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In Sonoma County, the center of town can be anything from a plaza to a bar or a favorite restaurant

  • Jennifer McNerney, right, of Glen Ellen, plays with her son Ryder McNerney, 3, at the Sonoma Plaza, July 21, 2012.

If you want to find the heart of the city of Sonoma, you'd naturally start at historic Sonoma Plaza, a community gathering place as well as a tourist attraction, surrounded by restaurants and shops.

But if you're looking for local people, you might want to cross First Street West to the Sunflower Caffe where patrons on the front patio greet each other like old friends, because they are.

"This place is loaded with locals," said Tim Curley over breakfast there on a recent weekday morning. Curley, a teacher and musician from nearby El Verano who also works at the Ravenswood Winery tasting room in Sonoma, is a regular at the cafe.

"I work at a winery, and you see a lot of winery people here at lunchtime," he added.

A city might have an obvious center, like Sonoma Plaza, but it also has informal centers where locals and city insiders meet, like the Sunflower Caffe.

What is the true center of a town? We'd like to know what you think. But first, here is what we've found out so far about Sonoma County's nine incorporated cities.

Shady, friendly Healdsburg Plaza, ringed by restaurants, shops, tasting rooms and galleries, is an obvious center. But residents say you're likely to find people in the know at Flying Goat Coffee, just off the Plaza a half-block up Center Street.

And in Santa Rosa? Old Courthouse Square, of course, but walk up Fourth Street to Mac's Deli, where local matters are discussed every morning over coffee. Railroad Square is another magnet for the public, but for conversation among locals, some recommend A'Roma Roasters at Fifth and Wilson Streets.

In Cloverdale, Jim dePriest is an enthusiastic transplant who moved to town to manage the new Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, which opened a year and a half ago right downtown on Cloverdale Boulevard. Not far away is the open-air Cloverdale Plaza, home to weekly summertime concerts and an annual sculpture show.

For downtown Cloverdale denizens, days tend to start with coffee or breakfast at Plank Coffee on the boulevard or Underground Coffee on the plaza, and end with happy hour at Ruth McGowan's Brewpub on First Street, dePriest said.


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