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72 Hours In Sonoma County, California

by Penny Sadler

 

Just an hour from San Francisco and west of Napa Valley, Sonoma is a California wine country destination that feels undiscovered, yet sophisticated. Go now, because with feature stories in National Geographic and the Smithsonian Magazine, Sonoma is definitely not a secret anymore.

Sonoma is not only for wine and food lovers (although if that’s what you crave, you couldn’t choose a better place). Outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers can find their happy place among the ancient redwood trees, kayaking and camping along the Russian River, hiking the Sonoma Coast, or biking the wine trails. If you prefer a more leisurely weekend, you’ll find spas, swanky boutiques, and no surprise, lots of wine tasting rooms.

72 Hours in Sonoma County California &@64; www.adventuresofacarryon.com

Vineyards in the Alexander Valley

72 Hours in Sonoma County

Depending on what you want to do, you can choose to stay in one of several picturesque towns. Santa Rosa is the largest city in the county, and offers a good location just 55 minutes from San Francisco. There are several neighborhoods of cultural interest, and as is the norm in Sonoma, good food and wine, too.

The historic town of Sonoma is where the Franciscans built the last California mission, located on a charming town square peppered with wineries and restaurants. If the outdoor life is what you seek, stay in Guerneville under the redwoods, or one of the coastal towns, like Bogeda Bay.

72 Hours in Sonoma County

The hamlet of Graton. Eat at the Willowwood Cafe.

72 Hours in Sonoma County, California

Occidental Community Church built in 1874. The population of Occidental is approximately 1000.

I chose to stay in the town of Healdsburg, because I had an invitation to visit, and because I’d heard that Healdsburg is the new IT place for city dwellers to escape to the country. Napa is still a top destination from the San Francisco Bay area (and everywhere else), but Healdsburg is getting a lot of attention now from folks who like a quieter, less dressed-up type of getaway.

72 Hours in sonoma County CA

Healdsburg is a walking town.

Healdsburg is ideally located, whether you want to explore one of the three major wine producing regions (all within a twenty minute drive), or just stay put and enjoy the fine dining, boutique shopping, and historic square. Since I’d never been to Sonoma County before, this seemed like a good place to base myself.

A Perfect Long Weekend in Healdsburg is a good article for familiarizing yourself more with what Healdsburg has to offer.

72 Hours in Sonoma County California

Healdsburg’s historic plaza. photo courtesy of Savor Healdsburg

This article is updated as of September 2018

ACCOMMODATIONS

I used Booking.com for all of my accommodations.   If you book through a link on my site, I make a small commission which helps me keep the site going.

Grape Leaf Inn
539 Johnson St.
Healdsburg,CA

Built in 1905, the beautifully restored Grape Leaf Inn is located on a quiet residential street just a five minute walk from the Healdsburg square. A lovely porch offers a place to while away the time with a good book or a bottle of wine. The owners also own several wineries any of which are open to guests of the Inn for a tour and tasting.

A real treat is the home cooked breakfast prepared by young chef Will Case. The menu is different day-to-day and it is always delicious. I stayed three nights so had a to try quite a few of Will’s creations. My favorite was an eggs benedict, a treat I don’t often allow myself.

72 Hours in Sonoma County California

Eggs Benedict made to order at the Grape Leaf Inn

The Grape Leaf Inn offers thirteen guest rooms: two queen, nine king and two suites. I had a chance to peek into several of the rooms which were all light and bright with big comfortable beds and well-appointed bathrooms. If you seek privacy try the Champagne Suite. Completely detached from the main house the Champagne Suite has a furnished terrace, king-size bed, and most fun of all, an outdoor shower which you access by walking through the indoor version. It was too cold when I was there to shower outside but if you’re sharing the room this could be convenient. It’s a whimsical feature that is also fun to talk about on social media.

72 Hours in Sonoma County, CA

King size bed in the Champagne Suite at the Grape Leaf Inn, Healdsburg, CA

Best Western Dry Creek Inn
198 Dry Creek Rd.
Phone: (707) 433-0300

Healdsburg has a variety of accommodations to choose from including the five star Hotel Healdsburg. However, for value and location, the Best Western Dry Creek Inn gets my vote.

Tastefully reminiscent of a Tuscan villa, this hotel is located right off the 101 Freeway and Dry Creek Road.

 

72 Hours in Sonoma County

The piazza, Villa Toscana building, Dry Creek Inn.

Rooms are large and comfortable, with all of the traditional amenities. (The Villa Toscana rooms have whirlpool tubs. If you like a good soak, ask for one of these rooms). Breakfast is included with all rooms.

72 Hours in Sonoma County

I slept like a principessa.

72 Hours in Sonoma County

Who needs a spa when you have one in your hotel room?

 

There is also a full gym if want to keep up with your fitness routine, plus a sauna and two swimming pools. In high season, you can find your OM at the bi-weekly yoga classes.

72 Hours in Sonoma County California

Pull up a chair and enjoy the clean air and ambiance of Sonoma County

One of the nicest features of this hotel is the outdoor fireplace. There were always people gathered here to enjoy the cool evening air and a bottle of Sonoma County wine. In the mornings, I usually saw someone sitting by the fire reading a book. What really impressed me was even though the hotel is located off the 101, this area always felt tranquil and secluded.

Camellia Inn
211 North St.
Phone: (707) 433-8182

If you prefer a smaller and more intimate experience, the Camellia Inn, located within walking distance of the square downtown, is a restored Victorian home turned bed and breakfast. The Inn is aptly named after the variety of camellias, which grow on the property.

 

72 Hours in Healdsburg, Sonoma County

Exterior Camellia Inn, photo courtesy of Camellia Inn

Breakfast is served in the dining room in the main house. Homemade bread, fresh fruit, yogurt, quiche (made with fresh eggs delivered daily), coffee, and teas are served around a beautiful antique mahogany dining table.

Breakfast at the community table with other guests is one of the things I enjoy about staying at a bed and breakfast. You never know who you may meet, and at least one person usually has some good travel tips.

All the rooms are decorated with period furniture, and luxury linens which the Camellia Inn is known for. I did have an amazing sleep, though I’m sure all the wine I drank at the tasting didn’t hurt either.

On Friday evenings, the Inn hosts a wine tasting with a local winery. Lucky for me, the night I was there, a representative from Paul Matthews Vineyards hosted the tasting. Paul Matthews specializes in Rhone varietals. Pinot Noir is my favorite red wine because it pairs well with a wide variety of foods and is light on tannins.

72 Hours in Healdsburg

Great Sonoma County wine from the Russian River Valley

 

AND SPEAKING OF WINE TASTING…

This section is updated as of December 29, 2017

DO

Most people traveling to Sonoma plan to go wine tasting. With over 200 tasting rooms and eighteen AVAs (American Viticulture areas), you may have a tough time narrowing down your choices. If you stay in Healdsburg, you’ll be within twenty minutes of three AVAs: Dry Creek, Russian River Valley, and Alexander Valley. If that’s not enough, there are nineteen tasting rooms in Healdsburg.

You can choose which places to visit based on what kind of wine you like, or what you want to do. The tasting rooms and wineries offer a wide range of options from picnics to private tastings, with food and wine pairing.

72 Hours in Sonoma County

The view and the wines are both pretty special.

Flanagan Wines

435 W. Dry Creek Rd.
(707)723-8800

Just five minutes from downtown Healdsburg, Flanagan’s recently opened tasting room offers high end Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and sources from some of the areas top vineyards. The tasting room is small but there is outdoor seating with gorgeous views of Dry Creek Valley. Tastings are by appointment and hosted by some of the most fun wine industry professionals I’ve had the pleasure to know. 

Simoncini Vineyards

2303 West Dry Creek Road
(707)433-8811

Simoncini is a very small, family-owned winery, with state of the art facilities. They make quite a few different wines from a sparkling rosé of Pinot Noir to Zinfandel, Voignier and a late harvest Muscat, to name a few. You definitely want to experience the wine cave and then step outside to enjoy the wooded picnic area with a glass of dessert wine and chocolate. Simoncini is by invitation or appointment only. To enter you have to drive through a gated parking lot. 

 

Truett Hurst

5610 Dry Creek Rd.
Phone: (707) 433-9545

Truett Hurst has a beautiful property and tasting room in Dry Creek, roughly ten minutes from the Dry Creek Inn.

The property backs up to the Russian River, where it flows into Dry Creek. This would be a great place to relax in one of the big Adirondack chairs by the river with lunch and bottle of wine.

Truett Hearst photo penysadler for Adventures of a Carryon

Pull up a chair and a bottle and stay a while at Truett Hurst in Dry Creek.

Truett Hurst is known for an excellent selection of zinfandels. The grapes are sourced in the Dry Creek Valley. Other varietals are sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and pinot noir, all from the Russian River Valley. Great wines. Great location. Tastings are $10.00, and you can try as many wines as you like.

Hours: Daily 10:30 am – 5:00 pm

La Crema

235 Healdsburg Ave.
Phone: (707) 431-9400

La Crema is on the square in Healdsburg. They have a gorgeous tasting room with lots of light; the interior is very modern and sleek. We went there mainly in search of a specific dessert wine for a friend. Of course, we tasted a couple of other wines, too.

La Crema offers a selection of tastings priced from $10– 30.

72 Hours in sonoma county California

It’s fun meeting up with friends on the road; Travel and wine writer Dave Levart and his wife Syy.

 

Hours: Daily 10:30 – 5:30 pm

Tip: Tasting rooms close early, some  at 4:00 pm. Be sure to plan accordingly.

 

EAT

Sonoma is largely agricultural, and the food is as fresh as you can get. Eating in Sonoma County is an integral part of any trip. With Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen and Madrona Manor, a Michelin star restaurant, it would be hard to have a bad meal in Healdsburg.

Valette
344 Center St.
Healdsburg, CA
707-473-0946

This Sonoma-centric establishment is a favorite with both locals and tourists. The menu features the bounty of Sonoma County. The wine list features small boutique wineries and has been on the Wine Spectator Top 100 list. Chef-owner Dustin Valette earned his chops working with the best of the best in the hospitality and restaurant industry. He was most recently at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen before opening Valette with his brother Aaron Garzini in the space that was once their grandfather’s bakery.

I went with friends who advised me the Day Boat Scallops En Croüte were not to be missed. I’d say you could almost make a meal out of this dish –  it is very rich. The back story is pretty great too. Maybe they’ll tell you if you ask.
You will want to make reservations well in advance and bring your checkbook.

72 Hours in sonoma, The Shed @www.adventuresofacarryon.com

The Shed has been named one of the Top 100 SF Bay Restaurants this year. Great place to start exploring Healdsburg’s food culture.

 

Savor Healdsburg Food Tours

A convenient and fun way to sample the food and drink of Sonoma County (no matter where you stay) is a foodie tour. Most tour guides will also give you insider tips and a history of the area. That always makes the food taste better to me.

72 Hours in Sonoma Californai

Tammy Gass owner and guide of Savor Healdsburg Food Tours

Tammy Gass, owner of Savor Healdsburg Food Tours, is an eight-year resident of Healdsburg. I found Tammy to be a reliable resource for all things Sonoma, not just Healdsburg. Her tour includes six stops. Along the way, you’ll sample foods that define local and delicious: scallops, cocktails made with fresh produce, and Sonoma County wines.

 

72 Hours in Healdsburg photo by Penny Sadler www.adventuresofacarryon.com

Yum! Scallops at Cafe’ Lucia, Healdsburg

Tammy will also give you the 411 on other places to wine and dine in Healdsburg. To book a tour and for more information be sure to visit Savor Healdsburg’s website, where you’ll also find helpful articles on things to do in the area. You can find more delicious photos of the tour in this article: Eating My Way Through A Savor Healdsburg Food Tour

 

When you’re tired of wine tasting, refresh yourself at a Japanese style tea room.

72 Hours in Sonoma Coiunty California

The bar at Taste of Tea

Taste of Tea serves freshly brewed loose leaf teas, mainly from Japan, though there are a few varieties from other areas. I found this place to be a little oasis of respite from a little to much wine drinking. Wine tasting is hard work!

You can also indulge in a tea facial mask and foot soak. Aside from the relaxing experience, the tea mask immediately brightens and tightens the fine lines of the face. Who doesn’t want that? To top it all off, I had a bowl of house-made green tea ice cream. One can never have too much ice cream (or tea)!

72 Hours in Healdsburg, California

Mmmm, green tea ice cream.

If you find a tea you love, you can purchase some to take home with you, along with the masks, and recreate your own spa experience.

109 North St.
Healdsburg
Hours: Friday – Tuesday 11:00 – 6:00

 

THE VIEWS

One of my passions is photography, especially landscape photography. Tammy suggested a drive to Gustafson Vineyards for the views and the 300-year old madrone tree. It’s a thirty minute drive from Healdsburg but worth it!

72 Hours Sonoma County California

Gustafson Vineyards with Lake Sonoma in the background

 

The views are stunning and I fell in love with Sonoma right then and there. I highly recommend visiting this estate vineyard property. The tasting room is only open on Saturday or by appointment. The house is available as a vacation rental so you will need to check if it’s possible to walk freely around the property.

Gustafson tasting room, Healdsburg, @PennySadler 2016

Why yes, I’ll have a glass of dry Reisling.

Gustafson produces a large variety of award winning wines, and because of the soil and elevation of the property, they make some excellent cool climate varieties like a Reisling with under 1% residual sugar. See, not all Reislings are sweet.

9100 Skaggs Springs Rd.
Geyersville

Kia Sorento at Gustafson Vineyards

2016 Kia Sorento was a great car for driving around Sonoma County

Also find Gustafson’s tasting room in Healdsburg located at:
34 North St.
Healdsburg
Hours: 12:00 – 7:00

Alexander Valley @ Adventuresofcarryon.com

Driving through the beautiful Alexander Valley wine country,

Getting around Sonoma County

In every wine region I’ve visited, a car is really crucial for seeing the sites and getting around to the wineries and tasting rooms. In Sonoma, I drove a 2016 Kia Sorento.

Yes, the Sorento has a fancy navigation system, but since I had Tammy riding with me, I never learned to use it -isn’t navigating what local friends are for? The Sorento was a really nice ride and fit right in with the wide open Sonoma countryside. If you are traveling with a large group, this is a roomy and comfortable ride.

Kia Sorento 2016 Gustafson Vineyards

I had a great navigator.

72 Hours in Sonoma County California

Photo courtesy of Kia USA

Drive

Another must do in Sonoma is a drive to the coast, along Highway 1. I wrote a little about this in my article: Postcard: Sonoma Coast Sunset.

 

72 Hours in Sonoma County, California

The Sonoma coast has twenty-six access points.

My tip: plan at least a 1/2 day for this. From Healdsburg, you can go north to Jenner, where you must stop for sunset at River’s End,  or south to Bodega Bay, where you’ll find more restaurants, great camping, and a bird watching preserve.

Bodega Bay is where Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, The Birds was made, but no matter which direction you go, the scenery is unforgettable.  If you only have two days in the area, maybe skip this but if you have three or more, go for it.

72 Hours In Sonoma, County

The Potter School was the location for a scene in The Birds, a 1963 film by director Alfred Hitchcock. It is located in the town of Bodega, just about five minutes from the Tides on Highway 1.

For more information on stops along the way and route details read Bodega Bay Road Trip.

The Russian River Valley

The drive through the Russian River Valley to the coast is magical, passing through ancient redwood trees, the tallest living things on the earth. I have friends who biked to the coast via Guerneville. Be safe – the roads are narrow and vision is often limited.

Things to do in this area include hiking and walking at Armstrong Woods State Reserve, water sports on the Russian River, vineyard visits, and camping. This is a twenty to thirty minute drive from Healdsburg, though it seems farther because of the curves in the road. Guerneville is the main town here, and is about halfway between Healdsburg and the Sonoma coast.

Interesting side note: A logger, aptly named Armstrong, recognized the value and beauty of the trees he farmed, and set aside the Armstrong Woods Reserve for preservation. There is no camping inside the reserve, but there is camping within the immediate vicinity.

The Russian River Valley is also famous for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. Korbel vineyards is located here, and if you like sparkling wine, you’ll not want to miss this. The Russian River Valley Wine Growers has an excellent website to help you plan your time there.

I recommend a picnic under the trees or beside the river and a bottle of whatever color wine you like, then a hike, or any outdoor activity. Breathe in the clean air and relax into the scenery. This is what life is really about.

Armstrong Woods Reserve Sonoma California

Armstrong Woods Trail. photo Flickr Creative Common by Haminder Dhesi

 

Sonoma truly is a little bit of paradise in northern California. Have you been yet? Have questions? Feel free to reach out via my contact page. I will be updating this article as my travels take me back to Sonoma so subscribe to my email list so you never miss an awesome article.

Thanks to Tammy Gass for helping me coordinate my stay in Healdsburg. Her advice and inside information was invaluable. Also thanks to Lucy at Camellia Inn for hosting me on a Friday night when everything was full. Thanks to the Dry Creek Inn for their generosity, I will definitely be back. And a final thank you to Kia USA for the luxury of driving a brand new Sorento through Sonoma County. I drove a lot, and this car definitely made it easier and more fun.

 

Like this article? PIN it!

72 Hours in Sonoma Valley in which I detail where to stay, what to do, and where to drink wine. Start here for a guide to Sonoma County.

 

 

 

 

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22 comments

Jim December 29, 2017 at 7:38 pm

Honestly one of the best compilations of Sonoma visiting I have read. You have captured the flavor of this area and many of your suggestions are favorites of mine. Thanks for this super comprehensive list. I can’t wait to visit. It really is a special part of the world.

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Penny Sadler December 29, 2017 at 8:10 pm

Thank you! I will continue to update so keep checking back.

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Tawanna January 23, 2017 at 4:33 pm

I loved my week driving the Kia Sorento. I wish they would have left it with me for longer. It’s an excellent way to ride around that area. Love what I see in the pics of the outdoors at Truett Hurst but I could see myself enjoying the rooms of The Villa Toscana.

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Penny Sadler January 24, 2017 at 10:20 am

I loved the Kia too. I also like the Kia Forte. Great steering radius on the Kias.

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Lillie January 22, 2017 at 7:34 pm

Ahh, a picnic under the trees in The Russian River Valley sounds dreamy! I’ve SO got to get to Sonoma…

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Penny Sadler January 23, 2017 at 9:21 am

Yes you Do!

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Jessie Voigts January 19, 2017 at 5:45 pm

We need to go. What a great guide – thank you for the inspiration!

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Penny Sadler January 19, 2017 at 6:25 pm

Thanks for the cmments!

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Valen Dawson January 16, 2017 at 9:10 pm

Sonoma County is one of my favorite areas of the world. So much good food and wine. You’ve made me want to take another trip there!

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Jennifer January 15, 2017 at 4:12 pm

Healdsburg is my favorite town in Sonoma County too. And Sonoma is such a fantastic part of California Wine Country, I’m always happy to read about it. 🙂

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Penny Sadler January 15, 2017 at 4:38 pm

I can’t wait to go back. I think Healdsburg is by far the best small town in Sonoma County. It has the price tag too. Sigh…

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Rhianon September 14, 2016 at 2:18 pm

I’m glad you had such a great time in Sonoma County! One of my favorite things about the area is the amount of amazing food we have here- it’s a little overwhelming. There’s a ton of great restaurants in Petaluma and Rohnert Park, and one of my favorites, Sally Tomatoes, even has comedy nights! There’s also a never-ending amount of places to explore outdoors.

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Penny Sadler September 16, 2016 at 5:01 pm

You’re so right, it is overwhelming. I have to get back there and explore some more. Thanks for the tips!

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Mary @ Green Global Travel August 15, 2016 at 8:05 pm

I’ve been to Napa, but always wanted to go back and visit Sonoma. A pinic under the tree in the Russian River Valley sounds divine!

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Penny Sadler August 16, 2016 at 11:48 am

Sonoma and Napa are so different. From what I know of you two I think Sonoma would be more your style.

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Sand In My Suitcase August 11, 2016 at 11:50 am

We too stayed in Healdsburg when visiting Sonoma a while back – loved it! We were introduced to the luscious Zinfandels made in the Dry Creek Valley. It was great fun to take an all-day bike tour around the vineyards, where we stopped at several wineries for some wine tasting. The group had a choice at the beginning of the tour – bike intensive or wine intensive? Of course we chose “wine intensive” :-). We also took a day to drive through the Russian River Valley and out to the foggy coast, which as you say, is quite magical…

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Penny Sadler August 11, 2016 at 7:50 pm

I”m so glad to hear you did more or less the same trip I did. Only I did not bike at all. Thanks for the comment.

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Dan Gustafson August 3, 2016 at 9:49 am

Thank you for your very kind words about Gustafson Family Vineyard. We love Sonoma County and can see almost half of it from our picnic area. Sincerely, Dan Gustafson

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Penny Sadler August 3, 2016 at 2:23 pm

Hi Dan, You are a lucky man indeed! I hope to visit in the future. Maybe stay a while! 🙂

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John Ingersoll August 1, 2016 at 7:26 pm

Classic “first world problem” – I am trying to figure out how to retire to Sonoma from Napa! I love Napa but Sonoma is my real soulmate. You hit on so many of my favorite wineries, restaurants, activities, fun places, etc. Well done!

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Penny Sadler August 2, 2016 at 12:35 pm

Hi John, Thank you so much for the nice comment. LOL 1st world problem indeed. Well, they are both beautiful just very different. I’d take either!

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