If there’s one thing that is always prominent at every girls’ night gathering I’ve ever attended, it’s wine. In fact, my girlfriends often skip the “girls’ night” title all together and call it exactly what it is: wine night. We share a bottle (or a few) over some of our favorite cheeses and accoutrements while gabbing about our lives. It’s our little monthly ritual that once a year tumbles over from a wine night to a wine weekend. We’ll leave husbands, kids, fur babies and work behind and hit the road for a weekend away. While we’ve explored several beaches, cities and lakes, the one thing that’s on our wine weekend bucket list is, appropriately, wine country.
Whether you’re a wine aficionado or simply someone looking to enjoy some gorgeous scenery while sipping vino, chances are California wine country is high on your travel list too. There’s foodie-centric Napa Valley with its Michelin-starred restaurants, but on the other side of the Mayacamas Mountains and just 65 miles north of the iconic Golden Gate bridge lies Healdsburg, a quaint town exuding charm and serving as a central point for some of the most notable American Viticultural Areas (wine grape-growing areas), or AVAs, in the region. Healdsburg, with its walkable shops, notable cuisine, quaint hotels and inns, intriguing art scene, laid-back atmosphere and acclaimed vintages, makes a prime destination for your next squad escape. Wine is often lovingly referred to as the nectar of the gods, but today I’m petitioning to shift that nickname to “nectar of the goddesses” because one thing is for sure: women love wine. If your girl tribe loves wine as much as mine, consider Healdsburg for this year’s ultimate girlfriend getaway.
Where to Stay
If you’re looking for a spot in the center of it all, consider booking a few rooms at H2Hotel. Located at the corner of Healdsburg Avenue and Mendocino Avenue, the hotel is just a few blocks from many of the city’s top restaurants and shops, and a quick walk takes you to the charming plaza for meandering or people watching. Priding itself on its commitment to sustainability, you’ll find a gearless elevator, solar panels for heating water, and lights that use occupancy sensors to reduce energy when you’re away. In addition to these energy-efficient modifications, you’ll find spacious rooms with private balconies that overlook the city below or the mountains in the distance.
For a quaint, intimate accommodation experience, reserve your rooms at Haydon Street Inn. A 1912 Queen Anne Victorian home, the bed-and-breakfast is located in a quiet residential neighborhood surrounded by various shady fruit trees. Co-owners Keren Colsten and John Harasty are gracious hosts with insider tips and secrets that they’re happy to share. However, perhaps the most wonderful hidden secret is the delicious food you’ll enjoy throughout your stay. As the former executive chef of Churchill Downs, John prepares breakfast every morning. Items like freshly baked scones, polenta waffles and homemade apple sausage are just a few of the specialties that might grace your plate.
Where to Eat
Self-described as modern country cuisine, Studio Barndiva offers a casual yet refined setting for a glass of wine and delectable bites from their bistro menu. The rustic art gallery and lounge space features mismatched iron garden chairs amid barnwood walls, which makes for a playful and relaxed environment. Don’t skip the quail egg BLTs with tomato marmalade or the pomme frites, a unique, potato chip spin on fun French fare. If you’re in Healdsburg on a Sunday, take advantage of the restaurant’s French Suppers. The three-course prix fixe dinner includes an appetizer, entrée and dessert for $30, but $35 gets you wine pairings, too.
For an upscale dining experience, head to Dry Creek Kitchen. Only a short five-minute walk from H2Hotel, you’ll find yourself immersed in a restaurant with lovely views of Healdsburg’s tree-lined plaza. Dine on American cuisine with California flair at one of chef/owner Charlie Palmer’s signature spaces. All of the wine at the restaurant comes directly from area vineyards, which means you’re in for a true vine-to-table treat. Every course is as stunning as the next, but be sure to save room for dessert. Take our advice and order the chocolate peanut butter bar. It has been a staple on the menu for the past 12 years and is topped with 24 karat gold.
After a day of wine tasting and finding a new favorite bottle, the gals might be ready to head back to the Haydon Street Inn porch for a night of local wine and a great charcuterie. Stop by Journeyman Meat Co., a butcher shop, salumeria and tasting bar to pick up a selection of salumi or even a wood-fired pizza. Like many of the businesses and wineries in Healdsburg, Journeyman Meat Co. is family owned and operated. All meats are made in house, and almost all the meat is local. “As we get older, we want to eat less meat and better meat, so the goal is to the find best meat for our customers,” says owner Peter Seghesio. These curated cuts are the perfect punctuation to an afternoon of sipping.
Where to Drink
For the girlfriend in your group who has gotta have her green juice, start your morning at The Nectary. Owned by Sebastopol native Gia Baiocchi, The Nectary sells hand-bottled, mixed by hand, completely organic juices where every item is made to order. As a little hive of its own, The Nectary is operated by a staff of nearly all women with Gia serving as Queen Bee. Take some time to explore the robust menu filled to the brim with everything from kefirs to kombuchas and everything in between.
While Sonoma is certainly known for its wine, brewmasters will tell you the area boasts some of the most popular beers in the country, too. Along those lines, yet dare I say even more intriguing, is Sonoma Cider. The cidery has over 18 ciders on tap that are all made in-house. Flavors range from honey lavender to habanero lime which means there’s something for every member of your group. Plus, it’s just plain fun. There’s life-size Connect Four, giant Jenga, ping pong and arcade games.
Where to Taste Wine
Wow the group by planning a trip to Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves. Wine tastings take place inside the intimate, romantic caves situated under Lily Hill, where 85-year-old vines produce elegant, deep zinfandels. The knowledgeable and friendly staff at Bella will make you feel right at home during your wine-ucation. In short, Bella provides a stunning atmosphere that the girls will go gaga over. While a $15 tasting at Bella includes a variety of wines, ask to sip the Late Harvest Zinfandel. This sugar-filled wine is reminiscent of a port and is a remarkable end to the entire experience.
Located just steps beyond Healdsburg’s city-center is DaVero Farms and Winery, a Dry Creek Valley biodynamic vineyard specializing in Italian wines. What began first as a 66-acre farm has morphed into a winery that takes advantage of the Mediterranean climate to grow grapes, olives, fruit trees and other produce while providing a home for sheep, chickens and pigs. The wine poured here is bountiful, but be sure to try the olive oil and balsamic vinegars, too. The olive oil is so impressive that celebrity chef Mario Batali happens to be a huge fan. Tastings are $20 and are by appointment on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but appointments are not required during the remaining days of the week.
Found on 40 acres of steep hillside with sweeping views of the valley below, Trattore Farms in Dry Creek Valley is a must-visit. The vineyard specializes in Rhone varietals with the most popular sips being Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Named after the Italian word for “tractor,” the Trattore Farms tasting room houses several shiny vintage tractors, one of which is signed by famous musicians including but not limited to John Mellencamp, Colbie Caillat and The Band Perry. If you arrive in the morning, plan to stay for lunch and have the paninis, or on Sundays, wood-fired pizzas. Tastings start at $20 and are available Monday through Sunday.
Staying in Healdsburg gives you access to several different wine AVAs. Take advantage of your proximity, and head to Jordan Winery, located in Alexander Valley. The property alone is absolutely breathtaking; you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to the grounds of a luxurious French chateau. Jordan specializes in the classic Bordeaux tradition, which means you’ll be exposed to timeless winemaking styles. “Our wines are old world, and we’ve never chased trends,” says CEO John Jordan. Trust us: If you can only find time for just a few vineyards during your stay, make Jordan Winery one of them. You’ll be entranced by the grounds and moved by the views. Tastings require a reservation and start at $35.
Where to Explore
Take a break from wine tasting to see some of nature’s most majestic trees at the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. California’s redwoods are the world’s tallest, oldest living things, and this preserve, found just a short drive from Healdsburg, offers peaceful solace for taking them all in. You can complete a self-guided girlfriend tour using the Armstrong Nature Trail, or string together a few different trails for a longer visit. No matter what you decide, take the opportunity to explore some of the country’s most awe-inspiring nature.
An active crew will love a Healdsburg Sip ‘N Cycle trip with Randy Johnson at Getaway Adventures. In operation since 1991, Randy knows his stuff when it comes to both active adventures and wine. His philosophy is to treat guests “like long lost friends” while showing them the ropes of Healdsburg on two, woman-powered wheels. Getaway takes guests cycling down quaint, quiet roads where the views are unmatched while stopping into several vineyards for tastings where the wines are top-notch. Contact Randy ahead of time, so he can help you determine the path that’s right for your group. We opted for the wine intensive ride, but Getaway also offers a bike-intensive ride for those who are a bit more active. Ultimately, vino and velo work in tandem for this unforgettable activity. Healdsburg Sip ‘N Cycle tours start at $159 per person.
Girlfriends groups filled with foodies will be inspired by a cooking class with Mugnaini. Producing wood-fired pizza ovens in the heart of Healdsburg might be Mugnaini’s specialty, but the real secret is the hands-on cooking classes and demonstrations held on-site. Discover the wide world of wood-fired pizzas and what it’s like to cook within their stone walls at one of Andrea Mugnaini’s cooking classes. Before you know it, Andrea, who says her ovens are “not just a pizza oven,” will have you vying for a wood-fired oven of your own, where you can make just about anything your heart desires … even dessert. Classes start at $145.
We would be remiss not to rave about Healdsburg’s shopping and arts district. The town boasts fabulous boutiques, independent art galleries, local bookstores, intriguing antiques stores and more. If you can squeeze in some shopping amidst all of the wine, food and adventure, do it. We recommend popping into places like SHED for foodstuffs and Copperfield’s Bookstore for reads, but there truly are so many places to visit. Be sure to allow your group time to do so. Enjoy walking down the tree-lined streets, window shopping, and experiencing all that Healdsburg has to offer for an amazing girls’ getaway not soon to be forgotten.
A quick note about the wildfires:
In late 2017, wildfires tore through the region, leaving would-be Sonoma visitors scrambling to reschedule their trips, or worse, cancel them all together. While widespread, quick-moving wildfires devastated parts of Sonoma County inflicting a heartbreaking loss of lives, homes and businesses, the vast majority of the region was left untouched. As a result, the community has come together in the past few months to share resources, raise funds, collaborate to rebuild, and most of all, continue business as usual. Sonoma, and specifically Healdsburg, encourages wine-lovers to keep their plans and come visit the area! It’s the best thing you can do to help the region recover, and with wine involved, that’s as good of a reason as any.
Learn more about this most majestic region of the United States at the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Bureau website.
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