Is there anything better than getting away in the cool days of early winter to spend some well-earned down time curled up in front of a fire? (And maybe having someone bring breakfast, or drinks?) Explore these walkable towns or take a short drive into the surrounding countryside and let the beauty of the coast, vineyards and blustery skies restore your soul.
It’s a slam dunk to make Healdsburg your weekend destination, from its blocks of creative shops and highly rated restaurants to the garden-inspired bars and tasting rooms rimming the town’s central plaza. A quick drive out of town leads to the gorgeous landscapes of the Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander valleys, and wineries galore.
Where to stay
Off the plaza a few blocks and down a small alley, the Duchamp is a bit of a hidden gem, offering six cottages with fireplaces and private terraces around a pool, Jacuzzi spa and lovely gardens dotted with olive trees. It’s quiet, and also features personalized concierge services, making it the ideal getaway from the fray. Sparkling wine from the Duchamp Estate Winery, continental breakfast and free Wi-Fi round out the deal. $350-$425/night. 421 Foss St., 800-431-1300, duchamphotel.com.
Want to be closer to the action? You can’t get much closer than h2, with 36 “eco-chic” rooms with private balconies/patios and the fabulous Spoonbar downstairs, a restaurant, bar and lounge/lobby area with a hip vibe. The creekside pool and onsite spa will keep you there; the bicycles on loan (and four suggested itineraries) will send you off on two-wheeled adventures in and around town. $300 and up/night. 219 Healdsburg Ave., 707-922-5251, h2hotel.com.
Where to eat
For lunch, dinner or drinks, it doesn’t get more comfortably delicious – or local – than Campo Fina, the second restaurant of Scopa restaurant’s chef, Ari Rosen. In a narrow, brick-walled space with high ceilings – leading to the spacious patio (with heat lamps) and bocce courts out back – Campo Fina delights with gourmet, seasonally driven comfort food, from cold and hot sandwiches (the “Sunny Side of Life” is a favorite) to dinnertime pizzas and grilled meats. It also offers an all-day menu (oysters, spicy peppers, meatballs and such) and is open seven days a week, making it a prime destination on Mondays, when so many other spots are closed. 330 Healdsburg Ave., 707-395-4640, campo-fina.com.
This elegant hotel-restaurant estate, grandly sited among lush gardens above the Dry Creek Valley, makes for a worthy bucket-list visit any time of year. But it’s particularly decked out in wintertime when the Victorian mansion goes Dickens, offering five-course meals around traditional beef Wellington, with costumed carolers in fine voice. The Michelin-starred menu created by longtime chef Jesse Mallgren is modern, the setting and service old-school, lit by candle and romantically cozy. Menus are presented in themes, such as Clean and Crisp (caviar, crudo, okra), Soft and Delicate (sea urchin, slow-cooked eggs) and Meaty (rabbit, squab, strip loin), changing with the seasons. The Manor’s tableside cheese cart is legendary. 1001 Westside Rd., 800-258-4003, madronamanor.com.
Not to miss
An urban, brick-adorned bar stocked with rare local and European wines and beers by the glass and minimalist nibbles (you are also welcome to bring in your own noshings). Don’t miss Bergamot’s “Porn Room,” where the really good bottles can be perused for purchase. 328A Healdsburg Ave., 707-433-8720, bergamotalley.com.
A favorite with locals and visitors, the Bella boutique has vintage hats, jewelry, clothes, Cosabella lingerie, shoes and baby gifts, as well as a sterling reputation for service. 302 Center St., 707-431-2910, facebook.com/pages/Bella-All-Things-Beautiful/213745808639493.
Sonoma County’s favorite independent bookstore, the Healdsburg outpost is particularly well-appointed, stocked full of books, magazines and gifts, many centered around food, wine and travel. 106 Matheson St., 707-433-9270, copperfieldsbooks.com.
The tiny seaside hamlet of Mendocino doesn’t offer a central plaza or square like Healdsburg or Sonoma, but is small enough to walk around. Many of its prime destinations are in view of the wild coast or otherwise worthy of a short drive, which makes it a rugged and romantic place to park oneself in winter.
Where to stay
The Inn at Cobbler’s Walk Mendocino
A bed and breakfast with its own trailhead leading to an ocean-bluff walk, this is a new, chic overnight destination owned by the Glendeven Inn folks, who run a farmstead and provide eggs and other fresh goodies to this inn as well. Three-course hot breakfasts are served in your room, which you might not want to leave, thanks to the fireplace and jetted tubs. Farm-to-table dinners area served on a regular basis here, too. $150-$295. 8200 North Highway One, Little River, 707-937-0088, cobblerswalkmendocino.com.
MacCallum House Inn & Restaurant
It doesn’t get much more elegant than the spacious MacCallum, with six rooms in the main house and seven private cottages (including one in a water tower), with made-to-order breakfast, in-room massage, fine-dining restaurant and bar, flower garden and romantic fireplaces and wood stoves. The sister MacCallum Suites is a nearby four-star luxury mansion overlooking the ocean. $149-$349. 45020 Albion St., 800-609-0492, maccallumhouse.com.
Where to eat
This longstanding eatery is legendary for a reason, and no visit to Mendocino would be complete without sampling its fine fare, a mix of French and California cuisines inspired by organic, local ingredients. Begin with a house aperitif like a Kir Royale made with Roederer Estate Brut sparkling wine, and linger over seared scallops, bouillabaisse, crepes and filet mignon. 961 Ukiah St., 707-937-5614, cafebeaujolais.com
Pizza, ice cream and much more is how Frankie’s touts itself, and locals love it for its fresh, organic take on the simple pie, even offering a gluten-free pizza for long-suffering fans. Try the Navarro with housemade basil pesto, free-range chicken, mozzarella and caramelized onions. There’s a lot of local beer, cider and wine, too. 44951 Ukiah St., 707-937-2436, frankiesmendocino.com.
Not to miss
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Located due north of Mendocino in Fort Bragg, this unusual coastal garden is a lovely way to meander through a day, taking in coastal pines, ferns, heaths and heathers, camellias, rhododendrons and other beauties in view of the mighty Pacific. $14/general admission. 18220 North Highway One, Fort Bragg, 707-964-4352, gardenbythesea.org.
The World of Suzi Long Gallery
Mendocino is not lacking in art galleries, but this one is worth a particular peek, as the photos and paintings are all inspired by the beauty of the region. Long calls the work “MendoScenery;” the gallery is set in a historic water tower. 611 Albion St., 707-937-5664, suzilong.com.
Historic and family-friendly, Sonoma’s central plaza is about double the size of Healdsburg’s and a similar focal point for the city, with yummy restaurants, bars, distinctive shops and tasting rooms lined all around. Bigger hotels and wineries are an easy walk or drive from there.
Where to stay
A small luxury inn a few blocks off the Sonoma Plaza near Depot Park, the Bungalows is a series of Italian-villa-inspired private suites – six in all, one as large as 1,200 square feet and with a full kitchen, fireplace and private patio. Modern with an old-world feel, this is the place to be with a larger group or family. There’s a courtyard that accommodates up to 100 people, and the inn is in easy walking distance of restaurants and shops. $160-$499 with weekly rates also available. 313 First St. East, 707-996-8091, bungalows313.com.
The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa
A simple walk from the plaza, The Lodge is luxurious without being over the top and has a restaurant, as well as the Bean & Bottle wine bar. Through the end of the year, it’s featuring in-depth tastings with its in-house sommeliers, who will select local libations and take you on a tour of a nearby distillery. From $329/night. 1325 Broadway, 707-935-6600, the lodgeatsonoma.com.
Where to eat
The Red Grape
With pizza, pasta, salads, soups, Sonoma wine and beer on tap and sports on TV, this is a bustling, kid-friendly spot with very good food for lunch or dinner in a casual setting. Or also take a pie to go and enjoy in the plaza. Locals swear it’s the best pizza in town. 529 First St., 707-996-4103, theredgrape.com.
Santé at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn
With a well-earned Michelin star, Santé is Sonoma’s most luxurious place to dine, sequestered within the walls of the tony Fairmont hotel. It relies on copious fresh, local produce and meats, composing it to unexpected heights and accompanied by one of the town’s finest wine lists, full of options from Sonoma and Napa. Look for its schedule of winemaker dinners. 100 Boyes Blvd., 707-939-2415, fairmont.com/sonoma.
Not to miss
Fred and Amy Groth opened this, Sonoma’s first and only post-Prohibition distillery, to make HelloCello, their succulent, locally sourced Limoncello di Sonoma. (They make liqueurs from figs and blood oranges as well.) Adding to their reputation, they now make the sought-after Hooker’s House Bourbon and Rye, Sugar Daddy Rum and Solano Vodka, too. Take a distillery tour and learn how it’s all made. 707-721-6390, prohibition-spirits.com.
The Epicurean Connection
Sonoma local Sheana Davis knows cheese and shares her knowledge and her best selections at this aromatic shop, café, beer and wine bar just off the plaza. Try Davis’ own Delice de la Vallée, a fresh triple-cream cow and goat cheese that has won many awards. 122 West Napa St., 707-935-7960, theepicureanconnection.com.