History Buffs, Wine Lovers Can Discover Sonoma's Charms

SONOMA -- History, scenery, entertainment and tranquility abound throughout Sonoma County.

The history starts within the boundaries of the city of Sonoma, itself -- great dollops of it within a few-block downtown area.

Foremost among the historical structures is the Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma, the 21st -- and last -- of the chain of missions started by Rev. Junipero Serra. It marks the end of the "King's Highway" or El Camino Real, as it was originally named. Commonly known as the Sonoma Mission, the structure was dedicated in 1824. Tours of the site are available daily.

Another site of interest to visitors, especially history buffs, is the former home of Gen. Mariano Vallejo, the commandant of the Sonoma garrison under Mexican rule. His 20-acre estate, known as Lachryma Montis (Latin for "Tears of the Mountain"), was built in 1851 -- after the U.S. had taken control of the area from the Mexicans. Vallejo then served with some distinction as an officer within the U.S. administration.

His two-story, Yankee-style home is open to the public for a nominal charge. It became a state historical monument in 1933.

An often overlooked period of California history is recalled in the northeast corner of the city center plaza, where the Bear Flag was raised in 1846, proclaiming California an independent republic, free of Mexican domination.

The revolutionary exercise was conducted with Vallejo's connivance and approval. The "independence" was short-lived; 25 days after the flag went up, a naval gunboat captured the Mexican regional capital at Monterey and claimed all of California in the name of the U.S.

The revolutionaries -- all Americans in search of breathing space -- voluntarily relinquished the republic they founded without a shot being fired, and joined the U.S. side.

Visitors in search of the wonderful wineries of the Sonoma Valley -- Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Sebastiani, Buena Vista Carneros and at least two dozen more -- would be well advised to stop in the Sonoma Plaza for a while beforehand.

Many of the wineries offer guided tours; others have public-access spaces, where visitors can enjoy picnics and games after touring the premises.

Hot-air ballooning in the skies over the vineyards, boating and fishing, golf and more are available throughout the county.

For more information about the area and for sales aids, contact either of the following two organizations.

Sonoma County Convention and Visitors Bureau
Address: 5000 Roberts Lake Road, Suite A, Rohnert Park, 94928
Phone: (800) 326-7666 or (707) 586-8100

Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau
Address: 453 First St. East, Sonoma, 95476
Phone: (707) 996-1090

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