocce team.

He’s very proud.

Team of four winning bocce tournament.

Driving and sitting are murder on my back.

But, I do plan to join the boondogglers for dinner tonight at Madrona Manor.

And, for those of you who asked,

here’s a picture of my Zeebee, mentioned a couple meanderings ago.

Stuffed zebra and cat in chair.

As you can see, Abigail has become very attached.

Oh, and that’s the chair I mentioned as well.

Zeebee and the chair are here to stay.

Earlier in the week I shared my friend’s amazing, over-the-top Halloween home tour here.

This long sleeve tee has been very popular on the blog.

I’ve been wearing it constantly in ivory and black.

It’s a great cool weather base layer.

And Happy Birthday to my grand-nephew, Beau, who turns six tomorrow!

Little boy sitting on rock with hands in air.


If you missed last weekend’s meanderings, you can catch up here.

And follow along for more fun on Instagram and Pinterest.

On Thursday I’m joining a fun group of bloggers for an Autumn Progressive Dinner.

Guess which course I’m hosting?!

Stay tuned.

As always, I appreciate your visit and welcome your thoughts in the comments below.

Cheers from Snowberry!


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  • Wow, that was so much information packed into one blog post! Thanks for sharing your experiences in Sonoma. Our daughter and I did a vineyard tour of Sonoma when we visited San Francisco in 2014. It was probably our favorite part of the trip. Also enjoyed hearing how you and Jim met. I’m sorry you had an epically bad week. Why does everything all happen at once like that? I hope things are going better for you now and also that your back continues to heal.

  • Reading your blog while enjoying my first morning cup of coffee, a very early cup of coffee, has become my favorite way to start Saturday morning! My family and my sister’s family took a weekend trip to Sonoma many years ago. We had six kids and both husbands in tow! So the only part of the trip I remembered was visiting the Buena Vista Winery and a shop that served ice cream! After reading about your wonderful trip this morning I think that a “do over visit” is in order. I love the look of your fall design at your front entry. I am inspired to add a couple of pots of mums around my front door for seasonal color. I hope that your back feels less cranky today! Now, with my coffee mug refilled, I’m off to visit Kim and Elizabeth!

  • Juliet,
    I am sorry that your week did not go as planned. I hope that you are feeling better soon!
    You captured the magic and delight of Sonoma. Luckily, I have been many times over the years and each time I revisit some old favorites and some new.
    This would make an excellent stand-alone post or mini-series on the blog. You could feature on restaurant, store, cheese shop, bakery, etc and give all of the details.
    Your grand-nephew is adorable! As is your sweet cat.
    The porch and windows boxes look beautiful and will carry you to Christmas!
    I loved the Ina interview, she is charming, real and a interesting lady. And Jeffery, so cute.
    Have a wonderful weekend, xo

  • Juliet, that was one information rich blog!
    I have spent many a day in Sonoma and your meanderings take me back to almost all the places you enjoyed. The Girl/Fig is a favorite and I don’t think there was anywhere you mentioned that we haven’t been. … lots of times. Vella Dry Jack!
    As always, thanks for the shout out on the Snowberry pillow. Your front entry area looks beautiful. So nice you will be able enjoy it for quite awhile.

  • What an absolutely lovely day in Sonoma you two had. Such fun spots to visit there! Love your ensemble too! Fall day-trip perfection!

  • Love the Sonoma tour. Noted and saved in case! Also the books about Napa! I do the website for Galavant Travels and she has an upcoming trip to Napa – I always do a section “Getting Ready for your trip” and list books and movies about the place! And I will list those, as well as put them on my list!
    Thanks !!!!! Hope your back is feeling better.
    ALSO!!! I love your window box planting. I think I might try a white/silver/green look in my pots next year. And center them with big white pumpkins. The deer will not eat pumpkins….and the squirrels will not eat little ones – so thanks for that idea. It’s highly optimistic, as the deer even eat my monkshood and lily of the valley which are both poisonous?! But I will try it! And I might also try mini boxwoods, like your idea of faux, because they WILL NOT eat that.
    Have a great week!! xo

    • Hi Gray, you know its funny how deer and squirrels behave differently in different parts of the country. I noticed that the two years we lived in Washington … Washington has very chill deer. Last year the squirrels took all my little pumpkins. It was a sight to see … kind of cute. And I needed up buying some minis just for them hoping they’d appreciate the gesture and leave my porch pumpkins alone. I’ll be a Galavant Travels excursus to Napa will be first class … what fun. These books will get people excited for the adventure. Although its typical of me to read the books after I’ve visited a place … and then need to go immediately back. Hope you have a great weekend and good luck with your plantings. xo

  • Juliet, Sonoma is our kind of place of more casual place and we rarely venture into Napa anymore. I really enjoyed reading this post and learning more about the history of Sonoma. I need a trip to the square. I have always wanted to go to the Girl & the Fig! It looks devine. We went to McArthur Place many times when our kids were small and would really enjoy the pool there too. We haven’t been back for a long time… and I need to get back. Question.. is this Jack cheese different from the Sonoma Jack they are always advertising up there? I have to say I am missing out and need to try this and the bakery and farm stand. Wow what a fun time that must have been living up there!I can see you managing the cheese and being HR and I’m sure you were fantastic. I’m saving all of this and the places to stay.
    The front patio looks great. I love the lanterns and the baskets and wish we had window boxes! Love these colors you choose. Clicking on the t-shirt now as I could use a few. Have fun tonight with Jim. He lives the life! Hope your back is feeling better soon. xo
    P.S. LOVED 60 Minutes and Ina. That whole episode was a must watch.

    • Kim, you definitely have the cool, casual, Sonoma chic vibe … and we should have a blog pow wow there sometime! Research! You’re thinking of the Sonoma Cheese Factory right on the plaza … although they closed recently, I think. Their cheese are still distributed nationwide, I believe. The Sonoma Jack is a softer cheese, milder cheese. Vella’s Dry Jack is a hard cheese and grates like a park. Sharp flavor … so good. MacArthur Place has been through a total overhaul recently and its even more fabulous than before … you and Max should do an overnight or weekend. When the spa is back in action, of course. That said, why wait, there are spas all over the place in Sonoma so put on your robe and pad across the street to the Lodge! Happy Saturday, I’ll be over to the blog soon to see what amazing things you’ve been up to! xo

  • Great post! We are in the Bay Area too and yet we never get to Sonoma downtown. My brother in law is a winemaker in Sonoma County so any time we make the trek it’s to Healdsburg and we never leave. Going to add the Plaza back in the mix!
    Just downloaded the Audible version of “Two Valleys”. Might even have some relatives in the book

    • Oh isn’t it fun when you find family and friends mention in a book?! I hope you enjoy it … let me know. And it’s more fun to have a wine maker in the family! Healdsburg has a wonderful town square too … but my how its expanded and grown. I can’t wait to head that way tonight. Happy weekend! xo

  • I think I have mentioned in past year posts Boyes Hot Springs was home to Juanita ‘s restaurant or was it Glen Ellen?That was a Favorite of my Moms years ago as was the cheese shop off the Square!
    Window boxes did you put sheet metal between box and home?They will eventually rot the house wall!So says the man who grew up in stone homes!!
    Your winery was a favorite of my parents too growing up in fact we had friends in Calistoga who sold their grapes to them.But that was way before your time!!
    Now about that SPA!!!!!
    Back I go to see if I can check in!
    We spent Thanks Giving at Sonoma Mission inn one year which was 1988!!!!

    • Contessa! I had no idea you were a Sonoma connoisseur. Why am I not surprised?! Yes, Juanita Juanita is in El Verano and still going strong. My first house in Sonoma was practically across the street. Their fajitas are my favorite. And the cheese shop … so charming. Christmas at at the Mission Inn must have been quite something … we need pictures of Contessa in all her glory swanning around the lobby. Love that tid bit about your Calistoga friends. Jim bought a painting for our library from an artist who sells her grapes to Buena Vista … back in my day and now. When was the last time you spent a proper day, or weekend, in Sonoma? I think it’s time! Please assure the Italian that the window boxes are NOT made of wood and won’t do any damage and they drain well in front of the shingles … so we should be fine, thank goodness. The deer and squirrels are another matter. Happy weekend … it’s getting chilly in the mornings. xo

  • What a super great post today Juliette! I was born in San Diego and have been back to CA a few times, but not recently. Thanks for taking us along on your day trip to Sonoma! So much to do and see and the weather looked marvelous! I can only imagine how interesting it would be working at Buena Vista. Would love to hear more.

    • Hi Janelle … San Diego is such a wonderful area. My parents met and married there. And I lived on Coronado from ages 2-3. Yes, my dad was in the Navy! Where do you live now?! xo

  • What a beautiful Sonoma outing you had! It is a wonderful place to visit, especially in the fall. My honey and I will have to take a drive over there soon.
    Your poor back, I’m so sorry. I’ve heard we women carry our internal stress in our back, so I think a spa day is very much in order for you! Ice and anti-inflammatories and keep moving (slowly). I hope you are feeling better very soon.
    My mom is going crazy with squirrels tearing up her yard, but your description of the squirrels making off with your mini pumpkins is just so funny!
    An autumn progressive dinner sounds like such fun! My guess is that you are doing the cocktail time with your now-famous mini charcuterie boards. I’m just so happy we’re finally having cooler fall weather here in the Bay Area.
    Have a wonderful week. I look forward to hearing all about it on Saturday’s now.

    • You guessed right, Janet … and the post is now up. I hope you’ll win us. Sonoma is especially beautiful in the fall and I hope you take a little day trip. My back is better, and you’re right about the stress. Squirrel! They’re so cute but get up to a little trouble … I guess they can’t help themselves with all the temptations we have in our gardens. Thanks for your lovely comment and I hope to see you again on Saturday! xo

  • Your Fall porch looks great and I love the “less is more” approach. Mine started off cute but the deer ate my mums and I think squirrels attacked my pumpkins. I’ll zhoosh it up after Halloween. I enjoyed reading about your day in Sonoma, especially through the eyes of a former local.

    • Hi Jane … I wondered if deer like mums. I thought they might be like marigolds and repel everything. It’s a mystery why the squirrels aren’t making off with our pumpkins. Last year they were all over them. Hmmmm …. xo

  • Loved all the information about Sonoma!!! I love it there. Your fall decor is so pretty. I just adore your home. And those window boxes – I need a whole bunch of those. Hope your back gets better soon!

    • Thanks so much, Crystal! These window boxes are relatively expensive and easy to install … I think you should have window boxes!!! My back gets better each day … I appreciate your kinds words. xo

  • Juliet, we haven’t been to Sonoma in years, but this sure makes me want to book a trip! Vella cheese, I’m so curious.
    I hope your back is getting better. Have you tried acupuncture?

  • My husbands company had a small office in Sonoma- and we used to go their for some different business outings I have always loved it there. Your lunch at the Girl and the Fig looks amazing!! It sure makes me miss the Bay Area!! Your window boxes look perfect!! The silvery foliage is just the right touch!!

    • Sonoma is the best … I have to remind myself it’s easy to visit since I don’t have a real reason to go much anymore. Our window boxes are doing surprisingly well … I guess green was the answer. Both boxes seem to be thriving at the same rate and the deer and squirrels are uninterested (thus far). Thanks for stopping by, Martha! xo

  • Juliet… This is my first time reading make mine a spritzer. The name caught my interest after being reacquainted with spritzers while in France and Italy this summer. I LOVE the information I read today on your web-site. I have a lot of catching up to do. You have covered all things I am interested in. Thank you!!! I live in Arroyo Grande CA so your CA adventures are familiar to me, what fun. I don’t what city you live in but I hope you are familiar with the central coast from Paso Robles to Arroyo Grande. Talk about great wine, restaurants and beautiful adventures. Now, back I go to to learning more about you. Nancy

    • Hello Nancy and welcome! I’m thrilled you found me … sounds like we have a lot in common. I love the Paso area and would love to explore more. I live in Orinda and have spent the majority of my life in this area with a 14 year stint in Sonoma County. Love that you spent time in France and Italy over the summer … how fabulous is that?! Kim, Elizabeth and I do a round-up post every Saturday so I hope you’ll subscribe so it slides right into your in-box. So excited you’re here! xo

  • Hi, I’m Juliet … welcome to Make Mine a Spritzer where we talk about all things home décor, classic style and more! I’m so happy you’re here!

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