What to Eat, Drink and Do in Sonoma County
mkgallery’s guide to the best of Sonoma—fantastic food, great wine and perfect places to stay (also, spectacular recipes from local chefs). » mkgallery’s Full Sonoma Travel Guide
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Places to Eat in Sonoma County
Photo courtesy of Barndiva.
With artwork and pitchforks on the walls, Barndiva, housed in a Mahogany barn just off Healdsburg’s main square, epitomizes rustic-chic. Popular with local chefs and winemakers, it sources ingredients for dishes like basil and fromage blanc agnolotti from small, sustainable Sonoma County purveyors; muddles cocktails with herbs grown around the property and on owner Jil Hales's farm in Mendocino; and produces its own Cabernet. Hales’s art gallery, Studio Barndiva, is just next door. barndiva.com
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. bearrepublic.comPhoto © Kelly Puleio.
The teeny town of Guerneville now has a place to taste and buy local wines and pick up supplies for trail hikes through the redwoods. Chef Crista Luedtke has become a local celebrity for her breakfast sandwiches, like the Sea Biscuit with smoked trout, capers, pickled red onion and crème fraîche. bigbottommarket.com
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. eldoradosonoma.com
Founder Phil Anacker brings farm-direct coffees to Sonoma County with his local chain of small and cozy cafés. flyinggoatcoffee.comPhoto courtesy of Hana Japanese Restaurant.
Just off Highway 101 in a strip mall, this nondescript-looking is one of the valley’s best sushi restaurants. The mostly traditional sushi by Tokyo-born Ken Tominaga includes superfresh toro along with a few unorthodox rolls (the Crabzilla is made with soft-shell crab and crab salad and avocado). hanajapanese.com
Yucatán native Mateo Granados gained a following serving tamales and ceviches from a truck, but now his devotees can find his slow-roasted cochinita pibil (suckling pig) in a brick-and-mortar restaurant. mateoscocinalatina.comPhoto courtesy of Dry Creek.
Chef Charlie Palmer grew up in upstate New York and earned nationwide fame at Manhattan’s swank Aureole. Yet he’s considered Healdsburg royalty—some credit the town’s transformation with the 2001 opening of Dry Creek Kitchen, located inside the minimalist Hotel Healdsburg. Beyond the outstanding California cuisine, including dishes like star anise-crusted duck breast served in a pluot sablée (a French butter cookie made without sugar), the restaurant is also known for its wine list, which features around 600-plus bottles from Sonoma alone. charliepalmer.comPhoto courtesy of Farmhouse Inn.
At this six-acre Russian River Valley property wits its own gardens, chef Steve Litke prepares Mediterranean-inflected dishes like grilled octopus drizzled with chorizo vinaigrette. Geoff Kruth, one of only about 100 master sommeliers in the country, has compiled an excellent wine list that combines both New and Old World selections, heavy on bottles from the surrounding valley and Sonoma Coast, as well as red and white Burgundies, German Rieslings and lighter-bodied Italian reds. farmhouseinn.com
This 20-year-old stalwart on leafy Healdsburg Square has a small but appealing wine list and classic bistro dishes anchored by the area’s best products: The lunchtime lamb burger can be topped with either Laura Chenel goat cheese or Point Reyes blue cheese, and the duck confit with creamy polenta uses locally raised Liberty ducks. bistroralph.com
For their longstanding Santa Rosa restaurant, husband-and-wife duo John Stewart and Duskie Estes grow produce and raise livestock for their menu at MacBryde Farm, located behind their house in Forestville. They raise Red Wattle heritage pigs, rabbits, goats and flocks of turkey and chicken, and harvest everything from seven types of pumpkin to figs for their daily-changing, ingredient-driven menus. Adding to Zazu’s homey appeal: copper-topped tables, vintage mirrors and whirring ceiling fans. zazurestaurant.com
Even though chef-owner Chad Harris’s tiny Fremont Diner off the junction of Highway 121/12 in Sonoma opened just in 2009, it nails the look of a roadside diner from the 1940s. The roof is corrugated tin, and a badly rusted pickup truck is permanently parked outside. The menu is classic Southern comfort food with a bit of Cal-Mex thrown in, cooked with the best Napa and Sonoma ingredients. Open only for breakfast and lunch (though there is a good selection of local craft beers), Fremont turns out black pepper brisket hash, fried chicken and waffles and an excellent rendition of the 19th-century Hangtown Fry with eggs, bacon, potatoes and oysters scrambled together. thefremontdiner.com
Chef-owner Ari Rosen’s trattoria channels Italy with house-made ciabatta, excellent pizzas and tomato-braised chicken served in a black cast-iron pot. The popular Wine Maker Wednesdays brings in local winemakers (Suzanne Hagins of Horse & Plow, Fred Scherrer of Scherrer Winery) to join the floor as servers for the evening, pouring their own wines by the glass and offering them by the half and full bottle. scopahealdsburg.com
“My favorite place in Healdsburg for breakfast,” says chef Douglas Keane. “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.”
This former apple-processing factory is now a food destination that will house a farmer’s market, bakeries, coffee roasters, breweries and wineries, like Kosta Browne and Wind Gap. thebarlow.net
Places to Stay in Sonoma County
This luxury-vacation outfit can set you up in some of wine country’s finest lodgings—like 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. beautiful-places.comPhoto courtesy of Duchamp Hotel.
A luxurious, post-modern retreat. Breakfast pastries are from the fabulous Downtown Bakery and Creamery and the pool’s pretty cool too. duchamphotel.com
The other fashionable hotel option in Healdsburg: Think W meets California chic. Home to Dry Creek Kitchen. hotelhealdsburg.com
Places to Visit in Sonoma County
Dave and Patty Rafanelli’s heralded Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignons (now made by their daughter, Shelly Rafanelli-Fehlman) are available only at the winery and on restaurant lists. There are no bells, no whistles, just outstanding wines sold from a rustic barn—old-school yet still cool. arafanelliwinery.com
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. chateaustjean.com
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. gallosonoma.com
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. hanzell.com
Their Bubble Room is the best tasting room in all of Sonoma County. Seated tastings ($65 per person) feature six small plates—each paired with a signature wine such as lobster-shellfish cakes with a safron aïoli paired with J’s Russian River Valley Chardonnay. jwine.com
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. lancaster-estate.com
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). limestonehealdsburg.com
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 crispy pizzas topped with gooey Bellwether Farms Crescenza cheese from local producer Liam Callahan. medlockames.comPhoto courtesy of Peay Vineyards.
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 operation—and to see vines planted on hillsides so steep that tractors tip over. peayvineyards.com
People come to the new Ram’s Gate Winery to try the Pinots and other wines from star consultant Jeff Gaffner, who has worked for cult producers like Saxon Brown. Now the winery has a terrific chef as well: Jason Rose, formerly of Delfina in San Francisco. Rose prepares small bites, such as lamb meatballs, to go with the wines. Visitors can plop down in the outdoor lounge with a glass of wine and a snack right next to the open-air tanks—an improvement on most indoor tasting bars and a rarity in Sonoma. ramsgatewinery.com
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. seghesio.com
Adam and Dianna Lee make an astonishing 27 different Pinot Noirs under the Siduri label. Though the winery is bare-bones, the appointment-only tours—usually given by one of the Lees—include a sampling of wines aging in barrels for a preview of upcoming vintages. siduri.com
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. studiobarndiva.com