You know that place that’s so perfect you hesitate to tell your friends about it? For us, it’s Healdsburg, California, a Sonoma County town located 60 miles north of San Francisco. Easily accessible just off the 101 and filled with great wine, great food, and great people, Healdsburg is an awesome Bay Area day trip destination/weekend away/place to retire as soon as possible.
We certainly aren't the first people to write about this place, though we might be the ones who frequent it the most (I got married here and make the trip often). We love it most for the relaxing vibe that makes you feel comfortable as soon as you arrive, and for the fact that you can do all the things you love to do in wine country, minus all the Napa crowds.
Here's our list of Healdsburg's greatest hits, should you find yourself making plans to visit (hint: you should).
To start the day or kick-start the afternoon just off the main square, the coffee at Flying Goat can’t be beat. They serve both single-origin and blends, and the spacious cafe is a great place to just chill out for a bit
The second you approach SHED you see why this place was awarded a James Beard Award for design. The modern space houses a perfect mix of fresh produce, gourmet coffee and tea, gardening equipment (hell yes), and wine country souvenirs you actually want to keep. They also have an excellent sit-down restaurant with a small, ingredient-inspired menu, including a list of house-made shrubs (vinegar-based cocktails.) Shop around, then sit down and eat a pizza and a salad.
Ah, the open-air bar on an indian summer afternoon – that's what day drinking is all about. Spoonbar serves some of Healdsburg’s best cocktails, both the classics and soon-to-be new-school favorites. Garnishes are gorgeous arrays of fresh herbs and flowers, and when you’re drinking them in the sun, you'll feel like you're winning life.
Don’t leave Sir Bubba Pancakes (or whatever your dog's name is) behind in dog- friendly wine country. Bring him along to Campo Fino’s gorgeous backyard – grab a table or a spot at the bar – and enjoy fresh small plates and wood-fired pizza and a lively vibe. Bonus: bocce courts. Of course, Campo Fina is also a great option if you’re dog-free, but let's be honest. That's no way to live.
Book ahead for a table at this laid-back but super-special spot, especially during peak season. Barndiva has been doing farm-to-table for years, and each dish is a colorful array of beautifully presented seasonal ingredients. For a more relaxed experience, the bar has open seating and its own food menu. Not to worry though, the delicious little flavor-bomb goat cheese croquettes with lavender honey are available on both menus. The house cocktails are spectacular and the wine list superb (and includes a special Barndiva blend from nearby Preston Vineyards.) Also, they put lobster on a benedict during brunch so...yeah.
Technically not in Healdsburg, but a scenic short drive north to the adorable town of Geyserville brings you to Diavola, a rustic Italian restaurant in an old brick building. Pizza, pasta, a really pretty and appropriately rustic cheese plate, and a whole lot of salumi make this place a winner.
This spot is a bit out of town but worth the ten-minute drive. Medlock Ames makes a variety of organic, artisanal wines (and olive oil!), and their care shows. Taste through the full list of offerings, and then chill out with a walk through their organic garden.
Dry Creek Valley equals California zinfandel, and I love this grape. There’s no place better to taste several varieties than Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves. With its laid-back vibe, inviting lawn perfect for a picnic, and in- house chef, a tasting at Bella is a full experience. The team has also launched a second label, Ten Acre, featuring some whites and Pinots to complement the zin- and syrah-driven Bella label.
Italian-style wines made with California fruit? Yes please. If you’ve ever read a California wine list, you’ve probably seen an Unti bottle or two. Make an appointment (same day is often ok) for a tasting, try a few wines you’ve probably never had, and make friends with owner/farmer George Unti who is often on hand.
If you’re in the mood for pinot noir, this is your place. Winemaker Alan Baker came to California from Minnesota to learn the industry and now sources and makes some spectacular pinot varieties. The tasting room is sleek, bright, and inviting, and whatever they’re pouring from the tap is what you want.
This Hawley family is of no relation to me, but they might as well be given their amazing hospitality. It doesn’t hurt that the father-sons team is producing spectacular, award-winning wines from viognier (my favorite) to sauvignon blanc to an excellent estate meritage blend.