Sonoma County's Best
Places to Eat in Sonoma County
Founded by third and fourth generation Sonoma County natives, this brewery is still family-owned and -run. Visit the brewpub for a pint of super-hoppy Racer 5 IPA or a specialty brew like Old Baba Yaga, a Russian imperial stout.
Opulence is never out of style at Cyrus, Sonoma's destination for foie gras, caviar and seasonal white Alba truffles. Chef and co-owner Douglas Keane turns out spectacular dishes but avoids the stuffiness that often follows lavishness.
El Dorado Kitchen
A sophisticated bistro serving straightforward seasonal dishes. On warm evenings, the patio is a lovely place to try one of the inventive cocktails, such as the refreshing gin-based Kiwi Martini.
Founder Phil Anacker brings farm-direct coffees to Sonoma County with his local chain of small and cozy cafés.
Located in a strip mall, this spot's surroundings don't betray its offerings: superlative traditional sushiincluding superfresh toroand avant-garde rolls like the Fat Boy, made with tamago, unagi tempura and foie gras.
"My favorite place in Healdsburg for breakfast," says Douglas Keane, chef at Cyrus. "It's almost like a truck stop, but they make their own biscuits and gravy and nice, fluffy omelets (I hate overcooked omelets). In the summer they have heirloom tomatoes."
Places to Stay in Sonoma County
This luxury-vacation outfit can set you up in some of wine country's finest lodgingslike the Vineyard Knoll Estate in Glen Ellen, set on 25 acres with a vineyard in the front yard, a pool in the back and spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside.
A luxurious, post-modern retreat. Breakfast pastries are from the fabulous Downtown Bakery and Creamery and the pool's pretty cool too.
The other fashionable hotel option in Healdsburg: Think W meets California chic. Home to Dry Creek Kitchen.
Places to Visit in Sonoma County
Dave and Patty Rafanelli's heralded Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignons (now made by their daughter, Shelly RafanelliFehlman) are available only at the winery and on restaurant lists. There are no bells, no whistles, just outstanding wines sold from a rustic barnold-school yet still cool.
Book ahead for a seminar in which you blend your own wine with the varietals used in Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon. The visitor center (where walk-in tastings are held) sells good panini, charcuterie and cheese for picnics.
Secretive Gallo has pulled back the curtain a bit by opening its first public tasting room, on the plaza in Healdsburg, and offering appointment-only tours of its 650-acre Barrelli Creek Vineyard.
The only way to visit this established producer, which made some of the first Chardonnay to be fermented in stainless steel, is to book one of two tours, which are often led by Ben Sessions, son of winemaker emeritus Bob Sessions.
Their Bubble Room is the best tasting room in all of Sonoma County. Seated tastings ($65 per person) feature six small plateseach paired with a signature wine such as lobstershellfish cakes with a safron aïoli paired with J's Russian River Valley Chardonnay.
This small estate winery produces estate grown and bottled wines of very limited availability such as Sophia's Hillside Cuveé, named for the owner's daughter. Private tours are followed by a tasting of four wines in the caves.
Charlie and Lisa Palmer are Healdsburg's power couple. He's the chef at Dry Creek Kitchen; she picks the design items for their fantastic shop, Lime Stone. One top seller: trays decoupaged with bottle labels from local wineries ($96).
Up on Bell Mountain, Medlock Ames winery produces amazing wines in a utopian setting. Down in the valley, the Medlock Ames tasting room is its own little piece of food heaven, serving topped with gooey Bellwether Farms Crescenza cheese from local producer Liam Callahan.
The vineyard is an hour's drive from both Healdsburg and Santa Rosa, but it's worth the trip to get an inside look at a mom-and-pop operationand to see vines planted on hillsides so steep that tractors tip over.
Seghesio offers a fantastic appointment-only Family Table program, in which guests gather in private dining rooms around tables crafted out of recycled redwood wine tanks to enjoy selections of limited vintages paired with Italian dishes.
Adam and Dianna Lee make an astonishing 27 different Pinot Noirs under the Siduri label. Though the winery is bare-bones, the appointment-only toursusually given by one of the Leesinclude a sampling of wines aging in barrels for a preview of upcoming vintages.
Carries beautiful one-of-a-kind items that help support local communities worldwide such as a women's co-op in India that embroiders sari table throws.
Five Great Sonoma County Bottles
- 2008 Hanzell Chardonnay
- «2007 Keller Estate La Cruz Vineyard Pinot Noir
- 2006 Terlato Family Vineyards Syrah
- 2005 Porter-Bass Russian River Valley Zinfandel
- 2009 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc