Sonoma
Napa’s neighbor is also becoming an increasingly popular meetings destination, particularly for groups across the U.S. as well as regionally in Northern California, according to Paula Johnson, director of group sales for Sonoma County Tourism. She says the rise is due to the organization’s great team in Chicago, Orange County, Texas and Washington, D.C.

“Sonoma County Tourism celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, and the sales team has been instrumental in nurturing relationships with decision-makers and encouraging them to book programs in Sonoma County,” she says, adding that two incentive programs are in place on Sonoma County Tourism’s website to further motivate planners.

Friendliness and variety are key selling points of Sonoma, according to Johnson.

“Sonoma County is one of the most diverse and welcoming meetings destinations in the U.S.,” she says, pointing to its vineyards, farms, redwood forests, meandering rivers, culinary offerings, beautiful venues and fun activities.

It’s a destination that boasts inland valleys and coastal stretches, with charming towns and culinary hubs that include longtime favorites such as Sonoma, with its historic square and mission, and Glen Ellen, as well as Healdsburg and Sebastopol, both blooming with fresh finds. Sebastopol’s The Barlow, an inviting multiblock enclave of restaurants, bars, tasting rooms, artisan shops and galleries, has become a center of social life. Meanwhile, Petaluma, featuring the new Griffo Distillery, and Santa Rosa, home to the Charles M. Schulz Museum, are culturally rich small communities, and the hamlet of Bodega Bay has long been a prime waterfront escape.

The region offers a variety of meetings-friendly properties.

Inland options include Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa; The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa; Vintners Inn, which recently finished a $1 million “green” renovation; Sheraton Sonoma County Petaluma, which recently wrapped up a $3 million renovation; Flamingo Conference Resort, also recently renovated; and Fountaingrove Inn Hotel & Conference Center.

On the coast, the lineup features Bodega Bay Lodge & Spa, which redesigned its landscaping and has a new infinity-edge spa, fire pit and bocce ball court overlooking the bay and headlands; Inn at the Tides; and Sea Ranch Lodge.

Johnson says unique culinary experiences are particularly hot among groups nowadays in Sonoma.

“Most groups booking in Sonoma County are looking for authentic local experiences. Food and wine pairing and enjoying fresh local products are a way of life in Wine Country, and Sonoma County offers an abundance of group options.”

Examples include culinary teambuilding programs at Relish Culinary School; cheese-making classes and pairings through local cheese producer Sheana Davis of The Epicurean Connection; wine and food pairing programs at St. Francis Winery, Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens and Chalk Hill Estate; winemaker dinners in wine caves at Benzinger Family Winery, Kunde Family Winery, Thomas George and Deerfield Ranch Winery; and dinners in barrel rooms at Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Cline Cellars, Viansa and Martin Ray Winery.

Meanwhile, the Sonoma County coastal region is a magnet for exhilarating adventures such as ziplining with Sonoma Canopy Tours and buffalo viewing at Safari West.