Travel mag: Sonoma is 8th most romantic place

Uncork that bottle and fire up the chiminea, because Sonoma is romantic.

Those living here already know that, probably, but now the rest of the world knows it too, thanks to a recent Top 10 list by a prominent travel magazine.

According to Travel + Leisure, Sonoma is the eighth most romantic place in America, beating out Portsmouth, N.H., and Traverse City, Mich.

“I think it’s part of our authenticity,” said Wendy Peterson, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, in explaining why Sonoma made the list. “Once you come to Sonoma, it feels like you sort of belong here.”

“There’s just something that feels very intimate about the experience” of visiting the area, she added, noting “the friendliness of our community, the accessibility, it just creates this lovely atmosphere.”

The rolling, picturesque landscape and historic Plaza heighten the effect. And the wine doesn’t hurt either.

“It makes it feel like love is in the air,” Peterson said.

One local who knows when love is in the air is Megan Clouse, a Sonoma-based wedding photographer. She also specializes in “elopements and proposals.”

“It’s just a fairy tale life, with the wine and the food and the weather and the activities. There’s so much here,” Clouse said, in explaining why so many couples come to Sonoma.

Peterson agreed. There’s something here for everyone, she said, no matter your idea of romance.

“There may be some people who, for them, romance is taking a hike in one of our beautiful parks. Others may want to stay in one of our luxury resorts and feel pampered.”

Clouse, who shoots about three-dozen romantic events each year, said that in Sonoma at least, the time for love is not at all limited to Valentine’s Day. In fact, she has nothing scheduled for Friday – but said she’ll have plenty of work between April and November.

That includes photographing elopements and proposals, which can run the gamut.

“Sometimes it’s just the two of them, and they haven’t told anybody,” Clouse said of elopements. “And sometimes, it’s just their parents, or just their best friends and siblings. And a lot of times, they come out here where they can make their wedding and their honeymoon all one.”

That last part is key, she said, because “then they can come back year after year for their anniversary. I see a lot of that.”

As for marriage proposals, “These are kind of nerve-racking,” she said. In one recent case, “We arranged to meet at the winery at a certain time, and I had to pretend I was a tourist just sitting at a table – and take my camera out of my purse with the zoom lens …”

With drama like this, one wonders how places like St. Simon, Ga., Sag Harbor, N.Y., or Burlington, Vt., possibly could have beaten Sonoma on the “most romantic” list.

The magazine article did cite Sonoma’s bucolic surroundings, fine hotels and great food, with special mention of “the rambling Spanish Mission-style Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa,” as well as the girl & the fig and the local farmers market. (It also credited “quirky locals” for making visits to Sonoma “memorable.”)

And, it cited “a noted lack of kids” – one of the magazine’s criteria for good romance. Other “lover-friendly categories” included “brunch spots, bakeries, farmers’ markets, wine scenes and idyllic, picnic-friendly parks, as well as gay friendliness and, of course, romantic hotels.”

As for Peterson, she does have Valentine’s Day plans: “My husband and I will be celebrating out in town.”

America’s most romantic towns, according to Travel + Leisure magazine:

1. St. Simons, Ga.

2. Beaufort, N.C.

3. Amelia Island, Fla.

4. Sag Harbor, N.Y.

5. San Luis Obispo, Calif.

6. Aspen, Colo.

7. Burlington, Vt.

8. Sonoma, Calif.

9. Portsmouth, N.H.

10. Traverse City, Mich.