Saying you visit Sonoma County for the mezcal is a bit like saying you read certain magazines for the articles (‘I swear!’). But it’s true that there’s more to Sonoma than its most obvious attraction, the 425 wineries. The county, only 45 minutes north of San Francisco, has a growing spirits scene and craft beer has never been bigger. That’s why we’ve put together a guide – including where to drink, where to stay and what to do – based on your beverage of choice. Sonoma traditionalists may want to stick with wine, which, by the way, is still an adventure for novices and experts alike. But if you’re thirsting for something else, go ahead and pick your poison…
Sip Of course, vino is still the main event in Sonoma and there’s a winery for any kind of crowd. For the novice, The Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens is an ideal place to begin. There, you’ll get a feel for wine flavors by wandering the red and white wine sensory gardens, where fruits, vegetables and herbs are planted in patches that correspond to varietals, such as Pinot Noir and Cabernet. The estate also offers five-course food-and-wine pairings, which would also appeal to an experienced sipper. Groups with kids in tow should consider Belden Barns for a private tasting. The owners’ own young kids are often on the farm and happy to show visitors how to jot down hopes on little tags and hang them on the property’s wishing tree. Horse & Plow is also pet and kid friendly and has plenty of outdoor seating for a summer tasting.
Stay Hotel Healdsburg provides plenty of additional ways to enjoy a glass of wine. Have one as you soak in your tub, lounge on the private balcony of your Courtyard Suite or as you sun by the pool. The hotel’s restaurant, Dry Creek Kitchen, has a wine list with 600 different pours and they’re happy to arrange a tutorial for you. Or, get your grapes through a wine and honey body wrap treatment at the hotel’s farm-fresh spa. Sister property H2 Hotel is nearby and also has a pool for waterside sipping. Plus, H2 has bikes to borrow, so you can peddle to local tastings.
Play A stay at Hotel Healdsburg, which sits on the western edge of the town’s historic square, means you can reach shopping faster than you can uncork a bottle of Cabernet. Lime Stone, which is in the same building as the hotel and is owned by Lisa Palmer, wife of Dry Creek Kitchen’s chef, Charlie Palmer, is filled with kitchen goods, including serving trays decoupaged with wine-bottle labels. For a poolside read, there’s Levin & Company, a family-owned bookstore that also stocks new and used vinyl; and at Yasuko, you’ll find clothing made from vintage Japanese kimonos. If you need a pick-me-up in the midst of your retail efforts, there’s Flying Goat Coffee for a cup of java or chai latte.
Sip In 2017, Santa Rosa, Sonoma’s largest city, won the title of Microbrew Capital of the United States, a distinction that ruffled fermentation experts from Portland down to San Diego. If you’d like to sample the area’s celebrated suds yourself, head to Plow Brewing Company, Third Street Aleworks or Russian River Brewing Company for local porters, pale ales and stouts. Russian River also has a brewery you can tour at their new Windsor location, which also has a pet-friendly beer garden and gift shop. Grab a growler to go and bring it back to your hotel…
Stay That brew will come in handy at Timber Cove Resort, where you’ll want to toast to the jaw-dropping views from your room’s balcony (be sure to request digs with an ocean view). If you’re high on hops, you’ll also want to dine downstairs at Coast Kitchen, where they have oysters on offer from Tomales Bay and beer on draft from Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Boonville.
Play Load up on brewing supplies and take a class at The Beverage People. In the past, they’ve offered courses on beer styles and recipe creation. Also, while you’re bunked at Timber Cove, head out on a hike – there are over two miles of coastal trails on the property. Breath in that seaside air and try to recreate that feeling in your at-home brews once you return home.
Sip Sake in Sonoma? That’s right. Japanese food, drink and even accommodations are among the more surprising delights the county has to offer. (If you visit during May, there’s also an annual Japanese Arts Festival.) And one of the most celebrated places to sip sake – in all of the US, not just Sonoma – is Single Thread, a kaiseki-style restaurant from chef Kyle Connaughton. You’ll have a dozen options to choose from on the sake menu, and dinner consists of 11 courses made from rare Japanese produce that’s grown on a nearby farm.
Stay Let your meal at Single Thread inspire an entire Japanese-style weekend, including a few nights at Gaige House & Ryokan. The hotel’s ryokan suites come with Japanese accessories, including yukata robes, zori slippers and cast-iron tea-ceremony sets, as well as a deep granite soaking tub. As for sake at the hotel, enjoy a glass each night in the Gathering Room.
Play Keeping with the Japanese theme, spend a few restorative hours in the woods practicing the chilled-out art of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Book your experience through Gaige House & Ryokan and they’ll send you on a hike with a guide who will teach you the stress-reducing practice. Similarly, consider a more literal woodsy soak at Osmosis Day Spa in Freestone. The spa is famous for its cedar enzyme baths – a Japanese healing process that involves immersing your whole body into a warm blend of cedar, rice bran and enzymes. The benefits include improved circulation, easing muscle and joint pain, and cleansing the skin.
Sip You’d expect a killer Pinot Noir in Sonoma, but a mezcal cocktail that’ll knock your socks off? That’s less expected. But that’s exactly what you’ll find at El Barrio, a Mexican cocktail lounge in Guerneville. Crista Luedtke, who is single-handedly credited with turning the formerly sleepy town into a culinary hotspot (she also has a restaurant, boutique hotel and gourmet market in Guerneville), is the brains behind the bar. Inspired by her travels, Crista has crafted a cocktail menu where tequila, mezcal and bourbon take centre stage.
Stay The rooftop terrace at Harmon Guest House is another worthwhile stop for a tipple. Try the Brown drink (yep, that’s the cocktail’s official name), which is made with local Sonoma Brothers Rye, cinnamon syrup and chocolate bitters. If you accidentally overdo it, one of the hotel’s creekside rooms, with cosy window seats and hand-loomed bed throws, is a glorious place to sleep off your hangover.
Play If you’re looking for spirits-themed souvenirs, spend an afternoon sampling and shopping at The Barlow, a 12-acre industrial park with shops, restaurants, wineries, galleries and more. Start at Spirit Works Distillery, where you can taste the label’s own vodka, gin and whiskey, as well as peruse barware and cocktail books. Then head over to decor shop Elsie Green, also at the Barlow, for vintage decanters and Champagne buckets – the perfect memento for a weekend in Sonoma.
Featured image is the terrace at Hotel Healdsburg