Famed horticulturist Luther Burbank had this to say about Sonoma County, “I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot of all this earth as far as nature is concerned.” It’s a pretty compelling statement, but one that I must agree with, now that I’ve visited Sonoma a handful of times. Sonoma County encompasses 400 wineries, 50 nature parks, countless oak trees and Healdsburg, a quaint town that has held title as one of America’s favorite small towns for years. In June of this year, one of Harper’s Bazaar’s headlines even read: “The New California Wine Destination is Healdsburg. Forget Napa.”
Indeed, it is. I made a trip just to experience the town and stay at one of its crowning properties, Hotel Healdsburg. One of Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List recipients, the property is more than just a hotel. The modern ivy-laced property has the warmth and qualities of a fine inn, one designed by an exquisite architect. The lobby also features a fleet of eight shiny speed street bikes, ready for guest’s use.
After check in, I walked to my second story room and passed a little nook of lounge chairs and handsome wood tables, protected by shade canopies. What a perfect spot to reflect, write, or sip an afternoon tea. Stunning black and white photography adorns the minimalistic hallways and rooms of the hotel, a chic way to add artistic adornment without a stuffy flair. One of my favorite areas of the hotel was the pool garden: a lush area highlighted by the 60-foot pool that captivated a spirit of private luxury.
Hotel Healdsburg shares the front of its façade with Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen, one of 16 restaurants in the noted chef’s collection across the nation. A James Beard Award recipient for “Best Chef” in New York, Palmer is lauded for his Progressive American Cuisine. This type of cuisine, Palmer explains, is filled with “rambunctious flavors and unexpected combinations with a deep and lasting infusion of classical French technique.” Dry Creek Kitchen showcases an ideal balance between California’s more casual fine dining approach and exceptionally well thought-out dishes.
Chef tasting menus change daily, but foie gras paired with bourbon soaked peaches and Spanish octopus topped with a surprising sprinkle of spiced peanut brittle seem to be standard favorites. The rib eye duo was a show stopper for me, made with char-grilled cut steak alongside thick slices of housemade pastrami and plump rye gnocchi. Sit outside under the cascading grape vines and heaters for bonus people watching.
The grounds and amenities are so tranquil and inviting that it’s hard to find reasons to leave the property. However, the hotel is surrounded by a compelling cornucopia of culinary offerings not to be missed. One package, the Farm to Fork Culinary Journey, provides a farm-to-table dinner at the Dry Creek Restaurant, a bottle of Jordan Estate’s Chardonnay upon check-in, and a three-hour tour of the stunning Jordan Estate. The Estate boasts a lovely garden that grows more than 100 fruit and vegetable varieties and a chateau complete with cobblestones.
The Healdsburg farmer’s market, a tradition for nearly 30 years, also unfolds twice a week right behind the property. The market is a fantastic way for foodies to familiarize themselves with the locals’ best harvests, culinary trends and fresh ingredients that the area’s hottest chefs source themselves. After a quick self-guided tour through the market (ample sampling is encouraged!), I hopped on a horse for a trail ride at Chalk Hill Winery, just a few miles from the hotel.
Riding ability isn’t a concern, as the winery accommodates novices as young as seven years old to advanced riders, and the tour is a breathtaking trail ride that covers the rolling hillsides of vineyards. If a stroll is more desirable, the Sonoma Vineyard Walk, noted as one of the 12 finest walks in the world by Outside's GO magazine, is a clear frontrunner. It includes guided access to private vineyards and their wine making operations. If I had more time, I would have sprung for one of the hot air balloon rides that reveals Healdsburg’s rich canvas of about 100 wineries like no other experience.