When our kids were smaller we used to take them to Gymboree where they could easily pass a few hours without needing any entertaining (thus giving us a break, naturally). For those not familiar with Gymboree, it is a large space with wall-to-wall child stimulation, a mish-mash of slides, ramps, ball pits, giant parachutes, mats, and a variety of other toddler toys. If you were building the adult version of Gymboree, what would be needed? For starters, alcohol, lots of alcohol. Food, of course. Comfortable seating. Outdoor space to lounge around. Oh, and shopping. At a place with all of these activities, our kids could drop us off and leave us there all day.
We recently found exactly this type of place: Cornerstone Sonoma on Highway 121 between Napa and San Francisco. We pass Cornerstone every single time we drive to San Francisco, which is fairly often, but haven’t stopped because we are always on our way to or from somewhere else. Recently we decided to make Cornerstone a destination and discovered that there is enough entertainment and stimulation to keep us there all day. The only thing missing (tying back to the Gymboree theme) is a comfortable place to nap after the eating and drinking.
Based on what we could see from the road on our many trips past Cornerstone Sonoma, our assumption was that it would be mostly retail with a place to sample adult beverages. While it does have both of those establishments in abundance, we were surprised how large the grounds are and how easy it is to spend time walking around and soaking in nature and art. Sunset Magazine relocated its gardens in 2016 from Menlo Park to Cornerstone and maintains both a test kitchen and test garden. In the Sunset Outdoor Kitchen, food experts test new recipes and kitchen crafts/gadgets to come up with new ideas and better ways to cook. There are demonstrations held throughout the year that are open to the public and, best of all, free.
In the Sunset Test Gardens, which span a quarter of an acre, a variety of unique plants and trees are grown. It is a great place for home gardeners to stroll around and get ideas on not only what to plant but how to cultivate their own plants. There are five garden areas in the Test Gardens: the Farm Garden, Gathering Space, Backyard Orchard, Flower Room, and (hey, it’s wine country) the Cocktail Garden.
The Sunrise Test Gardens are not the only gardens at Cornerstone Sonoma, though, not by a long shot. There are 9 additional gardens at Cornerstone that are equal parts nature, art and architecture. If the word “garden” conjures up a vision akin to the picture above, the other 9 gardens will expand your understanding of the word. One of our favorite gardens at Cornerstone is the understandably named “White Cloud.”
We also enjoyed the Rise garden for its simplicity as well as its invitation for visitors to interact physically with the structures.
Yet another favorite is the Immigrant Tribute which we were drawn to and connected with as a result of the deep dependency wine country has on immigrant farm workers to harvest the grapes that make Sonoma County and Napa Valley thrive.
A leisurely stroll through Cornerstone’s gardens can easily consume a couple of hours or more and is especially appealing on a not-too-hot sunny day. As with the Sunset Test Kitchen + Gardens, all of the Cornerstone gardens are open to the public with free admission.
Of course, a stroll through these gardens pass even more enjoyably with a glass of wine in hand; fortunately, the gardens are just a stone’s throw away from three wine tasting rooms and, new to us, a distillery tasting room.
We did not have in-depth tasting experiences at all 3 wineries but that will be our goal for the next visit. While we usually do not visit three wineries in a single day, the convenience of having three tasting rooms in such close proximity will help us break that rule. We will post a review of our tasting experience after our next visit to Cornerstone.
Visitors who have had their fill of garden strolling and wine tasting can take advantage of the many shops and galleries -all independently owned – that contribute to making Cornerstone such a unique wine country destination. There are interesting antiques, home decor, clothing, accessories and other items available in more than a half a dozen stores. In one of these stores we ran across some wind chimes that would definitely give our set at home a case of chime envy.
If there’s one area where we would like to see some changes made at Cornerstone, it would be adding more food options. Currently there is only one dining option, Park 121 Cafe & Grill whose menu consists of mostly light fare. We are fans of options and believe Cornerstone needs a few more food places and we would advocate for the inclusion of at least one high-end restaurant. Where Cornerstone sits on Highway 121 is conveniently situated between Napa and Sonoma but not particularly close to any destination restaurants.
John & Irene Ingersoll
September 16, 2017
** Photos in this post courtesy of Cornerstone Sonoma website: Cornerstone Sonoma
To make wine tasting appointments go directly to each tasting room’s website: