Sonoma, Napa Valley

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 January, 2005, 12:00am

There's more to northern Californian wine country than vineyards and a stunning coastline. Sonoma, an upmarket community in Napa Valley, boasts picturesque historic buildings and some of the most charming stores in the region. The main thoroughfare is Napa Street, where you'll find shops offering everything from French antiques to gourmet delicacies to sculptures, with no chilly big-city service or pretentiousness.

One of Sonoma's institutions is Readers' Books (131 East Napa Street, tel: 1 707 939 1779). Owners Lilla and Andy Weinberger started the store 15 years ago in a stone building that was once a French bakery. It still has the original fireplace and wall oven.

A hop, skip and jump away is one of the quirkiest stores on the street, The Laughing Queen (122 East Napa Street, tel: 1 707 935 6611). If you're looking for toilet paper with George W. Bush's face on it or a Jesus action figure, this is the place to find it.

Over at the popular Bear Moon Clothing (117 East Napa Street, tel: 1 707 935 3392), shoppers pick up what the owners call 'clothing perfect for the Sonoma lifestyle' - chic without being too dressy. Labels such as Eileen Fisher, Citron and Sigrid Olsen hang next to clothing from Margaret O'Leary and Royal Robbins.

Dining is a big deal here, so it's not surprising that Robin's Nest (116 East Napa Street, tel: 1 707 996 4169), a discount store for kitchenware and table accessories, is popular. Among the offerings are silicone cake pans and pot-holders.

You'd think you had stepped into a hip New York art show, such is the quality of work on show

at Saret Gallery (111A East Napa Street, tel: 1 707 996 3492). The venue features a range of vintage and contemporary photographic works by established photographers and emerging artists.

The Arts Guild of Sonoma (140 East Napa Street, tel: 1 707 996 3115) is where local artists come together to show their wares. Exhibits include oils, acrylics, collage, sculptures, pottery and any other bits and pieces they might be inclined to use.

If all that shopping has made you hungry, head to The Cheesemaker's Daughter (127 East Napa Street, tel: 1 707 996 4060), where owner Ditty Vella will guide you through an exhaustive selection of cheeses, crackers and chocolates.