Robust central green provides shade, history, and sage advice.
Coast redwoods, London plane trees, several types of oaks, and more than two dozen other tree species shade the town of Sonoma’s robust central green. With picnic tables, duck ponds, and two playgrounds, Sonoma Plaza attracts plenty of local and tourist families. You’ll also find birders scouring the trees and buildings for everything from hummingbirds and goldfinches to great blue herons and red-tailed hawks. On any day of the week, Sonoma Plaza, which also holds an amphitheater, Sonoma City Hall (1908; lead photo), and the Old Carnegie Library (1913), is apt to be humming.
John A. MacQuarrie (1871–1944) sculpted the bronze Bear Flag Monument in the plaza’s northeast corner. The statue commemorates the 1846 skirmish during which some American settlers proclaimed California the Bear Flag Republic and took prisoner General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, the highest-ranking Mexican official. The republic lasted only a few weeks, ending when U.S. troops occupied California, which became a state two years later. A bronze sculpture of Vallejo sitting on bench lies a few hundred feet west. Sculpted by Jim Callahan, a local artist, the piece was dedicated in 2017.
Just northeast of Sonoma Plaza is Mission San Francisco Solano, aka Sonoma Mission. Erected in the mid-1820s, the mission was the last and northernmost of the 21 California missions established by Spanish Franciscan friars and the only one built after Mexico received its independence from Spain. The mission is part of Sonoma State Historic Park, which includes a few other nearby significant sites and Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park. For a mere $3 (same-day admission), history buffs can while away a pleasant afternoon checking out all of them. The Blue Wing Inn, which can only be viewed from outside, sits across from the mission; decaying and long abandoned, the inn was built as a guest house in the 1840s and served as a gambling parlor in that and the following decade. Note: as of mid-2020, all Sonoma State Historic Park buildings were closed to visitors.
The plaza provides a respite from the whirl of shopping, dining, and wine tasting that takes place in its vicinity. The old library is home to the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, whose particularly helpful staffers dispense maps, brochures, discount wine-tasting coupons, and sage advice. (Hours have been curtailed because of Covid-19 concerns, but contactless information is still available.) A page on the bureau’s website contains a brief history of the Sonoma Valley.
Three wine-tasting rooms just off the plaza appear in Sonoma Pinot Noir Day Trip.
This story originally appeared online in 2017; it was fact-checked and updated in mid-2020.