If, over the past ten years or so, you’ve managed to miss Cornerstone Sonoma, you’ll be surprised when you go that you didn’t know about it sooner. Marked by the icons of a “flying” picket fence and immense blue Adirondack-style chair, it’s otherwise easy to miss. Imagine visiting an outdoor art gallery, but instead of paintings, there’s a display of unique, thought-provoking gardens. Not your typical backyard gardens, but creative, cutting edge, ever-changing spaces that run the gamut from the somber to the whimsical. Tucked away on a quiet corner off Highway 121 (across from Gloria Ferrer Winery) is an attractive combination of the gardens, an event venue, retail shops, wine tasting, food, a visitors center and even a bocce court, spread out over nine acres.

For starters, the gardens alone are worth the 45-minute drive (across Highway 37, then right on Highway 121) into southern Sonoma. There are 20 unique gardens created by acclaimed landscape architects from around the world. Going far beyond understanding the garden as merely a lovely place to sit, look at or grow flowers or food, these designs invite you to walk through and ponder the range of creative possibilities for reimagining a garden’s purpose. Collectively, the Cornerstone gardens are a blending of art and landscape, beauty and functionality, symmetry and pattern, light and shadow, playfulness and solemnity, ecosystems and permaculture, reinterpretation and resourcefulness. If you take the time to immerse yourself and read the architect bios, the family-friendly spaces could easily encompass an hour or more of your time.

If you get hungry perusing, you can have a fine meal at a reasonable price at Park 121 café, grill and market. Owned by talented chef Bruce Riezenman, the café offers indoor and courtyard seating, or you can assemble a picnic for take-out. The food showcases the best of Sonoma, utilizing what’s seasonably fresh. Don’t let the casual atmosphere fool you—this is farm-to-table eating at its best. The menu features small and shared plates, soup and salads, sandwiches, warm plates and pasta. Try the Hobbs Salumi sandwich with fresh mozzarella and roasted red peppers on a brioche bun with tomato, cracked black pepper, olive oil & balsamic vinegar, $10.95; or the personal frittata made to order with two eggs, cheese and fresh local vegetables, $10.95. Riezenman is known for his expertise in food and wine pairings, and you can enjoy his selections of nearby Carneros wines by the bottle or by the glass.

Each of Cornerstone’s elements are worth a visit in their own right, but it’s also a beautiful, relaxing place to spend a few hours as a destination—meandering through the independently owned and operated retail shops and galleries; sitting in the shade of an olive grove with a cappuccino, meal and/or glass of wine; perusing the gardens; sampling area wines in the tasting rooms—it isn’t hard to imagine that you’ve been magically transported to Europe.

Cornerstone Sonoma: 23570 Highway 121, 707.933.3010; cornerstonegardens.com