Jeanne Allen runs the website IncredibleAccessible.com, where she frequently writes about accessibility in the Sonoma, California area. Jeanne has also listed her house on Accomable right here if you’re interested in staying in beautiful Sonoma. Read all about Sonoma below…
Sonoma, CA, the epitome of California Wine Country, is a popular day-trip from San Francisco just 45 miles away. But for a more relaxing vacation make Sonoma your home base, with numerous day-trip opportunities throughout the adjoining counties of Sonoma, Napa, Marin, and yes even San Francisco. You could spend a lifetime here and not see it all.
The historic town of Sonoma, located at the southern tip of Sonoma Valley, is an idyllic, accessible year round destination, with a Mediterranean climate rarely below freezing. With over 400 wineries in Sonoma County a goodly number are nestled into this gorgeous 17 mile valley where a 2 lane country road wanders by mountain vistas, rolling vineyards, and charming wineries, making it ideal for wine drinkers and non-wine drinkers alike.
The town of Sonoma is small and friendly with a population less than 11,000. The historic Sonoma Plaza, an 8 acre park in the center of town, is the heart and soul of the community, with the stately 1908 City Hall as it’s centerpiece. Bordered by mountains, the valley floor is flat, making a walk/roll around Sonoma’s plaza with it’s renowned restaurants and one-of-a-kind quaint shops easily wheelchair accessible. This inviting plaza is surrounded by 19th Century adobe buildings converted to shops and restaurants, numerous wine tasting rooms, the Italian Renaissance style Sebastiani Theater, hidden courtyards, and the Mission San Francisco Solano. The vast majority of wineries, shops, and restaurants have been renovated or built new for accessibility.
At the northern end of Sonoma Valley is Jack London State Park, encompassing 1400 acres of stunning vistas and historic buildings including the cottage where Jack London wrote and died. Jack London State Park is also home to “Broadway Under the Stars” where Broadway performers sing and dance in 4 different shows in Jack London’s winery ruins from June to September.
Other accessible activities abound in this little slice of paradise including a year-round farmer’s market, the Sonoma International Film Festival in April and the Olive Festival in February. Chuck Williams original Williams Sonoma store is walkable/rollable from the Plaza. Ramekins Culinary School offers demonstration cooking classes in a rammed earth event center. For race fans Sonoma Raceway hosts NASCAR and other major races. A 1.2 mile paved, ADA trail winds through the valley oaks at Sonoma Valley Regional Park.
Day trips from Sonoma are numerous. Sonoma County stretches from the town of Sonoma to the Pacific Ocean with it’s rugged coastline and sandy beaches, encompassing almost 60,000 acres of vineyards as well as redwood forests, the Russian River, and wineries both grand and simple.
There are some incredible activities in Sonoma County that are wheelchair accessible:
- Up & Away Ballooning in Windsor- the first hot air balloon company to offer wheelchair accessible balloon flights in the United States
- Safari West in Santa Rosa- a 400 acre animal preserve including giraffes, zebras, and exotic birds, all viewable from an accessible safari vehicle
- Fort Ross State Historic Park- a Russian Fort from the 1820’s on the Pacific Coast, with recent ADA upgrades to be fully accessible
- A beach wheelchair at Wright’s Beach in the Sonoma Coast State Park at Bodega Bay
- Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve- accessible trails in this 805 acre redwood tree preserve
Day trips the other direction take you to the world renowned Napa Valley where there are yet another 400 wineries to be explored. This 30 mile valley starts in Napa and ends in Calistoga, with stops in the charming and walkable/rollable towns of Yountville and St Helena. Yountville is known for it’s restaurants, most especially The French Laundry, a 3 star Michelin restaurant.
There are many similarities between Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County, and Napa Valley and yet enough differences that it is quite worthwhile to visit all three. Napa Valley is known for being a little more sophisticated and sleek; Sonoma Valley/Sonoma County are known for being a little more laid back and rustic.
The Napa Valley has some incredible activities that are wheelchair accessible:
- Napa Valley Wine Train- an antique train that travels the valley for a special lunch or dinner experience with a lift for wheelchair access
- Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park- a restored 1800’s grist mill north of St Helena where millers grind grain even today
- Napa Valley Film Festival in November with accessible venues in Napa, Yountville, St Helena, and Calistoga
- Napa Riverfront- with shops, restaurants, and entertainment lining the river
- Oxbow Public Market- a local gathering place in Napa for great food and wine
Day trips to Marin are equally diverse as well as accessible. Located mid-point between Sonoma and San Francisco, Marin stretches from the San Francisco Bay with the waterfront towns of Tiburon and Sausalito, to the Pacific Ocean with Stinson Beach and Point Reyes National Seashore.
Marin offers yet another lineup of wheelchair accessible activities:
- Angel Island State Park- spectacular views of San Francisco via a ferryboat ride from Tiburon and an accessible Angel Island tram tour
- beach wheelchairs at Stinson Beach, Rodeo Beach, and Muir Beach in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area
- Mount Tamalpais State Park- the highest point in Marin County with accessible trails to 360 degree views of the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean
- Mountain Play on Mt. Tam- magical live performances of Broadway musicals high atop the mountain from May to June in a natural stone amphitheater
- Point Reyes National Seashore- rocky coastline and sandy beaches on the Pacific Ocean with whale watching from the Point Reyes Lighthouse
- Muir Woods National Monument- perhaps the most famous of America’s redwood forests
If you still have time available a day-trip to San Francisco is very realistic. The hills of San Francisco are legendary and might cause concern for someone using a wheelchair, but there’s nothing to fear. Whereas you might not be able to roll up Filbert Street (32 degrees!) there are plenty of attractions that are accessible. And with your automatic transmission car you can enjoy the sights of those steep streets!
Here are just a few of San Francisco’s numerous accessible activities:
- Alcatraz Island- infamous former federal prison accessible via ferryboat from Pier 33
- Golden Gate Park- over 1000 acres of gardens, lakes, trails, vistas, and monuments
- Golden Gate Bridge- legendary bridge at the entrance to the San Francisco Bay with scenic overlooks and a walk/roll onto the pedestrian span
- Historic streetcars from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Ferry Building- ramped wayside platforms making them accessible
- Union Square- iconic plaza shopping district of San Francisco
Sonoma really is a perfect destination for a holiday. Come and savor the local lifestyle or take advantage of the close proximity to neighboring options.
By Jeanne Allen
If you’re planning your next holiday, why not visit our new travel site, Accomable, to find accessible accommodation not just in the UK, but across the world.