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Three Perfect Days: Sonoma

Long considered Napa Valley’s sleepy cousin, Sonoma is ripe with vineyards and rugged valleys that are now just tame enough to conquer.

Author Sarah Horne


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DAY THREE | Rouse yourself for breakfast at the Farmhouse and then begin the winding drive west on River Road, where Sonoma gets just a little bit funkier. Note the various trapped-in-time motels tucked into the shadows of enormous redwoods and feel happily relieved you’ve arranged fancier digs. At Guerneville, a sleepy relic of a logging town, turn toward Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve 1 and get out for a walk (you think all that cheese is going to metabolize itself?). Here in the dim woods, you’re eerily alone. Gaze heavenward at the tops of the tallest trees, which are some 1,000 years old, and let yourself be dazzled. In the otherworldly green light, odd New Age philosophies somehow seem less odd.

Feeling ready for human contact (and a little worried about bears), you hop back into the Mercedes and wind along the Russian River, named for the Russian fur traders who came south from Alaska in the 19th century.

Drive through the settlements of Monte Rio and Duncans Mills, looking out for old wooden holiday cottages perched precipitously in the hills. When the mouth of the snaking Russian reaches the Pacific, you have arrived in Jenner, a tiny trapped-in-amber seaside town. Stop for lunch at the old-school River’s End 2, order the reliable West County burger with fried leeks and prep for the last leg of your remarkable road trip.

From Jenner, venture north on the perilous, cliff-hugging Highway 1. Stay on the lookout for stray cows (you’re in ranch country now, and the hapless giants occasionally wander onto the road) until you reach Salt Point State Park 3 and Stump Beach, named for the giant felled trees that wash up here. Note the sign: “Strong Backwash. Sleeper Waves. Rip Currents.” Watch as the surf tumbles through the kelp beds, the odd seal poking his head out of the water. The air is a fair bit cooler here than in Healdsburg, so you head back to the Mercedes and put up the top.

From Highway 1, you ramble through the dense redwoods on Skaggs Springs Road 4, a byway so remote that signs warn you in advance to make sure you’re gassed up. Finally, the road turns south, completing the loop through the wilds just in time for you to peel off your fleece and freshen up before a final dinner at the Farmhouse, with its well-deserved Michelin star.

In the softly lit dining room, under a mural depicting Russian River Valley farmers of yore, a cork pops and the waiter pours a glass of Roederer Estate sparkling wine from the nearby Anderson Valley. For dinner, it’s Gruyère potato gratin and beef tenderloin served with beans from the Bartolomei’s farm and a local Pinot noir. You sip and savor it, tasting rich cherries and mint, even a whiff of the salty ocean. You’re beginning to get this terroir thing, after all.

SARAH HORNE is now a living testament to the health benefits of wine.

6 Responses to “Three Perfect Days: Sonoma”

  1. Shana Ray Says:
    January 2nd, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    It is truly a wonderful place to visit (and live) and there is more to Sonoma than simply wine tasting, which you captured here perfectly! Great description of the area.

  2. Alana Gentry Says:
    January 11th, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Headsburg is my favorite town in Sonoma County. Two other completely different regions (45 minutes from Healdsburg) is Kenwood (Kunde Winery is there) and Sonoma, the town. The town of Sonoma has been called “the island” by the locals, it’s the place with the quirky characters. Healdsburg is full of friendly, fun types.

  3. Grace Hoffman Says:
    January 13th, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    I’m from Iowa but when I visit Northern California, Healdsburg is my favorite place to visit! I can’t recommend it and the Dry Creek Valley area enough! I’ve made so many great friends and visited so many beautiful places. Michel-Schlumberger is awesome! I was just there last Summer and hiked their vineyards! Just spectacular!

  4. Simon Kitchen-Dunn Says:
    February 1st, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    If you would like to live the dream why not doing perched above the Alexander Valley on Chalk Hill Road on 17.5 secluded acres at the end of a country lane.

  5. Sonoma William Says:
    February 23rd, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Great article. Good picks on wineries. So many more gems not mentioned though, make sure you come spend 2-3 days and explore fully!

  6. Lisa Villarini Says:
    March 14th, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    Healdsburg is definately the best of the best of Sonoma County-You got it right with Lime Stone the perfect shop to take home special one of a kind items like the wine label tray made from local somoma wineries and right next door is the best restaurant Dry Creek Kitchen-food is exceptional and service was top notch!

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