A small town in the heart of Sonoma County, Healdsburg is one of Northern California’s best-kept secrets. Not only does it boast one of the finest food scenes in the area, but its location — the city of about 11,000 residents sits at the wine-producing juncture of Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley — and mild, sunny climates year-round make it the ideal destination for two perfect days of wine, food and fun in vino country.
You could go contemporary at the Hotel Healdsburg, or rustic at one of the many bed and breakfasts in the area. But for luxurious accommodations with a European flair, we recommend the Hotel Les Mars, an intimate Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star property just a block from the town’s main square.
A crystal chandelier and wall-sized tapestry will greet you in the elegant lobby before you’re escorted to one of the 16 individually appointed rooms, each decorated in grand Parisian style with Louis XV armoires and draped, four-poster beds made up with whisper-soft fine Italian linen. Make believe that you’ve been transported to the Old World as you freshen up for the day in your sumptuous bathroom (some equipped with bidets and hydrojet baths, others with marble and/or walk-in showers).
For your first stop, all you need to do is pop next door to the Shed, a shop, café and market that won the 2014 James Beard Foundation award for Outstanding Restaurant Design (76 seats and over). You’ll want to spend a bit of time browsing the stylish displays of books, cookware and kitchen accessories in the glass and metal edifice before choosing a spot under the soft skylights for a late morning breakfast. The quiche is superb here, as are the creamy, oven-baked, farm-fresh eggs, served in a porcelain dish with a slice of artisanal bread for dipping.
There are countless wineries that you can visit without an appointment, but to experience the crème de la crème grape-inspired outing, advance appointments are necessary. Case in point: Jordan Winery. You’ll notice the breathtaking scape as your car advances up the winding the hill that leads to the majestic Jordan chateau — and to think, all of this is just 10 minutes from the hotel.
Underneath a natural oak tree canopy, right in front of the chateau, your tour begins with a tasting of Jordan Chardonnay paired with chef-prepared light bites sourced from the onsite organic garden. Admire the impeccably manicured grounds as you sip and take the guided tour of the estate. The final stop will take place in the private library on the second floor of the chateau, where you will have the opportunity to taste new and older vintages side by side, accompanied by a cheese and charcuterie selection, as well as a special surprise from the kitchen.
If you’ve worked up an appetite from all the glass lifting, head back to central Healdsburg for a light lunch at one of the many small-plates restaurants in town. We suggest Bravas Bar de Tapas, where you can grab a seat on the umbrella-covered patio and munch on Iberico ham or steamed clams in garlic, parsley and chili flakes while savoring a sangria.
A stroll around town will help you work off your lunch. Wander through many of the art galleries on Healdsburg Avenue (Gallery 322, The Christopher Hill Gallery, Erickson Fine Art Gallery, The Harris Gallery, etc.) and pop in the Ferrari-Carano or La Crema wine tasting rooms if you like. But whatever you do, save room for your next vino detour at Ridge Vineyards. There, let yourself be enchanted by the meticulously manicured rows of gnarly, 115-year-old vines; marvel at the modern elegance of an eco-sustainable, primarily solar-powered tasting room built of straw bales and vineyard clay; and recline on one of the comfortable outdoor sofas while indulging in a flight of wines that includes the prize-winning Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, a selection which came in first at the 30th anniversary re-enactment of the famed Judgment of Paris blind tasting competition in 2006.
Return to your room at the Hotel Les Mars for a siesta, followed by a scrumptious meal in the nearby Madrona Manor. Arrive a bit early for dinner so you can wander among the fresh flowers and produce in the stately property’s onsite garden. When it’s time to eat, the Grand Dame, a 10-course wine and food pairing orchestrated by executive chef Jesse Mallgren, is the only way to go. On this culinary ride, prepare to be wowed with inventive, innovative dishes done to impeccable standards with locally sourced products and vegetables grown on site. On a recent visit, we enjoyed every minute of our repast, from the delicacy of Mallgren’s scallop carpaccio, accented with lovage, lemon and flowers, to his exquisitely prepared crispy squab with shiitake and fava beans, and the cart à glace (ice cream spun tableside amid billows of smoking liquid nitrogen) grand finale.
Start your day bright and early with a light jog through the city before making a mandatory stop at Healdsburg’s Flying Goat Coffee for your morning cup of joe. If you’re looking for breakfast, too, head down another block to local favorite Downtown Bakery & Creamery for one of their prized sticky buns or morning pastries. This is a favorite hangout for local winemakers, so don’t be surprised if you spot some familiar faces from the prior day’s journeys.
Today, you’re heading about 30 minutes south to Iron Horse Vineyards for sparkling wine with a side of spectacular vistas of the Russian River Valley. The casual, walk-up style outdoor tasting area is positioned directly in front of one of the most picturesque views in Sonoma County. Snap some photos with your flutes of bubbly for Facebook and give yourself a few quiet moments on the wooden benches to soak it all in.
The day gets even more pleasurable once you make your way to J Vineyards & Winery’s Bubble Room for an afternoon feast — just make sure to book ahead for the 12 p.m. tasting. Sit back and nosh on a five-course lunch prepared by executive chef Erik Johnson, which includes three savory main selections, cheeses and dessert, while tasting some rare library and small production wines you won’t find anywhere else.
You’re probably feeling lazy after the epicurean excitement, so you should certainly schedule some rest and rejuvenation. Lucky for you, The Spa at Hotel Healdsburg has a tranquil pool, reclining loungers and six treatment rooms. The lavender peppermint restorative massage melts your bones with warm compresses of Himalayan salt to start, followed by a relaxing massage and an application of lavender body butter that nourishes and hydrates the skin.
With a few hours left in your day, make the most of them by taking a progressive food and drink crawl to the town’s best spots, all located within a block of each other. Start with drinks and bites at your hotel’s own restaurant, Chalkboard. Plates are meant for sharing, so order a couple (the pork belly buns are a must). Then, head down the street to Spoonbar. Sample their chicken cracklings with endive, chickpea and garlic while you decide which farm-to-barcocktail to order. Constructed with domestically produced spirits, organic herbs, fresh local fruits and garnished with edible flowers, the strawberry coriander margarita and the You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling (Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom vodka with lime, cranberry and housemade grenadine) are the standouts.
After you drink, head to Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar for oysters and a fine selection of small seafood plates. The decadent uni mac and cheese with sweet bay scallops or the caramelized, miso-glazed butterfish is a fine choice. If you have a hankering for pasta, however, Scopa may be your answer. Though the tiny place likely has a wait, all will be right in the world when the plate of thick-stranded housemade pappardelle is set in front of you.
If you still have energy after Scopa, head around the corner for some bocce ball on the patio at sister restaurant Campo Fina, or go for drinks on the moonlit patio at Barndiva. Either way, rest assured that by the night’s end, you’ll know the lay of the land like a local.