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7 Serene Winter Escapes in Sonoma County

With the rush of the holidays over, refresh for 2023 with a change of scenery.

The shopping, entertaining and present wrapping and unwrapping are finished. The out-of-town visitors have left and we’re back to weekday cooking and workday tasks.

If all that holiday busyness has left you feeling enervated rather than inspired for the new year, it’s a great time to pause and recharge with a change of scenery, and you don’t have to go far. From a weekend getaway to the coast to a cedar enzyme immersion at a day spa to a visit to an animal farm, these seven close-to-home jaunts offer relaxing, refreshing respite.

A coastal getaway

There are moments when the Sonoma Coast almost doesn’t seem real. One twist of Highway 1 reveals craggy cliffs, while the next unveils windswept meadows and sandy beaches fringed by churning seas. No matter how many times you’ve done the drive, the sheer immensity of it all remains staggering.

Roll down your window and take a deep breath. There’s no reason to be in a hurry in these parts. Losing cell signal and getting lost in the fog only adds to the wonderful reasons to come here.

If you need a break during the winding journey, consider stretching your legs at Jenner Headlands Preserve, where even the views from the parking lot are stellar. But as you wind along, it’s when you hit The Sea Ranch that you’ll truly feel a world away.

Lodging options are blissfully scarce along this stretch of the coast. Weekend vacation home rentals at The Sea Ranch, built of structures known for their natural forms and weathered-wood facades, are an excellent option for those looking to get lost in the beauty for a weekend. Settle into your seaside digs, scope out the perfect spot to bundle up in a blanket to watch the sunset or sunrise, then get outside and get moving.

The Sea Ranch. (Carlos Chavarría)
Coastal redwoods tower in a way that makes humans feel very small and very serene. (Carlos Chavarría)

Sonoma County Regional Parks maintains a network of trails in The Sea Ranch; hiking any one can instill a sense of calm. For dramatic views of the Pacific that will keep you happily on the move for hours, layer up and set out on the Bluff Top Trail. You can take it as far as Gualala if you’re motivated.

The Shell Beach Trail offers a delightful snapshot of the coastal enclave’s beauty. Less than three-quarters of a mile each way, the trail weaves through pines and alongside a meadow with ample opportunities to see birds and deer. Somewhat surprisingly, you won’t find seashells at Shell Beach, but if the tide is down, you can easily lose an afternoon tide pooling. Have a seat on a driftwood log and admire the landscape. You might catch sight of a seal or sea lion. And peak whale season officially begins in January.

The Sea Ranch. (Carlos Chavarría)

The Sea Ranch. (Carlos Chavarría)

Later, make the most of the sweeping seascape in a cozy corner of the recently remodeled Sea Ranch Lodge, a gathering spot for locals and visitors. Grab a cup of coffee from the cafe or a book from the general store, then settle into one of the wooden Adirondack chairs that look out at rocky cliffs that stretch for miles. If a storm rolls in, the fireplace in the solarium will keep you warm. There’s even a record player and collection of LPs to choose from, though you’ll never top the moody sound of the serenading surf outside.

Jenner Headlands Preserve: 12001 Highway 1, Jenner; 909-797-8507, wildlandsconservancy.org

Shell Beach Coastal Access Trail: 39200 Highway 1, The Sea Ranch; 707-785-2377, parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov

Bluff Top Public Access Trail: 40101 Highway 1, The Sea Ranch; 707-785-2377, parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov

The Sea Ranch Lodge: 60 Sea Walk Drive, The Sea Ranch; 707-579-9777, thesearanchlodge.com

The 1960s-era main building, the centerpiece of Sea Ranch community life, includes a redesigned restaurant, a new café, and expansions to the bar, lounge, and general store. (Carlos Chavarría)
Ocean view through a fence at The Sea Ranch Lodge. (The Sea Ranch Lodge)

A serene stroll

Now is the quieter season along the Russian River, with misty mornings and peaceful solitude. It’s a nice chance to take a day trip to explore the river’s byways.

Begin along River Road on the deck at Farmstand, the new casual eatery at Farmhouse Inn, and treat yourself to a wood-fired pizza topped with maitake mushrooms, black truffle-leek cream and goat cheese.

Consider a post-pizza stroll at nearby Sunset Beach River Park to rack up some steps while soaking in photo-worthy views of Hacienda Bridge and hillsides covered with towering redwoods. From here, you may be able to spot steelhead trout running upstream, especially after a heavy rain.

Farmstand: 7871 River Road, Forestville; 707-887-3300, farmhouseinn.com

Sunset Beach River Park: 11403 River Road, Forestville; 707-433-1625, parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov

Farmstand, the new, more casual gathering spot at Forestville’s Farmhouse Inn. (Aubrie Pick)

Greenhouse warmth in winter

Squeeze the most out of the holidays with a visit to Sonoma Botanical Garden for the Glen Ellen landmark’s first-ever indoor, living botanical exhibition, “From East to Zest.”

The garden’s propagation greenhouse was spiffed up for the show and will be filled with hundreds of rare specimen citrus trees in flower and in fruit. Decorated by Mother Nature herself, the citrus trees brim with vibrant colors and calming scents.

“I think to go into the greenhouse and to be surrounded by all these fragrant fruits, it just feels like an extraordinary plant spa,” said Scot Medbury, the garden’s director. “Plants are such a wonderful common ground for everybody.”

Hold onto the feeling of calm even longer by heading outside to explore the nearly 70-acre garden, with steep trails up the hill topping out at views of the Sonoma Valley.

Meander along the new California Trail to learn about native plants, picnic and watch for frogs near the ponds.

Sonoma Botanical Garden: 12841 Highway 12, Glen Ellen; 707-996-3166, sonomabg.org

At Beltane Ranch in Glen Ellen. (Beltane Ranch)
At Beltane Ranch in Glen Ellen. (Beltane Ranch)
At Beltane Ranch in Glen Ellen. (Beltane Ranch)

A quiet night away

Find solitude and comfort with an overnight stay in a guesthouse just steps from the vines. Here are five favorite vineyard cottage retreats.

The owners at Forestville’s Enriquez Estate Wines turned an old milk barn into a two-bedroom Wine Country retreat. 5960 Eastside Road, Forestville; 707-347-9719, enriquezwines.com

DeLorimier Winery has a guesthouse and two suites surrounded by 17 acres of estate vineyards. 2001 Highway 128, Geyserville; 800-546-7718, delorimierwinery.com

Powered by solar energy, the Reeve Wines Villa boasts four bedrooms and three bathrooms and can accommodate eight adults. 4551 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg; 707-235-6345, reevewines.com

Beltane Ranch boasts a handful of rooms with perks like clawfoot tubs, French doors and seemingly endless views. 11775 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen; 707-833-4233, beltaneranch.com

Pezzi King visitors can soak in vineyard views while soaking in the hot tub. The estate guesthouse features four bedrooms with en suite baths and a full kitchen. 412 Hudson St., Healdsburg; 866-4734309, pezziking.com

Osmosis Day Spa and Sanctuary in Freestone. (Osmosis Day Spa and Sanctuary)
Getting the cedar enzyme bath ready. (Osmosis Day Spa and Sanctuary)

Renew yourself at a day spa

Have the weight of winter lifted off your shoulders at Osmosis Day Spa and Sanctuary in the tiny west county town of Freestone. The unique cedar enzyme bath experience at Osmosis, based on Japanese tradition, is the only one of its kind in the United States.

Find your zen as you’re enveloped in a tub full of comfortably warm, finely ground cedar and rice bran. The aromatic full-body compress provided by the cedar relieves soreness and boosts metabolism, bringing you to a state of dreamy, blissful solace. After your cedar bath, enjoy a tea service while overlooking the pond and explore acres of exquisitely maintained Japanese-style gardens.

Osmosis Day Spa and Sanctuary: 209 Bohemian Highway, Freestone; 707-823-8231, osmosis.com

Day trip to Occidental

There isn’t a bad time of year to hop in the car for a road trip to Occidental — the community’s charm is woven into its foundation. Whether it’s walking under the shade of towering redwoods at the Grove of Old Trees or along the darling two-block stretch that makes up downtown, Occidental has a way of reminding visitors that life doesn’t have to be exceedingly busy to be fulfilling.

Visit the local artisan marketplace at Altamont General Store, then warm yourself with cozy comfort food like minestrone soup and pasta at the historic Union Hotel. Family-owned and operated since 1925, it’s here that families, friends and visitors gather.

Grove of Old Trees: 17599 Fitzpatrick Lane, Occidental; landpaths.org

The Altamont General Store: 3703 Main St., Occidental; 707-874-6053, altamontgeneralstore.com

Union Hotel: 3731 Main St., Occidental; 707-874-3555, unionhoteloccidental.com

Linen napkins and handmade wares for sale at The Altamont General Store in Occidental. (Beth Schlanker/Sonoma Magazine)
The Boho Bowl at The Altamont General Store in Occidental. (Beth Schlanker/Sonoma Magazine)

Visit an animal sanctuary

Whether it’s feeding hay to a contented cow or giving belly rubs to a sweet pig, a visit to Charlie’s Acres nonprofit farm animal sanctuary can warm your heart in a way you didn’t realize you needed.

“We often hear from our visitors that stepping onto our sanctuary with over 150 rescued farm animals gives them a chance to take a deep breath and relax,” founder Tracy Vogt said.

The chorus of animal voices make for a lighthearted tranquil afternoon getaway. It’s nearly impossible not to smile as you watch cuddly and sometimes muddy farm animals living their best lives. A visit here is a perfect outing for families in search of memorable moments.

After winding your way around the farm, settle in at one of the picnic tables for a glass of wine or juice and a beautiful vegan cheese and charcuterie platter. The farm animals make for great company. If you’re lucky, you might even meet Charlie the Chihuahua, the farm’s namesake and Vogt’s very first rescue a decade ago.

Charlie’s Acre: 3281 Napa Road, Sonoma; 707-204-0020, charliesacres.org

Piglets relaxing in the evening sun in their enclosure at Charlie’s Acres. (Robbi Pengelly/Sonoma Index-Tribune)
One of the rescued debeaked chickens now living the good life at Charlie’s Acres. (Robbi Pengelly/Sonoma Index-Tribune)

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