Sonoma or Sonoma Valley, what’s the difference


Written by:

Joe Becerra

Last updated:

what is sonoma wine country
what is sonoma wine country
Santa Rosa is to the north, the town of Sonoma is to the south. Both are in Sonoma County

This very confusing for wine country travelers.  We recently met a couple in a tasting room on Westside Road in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. They mentioned they were staying in a B&B in the town of Sonoma. When they decided to visit this tasting room from their B&B, they had no idea that it was an hour’s drive away. When people say Sonoma wine country, what does that mean: Sonoma, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County, and what’s the difference? Let’s clear up where is Sonoma wine country.

Where is Sonoma Wine Country?

Let’s start from the largest to the smallest of Sonomas

The County of Sonoma

Sonoma County is a large geographic area, almost double the size of Napa County. The southern portion of Sonoma County begins at the San Pablo Bay near Highway 37. To the north, Sonoma County stretches to the town of Cloverdale. From Highway 37 to Cloverdale (south to north), the distance is about 60 miles. The County stretches west to the Pacific Ocean and east to the Mayacamas Mountains and the town of Sonoma. There are several distinct geologic areas of Sonoma County. On the west side of Sonoma County, the Pacific Ocean means very cool temperatures, wind, and fog. On the east side of Sonoma County to the south, you have warm temperatures in the Sonoma Valley formed by the Mayacamas Mountains on the east side of the Valley and the Sonoma Mountains on the west side of the Valley. Along the San Pablo Bay, we have the cooling temperatures. The wine region here is the Carneros area of Sonoma County. To the north, it is the influence of the Russian River. The Russian River begins in Mendocino County to Healdsburg, and then west to empty into the Pacific Ocean at Jenner. In addition to the famous Sonoma Valley, other famous valleys in Sonoma County are the Dry Creek Valley, the Alexander Valley, and Russian River Valley.

Sonoma wine country
Dry Creek Valley, one of several valleys in Sonoma County

Sonoma Wine Country

Let’s keep this simple: Any winery or tasting room that operates within the boundaries of Sonoma County is in Sonoma wine country. There is a Sonoma wine country association that lists all its winery members. SonomaWine.com

Sonoma Valley

Sonoma Valley is a small valley in Sonoma County that runs along Highway 12. On the east side are the Mayacamas Mountains. On the other side of the Mayacamas Mountains is the Napa Valley. There are many beautiful wineries to visit along Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley. Sonoma Valley is 15 miles long and includes the wine towns of Glen Ellen and Kenwood.

sonoma or sonoma valley
View of the Sonoma Valley looking to the west.

The town of Sonoma

The town of Sonoma is historic. It is famous for the Mission San Francisco Solano (21st Mission), the Sonoma Plaza, and three of the oldest wineries in California. Some wine historians claim that the city of Sonoma is where the California wine industry began. In the city of Sonoma there are numerous excellent restaurants and accommodations.

Sonoma wine country or Sonoma Valley
Sonoma City Hall on the Plaza

How to travel the Sonoma Wine Country

We treat the Sonoma wine country as two distinct wine venues: 1. Sonoma Valley and the town of Sonoma. 2. Healdsburg and the Russian River wine area. Within each of those, there are several wine routes that we suggest so you can get the most fun from your wine country vacation. We suggest that you try not to do both of these areas unless you’re taking an entire week to travel. If you only have two days, you could quickly visit each area for a day.  Ideally, you should take a separate vacation to each of these two fantastic wine regions.

healdsburg tasting rooms
This is the Healdsburg Plaza. Around and nearby the Plaza are several wine tasting rooms

Sonoma Wine Region Map

  • Joe Becerra

    Joe Becerra has been traveling to wine country and enjoying wine since 1965. He is a retired educator, and now have the time the opportunity to share his wine travel experiences through this Website.