Michael Reardon’s favorite spot for painting is a rare place indeed: a tourist destination that is calm and relaxing.

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A similar view of the plaza. Photo: Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau

Reardon, a watercolorist who lives in Oakland, California, says he loves painting in Sonoma Plaza, in the heart of downtown Sonoma, California. City Hall — which has the same façade on all four sides in deference to all the merchants — is located there, as well as the historic headquarters of a Mexican general, an early 19th-century mission church, and a picturesque theater. The plaza is a state park with mature trees and interesting architectural details. This aspect of the plaza has particular allure for Reardon, who also works as an architectural illustrator.

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“Sebastiani Theatre,” by Michael Reardon, watercolor, 14 x 7 in. Collection the artist

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Lush vegetation and outdoor cafes attract locals and tourists alike to Sonoma Plaza. Photo: Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau

“Most artists like to paint the vineyards in Sonoma, and the countryside is beautiful, but I like to have architectural things in my paintings, so I really enjoy the buildings in the plaza,” he says. “It is completely tranquil. You can sit in the grass and no one bothers you. And there’s lots of interesting things to see and do and paint there.”

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“Fountain, Sonoma Plaza,” by Michael Reardon, watercolor, 14 x 7 in. This is the first painting Reardon made at Sonoma Plaza, when he was taken by how rich the scene was early one morning.

Reardon discovered the spot when he made plans to participate in Sonoma Plein Air, an event held each September. He noted that the quick-draw portion of the event would be held in the plaza, so he scouted out the location the morning before the festival started. “It was 8:30 or 9 in the morning, and I just turned the corner and encountered the fountain and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, that is a painting.’ It has all the elements that I really enjoy. The fountain was backlit so the water was sparkling, and there was a building in the background, which appealed to my architectural background. Now it’s one of my favorite places to take my workshop groups.”

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“Morning Light,” by Michael Reardon, watercolor, 7 x 5 in. Private collection

The artist says the atmosphere is very pleasant in the plaza, with the local authorities fully supporting artistic endeavors. “It’s a public park, with all kinds of events going on in the evening, and the farmers’ market is there,” says Reardon. “Everyone is quite cool with setting up easels; they have no problem with it at all.” Reardon says he plans on painting in the plaza every day of this year’s Sonoma Plein Air event, which will be held September 16 through 21.

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“Founders Monument,” by Michael Reardon, watercolor, 10 x 6 in. Collection the artist

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“Foggy Morning,” by Michael Reardon, watercolor, 12 x 6. Private collection.

Reardon even has luck selling his work in the plaza — quite by accident. “One of the gardeners watched me the whole time I was painting one piece,” he recalls. “He approached me later and said, ‘I have to buy this painting — I saw you paint it!” I guess he was quite happy with the way I portrayed his hedges.”

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