Local Lore and Lingo in Sonoma

Brush up on the terms and traditions that only Sonoma natives know.

Slownoma. This is the term teenagers use to describe what they think of the social scene. Once they grow up, move away and return, they discover how wrong they were. Sonoma isn’t fast-paced but a lot of events happen virtually every week.

The Platt. There are the places that don’t make it into the guidebooks that only locals know about. At the top of the Overlook Trail, there’s a place where generations of Sonoma teens have rearranged an old rock quarry to create a miniature Machu Picchu. They call it the “Platt,” it’s the town’s worst-kept secret, and it’s an amazing maze of geometric stone architecture that looks like the work of some ancient indigenous tribe. There are perennial efforts to fence it off and drive off the beer-drinking but surprisingly neat high schoolers, and yet the tradition has gone on for decades and shows no signs of ending soon. You won’t find the Platt without a guide but if you see a teenager while hiking up the Overlook Trail, just ask for directions.

Ghostly gossip. According to local limo tour guide Carla Heine, Sonoma is a profoundly haunted place. She says there are hundreds of haunted spirits floating about the town, the ghosts of Indians felled by armed force and disease and buried under First Street East by the mission their labor helped build. Heine will take you on a tour of paranormal Sonoma if your curiosity leads in that direction, and she’ll show you the room in a Plaza hotel where guests swear they regularly meet the disembodied, spectral presence of a man known only as “Dead Fred.” The hotel’s current owner does not promote that feature, but if you ask Carla she may make the necessary introductions.

Lots of livestock. There are two other important things to know about Sonoma: Horses and cows. Just past the historic mission on East Spain Street is an open field where you will usually find several very large horses: the Castagnasso Clydesdales. The horses are cherished vestiges of the town’s rural past. They are so valued the city bought development rights to the property to keep it in permanent open space.

And on the hillside that frames the northeast end of town, on property that has also been preserved as open space, dairyman Bill Montini maintains a herd of Holsteins that continues to graze within whistling distance of several subdivisions.

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