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Living in Sonoma County: It's All About the Highlights
Real Estate

Living in Sonoma County: It's All About the Highlights

Living in Sonoma County is paradise. Read on about the highlights and downsides of living here, presented by Realtor Heather Thurber.

Heather Thurber

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6 min read

September 08, 2021

 Are you thinking about living in Sonoma County? Or just coming for a visit? Perhaps, you know that with one visit, you’ll fall in love, and decide to move to Sonoma—and, given how charming and beautiful the area is, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, before you give in to your heart, it’s best to take things a bit slower and weigh out the highlights and downsides of living in the Sonoma lane.

Born and raised in Sonoma County may make me a bit biased, but given the majestic features of the area, I just can’t move away. Sonoma County spans about 70 miles from Petaluma and Sears Point in the South to Cloverdale and Sea Ranch in the North. It also borders Napa County near the town of Sonoma in the East, before meeting the glimmering waves of the Pacific. The total population of Sonoma County is approaching 500,000 people; around 200,000 residents live in Santa Rosa, the largest city and county seat. Sonoma County is the northernmost portion of the San Francisco Bay Area and is the largest and arguably the best producer in California’s Wine Country region. 

Ah, land this beautiful, how could you not want to move here? Get ready to be kissed by the summer sun.

The Highlights of Living in Sonoma County

Sonoma County is centrally located to San Francisco, the coastline, rugged mountainous terrain, and the glimmering waters of Lake Tahoe. It’s truly the place to be. From the county seat, you can get to the heart of the Bay Area in about an hour; lose yourself in the cultural exploration of San Francisco. From Michelin-starred restaurants to live music, diversity, and world-renowned museums, San Francisco has it all—and it’s only a stone’s throw away

Are you an avid skier? If so, Lake Tahoe is a relaxing four hour drive away. Boasting both winter and summer recreational opportunities, Lake Tahoe is a favorite long weekend destination from Sonoma. Given the endless opportunities for extensive hiking, rock climbing, skiing, and boating, you’ll keep boredom at bay! Looking for more outdoorsy adventures? The Trinity Alps, Mount Shasta, and Mount Lassen can also be reached in approximately four to five hours.

Beach baes, smile and wave! The Sonoma County shoreline—spanning from Bodega Bay to the North of Sea Ranch—will have you fallin’ head over heels. From the county seat, the Pacific Ocean is only a half hour drive. In the mood for a romantic getaway? Discover Sea Ranch, a popular vacation spot and charming coastal town found only 1.5 hours away from Sonoma. Dreaming of walking barefoot in the deep forest? The lush greenery of Oregon is only about a five and a half hour drive north.

Given how amazing the climate in Sonoma County is, it's the perfect place to go for a hike. Miles and miles of trails await!

Sonoma County’s Amazing Climate

Since Sonoma is technically a coastal county, you’ll discover a wide range of climates and microclimates. The average temperatures range from the low 50s in the winter to the mid 80s in the summer. In general, the coastal area tends to be cooler, wet, and frequently experiences afternoon fog. Petaluma and Sant Rosa welcome the coastal fog, but tend to run warmer than Healdsburg or Cloverdale.

Given that on average, Sonoma County receives 75 days of rain per year and approximately 40 inches of rainfall, it’s a gardener’s paradise. You’ll find mostly 9a, 9b, and 10a gardening zones here.
If you love to garden, we have a lovely, long growing season and a wide variety of crops that thrive here.

Sonoma’s Stellar Lakes and Rivers


When in Sonoma County, you can find a place to do just about everything you love! Always dreamt of exploring Russian River? Well, the river winds along the 101 from Cloverdale down to the east side of Windsor, making it a quick and easy drive so you can spend your day riverside. 

Lovers of lakes, Sonoma County calls. Lounge by Lake Sonoma, Laguna De Santa Rosa, and Spring Lake before rendezvousing your way to Windsor Regional Park and Guerneville’s stunning Armstrong Redwoods Preserve. But, that’s not all nature lovers. Hike the Mayacamas, Sonoma Mountains, and Mount Saint Helena mountain ranges; don’t forget to pack your biking and climbing gear ‘cause plenty of opportunities await you out here in the wild.

Ah, Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa. Appreciate the diversity of each Sonoma County city, for they are each beautiful in their own way.

The Diversity of Experience in Sonoma County Cities

Where do you thrive? Rural or urban? The sizes of Sonoma County cities range from 200,000 in Santa Rosa to Cotati, which is home to approximately 7,000 people. Given this, it’s integral that you select your area based on your lifestyle. Whether that means living downtown, along the coastline, or inland on a ranch, you can create the lifestyle of your dreams here. Sonoma County boasts over 250 wineries, over two dozen breweries—Sonoma is home to the world-renowned Russian River Brewery—eight cideries, and 15 distilleries. From sushi to Southern cooking, you’ll find your favorite cuisine in Sonoma County.

History buffs, rejoice! We haven’t forgotten about you, and neither has Sonoma County. There’s so many ways to experience the history of the land here. Touring Fort Ross Cemetery, Jack London State Historic Park, the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, and the ancient spiritual lands of the Miwok Native Americans will keep you engaged, energetic, and enthusiastic for years to come!

The Demographics of Sonoma 

The towns in Sonoma have quite a diverse demographic, and the residents are truly the happiest people you’ll meet. The county population is approximately 50-65% White and 25-30% Hispanic. A large portion of the remainder of the population is East Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, and Native Indian. Age wise, 50-60% of the population is 18-59 years old and less than 20% is over 60. Generally speaking, Sonoma County is a pretty liberal area. 

Now that we’ve talked about the highlights, let’s address the downsides:

A place this beautiful, there aren't any downsides. Just kidding, there are a couple, it is life after all.

The Downsides of Living in Sonoma County

The Traffic in Sonoma County

Depending on where you’re moving from, the traffic in Sonoma County may not be so bad (ahem, ahem, L.A. or East Bay we’re totally talking about you). However, if you’re born and raised in Sonoma, you may be a little more frustrated with traffic, than if you were from the big cities. Though there is traffic—which you’ll usually find almost everywhere during peak hours—the backroads are beautiful. So, if you can take a backroad to skip traffic, not only will you save gas but you’ll relax while cruisin’ through beautiful views. 

The Cost of Living in Sonoma

In comparison to the cost of living index for the U.S., which is 100, the cost of living in Sonoma is almost 160. The median home price is in the mid 600,000s. The average rental price for a three bedroom, two bath home is around $2,500-3,500 per month. The average income is approximately $40k; the average household income is around $80. Given the disparity between income and housing costs, living in Sonoma County can be challenging for some.

A place as beautiful as Sonoma County does have its downside, and unfortunately that is fire season. But, that's many places in California, right?

Sonoma’s Fire Season

Sonoma County has four historic wildfire corridors—the Tubbs fire zone, Sonoma Valley, the Geysers, and the Guerneville area. Since 2017, Sonoma County has experienced at least one major fire.  This has caused loss of lives and homes, evacuations, power shutoffs, extremely poor air quality, and stress for all. Hopefully, enough of the land has already burned so we won’t have to experience any more catastrophic fires as we had in the recent years. However, given how the average temperatures are increasing, only time will tell. Also, due to high rainfall, the river and laguna can cause flooding.

Homelessness: One of Sonoma’s Greatest Challenges

Almost 3,000 people are unsheltered and housed in unsanitary encampments in Sonoma. Sadly, this includes families, children, and veterans. Due to the fires, there was a significant increase in the number of homeless in Sonoma. Thankfully however, this past year the number of encampments have decreased. The county is working diligently to try to address this issue and provide aid to homeless people, but it’s definitely a multi-faceted challenge which requires several years of hard work and dedication.

All in all, the highlights definitely outweigh the downsides when it comes to living in Sonoma County. Regardless of your lifestyle, there’s an opportunity to accommodate your needs and allow you to live your best life.

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