Budget Travel In Sonoma, California

by Michelle · 9 comments

road to winery
Editor’s Note: For those that just joined us, this is part of a series where Michelle shares her vacation highlights that show us how frugal travels can be just as fun as an extravagent vacation.

When Aaron and I had walked as far as our legs could carry us in San Francisco, we hopped in a rental car and headed to beautiful Sonoma Valley to experience California’s wine country.

Sonoma is just under an hour’s drive from San Francisco, and the area itself is small enough that you won’t have to worry about fuel being a major expense. Aaron and I only used about half of a tank for our economy rental car, which we had for four days.

Having never been to wine country, choosing the best place to stay was a bit of a puzzle for me. Now that I’ve stayed in Sonoma but also explored Napa, I’ve concluded that both are great, but the town of Sonoma is perhaps a little quieter than Napa and also easier to navigate on foot. However, hotel rates did seem to be cheaper in Napa, so it all depends on what the traveler’s priorities are.

I want to share the two tips that Aaron and I benefited from the most during our stay in the beautiful city:

  1. Use grocery stores instead of dining out for every meal

    This is one of my favorite tips from David’s frugal travel book, so imagine my excitement when I discovered a Whole Foods across the street from our hotel and a Safeway just down the street.

    I believe that you should definitely enjoy local restaurants when you’re on vacation, but eating food from the grocery store for just one of your meals everyday can help you seriously cut down on costs. The $10 or $20 saved on lunch and snacks is a perfect reason to order a drink or dessert that you otherwise might have skipped when eating dinner at a fantastic restaurant.

  2. Read the travel magazines in your hotel room

    They’re free, and sometimes they can lead you straight to the jackpot.

    For example: What would Aaron and I be saying about our trip now if we hadn’t read the review of The Cave Bar Restaurant and Tasting Room and decided to give it a try?

    Located at 524 Broadway, The Cave Bar is open until 2:00 a.m. (a true niche in the early-to-bed town of Sonoma) and offers a $5 wine tasting, an impressive wine collection given its limited square footage, and seats for eight around one dining room table. Thomas, The Cave Bar’s one-man show, invites guests to get comfortable and chats with them about wine and more when he’s not running to refill drinks or preparing food, which, as I said, he does single-handedly.

    Thomas’s goal is to provide guests an unparalleled tasting and dining experience without being pretentious, and he did such a good job that we stayed for three hours! We each paid about $30 for the tasting, drinks, and an unbelievable three-course meal. My only regret is that there is no Cave Bar in my neighborhood. If you’re a local, please head over to Broadway and take advantage of this place for me!

One great recommendation can often lead to another. The next day, we visited Battaglini Estate Winery in Santa Rosa at Thomas’s suggestion. The above picture shows Mr. Battaglini’s zinfandel grapes—some of his vines are over 120 years old!

Coming Home

At the end of the trip, Aaron and I were happy and well-fed and content to spend a few relaxing days in our home city, cooking, taking care of our plants and venturing out to see a movie at our local budget theater (the $5 matinee is a beautiful thing).

Per person, our total costs for 4.5 days in California turned out to be roughly $1,000, which is about what we expected.

After this first vacation, we feel confident that we can plan more trips and look forward to learning more ways to save money while having a memorable travel experience.

Thanks again to everyone for sharing your own tips along the way. I think the overall lesson for successful frugal travel has to be – ask people for advice. You can get input from a friend, a local or even a travel book or a reviewer in a magazine. But as long as you talk to others, take the time to do your homework and plan, you can’t go wrong.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Avery says:

    I only saw this in movies.That is a nice place.

  • Financial Samurai says:

    Were you able to eat some yummy Cab and Chardonnay grapes off the vines?. The September crush is always my favorite time to go. We are allowed to pick grapes and make our own grape juice. It is the best thing ever…

  • Wilson Pon says:

    I never been there before, Michelle. However, I heard that Sonoma is a very wonderful place for those who want to relax themselves.

  • John DeFlumeri Jr says:

    That is beautiful country, and a glass of wine sounds pretty good right now.

  • Californiality says:

    Sonoma and Napa are perfect California getaways, and the detailed description of your real-life experience is perfect too. Timely post. Very considerate of normal people and their budgets. Cool.

  • Jim says:

    Especially for wineries, the experience is so much more enhanced when the server is friendly and knows a lot about wines.

    Sounds like you had fun. Doesn’t talking about your vacation make you have even more fun?

  • Michelle says:

    I know, we were really lucky on this trip to get to do that plus talk to the person who made our wine.

  • Mike Piper says:

    That Cave Bar place sounds great. I love it when you get to talk to the person who actually makes your food.

    • MoneyNing says:

      I love that too. That’s why I love the Ning’s kitchen, where I talk to the head chef (my wife) all the time. 🙂

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