The town of Sonoma, El Pueblo de Sonoma, began with the Mission San Francisco Solano founded in 1823 by Father Joseph Altimira of Spain. This mission was the farthest north of all 21 California missions connected by a "Royal Road" called El Camino Real. The Mission San Francisco Solano was the sole California mission established under the rule of a newly-independent Mexico, and the last. Soon after it was built, it was secularized by the Mexican government, under the orders of Lieutenant, later General, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. Under Vallejo's supervision, the El Presidio de Sonoma, or Sonoma Barracks (part of Spain's Fourth Military District), was built beside the mission for the army, and he pursued control and order in the region over the native tribes and kept a military eye on the Russians of Fort Ross. Vallejo's relationship with the Native Americans of the region was helped by another resident of Sonoma, his friend and ally the native called Chief (Sem-Yeto) Solano of the Suisunes who had been baptized at the mission.
El Pueblo de Sonoma was laid out in the standard form of a Mexican town, centered around the largest plaza in California. This plaza is surrounded by many historical buildings, including the Mission San Francisco Solano, Captain Salvador Vallejo's Casa Grande, the Presidio of Sonoma, the Blue Wing Inn, the Sebastiani Theatre, and the Toscano Hotel. In the middle of the plaza, Sonoma's early 20th-century city hall, at the plaza's center and still in use, was designed and built with four identical sides in order not to offend the merchants on any one side of the plaza. The plaza is a National Historic Landmark and still serves as the town's focal point, hosting many community festivals and drawing tourists all year round. It provides a central tourist attraction. It is also the location of the Farmer's Market, held every Tuesday in the summer.
Sonoma is known as the birthplace of American California, for it was in this town plaza that the Bear Flag Revolt took place and a Bear Flag was first raised on June 14 1846. The rebelling men claimed to act on the orders of Col. John C. Fremont proclaiming independence from Mexican rule and a free country called the California Republic here. Sonoma served as the capital of the short-lived California Republic until the United States Stars and Stripes flag was raised during the Mexican-American war.
General Vallejo was imprisoned during the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846, and he later transferred his allegiance to the U.S. and endorsed California statehood (1850). With his amassed land holdings, Vallejo guided the development of the town of Sonoma. He was one of the most powerful residents in the town's history, dividing up the lands into large ranches for friends and family.
The city is situated in the Sonoma Valley, with the Mayacamas Mountains to the east and the Sonoma Mountains to the west, with the prominent landform Sears Point to the southwest. The following areas are nearby:
In terms of fauna, there are a variety of birds, small mammals and amphibians who reside in Sonoma. California quail frequent the riparian areas, while white tailed kite, towhee, waxwing, robin, thrush and sparrow bird species are found locally.
The town of Sonoma boasts a relatively quiet setting, with California State Route 12 (called from north to south Sonoma Highway, West Napa Street, and Broadway), Fifth Street West, and Spain Street being the primary noise sources. About eight miles (13 km) south of the city is the Infineon Raceway, which is also a significant noise generator. The total citywide population exposed to environmental noise exceeding 60 CNEL is approximately 300.
There are 4,373 households of which 21.1% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.5% were married couples living together, 8.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 46.0% were non-families. 39.2% of households consist of individuals and 21.5% have someone living alone who is 65 or older. The average household size was 2.07 and the average family size was 2.77. The age distribution is as follows: 18.6% under the age of 18, 4.8% from 18 to 24, 23.5% from 25 to 44, 28.9% from 45 to 64, and 24.2% who have achieved age 65. The median age is 47 years. For every 100 females there were 81.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 77.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $50,505, and the median income for a family was $65,600. Males had a median income of $51,831 versus $40,276 for females. The per capita income for the city was $32,387. 3.7% of the population and 2.0% of families were below the poverty line. 3.3% of those under 18 and 4.7% of those are 65 and older.
Jack London: (1876-1916) claimed that Sonoma meant "The Valley of the Moon", which phrase is still applied to the town as well as the whole of Sonoma Valley. The writer lived for many years in the nearby town of Glen Ellen.
Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo: Last Spanish Governor of the Californias and Spanish land grants north of Mexico proper. His residence in Sonoma was the site for a portion of the Bear Flag revolt which made California a Republic.
Count Agoston Haraszthy: the father of California viticulture, created the first winery west of the Mississippi. He tried many locations (including Wisconsin!) but settled in Sonoma with General Vallejo's assistance. His first winery, Buena Vista, still exists today.
General Hap Arnold: an aviation pioneer and commander of the United States Army Air Corps (from 1938), commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces (from 1941 until 1945) and the first General of the Air Force (in 1949).
John Lasseter: (born January 12, 1957 in Hollywood, California) is an animator and the chief creative executive at Pixar Animation Studios. Lasseter won Academy Awards for Best Animated Short Film (Tin Toy) and Special Achievement Award (Toy Story).
Sebastiani Family: Family patriarch, Samuele Sebastiani, started Sebastiani Vineyards in 1904. His son, August, ran the company from 1944 to the late 1970s, when his son Sam took the reins. August died in 1980. In 1986, August's youngest son, Don Sebastiani, took the company from about 200,000 cases to just shy of 8 million cases produced in 1999, at which time he sold a number of assets to Constellation Wines. Don then left the old family company and he, along with his sons, Donny & August, started Don Sebastiani & Sons in 2000. Sebastiani Vineyards is currently under the direction of Sam & Don's sister, Mary Ann Sbastiani Cuneo, and is still family owned and operated at its original location, just east of the Sonoma Plaza. Don's son, August Sebastiani, was elected to the Sonoma City Council in 2006.