24 Hours: A Healdsburg ‘How-To’Dec 10, 2020 04:32PM ● By Fran Miller
Healdsburg Plaza. Photo by Kim Carroll
BY FRAN ENDICOTT MILLER
Despite the trials and tribulations of this past year, a vibrancy continues to exist in the chic hamlet of Healdsburg, making it an ideal spot in which to seek 24 hours of bucolic and indulgent refuge. Though wine tasting rooms, Michelin-starred restaurants, and haute accommodations have replaced the feed stores that once surrounded Healdsburg’s central, tree-shaded plaza, a rural essence remains, and the combination of 'haute' and 'ag' creates an atmosphere of relaxed elegance that is hard to resist.
Healdsburg is located at the intersection of three world-class wine growing regions - the Russian River and the Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys - making the vinous and gastronomic proliferation apropos. Add quaint boutiques, art galleries, and antique shops, and the small town provides more than enough diversion for a quick and gratifying getaway.
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, (pictured) a Relais & Chateaux 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 plush robes. This dichotomy of incredible luxury set within Healdsburg’s agrarian environ creates a surprisingly inviting paradox. Hotel Les Mars provides Healdsburg’s most refined stay, with service that stands out. From dinner reservations, winery tours, and picnics, the Hotel Les Mars staff has the inside track and will happily 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 Noble Folk Ice Cream & Pie Bar.
DO: Downtown Healdsburg boasts more than 22 galleries, 50 shops and boutiques, 30 wine tasting rooms, and innumerable eateries, most all continuing to operate safely during these trying times. Yet a trip to this bucolic region is not complete without a proper vineyard wine tasting. A drive down nearby Dry Creek Rd. offers a plethora of options, and for the lovers of sparkling wines, Amista Vineyards is the way to go. The only sparkling producer within the Dry Creek Valley, Amista, its owner’s Mike and Vicky Farrow, and winemaker Ashley Herzberg use the traditional Champagne method in crafting Sparkling Blanc de Blanc, Sparkling Syrah, and Sparkling Grenache, each made from grapes grown on their estate vineyards. They also make estate-grown Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache and Tres, a GSM blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, plus Dry Creek Zinfandel and Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon made with fruit from their nearby Healdsburg neighbors. Enjoy a tasting on their vast, covered patio that overlooks the vines, or grab a glass and take a 20-minute stroll around the vineyard.
If in town on a Saturday, don’t miss the Healdsburg Certified Farmers’ Market, open through December 19, 8:30-12:30 in the West Plaza Parking Lot. One of the original twenty-two Certified Farmers’ Markets in California, it celebrates the agricultural heritage of this beautiful area. Find a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as flowers, cheeses, honey, olive oil, bread, wild fish, pasture-finished meat, fresh eggs, cooked foods, packaged food product, and handmade crafts.
EAT: Plaza-adjacent Dry Creek Kitchen has long been Healdsburg’s restaurant ‘go-to,’ and in spite of increased competition from a plethora of celebrated upstarts, it continues to be the gold standard. Celebrity chef Charlie Palmer’s paean to Sonoma County and it’s bounty of both food and wine, Dry Creek Kitchen is perhaps best known for its wine list. Pages and pages feature only Sonoma County labels, both the well-known and the more obscure. Management here enjoys close relationships with local producers, affording the restaurant, and its customers, access to brands not easily found. The menu features comfortable American classics, always with a twist; Char broiled filet mignon features duck fat trumpet mushrooms, and a balsamic onion emulsion. King Salmon ‘Char Siu’ is coated in a light, garlic-sesame crunch. Start with Palmer’s signature Lobster Corn Dogs, crispy little bites of goodness, and end with his decadent, also signature Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar. If you’re lucky, canelé arrives as a last bite. Though the inviting dining room is currently off limits, Dry Creek Kitchen has pivoted perfectly to offer outdoor dining on its expansive garden courtyard lined with warming heat lamps.
For breakfast or lunch, don’t miss Costeaux French Bakery, a Healdsburg mainstay since 1923. Known for its handmade breads, irresistible pastries, and weekend Eggs Benedict, this Healdsburg icon is routinely voted in varied polls as ‘best Sonoma County bakery.’ Holiday visitors will find not only mint mochas and eggnog lattes, but a winter wonderland as well. Owners Karl & Nancy Seppi decorate the interior with hundreds of nutcrackers in all shapes and sizes. Croque Monsieur or Madame craving or not, it’s worth a peek.