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When visiting northern California’s Wine Country, it’s tough to choose just one region. While Napa Valley is the reigning icon of wine country, known for its Cabernet Sauvignons, Sonoma, known for its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, offers incredible and just-as-luxe experiences. Many say that Sonoma is Brooklyn to Napa’s Manhattan, and in recent years, Sonoma has elevated its offerings to include more hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Wine country, with its bucolic rolling hills, unique microclimates, picturesque vineyards, and slow lifestyle, is a year-round destination but best enjoyed during the Spring and Fall, during harvest season. Enjoy a leisurely long weekend hopping from winery to winery and five-star restaurant to the next, but be prepared to plan your next visit before you even leave. With so much to do, it’s nearly impossible to visit it all in one go.
We tapped six notable interior designers and tastemakers to give us their top recommendations, including Emily Mughannam, owner and creative director of Fletcher Rhodes Interior Design; Antonio Galloni, Napa expert and founder, CEO, and lead critic of Vinous, one of the world's most influential wine publications; Erin Martin of Martin Design; interior designer Jay Jeffers; renowned architect Brandon Jorgensen of Atelier Jorgensen; and Jennifer Robin of Jennifer Robin Interiors.
“In Napa and Sonoma, so much of the tourism is built around the wineries,” Galloni says. “With great wines, comes great food. The great wine regions of the world are also stunningly beautiful and these parts of California are no exception.”
Where to Stay
One of Sonoma’s most luxurious hotels, MacArthur Place Hotel and Spa is known for its cozy and bright, sunlit rooms, culinary offerings, and verdant gardens (six acres, to be exact). In a past life, it was a sprawling family estate and today it retains historic buildings, like a renovated 1850s manor house. “Us locals hang out here all the time and also recommend it to our family and friends,” Mughamman says.
“Nothing beats floating in the hot spring pool, having a mud bath and massage, then riding bikes into town for dinner,” Robin says. This renovated 115-room hotel is located on a 17-acre property in the wellness-centric town of Calistoga, home to many hot springs. Indian Springs has an Olympic-sized mineral pool built in 1913 and fed by thermal geysers dating back millions of years. Their spa is a draw to visitors and locals alike and Mughamman comes multiple times a year to rewind and refresh. “They have an incredible resort and my favorite hot springs and spa,” she says. “It’s my favorite staycation in Napa.”
When The Madrona opens this spring, even the most well-versed Healdsburg visitors will relish in the uniqueness of the property. One of the only hotels in the city not located within the town, The Madrona is set on a hill overlooking Healdsburg. The hotel, designed by Jeffers, dates back to 1881 and has had several owners throughout the years. The previous owners left more than 800 antiques, which Jeffers has thoughtfully placed throughout the hotel as an homage to the site’s history. Despite its modern furnishings, The Madrona gives guests a true sense of place through its historic buildings, including Mansion and Carriage House. No two guest rooms are the same, offering guests a different experience with each stay. As for dining, expect Michelin-quality dishes, as well as inventive cocktails, an eclectic wine selection, and rare spirits. The Madrona is the dash of whimsy visitors crave.
The highly anticipated Four Seasons has been in the works for nearly a decade, and the opening was worth the wait. Built with a modern farmhouse style and contemporary accents, the hotel has 85 rooms and 20 residences. It also has an on-site winery, Elusa, where guests can easily indulge in a wine tasting or even create a private label vintage with the resident winemaker.
Whether it’s luxury or wellness you crave, Solage has it all. With high-quality spa products, a personal Peloton, a bathhouse session, or an indulgent, cocktail-filled afternoon at Solbar (“It’s fantastic!” Robin says), Solage is for those who want to be close to the action, but feel world’s away. The resort offers family-friendly programming (like s’mores nights), as well as cycling journeys, wine tasting from small-production vineyards, and hiking. “Solage is always good,” Jeffers says. “I love going there for lunch, especially a boozy lunch.”
The Rutherford-based hotel offers some of the most exquisite views in all of Napa, which you can experience from your room as a guest or from the one-Michelin-starred restaurant. The hotel, tucked into the Mayacamas Mountains, transports you to Provence and has a distinct South of France flair, best seen in the sumptuous rooms and suites. Hotel guests can enjoy the restorative spa, a fitness center with a focus on yoga, and plenty to experience nearby. “The view is amazing from the rooms; the staff is amazingly attentive; and the food and drink are to die for,” Jorgensen says. “Get the burger and a margarita while watching the sunset.”
Nestled within 250 private acres, Meadowood is best known for its exquisite three-Michelin-starred restaurant, The Restaurant at Meadowood, as well as its classic architecture, romantic accommodations, and pastimes like tennis, golf, croquet, hiking, and swimming. The Relais & Châteaux property also has an in-house sommelier, who can teach you about wine, pairings, and perhaps even send you home with a new favorite bottle. “There is nowhere better to stay than here for a resort-style getaway,” Galloni says. “The estate’s lodges and suites are luxurious, yet without a whiff of ostentatiousness. There is a real sense of calm to being around mature trees and surrounded by so much natural beauty.” Galloni’s company Vinous has in-room Vinous Maps of Napa, which teach visitors about the winemaking history of the region.
This rustic spot in Sonoma County exceeds expectations. Whether you get the chance to stay in the hotel’s sweet, cozy rooms or simply want to enjoy a meal at the Michelin-starred Farmhouse Restaurant, it’s worth the trip. Expect top-notch, discreet service and traditional dishes with an inventive spin.
Galloni says if you want to be in the center of the action, book Vintage House during your stay. “It’s located in the heart of Yountville, a stone’s throw from numerous tasting rooms and world-class restaurants,” he says. “The location can’t be beat, rooms are spacious and quiet, and the pool and spa provide respite for guests looking to unwind.” Modern, yet quaint, Vintage House is the perfect foundation for an exciting, luxurious stay.
Intimate and stunning, the Erin Martin-designed Poetry Inn overlooks rolling vineyards and the looming mountain range. Each guest room is named after a famous poet (Walt Whitman, e.e. cummings, Robert Frost, and Robert Louis Stevenson, to name a few) and have terraces that overlook the beauty of the region. Located in Yountville, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump away from five-star restaurants.
The latest name-brand hotel to step on the scene is Montage Healdsburg, a swanky retreat set among 258 acres of vineyards and oak trees. With three dining outlets (all pet-friendly, even for visitors), and an 11,500-square-foot spa, this newly opened hotel will without a doubt become a Sonoma County mainstay. Jeffers finds himself coming here often with his dogs, thanks to the pet-friendly policy, for a fresh seasonal dinner and drinks with friends.
The former Las Alcobas Hotel was given a funky facelift and rebrand as Alila Napa Valley. At the heart of the property is a circa 1905 Victorian-style mansion, which has been renovated as a bar. With just 68 rooms, each with a pared-back modern style, the resort’s main focus is still its verdant grounds, which includes gardens, trees, and, of course, vineyards. This is Martin’s favorite hotel to stay, which she loves for its “amazing rooms and wonderful service.”
Where to Shop
“This is the best interior design shop in northern Sonoma County,” Mughannam says. “Chelsea owns an incredibly curated shop for furniture and accessories.” From kitchenware to candles to olive oil and accessories, every design aficionado must stop at Olive and Rose Studio.
Mughannam suggests coming here for its incredible French antiques. Chateau Sonoma has vintage globes, confit jars, furniture, and even French doors, all sourced from flea markets in France and around the world. The shop also carries pieces from local Sonoma designers and artisans.
Located in Sebastopol in Sonoma County, The Barlow Market is filled with more than 40 vendors. “It’s a top shopping destination,” Galloni says. “Tastefully converted warehouses host trendy stores, tasting rooms (most notably, Pax), and a number of good restaurants.” We recommend The Farmer’s Wife for a very healthy and indulgent lunch.
Shopping, delectable dining, distilleries, and books await at Oxbow Public Market. “Oxbow Public Market typifies the recent regeneration of the town of Napa, with its lovely riverside deck and numerous quality food vendors,” says Galloni.
Designers can’t sing enough praises about luxury boutique Trick Pony, which comes highly recommended by both Martin and Jeffers. This shop defies cool and features jewelry to sculptures to decor. As Jeffers puts it: “It’s just one of those places that is perfectly curated. Last time, I walked out of there with reading glasses, towels, and a necklace.”
Fashion designer Elyse Walker has several retail stores throughout Southern California and also in St. Helena. The designer, who also runs the e-commerce site FWRD, epitomizes California cool. Selections include pieces from top designers, like Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney, as well as an ever-evolving rotation of clothes and accessories from emerging designers.
A grocery store might not be the first place to go on your list, but Oakville Grocery is more than that. Founded in 1881, the shop serves food, as well as wine, picnic-friendly snacks, local provisions, meats, gifts, and other gourmet food items. It’s the perfect thing to take home with you. There are two locations in Oakville and Healdsburg.
Martin recommends stopping by Carter & Co. Artisanal, handmade, and unique products can be found here. The store, located in St. Helena, carries stoneware dinnerware in a beautiful minimalist setting.
The owners of Sonoma County Antiques have been traveling Europe for more than three decades to hand-select unique pieces. There is more than 10,000 square feet of space filled with incredible finds. Robin finds some of her favorite antique pieces here.
Art and interiors collide at Artefact, a shop that sells unique home and garden goods as well as tables made from reclaimed natural materials. Robin says come here to find unique treasures.
Where to Eat & Drink
Restaurant, wine bar, and bottle shop Valley Bar & Bottle was awarded a spot on the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand list for 2021, restaurants recognized for high-quality food at moderate prices. The restaurant is known for its organic and biodynamic wine list.
“Glen Ellen Star is top on everyone’s list,” Galloni says. “Chef Ari Weiswasser’s cuisine is comfort food at its very best, with his array of wood oven-cooked vegetables and artisan pizzas.” Mughannam also sings the restaurant’s praises and recommends the pizza and roasted cauliflower.
Founded in 1949, Gott’s serves roadside classics, as well as modern California cuisine (think mahi-mahi tacos and ahi burgers). “It’s a must-visit for adults and kids alike,” Galloni says. “Outdoor picnic tables complete a dining experience steeped in 1950s Americana.”
Three-Michelin-starred SingleThread in Healdsburg is a foodie’s dream, and Galloni says it’s worth the splurge. The multi-course tasting menu featured ingredients tailored to Sonoma County’s micro-seasons. Each season, the menu evolves and includes globally inspired flavors that delight and impress. Don’t wait to make a reservation.
Famed chef Thomas Keller has incredible restaurants throughout Napa, including legendary French Laundry, but for Galloni, the less formal Ad Hoc + Addendum is even better. “In Napa, Yountville has been the center of the valley’s culinary scene in recent years,” he says. “Ad Hoc has a set price menu that changes daily.” The restaurant, which is on the Michelin Guide, serves American food in family style.
“PRESS is wine country dining at its best,” Robin says, adding that she loves the Backen and Gillam architecture. The menu is incredibly diverse and serves everything from golden Osetra caviar to octopus croquette and salt-baked oxheart carrot. “A trip to Napa Valley would hardly be complete without a visit to PRESS, which boasts the most comprehensive Napa Valley-only wine program anywhere in the world,” Galloni says.
A taste of the French countryside can be found at Angèle, a riverfront bistro with a rustic vibe and inventive cocktails. “[Founder] Bettina Rouas has created the perfect atmosphere, menu, and staff,” Jorgensen says.
The no-frills regional Mexican food at El Molino Central in Sonoma is some of the best Mexican you might have in your life. The restaurant, which earned a spot on the Michelin Guide, features a hearty menu of house-made chips, red mole tamales, handmade tortillas, beer-battered fish tacos, and more. Martin recommends the shrimp tacos.
Come to The Dutch Door for its fried chicken, which Martin calls “stupid good!” The menu is completely sustainable and locally sourced and offers everything from vegan chili to plant burgers, banh mi, buddha bowls, and more.
Jeffers says Quail & Condor is the type of bakery where you want to order one of everything and when you inevitably do, every item is guaranteed to be better than the last. The bakery makes fresh bread, croissants with all types of fillings, cookies, and other savory baked goods in-house. They also serve coffee, cakes, and more.
Founded by two brothers, Valette is a staple in the Healdsburg dining scene, Jeffers says. This wine country restaurant serves Californian cuisine in a rustic-chic setting.
El Molino is one of the original ghost wineries founded in 1871 and is one of the oldest in Napa Valley. Today, it is still family-run by winemakers and husband-and-wife duo, Lily and Jon Berlin, who have restored the winery while retaining its original charm. For example, on the winery’s fairytale-like grounds you find an original tunnel, brimming with history and intrigue, leading from the barrel room to the house. What’s unique about El Molino is its specialty in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which aren’t often found in the Napa Valley appellation. They produce just 800 cases of each varietal per year.
For those that love art and wine, Donum Estate excels in both. “For an epic design experience, come here,” Mughannam says. “It offers some of the best Pinot Noir in the area with expansive views and the most incredible on-site sculpture gardens. It contains over 40 open-air sculptures tucked throughout the breathtaking property.”
“Owned by fourth generation farmers and brothers, Scribe’s wine is absolutely incredible, as well as the scenery,” Mughannam says. “You must-see the understated hacienda and gardens, where you can enjoy food and wine pairings. It’s eye candy for the design savvy.”
Winemaker Prema Behan grew up surrounded by those in the hospitality industry and has been working in the wine industry for more than two decades, so it comes as no surprise that a visit to Three Sticks is both enjoyable and relaxing as it is educational. The winery specializes in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. However Mughannam says their rosé is “to die for.”
On the site of the new Four Seasons Napa Valley, Elusa Winery just opened at the end of 2021. While there is no affiliation between Elusa and Four Seasons, it makes for a stunning visit to these beautiful grounds. The tasting room is incredibly well-designed, as is the Member’s Lounge. While the Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc delight, it’s the Cabernet Franc that steals the show. Membership is capped and there is no retail presence, so best to join while you can.
Opus One arguably helped put Napa Valley wine on the map. It began in 1979 as a partnership between Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi. The wine is a blend of five grape varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. The design and architecture here is breathtaking.
Come for Kistler’s Chardonnay, but don’t forget to try its Pinot Noir. “Kistler, one of the top names in Sonoma, offers a fabulous wine and food tasting experience,” Galloni says. Their selection of Chardonnay comes from fifteen vineyards around Sonoma County and the coast, resulting in 11 vineyard-specific Chardonnays.
“For those that are really design-oriented, go to Promontory,” Jeffers says. “It is owned by the Harlan family and was designed by Howard J. Backen. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.” Natural and wild with a unique backstory, this is a can’t-miss winery in Oakville.
Winemaker Jesse Katz founded Aperture in 2009 and he quickly became known for his Bordeaux-style wines. The award-winning winemaker creates wines from cool-climate vineyards in Sonoma and produces 20,000 cases per year. “Aperture does a really good job and has a beautiful winery and tasting room,” Jeffers says.
Design lovers should also prioritize a visit to Trinchero, which Martin designed. They specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, grown on the estate. Both Jeffers and, of course, Martin, highly recommend a visit here, especially if interested in interior design.
Where to Explore
Up & Away Ballooning
Hot air ballooning is synonymous with Napa Valley as it gives you a chance to see the region from a new perspective. Up & Away will have you soaring high over Sonoma Valley with their daily tours; we recommend going at sunrise for the most rewarding views.
Jack London State Historic Park
American writer and social activist Jack London was enamored by nature, and his former ranch and home where he lived until his death in 1916 is available to the public. Surrounded by vineyards, historic structures, and beautifully preserved trees, flowers, and nature, it’s the perfect spot to spend a morning hiking. “My favorite hiking spot in Glen Ellen,” Mughannam says. “Check out the Wolf House ruins and the surrounding area. It’s beautiful year-round.”
Those up for a super-scenic drive, book a tour with Bohemian Highway in Sonoma County. “Bohemian Highway is a local, female-owned small business that takes you on off-the-beaten-path wine country tours in their Land Rover Defenders,” Mughannam says. “A tour like no other.” Tours include stops for beer, wine, and food and teach guests about local ecosystems and the history of the region.
Cycling is incredibly popular in both Napa and Sonoma thanks to miles of road bordering picturesque vineyards, forest, and other views. Winding roads (some steeper than others) provide a varied terrain for both recreation and transportation. “I enjoy long bike rides on the valley floor or up in the hills surrounding the valley,” Jorgensen says.
The climate in Northern California is incredibly diverse, from the towering Redwoods found in many parts of Sonoma County, Mount St. Helena, or simply the rolling hills in the valley. “For outdoorsy types, there are plenty of hiking options with state parks and local trails that encompass rugged mountains, woodland, creeks and natural lakes,” Galloni says. “Consider the detour into the wilds of Mount Veeder to the Hess winery.”
“This is a great old-school movie theater in St. Helena proper which shows current movies,” Jeffers says. “We go to the movies often, so I’m always out there.” Cameo Cinema has been operating since 1913 and is California’s oldest continuously operated single-screen movie theater.
“If you can get a tour at the Kramlich Art House, your life will change,” says Martin. The Kramlich Residence and Collection is the residence of prominent American art collectors Richard and Pamela Kramlich and a dedicated space for their collection of media art. The home was designed by two Swiss architects and took 18 years to complete. It’s an awe-inspiring testament to design, art, and culture.
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