Just a short drive north of San Francisco you’ll find Healdsburg, a gorgeous small town nestled in the heart of Northern California wine country that combines pristine, natural beauty with plenty of art, artisan food, incredible wines and amazing craft cocktails.
Located in the center of three famous wine regions – the Russian River, Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys – Healdsburg is home to a multitude of tasting rooms and lounges where visitors can delve into the area’s beloved Pinot Noirs, Cabernets and Zinfandels. But there is something for every palate in Healdsburg – including a host of delicious craft ciders, beers and spirits.
Travelers looking for outdoor recreational opportunities can enjoy a picnic under redwoods in one of the area’s many parks. Hot air balloon rides will take you up and over the valley for breathtaking views. There are opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and swimming in the Russian River, as well as bird watching in the forests, whale watching on the Pacific Ocean, rock climbing or hiking along endless trails.
Spend any time walking up and down Healdsburg’s streets, and it will be impossible to resist popping into the many small shops. Filled with decor items, gifts, boutique clothing, hand-crafted jewelry and much more – your shopping senses will be tingling.
Where to Stay
Lodging can make or break any getaway, and fortunately, Healdsburg has wonderful options.
One of my favorites is Two Thirty-Five Luxury Suites, a perfect choice for groups looking for convenience and comfort.
There are four suites available: the Fitch Mountain, Orchard, Plaza and Foss Creek. Every one of these suites sleeps up to six adults and features a California king in every bedroom, flat-screen HDTV, full kitchens stocked with everything you need to cook and relax, an in-suite washer and dryer and more.
One thing I especially love about the hotel is its location just off the Healdsburg Plaza – making it easy to leisurely explore beautiful downtown Healdsburg on foot. Another hotel perk is the top-notch technology. There are Nest thermostats in every room and the TVs rise out of cabinets at the foot of each bed.
“Our hotel is a great option for large groups, especially girlfriends getaways,” says Holly Fox, Two Thirty-Five Luxury Suites Manager. “The beds are enormous, which makes sharing easy, and there’s so much room in each suite to hang out together. We’ve hosted many groups of women over the years, and they always have a fabulous time in Healdsburg. The restaurants and wineries can’t be beat and there are lots of fun hands-on experiences for groups of friends.”
Speaking of wineries, Healdsburg visitors might find themselves overwhelmed (in a good way) with all of the wine tasting options the town has to offer. But even beyond the town, there are places you will want to try.
“Healdsburg is known for many varietals, and Pinot Noir is one of them,” said Carla Howell Executive Director of Healdsburg Visitors Bureau. “The Russian River Valley produces some of the best Pinots. Healdsburg even has a Pinot Festival each year, and there are many wineries that are known exclusively for their Pinot Noir.”
One of my favorite places to taste is Gary Farrell Winery. You won’t find a better location to taste wine. Gary Farrell features one of the most impressive views in Sonoma County, overlooking the Russian River Valley and several ridge-lines, making their newly renovated tasting salon a must-visit on any trip through wine country.
When you arrive, there are several rooms to explore, including the Salon, Meadow View, Inspiration and Terrace. Experiences are hosted in several unique locations throughout the estate including the Salon and Terrace, along with the Meadow View and Inspiration rooms.
The Inspiration Tasting is great for Pinot Noir lovers. It features a curated flight of vineyard-designate wines, including some library vintages and limited-release bottlings. It is hosted by an estate sommelier in the Inspiration Room and includes six highly-allocated releases of a fantastic, single-vineyard Pinot Noir.
“The Inspiration Tasting is our most educational experience, as it showcases the immense diversity of Pinot Noir styles from each neighborhood of the Russian River Valley,” said Gary Farrell Winery General Manager Nancy Bailey. “Our guests have a chance to taste what makes each part of the valley unique, based on soil types, climate and proximity to the coast and the river itself. Pinot Noir is such a versatile grape when it comes to the characteristics of the finished wine, and the Inspiration Tasting exemplifies this variety.”
An interesting part of the Inspiration Tasting includes learning about the soil samples from the various vineyards and the effect soil has on grape development. “One of the advantages of growing grapes in Sonoma is the vast array of soil types throughout the county,” said Bailey. “Due to a combination of geological forces, Sonoma contains over 250 distinct soil types, which can have a dramatic effect on the taste of the grapes.”
It’s hard to go wrong with any restaurant choice in Healdsburg, but I definitely have some recommendations.Bravas Bar de Tapas
If you’re coming from the Gary Farrell wine tasting, you should make Bravas Bar de Tapas your next stop. Travel & Leisure has called it one of the top-20 tapas restaurants in the entire United States. Bravas offers plenty of traditional Spanish tapas, as well as modern small plates. The dishes are put together by a pair of James Beard semifinalists, Mark and Terri Stark. There are also large plates available for sharing, including paella – yum!
If you’re looking for drinks, Bravas offers a wide selection of local and Spanish wines, sangrias and cocktails, including a number of signature gin cocktails – to the delight of my husband and brother-in-law, who joined me for lunch on their sun-soaked patio.
“Gin is the number one consumed spirit in Spain,” said Bravas general manager, Spencer Osburg. “Our cocktail program provides a wide selection of gins and uses beautiful, locally-picked ingredients to amplify those notes in each gin that we pour.”
Bravas’ most popular cocktail is the Levante, which features Hayman’s Old Tom gin, orange, saffron and cardamom. “Hayman’s is typically known for its citrus notes, that stand up to spicy dishes,” said Osburg, who has become a huge fan of gin since working at Bravas. “There is a lot with this drink going on profile wise. We have been seeing more barrel-aged gins and depth of character that we weren’t seeing before. The best part: our gin cocktails go well with most of our dishes at Bravas.”
Taste of Tea
Who loves fancy tea, Japanese comfort food and relaxing? I DO. And if you do too, then you’ll enjoy Taste of Tea, a combination full service restaurant and spa. Taste of Tea features plenty of traditional Japanese and Japanese-inspired teas and cuisines, including a variety of noodle and rice dishes and sweets. I enjoyed the miso ramen, chef’s signature dish – with miso broth, ramen noodles, chashu, nori, egg bamboo sprouts, tofu, kamaboko and green onion.
After you have had your meal in the lounge, tasting bar or patio, head to the relaxation room for a green tea spa treatment. The full treatment is about an hour and begins by slipping your feet into a warm tea foot bowl. Next, an herbal neck wrap – and at this point, there are a couple of options. The guided tea tasting, which is very popular, includes a lesson on regional tea appreciation. Typically, guests experience a tea from Japan, China and Taiwan to compare and contrast the different processing styles. However, for guests more interested in a culinary/entertaining focus, enjoy mini MarTEAni’s. Let me just say, these MarTEAnis are delish and fabulous. They also have seasonal tea lattes, like gingerbread or pumpkin – perfect on a cold winter day.
“Taste of Tea brings in our locals who visit for a refreshing pick me up, as well as a special occasion with out of town friends,” said Tai Tokugawa, owner of Taste of Tea. “We also see a lot of travelers with a love for Japanese cuisine and authentic teas.”
After relaxing a bit in my suite, I headed out for my 7 pm reservation on a mild winter’s day at Valette restaurant, just a short walk through charming Healdsburg. Whether you’re looking for a seafood or steak entrée, or want to snack on delicious, unique local-inspired appetizers, Valette has a something for everyone (and a nod from the prestigious Michelin guide this winter).
“At Valette, our guests are offered the experience of high-end, metropolitan dining presented in a warm, approachable, farm-to-table ambiance” said Chef and co-owner Dustin Valette. “We’re very much a community and family-driven operation – as you’ll note with our dad circling around sipping on wine, welcoming and chatting with people like they are family. We grew up here – and our guests, farmers, winemakers, neighbors are truly like family to us.”
One of Valette’s specialties is their popular scallops en croute with caviar. “The beauty of the dish is that the scallops are steamed inside a pot with Pernod and butter,” said Valette. “It is a dish that is both unique and unparalleled in its nuances.”
For dessert, try their toasted brioche with fresh homemade jam and salted brown butter ice cream (a favorite of my friendly waiter). If you like cocktails and wine, peruse their iPad for a list of offerings. They started me with a glass of champagne, but I also opted for their Pink Drank with local Sonoma Brothers vodka, lemon, Aperol, apricot. Pretty and delicious.
Another small plate restaurant, Chalkboard provides a casual and contemporary atmosphere that celebrates local ingredients from Sonoma County. Chef Shane McAnelly’s menu is inspired by produce grown in a dedicated organic vegetable and herb garden, and is often paired with local wine flights and delicious, uniquely-crafted cocktails.
During my visit I enjoyed a glass of champagne with their house made pasta. A Butternut and Goat cheese Mezzaluna with mushroom, brown butter, black garlic, sage arugula and caciocavallo. Next time I plan on ordering their tasting of all housemade pastas which includes their Old Bay Strozzapreti with gulf shrimp as well as their spaghetti and meatballs. For dessert, we indulged in The Candy Bar with brownie, caramel, roasted milk chocolate cremeaux, nougat ice cream and peanut crunch.
There are plenty of things to eat, drink and experience in the Healdsburg area, and your suite at Two Thirty-Five will act as a great home base where you can relax and recharge after a day of adventures, no matter the season.
“Winter is a mysterious and beautiful time in the vineyards,” said Howell. “The vines are sleeping often under a misty fog. It’s a good time to visit winery tasting rooms – less hectic. You can often find the winemaker around and they can give you individualized attention. Same with the hotels and restaurants. The pace is slower.”
Whether you’re looking for excitement, relaxation or a little bit of both, Healdsburg is an ideal spot for your next getaway. Treat yourself with a visit soon and enjoy everything Healdsburg has to offer – I did and loved it!About the Author: