Literary City Guide | Sonoma, CA
Tour Guide: Ligeia Polidora
Relationship to Sonoma: A long-time visitor, my husband and I were looking for land to build our dream home and we found it here amidst the Mediterranean climate and endless natural beauty.
Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Jane Smiley
Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Nick Demarest of Harvest Moon Cafe.
Writing soundtrack: Unless I'm writing something very emotional and need more inspiration than acuity, I don't listen to music as I write.
Pen or Pencil: Pen
Coffee or Tea: Coffee. Black with sugar. Cappuccino if in Italy.
Paperback or Hardback: Hardback
Readers' Books. Founded in 1991, this is Sonoma's last bookstore and luckily, has always been its best. Located just off the Plaza, the store's staff is enormously helpful, friendly, knowledgeable, and are all voracious readers. A community gathering spot, look for weekly author readings, musical and random talent acts, and book club meetings.
Copperfield's Books. With seven stores located throughout the North Bay, Copperfield's Books is a small, independent chain. Located in small towns surrounding Sonoma (Calistoga, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Napa, Petaluma, San Rafael and Sebastapol), each location offers author readings for kids and adults, and book discussion groups. The Petaluma and Napa locations have huge graphic novel and children's sections.
Levin & Company. This is an independent and locally owned bookstore, situated on Healdsburg's idyllic town square. The shop is very casual, and boasts a great selection of books on the Wine Country. Check out the second floor for a nice selection of local art, at the Upstairs Art Gallery.
Sonoma Valley Regional Library. This library was recently renovated and offers a surprisingly wide range of events including several monthly book discussion groups, author readings, toddler and pre-school story times, gardening and computer classes, and used book sales.
Healdsburg Regional Library. You'll find a special collection of 5,000 books on wine and related topics at this library. The collection includes a huge collection of images illustrating Sonoma County's wine industry from the 1870's to the 1990s.
Petaluma Regional Library. Like the Sonoma Valley Regional and Healdsburg Regional, Petaluma is one of the 13 branches of the Sonoma County Library system.
READINGS & CONFERENCES
Sonoma State University. Located in Rhonert Park, Sonoma State hosts an annual literary reading series, "Writers at Sonoma." These events bring writers from all over the world to campus for readings that are free and open to the public.
Corkscrew Wine Bar. "Get Lit" is an author reading series on the fourth Wednesday of the month. These free, 21+ events appreciate tips to pay for the readers' travel expenses.
Book Discussion Groups. Sonoma Reads and Mostly Mystery are book discussion groups hosted by the Sonoma Valley Regional Library. In addition, the city's retired librarian hosts a salon-style reading of a contemporary poet at "Last Wednesday's Poet," at 6 p.m. on the last Wednesday of every month. Led by two Jack London scholars, the Jack London Book Discussion group explores books by and about Jack London's life.
Petaluma Historical Library and Museum. This museum houses exhibits and a collection of books and files on local area history. These resources include the Vallejo land grant, and books on the Miwok Indians, and the poultry and dairy industries. Built in 1904 with Carnegie funds, the library was built using locally quarried stone and is a neo-classical gem. Costumed docents lead historic walking tours most Saturdays May through October.
Jack London State Historic Park. A bit off the beaten path, but the Jack London State Historic Park is a must-see. In 1905, London purchased 130 acres of land outside of Sonoma in Glen Ellen with the aim of building a home to relax and write. He began buying up neighboring property and by 1913, his property had expanded to 1,400 acres and included a farm. Today, the park has 26 miles of hiking, horseback and cycling trails, and a museum about London's extraordinary life and work.
Mission San Francisco Solano. Founded in 1823 and the northernmost of the Spanish missions in California, Mission San Francisco Solano is located on northeast corner of Sonoma's plaza. Built by the Mexican government in an effort to halt Russia's effort to control what was then called Alta California. The rustic Mission is one of a series of historic buildings telling the story of early California.
Sunflower Cafe. Once again, the Sunflower Cafe tops my list for great coffee, breakfast and lunch. My mainstays are a latte and a light and airy Belgian waffle for breakfast, or the Tropical Shrimp and Avocado salad for lunch.
Basque Boulangerie Cafe. Stop by the Basque Boulangerie Cafe for lovely fresh-baked bread and pastries to accompany your coffee. Located on the historic square, this spot opened 20 years ago and they've been winning awards for their baked items ever since.
The Epicurian Connection. Located 1/2 a block off Sonoma's square, The Epicurean Connection specializes in cheeses from around the world, but has an extraordinary lunch menu as well. Everything is wonderful, but their crepes are really special. Evenings often include live music, and they serve a great selection of wines and beers with a big emphasis on local.
Acre Coffee. Acre Coffee is a great little coffee shop in Petaluma that pours extraordinary coffee. They purchase coffee from small farms and take great pride in roasting it. They also sell the best cookies I've ever had. The chocolate chip with sea salt or the oatmeal toffee chocolate chip are my faves.
Downtown Bakery & Creamery. If you are jonesing for coffee in Healdsburg, head for the Downtown Bakery & Creamery. Located on the Plaza, the Bakery pours mr. espresso of Oakland's artisanal coffee, and bakes an astonishing array of fantastic breads and pastries. Be sure to check out their frozen bake-at-home batters, doughs and mixes if you want to look like a genius. They've been heralded by everyone, including the New York Times, Patricia Unterman, Zagat, and Yelp to name a few. Stop in and decide for yourself.
A PROPER MEAL
Harvest Moon Cafe. My absolute favorite restaurant is Harvest Moon Cafe. We eat there regularly because the menu changes nearly daily and the food is out of this world. The California-Mediterranean menu features unexpected and innovative salads, a new hand-made pasta nearly every day along with fish and meat options. Be sure to save room for their bittersweet chocolate pot de creme.
La Salette. Portuguese cuisine is featured at La Salette Restaurant in Sonoma. Sit out on the lovely patio in the summer, or nab a spot at the cozy bar in front of the wood-fired oven if it's cold outside. They offer freshly baked potato rolls with every meal that are unforgettable. The menu is heavy on meat, but I usually select either the pacific wild caught blue nose Sea Bass or the Bacalhau no Forno, a traditional casserole of salt cod.
Cafe La Haye. The most highly rated restaurant in Sonoma is Cafe La Haye. Located just off the Plaza, it is a small, simple and sophisticated spot that usually requires reservations. I love the smoked trout crepes as an appetizer, and entrees always include a risotto and a pasta, both of which are usually fabulous. The place has an intimate, romantic vibe.
Ravenous Cafe & Lounge. Not the fanciest option for lunch or dinner in Healdsburg, but definitely the coolest, Ravenous Cafe & Lounge is a very tiny little spot. I love the pasta with tomato sauce and seafood, and my husband cannot pass up the burger.
Petaluma's Central Market. This spot can be noisy, but the food and experience is well worth it. Go early and sit at the bar where they have half-price wine and oysters (5 - 6 pm, Sunday through Thursday). Their brick oven pizzas are to die for, and their wine list is extensive. The restaurant is housed in a 1918 building right in downtown Petaluma. Much of what's on the menu is raised at the owner's farm located in Petaluma.
Crisp Bake Shop. A relative newcomer in Sonoma, but Crisp Bake Shop already has a loyal following. It is a small shop about a mile off the Square but it offers outstanding treats made with organic and sustainable locally sourced ingredients. Try their Black Cocoa sandwich cookies with vanilla bean cream filling, or their Peanut Butter and Chocolate Nutella Blossom cookies.
Scandia Bakery. Have you ever had a princess cake? A traditional Swedish cake with alternating layers of light sponge cake, raspberry jam, pastry cream, whipped cream, all encased with a molded pink or green marzipan overlay. Scandia Bakery specializes in these delights, along with many other treats.
Lala's Creamery. This old-fashioned ice cream parlor in Petaluma is the kind of place I grew up with as a kid. Sodas and sundaes are made with hand made ice cream and the decor is vintage.
Ligeia's 5 Favorites
Favorite view: Sonoma's City Hall is a an iconic two-story Mission Revival building located in the middle of the town's 8-acre plaza. It signifies home to me.
Favorite place to write: My office, which is located on the second floor of our home and overlooks our small vineyard and the Mayacama hills that shape the Valley of the Moon.
Favorite museum: The Toscano Hotel is located on the Square and was built in the 1850s as a retail shop, library and home. It was later converted into a hotel, with a kitchen and dining room located in a separate building behind the main hotel. Docents dressed in period costume offer visitors guided tours on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 1 - 4 p.m.
Favorite coffee shop: You absolutely cannot find a better latte in town than the one offered at Sunflower Cafe. Located right on the square, this sweet spot offers dog-friendly seating on the front sidewalk, quiet indoor seating, and a sunny outdoor patio in back.
Favorite thing about Sonoma: We live one mile from the center of town, yet teams of Clydesdale horses owned by a local family who have been breeding and showing for five generations, practice pulling their wagons down our street and around town.