In honor of the new Amy Poehler directed movie, Wine Country, that hit Netflix last week, here’s to celebrating some of the best Sonoma Valley has to offer.
Visiting Napa during Memorial Day weekend is a must for my all time festival love, Bottlerock, but I actually almost prefer the less crowded, easy going nature of the Sonoma Valley. They’re both great. This is how you know you’re old, by how much you enjoy wine country.
It’s almost summertime, which means Wine Country weekends will be in full effect. I prefer visiting in the fall (harvest season is late summer/early fall), but the masses start descending upon Northern California as soon as the hint of good weather appears. The best trips to this region involve your best gal pals, so grab your bestie and go!
You may remember from Napa that I like to mix it up when it comes to visiting wineries. Some big, some small. Perhaps the largest in this area is Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, which is worth a visit just to see all the movie memorabilia housed in this behemoth estate. There’s the skulls of Apocalypse Now and, of course, Godfather things like Don Corleone’s desk.
After perusing the very large grounds, partaking in tastings and tours ($15-60). If you’re not a huge drinker like me, you can get a complimentary splash of wine at their Main Tasting Bar. I find the wineries in Sonoma are more generous with their splashes than in Napa.
Hop on over to Healdsburg which is a super trendy, upmarket town. The perfectly manicured streets are lined with boutiques and renowned restaurants. My favorite gourmet grocery SHED recently closed at the end of last year (RIP), but there are so many delectable dishes around the main drags of Healdsburg, Center, and North Streets.
Costeaux French Bakery is a long time institution for breakfast and pastries that won’t break the bank. But, if you’re looking for a place to stay, and you have a ton of money to burn, Single Thread Farm is both charming and features Cal-Japanese cuisine that was only awarded 3 Michelin stars this year. 3. Michelin. Stars. Those don’t come cheap.
Take a short drive out to Armstrong Redwoods Natural Reserve. When in California, one must experience the splendor of its natural offerings. Sequoias a little more down south, and Redwoods in the north. These solid, majestic trees stretch as far as the eye can see, shrouding everything below in a cool shadow. It’s literally the perfect temperature on the forest floor underneath the halo of branches.
Go on a short hike and admire the 1300 year old Parson Jones or its even older compadre, Colonel Armstrong at 1400 years. Both are taller than 300 feet and have a diameter around 13-15 feet. They are massive.
It’s super easy to get lost in the forest here, there’s not that many signs and no cell phone signal so just remember which parking lot you came from, or you may be like me and walk the entire area twice. More experience with nature I guess.
Make your way back to civilization and hit Guerneville. This small unincorporated town is so charming and cute, which is really not what you would expect from a logging town. On the banks of the Russian River, visit Johnson’s Beach where lots of families like to go tubing or kayaking. For all my SoCal folks, the Russian River is the equivalent of the Colorado for us. Very popular, can get very crowded in the summer.
Guerneville has some eats, as all the cities in this area. Guerneville Bank Club is this cool co-op like building that contains the amazing bakery/ice cream shop Nimble & Finn’s. You can enjoy your treats from the old vault of the former bank from which this building pulled its name.
And basically a few doors down is Boon Eat + Drink, the companion restaurant to Boon hotel + spa, which is a great place to stay (glamping tents!). Eat the mac and cheese here, then roll yourself down the road and stay at their hotel. Also, you can’t leave Guerneville until you’ve visited the Korbel Winery. The champagne’s not Korbel!
Get an early start the next morning because there is much to do. Head as far west as you can until you hit the Pacific. It’s the big blue endless horizon of water, can’t miss it.
Goat Rock Beach is one of the typical, beautiful rocky Northern California seascapes. The mouth of the Russian River starts here, and due to constant erosion and the San Andreas, there are lots of cool rock formations. The largest and most notable, the Goat Rock itself is barely connected to land by a small isthmus. During pupping season, you can see seals lazing all over the beach as well, but do not approach, they are not friendly.
Driving down the coast of California is one of life’s great simple pleasures. It’s so beautiful out here, standing up on a cliff, looking at all the outcroppings of craggy rocks along the coast. The arch rock is another standout. All you need is the wind in your hair and a Head and the Heart song.
When you’re ready to head back inland, do make it a point to stop in Petaluma or Sebastopol, both very cool artsy cities with cool markets and artisanal offerings. Petaluma especially has really good coffee at Petaluma Coffee, Acre and Simply Strudel. Perfect for a little breakfast snack before heading into Santa Rosa, although I have to put a plug in for Flying Goat coffee, which has an excellent drink called the “Bangkok” which is like a Vietnamese iced coffee with nutmeg.
Santa Rosa is the seat of the county and is very well known for its most famous resident, Snoopy! Or at least Charles Schulz.
Yep, Charlie Brown & Co. have many museums and statues and an ice rink all dedicated to them in this city. Peanuts creator, Charles Schulz lived for a very long time in Santa Rosa, and his museum has a ton of original art, memorabilia and tributes. This museum is totally worth admission and more. Snoopy come home!
Speaking of going home, what better way to truly experience Sonoma than by visiting the original Williams Sonoma store. It’s actually not very large, but of course it’s classy in its decor and style, as with all of its stores. There’s a very beautiful chef’s kitchen where they have many notable personalities come through.
The store is just outside the main historic plaza in Sonoma, California’s largest plaza. It was a Mexican military fort/presidio, site of the first California mission, San Francisco Solano (love missions, as you can tell from this post). Now it is a major tourist attraction with cafes and ice cream shops along the perimeter.
There are tons of eateries in this area, but if you drive out a little bit to the outskirts of the city, you’ll find an eatery from local darling restauranteurs Erika and Chad Harris, Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits. This was the previous Fremont Diner, almost too popular for its own good, and has most of its hits like hush puppies and pimento cheese. And pies and soft serve, do not forget about soft serve to give your trip the sweet ending it deserves.