Sonoma is a historically significant city in Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA, surrounding its historic town plaza, a remnant of the town's Mexican colonial past. It was the capital of the short-lived California Republic. Today, Sonoma is a center of the state's wine industry for the Sonoma Valley AVA Appellation, as well as the home of the nationally recognized Sonoma International Film Festival. Sonoma's population was 10,648 as of the 2010 census.
The region of Sonoma was originally the home of Native American Coast Miwok tribes as well as the Pomo people and Wintuns. Many of the Native Americans still remain, even after seven changes in government since the Spanish first explored and took over the region (see Sonoma County for governments.)
The town of Sonoma began with the foundation of Mission San Francisco Solano in 1823 by Father José Altimira of the Franciscan Order. This mission was the farthest north of all 21 California missions, and was connected to the others by the Camino Real (Royal Road). Mission San Francisco Solano was the last of the California missions to be established, and the only one founded after Mexico's independence from Spain.
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 Presidio of Sonoma, or Sonoma Barracks (part of Spain's Mexico'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, who owned over in landholdings and was one of Sonoma's most illustrious residents, was instrumental in its growth and made Sonoma the political center of Northern California. He maintained good relationships with the Native Americans of the region and was helped by his friendship with native Chief Solano of the Suisunes, who had been baptized at the mission and who lived near the city.
Vallejo was also partial towards the influx of American immigrants, both legal and illegal, who entered by way of Sutter's Fort, despite his personal dislike of John Sutter. He was, however, careful to ensure the newcomers did not achieve too much power, lest they destabilize the state. His partiallity was tested when an illegal American alien, Edward Bale, formed an American mob attempted to murder Vallejo's brother Salvador in Sonoma's central plaza after losing to him in a duel. Bale was foiled, and plans were made to execute him right on the plaza. However, Vallejo, law-abiding citizen he was, ordered a court trial at the Sonoma alcaldia, where Bale was nonetheless found guilty of attempted murder. His life, however, was spared by the Mexican government, which did not want to create any problems. After the overthrow of the unpopular governor Nicolás Gutiérrez by Vallejo's nephew Juan Bautista Alvarado in 1836, the Monterey diputación named him Comandante General of California, further increasing the prestige of Vallejo and Sonoma. When the American immigrants attempted to overthrow the Mexican government in the Bear Flag Revolt, they imprisoned Vallejo in the town jail and declared Sonoma capital of the "Republic of California".
El Pueblo de Sonoma was laid out in the standard form of a Mexican town, centered around the largest plaza in California, in size. 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. There are approximately thirty restaurants in the plaza area, including Italian, Irish, Mexican, Portuguese, Basque, Mediterranean, Himalayan, and French. It provides a central tourist attraction. It is also the location of the Farmer's Market, held every Tuesday evening from April to October.
American revolt against Mexican rule
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.
Sonoma is also considered the birthplace of wine-making in California, dating back to the original vineyards of Mission San Francisco Solano, then improvements made by Agoston Haraszthy, the father of California viticulture and credited with introduction of the Zinfandel/Primitivo grape varietal. The Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival takes place late each September, and is California's oldest celebration of its winemaking heritage.