At least once a year, we fly into Sonoma Wine Country for a weekend of wine tasting in one of California’s top wine producing regions. I love the Sonoma countryside and the way life seems to slow down a few notches the second we arrive. All there is to do is relax with a glass of wine, eat at amazing restaurants and learn a few new facts about wine. One of our favorite concentrations of good food and wine in the area can be found in Healdsburg, a charming city center located right in the center of the action.
One thing you must know about the area is that the Sonoma Wine Region spans a large area. When we say Sonoma, we’re not just talking about the town itself, we’re talking about the entirety of Sonoma County, which stretches from the Pacific Coast to the Napa County line in the east, contains 16 AVAs, and is home to almost 60,000 acres of vineyards and more than 400 wineries. If you’re a serious wine lover, you’ll quickly find that there are endless possibilities for wineries to visit and hundreds of place to eat along the way.
The Healdsburg wineries and restaurants stand out among the crowd. Not only is it easy to get around, with an abundance of possibilities within walking distance of each other, the town itself is a great example of small town America. I recommend making Healdsburg a destination within Sonoma Country, and to spend the majority of your wine-tasting weekend right there in the center of town.
The best way to get there is to fly directly into the Santa Rosa airport. There are cheaper flight options if you fly into the Bay Area, but I can say from lots of personal experience that flying directly to Santa Rosa is well worth the extra $50 in airfare. Besides the savings, you’ll have to rent a car and drive the hour and a half in traffic from San Francisco or Oakland, and who wants to waste precious wine tasting time on driving?
Once you’ve landed, it’s a short 15 minute drive to downtown Healdsburg. The choices for accommodations are vast. If you want to stay in completely luxury, you have a choice of Hotel Healdsburg right in the heart of the city, Calderwood Inn, featuring an evening wine tasting hour on the terrace each evening and just a 10-minute walk from Healdsburg Plaza, or the Hotel Les Mars. For the more budget conscious, try the Best Western Dry Creek Inn or Healdsburg Inn.
Wineries You Must Try
From where ever your hotel is, whichever direction you walk will produce a number of winery tasting rooms to stop at. Here are a few of our favorite wineries in Healdsburg’s downtown area.
The tasting room for Thumbprint Cellars is artsy and fun, but also warm and inviting. The “tasting lounge”, as they call it, doubles as an art gallery featuring works by local artists. There are always 6 wines on offer. You can taste 3 wines for $5, or 6 for $10. The tasting fee is waived with each bottle purchased. Thumbprint also offers cheese and charcuterie plates to go along with the wines.
If you’re a fan of Chardonnay, you have to stop by Stonestreet for a tasting. They have some of the best Chardonnay I’ve ever drank, and plenty of it. In their single vineyard line up, there are four and two vintage years of each. Aged in French oak barrels, Stonestreet doesn’t shy away from the oaky, buttery Chardonnay that California is known for. The addition of partial wild yeast and full malolactic fermentation give the wine a complexity and fullness of body that I love in a Chardonnay.
Stephen Walker Winery
A small, artisanal family owned winery, Stephen Walker has a classy wine bar located right downtown. The friendly service along with the award winning wines makes Stephen Walker one of our favorite wineries in Healdsburg. If you’re a red wine fan, you have to stop in for a taste of their cult wines – the Zinfandel and the Cabernet Sauvignon are outstanding. And they have a port too!
Hudson Street Wineries
Located just a few streets over from the downtown area is a conglomeration of wineries sharing a tasting space called the Hudson Street Wineries. You’ll find Bluenose Winery, Agave Garden Wines, Kelley & Young Wines, Owl Ridge, Shippey and Willowbrook Cellars. For a $10 tasting fee, you can try wines from all of the wineries lineups. We love getting to try some of the boutique wines that we otherwise wouldn’t have heard about.
Where to Eat in Healdsburg
If you love food, you’re going to absolutely love Healdsburg. Some of the best restaurants in Sonoma County are located downtown and there are plenty of great experiences to be found for hungry wine tasters. First we have to consider lunch. I prefer to keep it easy and casual for lunch, because we’re often just between tastings and don’t want to spend a lot of time dining. That’s easy to do in Healdsburg.
My favorite place to pick up lunch is the Oakville Grocery. Located right in the town square, the grocery has an incredible selection of handmade sandwiches, salads and picnic fixings. They have a wide array of local artisan products to help you put together a truly gourmet lunch. I’ve never had a sandwich from Oakville that I didn’t love. They have breakfast sandwiches too, if you’re looking for some quick brunch.
Healdsburg Bar & Grill
Another popular spot in town for a quick lunch is Healdsburg Bar & Grill. Sometimes, during busy season, you need to put your name on the list, but don’t fret, there are tasting rooms nearby that you can enjoy while you’re waiting. The food is casual and good. And they have a nice outdoor patio that is perfect for enjoying the beautiful weather, during the more seasonable months. The best part is that you don’t have to drive anywhere to get there. It’s right in the heart of downtown.
We’ve eaten Spanish tapas in Spain, so we know good tapas when we see them. Bravas does an outstanding job of serving up incredibly authentic tapas. The restaurant is in a cute little house a street over from the main street in Healdsburg, with a dark and romantic vibe inside and a beautiful outdoor seating in the back. We ordered about 10 dishes and loved every morsel that was put before us. The patatas bravas were crispy. The pulpo was tender and dressed perfectly in olive oil and paprika, just the way I love it. There’s nothing more to say. Bravas is a fantastic restaurant.
Now that you know where to eat and drink in Healdsburg, California, it’s time to book that trip to Sonoma you’ve been wanting to take. You are going to love the Healdsburg wineries! Have you already been to Healdsburg? Tell us where your favorite places are to eat and drink when you’re there.
Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.