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Nestled at the intersection of California's Dry Creek, Russian River, and Alexander Valleys, you will find Healdsburg, an unassuming rural farm community where back-to-the-landers settle, artists hide out, people from the Bay Area tech boom retire, and locals wearing soiled boots sit at tables with jet-setting tourists. Situated in Northern Sonoma County, it's also proving to be a luxury destination for experiencing some of the world’s finest wines, paired with inventive farm-to-table food, and picture perfect accommodations.
The Spring 2020 debut of Montage Healdsburg, a 258-acre retreat with luxurious bungalow-style suites set among historic groves, is set to be the most sought-after launching pad to discover the best of the region. Meanwhile The Aperture Estate, Aperture Cellars’ new state-of-the-art winery and hospitality center just a few miles from downtown Healdsburg, is part of what the local community is calling the area’s long-awaited “renaissance”.
Founded by winemaker Jesse Katz (who also owns Devil Proof Vineyards and The Setting Wines), The Aperture Estate was built to complement the region’s rustic beauty and invoke the physical representation of a camera’s aperture—a nod to Jesse’s photographer father, Andy Katz, whose famous photographs grace each bottle’s label and will cover the walls of the unrivaled gallery-style hospitality center, designed by Signum Architecture.
Katz, who first set roots in Sonoma County in 2010 after leaving Oakville's Screaming Eagle, wanted to craft wines on par with the quality and refinement of those he studied in Bordeaux at Châteaux, like Petrus. Katz says that Sonoma County offers the best of both worlds—new-world fruit and old-world elegance, embodied in fine and silky tannins found throughout all his wine. The Aperture Estate offers a seated tasting bar in an open gathering space, three private tasting rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, and a patio perched on the edge of the vineyard to host small parties. The food program will elevate pairing expectations, courtesy of world-renowned chefs like Dustin Valette. So, wine enthusiasts be warned, tastings will book months in advance.
Healdsburg is just 90 minutes north of the San Francisco or Oakland Airport, through the rainbow tunnel and over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Alaska Airlines offers flights from the much smaller Sonoma County Airport which is centrally located in wine country, plus they endorse checking a case of wine to bring home.
Where to Stay
Book ahead for the opening of Montage Healdsburg, or sleep peacefully at Hotel Les Mars, located just off the Healdsburg Plaza. An elegant, 16-room French manor-esque hotel, Hotel Les Mars offers the charm of Belle Époque France, alongside California’s finest wines. Each impeccable room is complete with a fireplace and jacuzzi tub, and includes a perfect French breakfast of pastries and omelettes, made exclusively for guests of the hotel by Chalkboard. Breakfast is brought to your room, with local coffees from Land and Water and Flying Goat. (The Flying Goat cafe is also just a few blocks away).
When you finally make it out of your room, but still aren’t ready for the world, eat lunch at Chalkboard, connected through a lobby entrance. Their warm chicory salad and shot of soup is the perfect dose of seasonal faire, paired with a glass of wine, of course. You’ll also discover clean wine glasses in the Hotel Les Mars lobby, inviting you to share bottles with old and new friends, there or in the library. Every thoughtful detail, plus their attentive and relaxed staff, makes it very hard to want to wander too far.
What to Do
As you walk around town, stop at any gallery that catches your eye, but make a point to visit The Harris Gallery. Having been part of the Healdsburg art scene since 1999, M.C. Harris has the pulse on this small town’s sophisticated and thriving art scene. Located in what is referred to as The Plaza Arts Building, Harris left visible traces of the old bank intact, making the space both a historical and contemporary backdrop for this father and son’s complementary, yet distinct styles. Whether you’re drawn to Alex’s breathtaking cloudscapes or M.C.’s Cubism style flowers and landscapes, their art gives visitors a sense of place and more assurance that the land here affects every part of Sonoma County culture.
Another perfect way to experience local talent is the theater—no need to leave for San Francisco. The Raven Performing Arts Theater brings in both amateur and professional stage productions, world music, and dance shows. The Raven also hosts a stimulating exchange of ideas through their speaker series.
If you're after some R&R, stop by Elements on the Plaza for a facial and manicure that blends ancient healing traditions with the latest advances in modern skin care research. Or wholly set the tone by relaxing at Hotel Healdsburg's full spa and sauna.
Food & Drink
Healdsburg is home to Sonoma County’s first 3-Star Michelin restaurant, Single Thread Farms, and just across the street is another Michelin Star, Valette, created straight from the hearts of born and raised Dustin Valette and his brother, co-owner Aaron Garzini. Ordering the "Trust Me" tasting menu with pairings is your only option. Dustin's great grandfather had two bakery locations in Healdsburg nearly 100 years ago and Valette currently occupies the former bakeshop. Now they've secured the other original bakery building for their new concept, two stories of unique fine dining, and a more casual setting on the rooftop with a view of the Plaza. Dustin is collaborating with local friends, including a sushi bar by Sebastopol’s Sushi Hana and of course, an exquisite wine program co-developed with Katz. Expected to open in 2021 and to raise the nightlife bar in this small town.
If you somehow escape ordering breakfast in bed, you’ll undoubtedly be directed to Costeaux’s old-school French bakery, a celebrated Healdsburg staple. Or start your day light for indulging later, and grab fresh juices and smoothies at The Nectary.
For lunch or dinner, Campo Fina is a cozy spot to share pasta and small bites, with an outdoor patio that hosts bocce ball tournaments all summer long. While the farm-to-table dishes are amazing, don’t leave Cali without eating a classic burrito from Jimmy Sanchez’s El Sombrero, Sonoma County’s first taqueria (opened by his parents) in 1986. Grateful for his family’s success, Sanchez gives back to his community through his Corazon Healdsburg board membership. Don’t forget to order their house-made aguas frescas.
For more upscale style Mexican, El Farolito is owned by Sonoma County brothers, Octavio and Pedro Diaz. Their surf-and-turf burrito is a local staple. But if you're craving a classic deli sandwich and gourmet snacks situation, elevate any picnic at Oakville Grocery Co. or try Journeyman Meat Co. for sandwiches straight from the butcher.
When you’ve been tasting all day and realize you never secured your reservation at Valette or Single Thread Farms, appreciate the chance to dine at Willie’s Seafood and Raw Bar, no reservation required. Pair fresh oysters with effervescent whites and then order the lamb just to finish with a red. Save room for Noble Folk Pie, open late to complete your brisk walk after dinner with house-made ice cream or pie.
Since it’s proper etiquette to cleanse your wine palette, grab a hoppy nightcap at the Elephant in the Room to sample choice taps and the local music scene. Or if you’re too full for beer, Duke’s on the Plaza makes the best fancy spirits in town.
Where to Shop
Bon Ton Studio’s founder, Erika Dawkins, born and raised in Healdsburg, wanted to open a modern luxury boutique for her community. You'll find her own designs and modern textiles alongside curated goods—all at an accessible price point. Scout West County’s second (smaller) shop is for seekers of ethically-sourced, premium textiles, featuring brands like cult favorite Lauren Manoogian knits, plus goods that are unique to their shop. And for classic and contemporary American menswear staples like your new favorite flannel, Ereloom is the one. Admire classy statement jewelry in Gallery Lulo, including the owner’s own creations, and choose a treasure to remind you of your trip.
Yet another reflection of this sharp community, Healdsburg boasts two local bookstores. Levin & Company and Copperfield’s are your sources for vacation fiction and local field guides. If you forgot your farm boots for muddy vineyard tours and hikes, head to Rainsong Shoes or to Healdsburg Running Company for wine tasting marathon sneakers—also a great source for community runs and local trails.
Where to Adventure
Walk along the Foss Creek Pathway on the edge of town, next to the old railroad tracks, to discover a native garden and the farmer’s market that pops up every Saturday morning during the warmer months. Close enough to town is also Dragonfly Floral farm, a sweet place to pick a posy for your stay.
If you’re comfortable on a road bike, Spoke Folk Cyclery rents bikes for the magical winding roads and trails, but beware of cars and the lack of shoulders. Tip: West Dry Creek road is smooth with very little traffic. The Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve is just north of downtown, offering a trail network of more than 3 miles of easy to moderate hiking with stunning views of Fitch Mountain, the Mayacama Mountains, and the Russian River.
Take a scenic ride to Guerneville and walk amongst the tallest trees in the world in Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. Or for open skies, head to Tione-Annadel State Park near Santa Rosa. The best time to see wildflowers is April and May, but flowers are always blooming in California.
The coast is as close as the crow flies, so if you prefer a little uphill challenge while breathing in the ocean air, hike Pomo Canyon Trail. The trail begins and ends across the road from Shell Beach parking lot. You’ll hike up the coastal mountains into the redwoods, then turn back for stunning views all the way down.
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