Whether you’re an authoritative oenophile or a wine novice, planning a trip to Sonoma County, one of California’s most fabled wine regions, can be a bit overwhelming. After all, the county spans nearly 1,800 square miles and is home to more than 400 wineries and tasting rooms, not to mention a dizzying number of restaurants, activities, and lodging options.
Where to begin? The Dry Creek and Russian River valleys—dotted with rambling hills, historic bridges, and thousands of vineyard acres thanks to the near-perfect growing conditions—offer a marvelous mix of highlights including outdoor excursions, fine food, and strolls around the charming towns of Sebastopol and Healdsburg. You’ll find some good wine along the way, too.
Day 1: Wine tasting, goat cuddling, shopping
The best way to kick off your visit is with a wow-worthy wine tasting, of course. Lambert Bridge Winery, set against its own sprawling vineyards and named for the nearby century-old trestle bridge that spans Dry Creek Valley, has a private Cellar Room tasting experience ($95 per person) that’s both intimate and educational. Inside the stone-walled space, you’ll taste 5 different limited-production wines that could include cabernet sauvignon and the more obscure semillon, paired with a local cheese-and-charcuterie plate that will fill you up until dinner. Be sure to walk the grounds afterward for prime photo ops.
Twenty miles south in the town of Sebastopol, tour the family-owned, certified-humane Redwood Hill Farm-Capracopia, home to a happy herd of goats. The highlight here is a tour ($25-$40 per person) that includes the unforgettable activity of “kid cuddling”—a chance to get up close with the ridiculously cute, floppy-eared baby goats. You can also feed the equally gregarious adult goats, step into the milking parlor (fresh milk from the farm residents is sent to a dairy where it’s turned into yogurt and kefir), and check out the property’s chicken flock, beer hop yard, and flower field. Take home some colorful goat-milk soap as a souvenir.
Next, make a stop at Sebastopol’s “maker marketplace,” The Barlow. The 12-plus acres of modern industrial buildings, some of which were part of an applesauce-canning facility in a former life, are filled with art galleries, tasting rooms, restaurants, and merchants selling everything from bedding to handbags to organic produce.
The complex also serves as a community gathering spot, so check its calendar for happenings like live music, jewelry-making classes, and game nights.
Stick around for dinner and hit The Barlow’s lushly landscaped Fern Bar, a locals’ favorite serving up bold global fare. (Think green curry trout with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms or falafel with sweat pea hummus, spicy onion, and dukkah.) The place is equally renowned for its innovative cocktails that incorporate fresh juices, herbs, and seasonal produce.
Day 2: Biking, spa indulging, fine dining
For a workout with a side of wine tasting, book a bike tour that leaves from Healdsburg. Adventures in Cycling e-bikes allow you to pedal as hard as you want or let the bike do most of the work on those winding country roads—all against the backdrop of some seriously stunning scenery. A crew member (who might be affable owner Dave or another area expert) will lead the way to a couple of boutique and family-owned wineries, either through the Russian River Valley for a Pinot-focused experience or the Dry Creek Valley for bigger reds like cabs and zins. Riders will re-energize along the way with a gourmet picnic lunch. (E-bike tour, $275 per person, plus tasting fees; other tours, $250 and up.)
Wind down the afternoon by soothing those biked-out muscles with a specialty massage at the Wellness Barn, the on-site spa at the luxe Farmhouse Inn in the tiny town of Forestville. Inside the open-air spa modeled after a very stylish horse stable, therapists blend local remedies like Pacific sea salt and wild mustard seed to create customized treatments. Go for the hour-long Antidote, tailored to your preferences ($215), or indulge in the 90-minute Gems and Stones massage ($355), which incorporates both chilled gemstones and hot basalt rocks to release tension and reduce inflammation.
When you can finally tear yourself away from the massage table, freshen up for dinner before making the 30-second walk to the property’s newly designed Farmhouse Restaurant, which fuses fine dining with fresh farm-to-table fare that often highlights in-season ingredients chef Jackson Clark picks up at local farms. The ever-changing 6-course menu ($150 per person) boasts innovative, artful dishes like asparagus gazpacho topped with a delicate Hokkaido scallop and wild king salmon with potato pave, porcini mushrooms, and broken balsamic vinaigrette. For a more casual— though equally farm-driven—option, the inn’s all-day, mainly outdoor eatery Farmstand churns out simple but impressively executed shareable plates, including mussels with cherry tomatoes, miso butter, and ciabatta; oven-roasted carrots with salsa verde and quinoa; and a selection of wood-fired pizzas. Top it all off with a grown-up version of vanilla soft-serve.
Day 3: Strolling a town square, olive oil tasting, people watching
Fuel up first thing at Downtown Healdsburg’s Little Saint, a new restaurant-meets-retail-space-meets-cocktail-and-coffee-bar in a gargantuan glass-enclosed space. The much-anticipated (and entirely vegan!) culinary program comes from Kyle and Katina Connaughton, the renowned chefs behind SingleThread, the nearby 3-Michelin-starred restaurant with a perennial wait list. In the morning, pick up pour-overs and pastries, and then peruse the local produce, fresh flower offerings, and the provisions shop filled with books, artisan-made goods, and a thoughtful selection of wines. If you visit later in the day, there’s plenty of order-at-the-counter fare like lentil hummus and bright seasonal salads, and a rotating dinner menu of creative plant-based plates, such as collard greens stuffed with beet “sausage” and a cheesy cashew spread paired with just-baked lavash.
A short walk will bring you to Healdsburg’s couldn’t-be-more-charming, leafy town square surrounded by dozens of shops, galleries, tasting rooms, and, of course, fabulous food. You can pick up interesting and educational games and toys—from kites to kaleidoscopes—for the pint-sized people in your life at the colorful Toy Chest, while Yasuko offers one-of-a-kind wardrobe pieces created from vintage Japanese fabrics and textiles. Copperfield’s Books has beaten the odds as an independent bookseller that’s now expanded to 9 shops throughout the area, including this one with thousands of titles and a solid cookbook section. Contemporary art in the form of paintings, sculptures, and jewelry by an array of artists is on offer at the women-owned Gallery Lulo.
Up for another splash of vino? Step inside the stylish tasting room of Marine Layer Wines (named for the famous fog that often blankets the Sonoma Coast), focused on small-batch chardonnay and pinot noir. (Tastings, $35 per person.)
Take a scenic drive south about 29 miles to Gold Ridge Organic Farms in Sebastopol, where farmer Brooke Hazen planted a 70-acre orchard of French, Italian, and Spanish varieties of olives (along with 18 acres of apples and citruses) more than 20 years ago. Today, the literal fruits of his labor are used to make a variety of nuanced certified extra-virgin olive oils, including Arbequina, Tuscan, and Picholine blends, in addition to a few flavored oils infused with farm-grown citrus. Make a reservation for the in-depth Organic Olive Oil Tasting Exploration ($75 per person), which includes a tour of the olive orchard and estate mill, followed by a formal sit-down tasting to sample the farm’s oil, vinegar, and syrup offerings paired with local breads and other goodies. Those who are shorter on time can opt for a pared-down Organic Olive Oil Introduction ($25 per person) at the tasting bar.
End your day back in Healdsburg with small plates and cocktails—and people-watching—by snagging a stool at the bustling, open-air Roof 106, which overlooks the streets and square below. Larger parties can grab a table or sofa around one of the multiple blazing firepits. The concept comes from longtime local chef Dustin Valette, who’s created a menu of flavorful fare including spiced Delicata squash with sage crema, Rancho Gordo white bean hummus with pickled veggies and sourdough flatbread, and an assortment of creative pizzas. And don’t miss the Modern Margarita made with clarified lime.
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3 places to stay in Sonoma County
Siblings and fifth-generation Sonoma natives Joe and Catherine Bartolomei have spent 20 years transforming the Farmhouse Inn into an intimately luxurious property with a country-chic feel plus a standout spa and culinary program. The property is anchored by pale yellow farmhouse-style structures, a pool pavilion, and plenty of stone pathways, rose bush–covered trellises, and trickling water features. Inside the 25 rooms, suites, and cottages you’ll find pillow-top beds, gas fireplaces, and spa-inspired bathrooms equipped with steam showers and downright dreamy heated floors. Expect special touches at every turn, like glasses of bubbly and goodie bags to fill up with locally made olive oil soaps and scrubs at the lobby’s “soap bar” during check-in. There’s also a daily wine hour, helmed by a visiting winemaker, which offers a chance to taste something new while mingling with fellow guests and the hotel’s owners. Come evening, the kitchen leaves house-made s’mores kits by the firepit and freshly baked cookies on your bed for post-dinner indulging. But some of the property’s most outstanding offerings come in the form of curated experiences the staff arranges for guests—from tastings at exclusive wineries to reservations at impossible-to-get-into restaurants to kayaking excursions on the Russian River. Tell the staff your likes and interests, and how active you want to be during your stay, and they’ll take care of the rest. Rooms from $635.
This LEED Gold–certified downtown Healdsburg hotel is serious about sustainability. Its “green roof” filters rainwater to help cut down on its impact on the town’s storm-drain system and neighboring creek; solar panels are used to heat the swimming pool and the rooms’ hot water; each floor offers purified water stations to fill the carafes provided to guests; and even the elevator was made to use half the electricity of a standard hydraulic version.
The property’s 36 sleek and stylish rooms come equipped with Egyptian cotton–covered king beds, natural wood accents, walk-in glass-and-tile showers, balconies, and all-natural bath products. It’s chock-full of art, too, with eye-catching paintings, prints, and sculptures throughout, including the signature water sculpture that flanks the entrance, created with 2,000 espresso spoons by Sonoma-based artist Ned Kahn. The on-site restaurant, Spoonbar, offers seasonal California cuisine along with a selection of craft cocktails in both in its lobby-adjacent dining room and on its outdoor patio. Rooms from $449.
With just 6 suites, this cozy hotel is a cork’s throw from Healdsburg Plaza. Owned by local couple Mark and Marie Luzaich, it’s done up in a European-inspired minimalist style that’s heavy on warm woods and cool concrete. Bigger is clearly better here as each suite—equipped with its own private outdoor patio—includes a California king bed, sitting areas with oversize pillows and robes for lounging, large walk-in showers, double-sink stainless-steel vanities, and Aveda bath products. Rooms are centered around a grassy courtyard with a spa and a 50-foot pool surrounded by branchy olive trees. With no more than 12 guests on the property at a time, this one’s a quiet oasis; it also offers the option to buy out all 6 rooms at once for families and groups making the trip together. Rooms from $495.
Lizbeth Scordo is a food and travel writer based in Southern California.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.
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