Date: May 28, 2012.
On the last day of our Memorial day trip, we headed to the city of Sonoma. This area is known for its wineries, and also has a lot of historical significance for California as a birthplace of its flag.
Sonoma City Center
We zoomed by the wineries (for some reason, nobody wanted to stop, despite the gorgeous views), and headed straight for the center of the city. The central part of Sonoma turned out to be a large park, with most of the interesting sights and lots of small cafes and shops clustered around. It was fun to explore the small alleyways, which led to wonderful small shady courtyards, sometimes with beautiful trickling fountains hiding at the end.
I have to admit, a lot of the stores and restaurants had a definite “touristy” feel about them. However, the overall impression of the place was still very positive – it’s so rare to see a nice pedestrian-friendly area in US, that you really have to appreciate one when you find it
Sonoma State Historic Park
The next destination was Sonoma State Historic Park. The park consists of several sections. The section next to the City Center has several historic buildings, including Mission San Francisco Solano (you’d think that a building with this name would be located in the city of San Francisco, no?), Sonoma Barracks, and Toscano Hotel. The Mission was a little underwhelming inside (it had a museum which mostly consisted of paintings and photographs of various Missions across California), but the exterior was quite lovely, especially the little arch with a bell.
The barracks had just a couple of rooms with interpretive panels explaining the early history of the settlement and the reasons why a military outpost was built there by the Mexicans. We were very surprised to learn that the barracks of Sonoma were established because of (!)the Russians! Apparently, the Mexicans were feeling threatened by the Russian expansion at nearby Fort Ross, and, as a result, established military presence in Sonoma.
Toscano Hotel had several rooms displaying period furnishings of an inexpensive hotel from the turn of 20th century. We were given a tour of the building by a very nice elderly lady (I think she was at least 70 years old). She must have had a first hand experience with some of the artifacts on display, since a couple of times we got the “Back in our days, when we didn’t have iPhones and electricity” talk.
Our last stop of the day was at General Vallejo’s residence, which was in a different location from the other buildings, but, fortunately, could be visited using the same admission ticket. The general’s home (with a fancy name “Lachryma Montis”) had more of the odds and ends of the bygone era on display. By this time, we’ve seen enough of that, so we zoomed through the exhibit rooms and spent more time in the nice gardens around the house.