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by Erika Lenkert



The Best of Budget Sonoma


In many ways Sonoma Valley is the perfect pastoral getaway—especially for travelers on a budget. Anchored by its center square and surrounded by tiny towns and pristine hillsides, it boasts hidden wineries, sweet hotels and B&Bs, relaxed country restaurants, and fantastic historic sites—all of which come with hospitable price tags rarely found in glitzier neighboring Napa Valley. Better still, Sonoma's destinations are dispersed throughout the mountainous region, so seeking out its treasures is an adventure in itself, complete with beautiful winding drives, vine-trellised landscapes, and plenty of ways to feel indulgent without sharing the sentiment with your pocketbook. Head to any of these corner-cutting attractions and you might feel justified in buying an extra case of superb Sonoma vino for the road.

One of the area's most beloved freebies is downtown's grassy patch known as Sonoma Square. Surrounded by shops, restaurants, and inns, it's a fantastic place to people watch, especially if you partake in the local tradition of grabbing a strong cup of joe and a pastry from Basque Boulangerie Café (460 1st St., E., Sonoma, 707-935-7687) and savoring them from a park bench. While you're here, brush up on your history by plunking down $2 to visit the Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma (1st St., E and Spain St., 707-938-9560) across the street from the square. The 1823 structure is the northernmost and last of the famed missions built in California. Should the structure and its vibrant history pique your interest, you can throw down $3 for the self-guided Sonoma Walking Tour map, available at the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau (453 1st St., E, Sonoma, 707-996-1090, www.sonomavalley.com) or check out the illustrious Jack London State Historic Park (2400 London Ranch Rd., Glen Ellen, 707-938-5216). Located a scenic 20-minute drive north from the square in the exceedingly charming country town of Glen Ellen, it features more than 800 acres of pastoral play alongside the famous bygone author's burned-down house and a museum. Pack the car with pals because the entry fee is $6 per vehicle.

If your ideal hotel room is clean, well-equipped, and located in the center of the action, you can't go wrong with the Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn (550 2nd St. W., Sonoma, 707-938-9200, www.sonomavalleyinn.com). But you can find budget rural respite, too. One of my all time favorite places to stay regardless of the budget is the very affordable Beltane Ranch (11775 Sonoma Hwy., Glen Ellen, 707-996-6501, www.beltaneranch.com), a two-level century-old manor surrounded by verandahs, gardens, hammocks, and hiking trails. It's not posh, but it is B&B heaven. Start the day nearby at Garden Court Café & Bakery (13647 Arnold Dr., Glen Ellen, 707-935-1565, www.gardencourtcafe.com), which served a variety of Benedicts, eggs, pancakes, and every other rib-gripping morning special. For dinner The Fig Café & Wine Bar (13690 Arnold Dr., Glen Ellen, 707-938-2130, www.thefigcafe.com) serves up a delicious taste of Sonoma flavor without taking a big bite out of your funds. Along with tasty pizzas, salads, and rustic entrees, is another bonus: No fee for bringing and enjoying your own bottle of wine.