Walking the Sonoma Overlook Trail

This is not a flat walk, but there are lots of zigzags, stone benches to rest on — and — views, flowers and trees to gape at as you make your way up the hill. The entire trail is about 3 miles with a loop at the top and an overlook to the San Francisco Bay and Mt. Tamalpais. And it starts in Sonoma, gateway to the fantastic Sonoma Valley.

Dogs and bikes are not allowed on what is mostly a narrow rocky dirt path. The elevation gain is about 400’ and I have been passed by toddlers on this trail. But I’m taking notes!

The Sonoma Overlook Trail is north of the Sonoma Plaza and adjacent to Mountain Cemetery. The trail’s Task Force has a nice display with pictures and IDs of plants and birds. There is also one about history that I didn’t read all of…but the land was part of General Vallejo’s spread. His house and other California and Sonoma historical sites are downhill.
The trail starts up briefly before leveling out and going along the cemetery boundary. Poison oak flaunts itself and we saw much of it along the way. Real oaks shaded us. Vetch, clover, Sticky Monkey flower and Blue Dicks are thriving here and almost everywhere along the trail. The Monkey flowers seem to like shadier and wetter spots.

Once we crossed the dry creek bed, the climb got more serious. The path slopes up and gets steeper at the turns. But this is so much easier than that 45º climb we took in Healdsburg a few weeks ago.

The switchbacks ease the pain of climbing and the vegetation varies from oak forest to open meadow. We could choose shade or vista for a breather. This time of year or rather this year the dirt shines red and the vegetation glows green. The grasses sport blond seed heads. Some Buckeye is blooming long sprouts of white flowers.

The first stone bench has a memorial plaque to Gypsy Boots, a local character. (You can find him on Wikipedia.) The meadows continued to shimmer and the shade was great under the Black Oaks, Toyon, Manzanita, Madrone and Blue Oak. The shiny dark trunks of Manzanita and Madrone always fascinate me.

At about ¾ mile the trail splits going right to Toyon Rd. (It goes down to a spot within the cemetery grounds.) To the left, the trail continues up to the meadow loop. The path gets rockier and the shady spots damper with some fern and more Monkey flower. I go slower, trying to steady myself on the sometimes shifting rocks.

In over a mile the trail splits at the loop. We went left, as it is up and we want to get all the “up” over with. Mariposa Lilies peek out between the rattlesnake grass and taller meadow grasses. There is some Coyote bush and more Blue-eyed Grass, yarrow and a sweet little stacked white and pink flower called Ballardia.


We sat down on a stone bench near an overlook sign. This bench was not occupied by a lizard, as some of the others had been.

From here you can see to the San Francisco Bay, Mt Tamalpais and mountains in between. You can look down on the ball fields north of the town square and can clearly see Broadway running south.

Mike almost caught this towhee in the right position to prove by the head shape that it was a towhee. Nature pictures are so hard.

Finishing the meadow loop we saw larkspur and striking dark red flower called Winecup Clarkia, mallow, narrow leaf Mule Ears and buttercups. The birds continued to serenade and we marveled at the work of the different lichens on the rocks. A true place of beauty.

We worked our way down hill, compared notes on the flowers at the kiosk and had lunch at the picnic table near the trailhead.

Thanks to the Task Force, the Sonoma Ecology Center and the City of Sonoma for this fine trail.

See you on the trail!

Lynn Millar

Photos by Mike Millar

Directions: In Sonoma, go north from the Plaza on First Street West, 4 blocks. Turn right on Toyon Rd. There is a gravel parking lot on the left with a display arch. Another trailhead starts in the Mountain Cemetery on Toyon Road.

Dogs and Bikes: Neither, not even dogs on bikes. The trail is fragile.

Bathroom: Portapotty in the cemetery. Nearby in the park with rail cars and baseball fields. The Plaza and many wonderful restaurants have bathrooms.

Food: Plenty of choices on the square. We picnicked this time.

Other: Sonoma Valley Museum tried our patience (noisy guerilla winetasting at the entrance) and our sensibilities with an exhibit beyond our thinking at this usually rewarding small museum.

Meanwhile back to walking…


Published by Lynn Millar

Walker, reader, writer, traveller - see About Walking

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