Napa and Sonoma: Places to Explore

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Northern Sonoma County

Northern Sonoma County is a study in contrasts. In urban Santa Rosa, bypassed by most Wine Country visitors, bland office parks outnumber vineyards. Less than 20 miles to the north, the ritzy little town of Healdsburg buzzes with hip tasting rooms, luxe hotels, and some of the Wine Country's hottest restaurants. Rolling hills surround these towns, with only the occasional horse ranch, apple or peach orchard, or stand of oak trees interrupting the vineyards.

Healdsburg is the most convenient base for exploring the northern reaches of Sonoma County. Not only does it have an easily walkable town center, swanky hotels, and a remarkable restaurant scene, but it's at the confluence of the Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander valleys, three of Northern Sonoma's blockbuster appellations. The wineries here produce some of the country's best Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Sauvignons, Zinfandels, and Chardonnays. In Santa Rosa and the smaller towns of Sebastopol, Forestville, and Guerneville, high-style lodgings and fine dining are in shorter supply. All of them have a few charmers, however, along with wineries worth seeking out. The western reaches of Sonoma County, extending all the way to the Pacific Ocean, are more sparsely populated, although more and more vineyards are popping up where there used to be orchards or ranches.

Each of Northern Sonoma's regions claims its own microclimates, soil types, and most-favored varietals, but all have something in common: peace and quiet. Northern Sonoma is less crowded than the Napa Valley and southern Sonoma. Healdsburg, in particular, is hardly a stranger to overnight visitors, but you'll find less company in most of the region's tasting rooms.

Northern Sonoma County at a Glance

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