It’s hard to believe how quickly our time in Sonoma County blew by. We’d been planning the trip, reading about the restaurants, and dreaming about the wines for months, and then in a wonderful blink of an eye, we were back home in Portland. The wine was of course amazing, greatly aided by the winery employees that helped us understand what made each wine its own, and the food was delicious, leaving us with an even longer list of places to try on future trips than the one with which we started, but the natural beauty of the region, specifically the drives along winding vineyard-lined roads, the gorgeous views of Lake Sonoma, and the awe-inspiring time we spent at Sonoma Coast State Park were what really put the trip over the top for both of us.
A recent bride of Meredith’s who spent her honeymoon in Sonoma suggested we visit Shed and it just so happened to be our very first stop in Healdsburg. We ate a delicious lunch on the patio (a pizza for me and avocado & salmon toast for Meredith) before we explored the shop’s impressive (and beautiful) selection of speciality foods and kitchen supplies. Meredith was beside herself with excitement and insisted we stop in again on our last full day in town.
Moustache Baked Goods
When Meredith asked the girl behind the counter at Moustache if she should be embarrassed buying a few macrons for herself, the girl replied “not at all – only if you ordered a few of the cupcakes for yourself”… so I did just that, and tried a few different flavors of the delicious (and well decorated) cupcakes on the spot.
It’s hard to think of a better place to kick off our Sonoma wine tour than the in-town tasting room of Banshee Wines. The branding caught Meredith’s eye while planning the trip, but the convenience of being able to walk there from our hotel and the casual, stylish, laid-back atmosphere once we arrived is what kept us there for a few hours. Far from wine experts, we were nervous about our first California tasting, but our tasting specialist, Zack, was extremely easy to talk to and incredibly helpful walking us through the basics. Of the wines we tried, we loved the Sonoma County Pinot Noir, the single vintage Marine Layer Pinot Noir, and the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which were just delivered to our door in Maine this week!
With an appreciation for all things minimal & modern, we found our room at h2hotel to be absolutely perfect. We loved the bright, crisp interior and the warm wooden accents, not to mention the Heath Ceramics tile in the bathroom. We had a fantastic dinner at Spoonbar, the hotel’s restaurant & bar, where breakfast is also served each morning. With details like Eames-inspired bar stools and bicycles for the guests, it was hard to say goodbye when it came time to checkout.
After a long day of driving and exploring the area, we were delighted to be able to walk downstairs to Spoonbar and not feel like we were just settling for the ease of another hotel restaurant. In a similar fashion to the rest of the h2hotel, the space was really well decorated, and we were fortunate to sit at a slightly removed table for two beside the spoon ‘waterfall’ near the entrance. Our meal was delicious and we found ourselves constantly fighting the urge over the next few days to order extra servings of the smashed and crispy marbled potatoes with salsa verde through room service.
Sonoma Coast State Park
On our first full morning, we left Healdsburg early and made our way to the coast, watching the sun come up over the Russian River. We made it to the Goat Rock Beach portion of the park just as the morning fog was heading out to sea, and amazed by the sweeping views and pristine beauty, couldn’t help but pull over at one of the first trailheads. The view was amazing – dramatic cliffs over the pacific, rock formations jutting from the fields, deer waking up from their sleep – all in a massively expansive panorama in front of us. ‘Our’ section of the park was completely empty and we didn’t see another human in all the time we spent exploring the trails around the Sunset Boulders. It was a hike where we were both so in the moment that there were long periods of time where we didn’t say a word, but just smiled and took it all in.
Searching for some lighter fare, we grabbed sandwiches from the deli at Oakville Grocery one afternoon and enjoyed them beside the pool at our hotel. Reminding us of some of our favorite sandwich shop/markets back in Portland, we loved perusing their wine and cheese selections, and enjoyed our sandwiches so much that we returned on our final evening for sunset picnic fare.
We first read about Scribe from A Continuous Lean, and when we left for California, it was the only reservation, restaurant or winery, that we’d made for certain. Set on a hillside overlooking the vineyard, our tasting ‘room’ consisted of a table under a shady oak tree, with one on one attention from a very friendly winery specialist, Trey. We had an excellent time talking with Trey about the history of the land, the adventurousness and passion of the knowledgeable vineyard owners, and of course, the oh so delicious wine. It was almost impossible to pick a favorite from the amazing wines we tried that afternoon, so we did the right thing and signed up for the Scribe Viticultural Society to receive new bottles every quarter. Meredith hasn’t been ashamed to admit that the SVS pickup parties are just another reason that we’ll be needing to return to the vineyard in the future.
El Molino Central
On our way down to Scribe we passed right by El Molino and both immediately started craving Mexican food. Since we had reservations elsewhere that evening, we were hesitant to confess our cravings to each other, but we made it only a few more blocks down the road before we’d come clean and changed our plans. The extremely casual atmosphere was a welcome change of pace and we enjoyed an excellent meal outside under the sun.
Where we were instantly taken with h2′s bright, minimal guest rooms, we were just as drawn to the beautiful, lush grounds of Hotel Healdsburg. The entire property exuded such a lovely, soothing feeling that I didn’t want our time there to end. Meredith marveled at the soft mid-afternoon light by the pool, shaded overhead by olive trees nonetheless, and could have spent hours out there reading on the chaises. Our room at Hotel Healdsburg was quite spacious, yet cozy & comforting at the same time. A tasty breakfast the next morning by the hotel’s fireplace certainly cheered us up on what was our last morning in Healdsburg.
Recommended to us by a couple of different friends and recently featured in Food & Wine, Copain rounded out our winery experience with its breathtaking view and more formal tasting setting. In preparation for the trip, we’d picked up a bottle locally of the winery’s 2010 Tous Ensemble Pinot Noir, but our preferred wine from the tasting was the 2011 Tous Ensemble Chardonnay, aged entirely in steel. A highlight of our morning at Copain was most definitely our chat with the tasting lead, Phil, who gave us some great recommendations for restaurants to visit in San Francisco and others on Nantucket where he lived for 25 years.
Another recommendation from Meredith’s bride, who after our meal at Barndiva, we felt like hugging for giving us such amazing suggestions for our trip. Our lunch at Barndiva was a meal we’ll likely never forget. Rivaling our experience at Le Jardin du Quai, one of our all-time favorites in Provence, lunch at Barndiva was nothing short of extraordinary. The outdoor garden setting was the perfect place to take in the beautiful California weather. We shared the heirloom tomato salad with watermelon, avocado & mozzarella, Meredith had the raw yellowfin tuna on sticky rice with avocado and pickled jalapeno, I had the crispy duck leg with a panzanella salad, and we split the peach panna cotta for dessert – all of which were wonderfully well prepared and left us craving a return trip.
Although the deck at the Lake Sonoma overlook was quite possibly one of the windiest locations we’ve ever visited, we still managed to bundle up under a JetBlue blanket with a bottle of Copain’s French Laundry Pinot and a takeout pizza from Oakville Grocery (quite a scene), and enjoyed one of the most gorgeous, laughter-filled sunset picnics ever. With the lake directly below you and surrounded by mountains in every direction, the view would be captivating no matter the time of day, just make sure to take a jacket.
15 thoughts on “Sonoma County, CA”
Thanks for showing all these awesome places on the other side of the country!!
I’m basically going to use this as my itinerary for our trip out West. Gorgeous photos and great tips, as always :)
Please do, and let us know how your trip goes!
My husband and I took a very similar trip to this area for our honeymoon in Sept 2013. We rented an amazing cabin in the redwoods outside of Guerneville and explored the surrounding region from there. Our drive up the coast to Mendocino was spectacular. I fell in love with Wild Hog Vineyards in Cazadero and wondered how I’d ever live without their wine. Lo and behold, the next summer I found their Pinot Noir and Zinfandel at Portland Wine and Cigar Merchants in the Old Port! Thanks for this post, it brought back great memories of our trip. I hope to get back there someday….
We are heading to Sonoma in two weeks and I cannot wait to try SpoonBar and Shed thanks to this post!
Leandra, I cannot wait to read about your Sonoma trip – it’s one of my favorite areas we’ve ever visited!