Healdsburg is the perfect base for exploring Sonoma wine country: it’s serious about food and drink, and you don’t have to venture out of town to enjoy both like a local. Right off the main square are many new wine tasting rooms that creatively combine food and wine, as well as an ever-increasing number of notable restaurants and a variety of places to stay, from fancy to no-frills.
The wine tasting rooms in Healdsburg are generally from smaller, family-owned and -operated wineries, and there’s a good chance it will be a family member pouring your wine. Just north of the main square, check out Stark Wine, a favorite among the locals. A culinary school graduate, Christian Stark is fond of Rhone style wines, and makes bold Syrah, Pinot Noir, and a lovely Rosé, which all pair well with food. Their inviting tasting room features a sunny outside patio that hosts frequent special events and picnics.
Another wine tasting room that is committed to food is the Valdez Family Winery. A seasoned vineyard manager, Ulises Valdez makes very highly rated Zinfandel and if you purchase a bottle at the tasting room, and it’s a wine not on the menu at Mateoâ€™s Cocina Latina right around the corner, you can enjoy it with no corkage fees.
The light and bright Sanglier Cellars tasting room invites browsing as well as drinking. The space holds a collection of cookbooks, beans from local producer Rancho Gordo, and earthenware cooking vessels. Like Stark, they also produce vibrant Rhone-style wines. If you visit on a Thursday, you may see locals stopping by to pick up their weekly produce, grown on the same ranch where wine grapes are grown.
Dining in Healdsburg reflects the casual, relaxed feel of the town. Instead of choosing one restaurant, you may want to hop from one to another, enjoying a glass of wine and a nibble, and mingling with the regulars. A new anchor in town is definitely Partake by K-J which is a Kendall Jackson tasting room, lounge, and restaurant all rolled into one. Using mostly produce from their gardens, the chef crafts seasonal dishes—many of which are vegetarian—that pair with the wines. Don’t miss signature dishes like the red wine fries or maitake mushroom tempura. Another place to spot locals is Bergamot Alley, which bucks the local wine focus and serves only European wines and American craft beer. Those in the know get Italian small plates and pizza from next door at Campo Fina to enjoy with their drink.
For breakfast and lunch head to Healdsburg Shed, across from the local farmer’s market. It’s a veritable emporium with items for the garden, home, and kitchen, a fresh market, coffee bar, and "fermentation" bar with drinks like vinegar-based shrubs. The airy space invites lingering, especially at the cafe, where you can have homestyle baked goods, frittata, pizza, or a healthy mezze plate, prepared by a Chez Panisse-trained chef.
Other local favorites include Flying Goat Coffee, an award-winning sustainable coffee purveyor that offers seasonal single-origin coffees, and the Downtown Bakery & Creamery, for their famously delectable sticky buns.
Next door to Shed is the Hotel Les Mars, where you can live out any French chateau fantasy. A Relais & Chateaux property, it is very luxurious with four-poster and canopy beds, luxurious Italian linens, and antique touches. Have a drink or dinner at Chalkboard on the main floor, where produce from the Chalk Hill organic garden is highlighted on the menu, house made pastas are a specialty, and small plates are often whimsical in nature.
If you’re looking for something a bit more eco-friendly, the H2Hotel is a good pick. It’s LEED gold certified, which means it uses less energy and natural resources. In addition, they offer bikes to tool around town, complimentary Ashtanga yoga classes on the weekends, and a landscaped "living roof." On the main floor is Spoonbar, a highly creative restaurant with a seasonal artisanal cocktail menu. It was recently chosen by Wine Enthusiast as one of America’s 100 best wine restaurants and the restaurant’s bar was singled out as one of the top 100 in the nation by OpenTable.
You can imagine what it’s like to live in Healdsburg by staying at Camellia Inn, a beautiful B&B in a quiet residential area just a couple of blocks off the main square. Formerly the home of an early pioneer, the inn was built in the late 1800’s and has 9 guest rooms. The property is lovingly landscaped and features a pool in the back. True to its name, there are almost 100 camellia plants on the grounds. It’s quiet and free of fussiness, and breakfasts are hearty and casual.
A bit further from the center of town but still within walking distance, the friendly L & M Motel is a budget find with room rates as low as $85 mid-week, including a modest breakfast of homemade scones, fruit, yogurt, and hard-boiled eggs. The motel also features a heated indoor pool, garden, and outdoor seating for picnics.
Photo credits: all photos courtesy of Amy Sherman