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Walnut Creek Magazine

How Best to Explore Healdsburg in 24 Hours

Oct 25, 2017 08:58AM ● By Fran Miller


The recent firestorm that swept through Sonoma County resulted in heartbreaking loss that shocked the region. But the calamity also inspired resilience and community spirit. Healdsburg itself suffered no damage, and the town has become home to first responders, victims, evacuees, and pets. Healdsburg is alive and well – and remarkably, so are those towns most adversely affected. Hotels and businesses in the entire area encourage visitors to return and explore. You’ll continue to find the same great hospitality that you’ve come to equate with California’s northern wine country.  

The farmer frequented feed stores that once surrounded Healdsburg’s central, tree-shaded plaza have been replaced with wine tasting rooms, but the agricultural essence of this tiny Sonoma Valley town remains. Located at the crux of three world-class wine growing regions – the Russian River and the Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys – the proliferation of tasting rooms is apropos, as is the increase in farm-to-table cuisine-focused restaurants. Add to the gastronomic scene several quaint boutiques, art galleries, and antique shops, and one finds more activity of interest in this charming idyll than can be packed into 24 hours. But if that’s all the time you’ve got, here’s our guide on how to make the most of every single minute. Park the car, put on your walking shoes, and get out there:           

STAY: Central to the town’s appeal is Healdsburg Plaza, flanked by lodging, restaurant, and shopping options. Within steps is the elegant Hotel Les Mars, a Relais & Chateaux boutique hotel featuring 16 luxurious rooms furnished with stately French antiques, stone-mantel gas fireplaces, and hand-carved canopy beds enveloped in Versai linens. Cararra marble bathrooms feature hydrotherapy soaking tubs, luxury sized Bulgari toiletries, and soft robes. Tinned snacks, Pellegrino, and Belgian chocolates are offered for the taking. Enjoy room-delivered continental breakfast, afternoon wine and cheese, and a ½ bottle of champagne at check-in. While all of these aspects make Hotel Les Mars worth a visit, it is the service that stands out. Dinner reservations, winery tours, picnics – the Hotel Les Mars staff has the inside track and will happily and easily help you plan an itinerary. They can also help you surprise your significant other with additional in-room treats, such as a flower arrangement, a plate of cookies, chocolate covered strawberries, or artisan cupcakes from nearby Moustache Baked Goods.

DO: Downtown Healdsburg boasts more than 22 galleries, 50 shops and boutiques, 30 wine tasting rooms, and innumerable eateries. How best to navigate? As with any city full of riches, a guided tour is the way to go. Our choice? A Savor Healdsburg food tour. This progressive dining and drinking adventure allows guests to sample delectables from various locations in town. Led by Healdsburg locals, the tour provides insider access and allows for a comprehensive overview of Healdsburg’s many gourmet riches. Start with your group at Shed, for instance, Healdsburg’s highly regarded modern day grange celebrating everything edible and drinkable. Enjoy a crafted shrub cocktail and sample items from the Shed kitchen before moving down the Square to Café Lucia where you’ll enjoy a glass of Portuguese wine and small bites. 

Portalupi wine tasting

Bravas sangria and tapas

Next stop is Portalupi Wines where you’ll taste a flight of Italian and traditional varietals accompanied by small appetizers chosen to compliment each wine. Proprietor Tim Borges challenges guests to identify the varietal in the final pour, its identity cloaked in a black wine glass. On to Bravas where you’ll sip red or white sangria while enjoying authentic Spanish tapas. Wind down at The Taste of Tea, where guests are treated with ‘omotenashi,’ a Japanese spirit of warmth, understanding, and respect. The Taste of Tea features an Asian and California inspired menu, and of course, tea – numerous blends to suit every palate. Proprietors Donna and Nez Tokugawa promote a ‘tea lifestyle’ that refreshes body and soul. Their serene spot near the Square also features a relaxation lounge where mini spa treatments can be enjoyed. The final stop on the Savor tour is popular Moustache Baked Goods where you can pick from a selection of mouthwatering cupcakes and cookies.

Sonoma Cider

IMBIBE: Healdsburg is the home of Sonoma Cider, a must stop for cider fans. Owner David Cordtz and his son Robert set-out just a few years ago to turn the cider world on its head, and they’ve succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Visit their industrial chic tap room near the Square and order the sampler – more than 20 generous pours of their varied flavors including micro releases such as a bananaweizen and a habanero-lime. The taproom also features a full menu with items created by chef de cuisine Josh Schauert. His wild yellowfin poke is not to be missed: raw, diced, wild yellowfin tuna marinated in organic tamari, sesame oil, agave, and chili oil with scallions and wasabi, served on sesame wonton crackers with wasabi crème fraiche. You’ll also find hearty sandwiches and entrees such as a grilled-to-perfection tri-tip sandwich, and tender baby back ribs. Though it’s the cider that primarily lures visitors, Schauert’s culinary artistry enhances and completes the Sonoma Cider experience.

Lambert Bridge

A visit to Healdsburg isn't complete without a visit to at least one of the area's heralded wineries. Lambert Bridge, along bucolic Dry Creek Road, is a convenient and beautiful representation of the region's viticultural bounty. Drop in for a wine flight at the tasting bar or reserve a Bordeaux-varietal tasting in their Redwood Barrel Room. Bring a picnic and relax in their serene gardens nestled between redwood forests and vineyards, or plan your Healdsburg visit around a Chef's Table Series. Lambert Bridge's congenial winemaker Jennifer Higgins produces small lot, limited production wines that are treasured by those who know and love the label.