Winter Travel 2013: Sonoma Valley, California

BEYOND WINE: Windswept coastline, redwood forests, world-class weekend

A view of the Pacific

A view of the Pacific

Sonoma County, California

Windswept coastline, redwood forests, world-class weekend

By Nina Kokotas Hahn

Sonoma County, Napa’s neighbor to the west, sprawls some one million acres toward the Pacific Ocean. It contains world-class wineries, sure—but also a wilder coastal region that offers far more for the willing explorer. Focusing on this part of Sonoma makes for a manageable, if action-packed, three-day visit.

For starters, consider hiking or horseback riding through 805 acres of coastal redwoods, the tallest living things on the planet, in the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Guerneville (707-869-2015, parks.ca.gov). Or get a totally different perspective of these mammoth trees—the tops—in nearby Occidental. Sonoma Canopy Tours (888-494-7868, sonomacanopytours.com; $89) runs seven ziplines and two sky bridges.

Continue south to Freestone and indulge in a Japanese cedar enzyme bath at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary (707-823-8231, osmosis.com) before heading to Petaluma, the area’s cheese capital. For $20, you can take a tour of the organic Spring Hill Cheese Company (707-762-3446, springhillcheese.com) and sample the goods.

Shoppers will love Healdsburg, easily the hippest of the wine country towns. Hit Rete (707-431-4200, retecalifornia.com) for denim and Ben Sherman button-downs and Saint Dizier Home (707-473-0980, saintdhome.com) for curated home furnishings. Dine at the brand-new Bravas Bar de Tapas (707-433-7700, barbravas.com) or Scopa (707-433-5282, scopahealdsburg.com), a trattoria by way of California. Can’t see it all? Don’t stress. The trick is to make every minute count.

Where to Eat and Drink

1. STANDOUTS Glen Ellen Star (13648 Arnold Dr., 707-343-1384, glenellenstar.com) makes accomplished farm-to-table cuisine without the fuss. At El Dorado Kitchen (405 First St. W., 707-996-3030, eldoradosonoma.com) on Sonoma Plaza, the daily oyster appetizer, New York strip steak, and apple tart tatin hit the mark. Just around the corner, the Girl & the Fig (110 W. Spain St., 707-938-3634, thegirlandthefig.com) is classic Sonoma: locally farmed ingredients with zero pretense and a huge following.

2. SEAFOOD Because 80 percent of the region’s Dungeness crab haul is caught in November and December, this month may be your last chance for a feast this winter. At Bodega Bay’s Spud Point Crab Company (1910 Westshore Rd., 707-875-9472, spudpointcrab.com), the catch is served on the patio, straight from the pot. Order the clam chowder.

3. WINE It’s impossible to escape the grape completely here. Maximize your tour on the weekend of January 19 and 20, when more than 100 wineries across northern Sonoma County roll out special programs during Winter WINEland (800-723-6336, wineroad.com).

Where to Stay

In Forestville, the Farmhouse Inn (707-887-3300, farmhouseinn.com; from $345) employs a Michelin-starred chef who uses produce from the onsite farm. In Sonoma, the Lodge at Sonoma (707-935-6600, thelodgeatsonoma.com; from $219) offers a pool with cabanas, and the 64-room MacArthur Place (707-938-2929, macarthurplace.com; from $249) has big, cozy rooms. The Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza (800-431-8663, healdsburginn.com; from $295) feels charming and urban all at once. On a hillside in Glen Ellen, the new Olea Hotel (707-996-5131, oleahotel.com; from $170) delivers boutique intimacy on a budget.

Getting There

Fly directly to San Francisco from O’Hare (Virgin America, United, American, US Airways) or Midway (Southwest). At presstime, American offered January roundtrip fares for $299. From the airport, a drive to Petaluma takes an hour, to Sonoma an hour and a half, and to Healdsburg just under two.

 

Photograph: Anders Blomqvist/Getty Images

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