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Signature Sonoma

The quiet town of Sonoma has been the perfect getaway for San Francisco–based interior designer Ann Jones since she purchased her farmhouse there more than a decade ago. On a recent wintry day, she took us on a tour of her adopted town—sharing with us some of her favorite spots to shop, eat, view art, and just plain hang out.

Photography by Frankie Frankeny

“It was a falling-down dump with a toilet upside down on the roof to keep out the rain, and it was surrounded by garbage,” says San Francisco interior designer Ann Jones of the Sonoma farmhouse she bought in 1994. Undaunted, she has spent the past dozen years turning the place into an inviting weekend home marked by Jones's signature blend of comfort and whimsy. She found the two cupolas that stand on the lawn at an antiques market in Brimfield, Massachusetts. The Vuitton trunk with the old travel stickers came from the Cow Palace flea market in San Francisco, the arrow collection from Gold Country, and the angular green vases from “all over.”

It's a comfortable, casual setting for peaceful weekends of bicycling, reading, and visits to the farmers market or local flea markets—a welcome respite from the acclaimed designer's busy schedule refurbishing houses and apartments.

The first place Jones wanted to take us was just off Sonoma's historic plaza. The designer pulled into a parking place in front of Chateau Sonoma, a spacious shop filled with antiques and artifacts lovingly culled from the French countryside. It's the place to find a man-size model of the Eiffel Tower, a lacy birdcage, or a 19th-century brass crown, among other things you didn’t know you needed.

Marching briskly around the plaza, Jones next ushered us into the children’s store Half-Pint, commenting, “Every little girl needs a pair of sequined Mary Janes, and you can always get them here.”

For lunch, we stopped at another favorite haunt, Café La Haye, where the owners greeted Jones with hugs. The tiny restaurant looks casual but boasts one of the most impressive wine lists in the area, highlighting hard-to-find vintages from small California wineries. Next, we headed down East Napa Street to visit the LaHaye Art Center, a labyrinth of studios. This grassroots center is both a place to buy art and an opportunity to watch artists at work.

On nearby Broadway, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art occupies a handsome building with spacious galleries displaying rotating exhibits. Jones loves outsider art, so she was delighted on that day to find an exhibition of colorful paintings by mentally disabled Bay Area artists. Upcoming exhibits at the museum include Francisco Goya: Los Caprichos, a collection of influential etchings by Spanish artist Francisco de Goya y Lucientes.

Jones bought her American flag from a shop not far from the museum, the Flag Emporium, where the array of official insignia ranges from tiny toothpick flags to a huge example of the Bear Flag that once flew over Sonoma. If your interest is purely decorative, check out Bhutan’s handsome dragon or the sunrise and ocean waves on the flag of Kiribati, a country of scattered Pacific atolls.

Then we were back in the car again, driving through the fields just west of town, and up a stately allée of oak trees leading to the former home of General Mariano Vallejo, commander general of the Mexican state of Alta California and founder of the town of Sonoma. After California joined the United States, Vallejo, like many Mexican settlers, lost most of his vast landholdings and ended his life on this 200-acre ranch, where the family raised and sold vegetables to survive. The house, a charming example of Carpenter’s Gothic, has been maintained with many of its original furnishings and is open to the public. A particular bonus: Jones pointed out that the Vallejo house is just one of the many Sonoma attractions that can be reached by bicycle along the paved path that circles around the town.

Jones also mentioned two favorite spots in the nearby village of Glen Ellen. The Fig Café deli offers such treats as a pork loin sandwich with homemade fig compote, and the wine racks hold unusual vintages from around the world as well as around the corner. Oak Hill Farm gives visitors a taste of the area’s seasonal produce, and even in winter is a popular destination, known for its handsome wreaths and garlands.

For a more stylized interpretation of nature’s riches, Jones heads to Cornerstone Gardens, nine acres of conceptual gardens by leading Bay Area landscape designers. The tree covered with 70,000 sky-blue Christmas ornaments has become a local landmark, as has the garden, whose “sunflowers” are actually spinning pinwheels. Also on the premises is Artefact, which specializes in interesting salvaged goods—more politely known as “architectural antiques”—and where wrought-iron garden tables and stone statuary share space with a carefully edited selection of unusual design and art books.

For Jones, Sonoma isn’t just an eclectic shopping spree. She loves the place because “it's quiet, easy, and homey. It's a great place to bike and hike and have a dog.” She wrapped up our tour of favorite spots at Bartholomew Park Winery, whose rolling lawns, graceful white gazebo, hiking trails, and feeling of peace and quiet add up to a cherished picnic spot.

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