Five Favorite Ways to Spend an Afternoon in Sonoma Wine Country
A Sonoma travel guide of things to do in Healdsburg and beyond
One of the best parts about working in Sonoma County is getting to hang out in this beautifully diverse corner of California wine country. Days off can be like a vacation in our own backyard, so I asked a few coworkers at Jordan Winery to share their favorite things to do in Sonoma wine country on their days off for this Sonoma travel guide. Here are our top five ways to spend an afternoon in Healdsburg and beyond. You’ll find wine tasting, picnics, Healdsburg square music and shopping, beautiful beaches, historic wineries, hiking trails and more–all recommended by locals.
Sonoma Travel Guide: Favorite Things To Do in Sonoma County
Picnicking at Lake Sonoma
“On my days off, I love to take my family to Lake Sonoma for a picnic. First, stop off at the historic Dry Creek General Store for sandwiches, sides and other picnic goodies (Dry Creek Stacker sandwich is a must); you can even buy GoVino glasses or a portable picnic bag there if you’re not traveling with all the usual wine party gear. There are two Vista Points overlooking Lake Sonoma that aren’t well publicized for tourists, but well worth seeking out. For the lower vista, look for the View Point sign on your right just before crossing the Lake Sonoma bridge. For the highest vista, which has two sight-seeing decks, follow Skaggs Springs Road toward the marina and make a sharp right just before marina road and head up the winding hill. The drive to Lake Sonoma is also beautiful, meandering through Dry Creek Valley’s old-vine zinfandel vineyards.”
Day Spa Indulge + Shopping
“Hidden away in the second level of the Healdsburg Plaza Arts building, Elements on the Plaza Day Spa isn’t one of the most well-known spas in Sonoma County and definitely not the easiest to find, but that’s part of its charm. Arrive early and sip infused water while relaxing in an airy lounge overlooking the charming town square. Treat yourself to The Tension Tamer Massage or The Age Defier Facial—both heavenly escapes. The spa uses products by Image Skincare, one of my favorites, and also incorporates seasonal ingredients into their treatments such as pumpkin in fall or coconut-lime in summer. They also offer mid-week specials, private group bookings, private wine receptions and an array of pampering treatments. After an afternoon at the spa, head downstairs and shop the square. Some fabulous boutiques are hidden amongst the tasting rooms, bars and restaurants. Don’t miss Diana Sanabria, Rete, Punch or the new Les Lunes—bamboo-made clothing from France.”
Music on the Healdsburg Square
“I can hardly wait for summer when quaint Healdsburg square comes to life on Tuesday nights with live music. Droves of locals grab their blankets, bottles of wine and charcuterie and claim grassy picnic spots around a grand gazebo for what the city calls its “Tuesdays in the Plaza Concert Series.” You never know who you’ll run into, but it’s always fun. It’s one of the funnest things to do in Healdsburg. Tip for travelers: If you’re staying at the Hotel Healdsburg, they have the perfect picnic package that includes a blanket, two chairs and a small cooler with a bottle of local wine. You can also order food to go from Oakville Grocery or the food stands set up on the north side of the Healdsburg square. Get there early for a good spot! Locals start putting blankets and chairs out at 3 p.m., and the bar opens at Duke’s opens at four o’clock, so you can sip on a taproot cocktail by the window overlooking the square until the party starts. Hosted June-August.
Exploring West County
“When my husband and I have a rare day off together, we like to take full advantage of it right here in our own backyard. After a hike along Bodega Bay’s Doran Beach (bring a jacket year-round), we drive back to the town of Freestone in western Sonoma County, known mostly for its Pinot Noirs, to the new Freestone Artisan Cheese, which samples and sells sheep, cow and goat cheeses from the surrounding area. We’ll make stops for eats and drinks in one of our quaint ‘West County’ towns of Sebastopol, Graton or Occidental—Occidental has a special place in my heart because I went to grade school and got married there—and the old town’s cash-only Howard Station Café is fantastic for lunch (especially since they serve breakfast until 12:30 p.m.). After wandering through The Barlow, dinner at a fun restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa, Spinster Sisters, is on the menu. The wine list is diverse and intriguing, but you are welcome to bring a favorite bottle and pay corkage. Small plates are the specialty at this lively, hip spot—savory, global flavors from Thai-inspired grilled calamari to braised beef tongue, pork belly and the best Three Twins sundae and affogato, made with local Flying Goat coffee.”
Historic Sonoma Valley
“On weekends, I like to go on a long run through Sonoma Valley’s famous Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen. The seven-mile Sonoma Ridge Trail offers a fair amount of shade for runners and hikers, but it’s also fun to explore this vast park as a hiker. There are nearly 30 miles of trails and 1,400 acres with many stunning vistas and historic buildings that writer-adventurer Jack London called home–ruins and homes that date back 100 years–both a California Historical Landmark and a National Historic Landmark. You can also stop and view a 2,000-year-old redwood tree before rewarding yourself with a late lunch at The Saloon at Jack London Lodge. Conveniently located at the gateway to Jack London Historic State Park, this bar and restaurant has kept its turn-of-the-century charm, from the old oak bar and exposed brick walls to the stained glass light fixtures. The Saloon’s Creekside Patio, overlooking the wooded creek that meanders through Sonoma Valley, is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of local chardonnay with calamari or Brie cheese, apples and baguette. If there’s still time, go wine tasting at one of the most historic wineries in Sonoma Valley, Gundlach Bundschu and Buena Vista. Otherwise, Benziger Family Winery borders Jack London park.”