Growing up in the Bay Area, a trip to the Wine Country was always a special and beautiful trip for friends and family. “We’re going wine tasting in Sonoma” was offered with excitement and a touch of panache. Everyone felt decadent talking about their weekend getaway just 45 minutes north. What I didn’t realize back then is that Sonoma County has more to offer than wine. It is a place for experience seekers who appreciate the aesthetic of authenticity. A place larger than Rhode Island, this county has a variety unparalleled in other wine regions. Sonoma has farm to table dining, coastline, redwoods, authentic stagecoach stops, wineries, exotic animals, spas and views that beg to be painted. With the new Alaska Airlines direct flight from LAX to Sonoma County Airport, we Angelenos have no excuse not to go.
Recently at a decadent dinner at the new Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of talking to some real Sonoma County insiders. Talking about Sonoma County made me ache for the beauty of Northern California and when they told me about the multitude of festivals happening in June, I became obsessed with making the trip. Festivals mean organized fun. I am IN. June is so jam packed with cool gatherings it’s hard to decide which to attend. What do you like? Art? No problem. The “Art at the Source” event is in June, where collectors can meet over 100 local artists. Perhaps you are more of a beer lover? June’s Beerfest is featuring 35 microbreweries with food pairings from local gourmet sources. If indie music, handcrafted food and a gorgeous winery setting is your idea of a fun weekend, come up for Huichica Music Festival at the Gundlach Bundschu Winery, June 13th -14th, for its fifth year running. There is something for all tastes and interests in Sonoma County.
After leaving the chaos of Los Angeles and boarding the non-stop flight, you will touch down among vineyards in Sonoma County, literally, and instantly feel calm and on vacation. Here are seven festivals aka reasons to come in June.
Art meets scenic back road drives. For the first two weekends in June, Sebastopol Center for the Arts and Art at the Source present the 19th annual open studio tour of Western Sonoma County. A rare chance to tour West Sonoma County, viewing and collecting fine art, and talking to the artists about their methods and inspirations.
Beerfest. You pretty much get the idea from that one word. Beerfest is an annual festive microbrew and food tasting extravaganza with Northern California’s best microbreweries featuring over 120 unique brews on June 7th. Add lots of wonderful Sonoma County gourmet food purveyors and you’ve got a ‘fest that’s not to be missed. One ticket price gets you in the door and includes unlimited tasting of all the beer and food at the event, as well as a souvenir Beerfest glass. That’s my kind of happy hour.
June 14th- 15th is the Hot Air Balloon Festival with more than thirty balloons. My first ride in a hot air balloon was magical and Sonoma County is the perfect place of beauty to glide over. With special shaped balloons, dawn patrol, pre-dawn multicolored balloon glow choreographed to music, tether balloon rides, kids play land, food, arts and crafts, this floating parade is not to be missed.
Jazz ensembles perform throughout downtown Cotati for a free afternoon and evening of music, art, food, and fun. This is the Cotati Jazz & Arts Festival on June 16th. If that’s not jazzy enough for you, book a seat at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards for Jazzy Summer Nights. June 21st welcomes Grant Geissman, a legendary contemporary jazz recording artist, with fourteen highly regarded solo albums.
If indie rock is your thing head to Huichica Music Festival at the Gundlach Bundschu Winery, June 13th -14th. It’s a new breed of festival—boutique in size, a stunning location with a hand-chosen lineup of local bands, food and wine, which is celebrated by artists and fans alike. Maybe you will meet a rock star up close and personal!
Sonoma Lavender Festival, June 28-29th is a feast for the senses. Celebrate lavender! This five-acre lavender farm is in full bloom at that time. You’ll find lavender goods and cuisine, Chateau St. Jean wine, Breathless Sparkling, and Lagunitas beer, educational demos, spa treatments, massages, face-painting, and crafts. With so much to do and immerse oneself in, this should be attended both days to get all the sensory experiences in.
Ever been to an Ugly Dog Contest? Me neither but this one looks like the Ugly Dog Contest to attend. The Sonoma-Marin Fair features concerts, livestock shows (watch out Babe), a carnival and yes, the famous Ugly Dog Contest. June 18th-22nd.
After deciding on your festival of choice from the above list – I recommend renting a place for the entire month of June in Sonoma County to get to every festival – the next step is to plan for your time outside of the themed gatherings. Here are some of my suggestions:
After much merry-making at the festival of your choice, escape the crowds with a scenic drive through western Sonoma County. Start in Santa Rosa or Sebastopol and drive through Occidental, over Coleman Valley Road to the Ocean.
Stop in Bodega Bay to soak in the charming fishing village tucked away from the roar of the Pacific Ocean. Famous for its clam chowder, Bodega Bay was also the backdrop for Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and a muse for Ansel Adams.
Another great excursion is to wet your whistle at an old-fashioned stage coach stop. Recently renovated and awarded for historical preservation this hitching post is a hotel, kitchen and saloon.
The Valley Ford Hotel has only seven guest rooms so it’s charming and romantic, as well as a perfect place to explore Western Sonoma. Rocker Oysterfeller’s Kitchen & Saloon is the place to get grub and spirits. The cuisine is far from dated though, with locally sourced ingredients, Southern-inspired meals and craft cocktails, guests could be at any hipster joint in a big town. Except the best part is they’re not.
If fresh air and a slower ride is your style, rent a full size folding bicycle. Bike Partners Bike Shop in Santa Rosa rents bikes that literally fold up to fit in the trunk of a car. Don’t let distance deter you from a leisurely ride throughout Sonoma County. Beerfest left you thirsty for more? No problem, Head to Woodfour Brewing Company or the Lagunitas Tap Room for more microbrew sampling.
Wine tasting is an essential activity in wine country. My preference is to visit smaller wineries to get a real sense of the winemaking process and talk to the winemakers themselves. I recommend the Joseph Swan Vineyard. The wine is like the nectar of the Gods and the personality of the owners shine throughout the place. For a bigger winery experience try the 20 acre organic farm that houses DeLoach Winery or play king for a day at Ledson Castle Winery and Vineyards. Three wineries are certainly not enough to sip the yields of this county’s earth, so check out Sonoma Wine for some further options.
Food is pivotal when traveling, especially in wine country. No diets allowed. Please excuse the list here but let’s face it, there’s a lot to choose from and information is power. Get your old fashioned pen and paper out and jot these down. Zazu Kitchen and Farm in Sebastopol has a husband and wife chef team that grows most of their menu’s produce. They like to say they are farm to fork and use all parts, snout to tail. More farm to table include: Spoonbar in Healdsburg, with a great handcrafted cocktail menu, La Salette or Cafe LaHaye in Sonoma and Central Market in Petaluma.
For classic Santa Rosa eateries try Stark’s Steakhouse or Willi’s Winebar. Perhaps they should join to make an expansion restaurant called Stark & Willi’s? For even more fresh and local choices visitors can dine at Scopa or Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, and in Sonoma head to The Girl and The Fig or Harvest Moon Cafe.
A special mention needs to be given to Shed in Healdsburg.
A multi-use space. Go for the coffee bar, fermentation bar or the simple cafe. Shop at the elegantly designed modern-chic store for kitchen, garden or food essentials. Come for events based on agrarian topics, sustainable living, and artistic crafts. Leave a better person.
After all this nourishment both physical and mental and after partying it up at festivals, biking and driving scenic hills and valleys, eating, drinking and general shenanigans, it is time to find a place to lay your head. Here are my top four spots for varied tastes and budgets.
Vintners Inn is a Conde Nast Travelers choice and located within 92 acres of vineyards it’s a perfect romantic and luxury accommodation for mid-range traveler.
Ultra-Luxe vacationers should immediately check into the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn where they can experience thermal mineral waters at the spa and a michelin awarded meal at Sante.
The Gables Wine Country Inn is a Victorian mansion with seven authentically furnished guest rooms. For a romantic mid-range guest wanting a taste of the country this is the place. A lavender garden, a redwood barn and possible glimpses of a quail family, nature comes to you at this homey and tailored inn.
Hotel Healdsburg is already touted for its restaurant Dry Creek Kitchen but it’s much more than just a gourmand destination. Modern sleek decor, a luxuriously large outdoor pool, deep bathroom slate tubs and Tibetan rugs in the rooms this place calls to Wallpaper guide fans. An interesting side note: Visitors to Sebastopol can witness the live creation of a two-story high Tibetan scroll painting by thangka master Tashi Dhargyal at Tibetan Gallery & Studio. It’s the only art of its kind painted outside of Tibet.
Books are essential to any vacation experience. Never go on a trip with someone you do not love or without a great guide book. I think Hemingway said something similar.
Enjoy my Facebook page. Click “Like” to become a fan