I had the pleasure of a 30-hour getaway with my husband in mid-January to Sonoma, CA. When we try to balance the busy and find some “me” time, an overnight vacation is just enough for a quick recharge!
What a beautiful place it is to visit. Even in the heart of winter, we had 60 degree days and sunshine. It’s less than a two-hour drive from our home and yet we had never been. Taking advantage of a kidless vacay, we researched some local breweries and wineries, and planned our route. Disclaimer- I am no foodie and definitely not a wine snob. But I do LOVE food, and I love finding good beer and wine. If you want the narrative, read on. But if you are like my husband and just want the important do/do not details, the picture captions and my nuggets of advice at the end will give you the short version of our Sonoma experience.
On our way to Santa Rosa, down the beautiful Lakeville Highway, we stopped at Keller Winery. After admiring their expansive estate, we went into the tasting room. It was a quiet day with just two other visitors. The guys working were young and personable. No pressure, but pretty knowledgeable. My kind of place. We tried five wines. They had an amazing Chardonnay, but I learned I am not a big Pinot Noir fan. So maybe it was good, just not my style.
We then headed into Santa Rosa for lunch at Third Street Ale works. Fun bar, friendly atmosphere, good food, and really good beer. We tried samplers of their beers. It was no surprise that we liked their Bodega Head IPA the best. Absolutely worth a visit if you are in the area.
We couldn’t go to Santa Rosa without drinking the “Kool-Aid” at Russian River Brewery, home of Pliney the Elder. The wait for a table was an hour long, so we took a quick spin over to Fogbelt Brewing Company nearby while we waited. Definitely a smaller, local place, but again, great beer. I’m not sure if I liked their Del Norte IPA or their Hyperion Red Ale more.
Back to Russian River, there was a line just to get in to put in a request for a table. Crazy beer drinkers. We showed the “bouncer” our text that our table was ready and walked in like we owned the place. We had their “California Sampler” and I’m bummed to report that it wasn’t my style. I just couldn’t tell what the fuss was all about. Yes, we brought home Pliney. Yes we bought tee shirts. But there are still a lot of great beers out there that don’t require so much work to get ahold of one.
Done drinking for the day, we made our way to Sonoma and went through a blink-and-you-miss-it town, Glen Ellen. I read great reviews about the Glen Ellen Inn restaurant, specifically the wild boar, and I was anxious to try it. It did not disappoint. It was so tender and rich. It fell off the bone and melted in my mouth. I am on a mission to find wild boar on local menus now- it really was delicious. The rest of the dining experience was nice as well- I highly recommend it.
We finally reached our hotel around 7:00 p.m. We stayed at the El Dorado Hotel because it was in the heart of downtown Sonoma and inexpensive. But we should have believed the Yelp reviews. Ridiculously thin walls, tiny accommodations with nowhere to put our bags, and the patio door didn’t lock. Their solution to add some charm to my romantic bungalow was a chain and padlock. It served its purpose of a place to sleep, but I wouldn’t stay there again.
Downtown Sonoma is adorable and I wish we had given ourselves more time to enjoy it. Quaint shops, tasting rooms everywhere, and lots of little restaurants. We ate a simple breakfast at the Basque Boulangerie Café. Their bread and pastries were delicious. I just had a Dutch crunch roll toasted with butter and jam- best toast I’ve ever had.
Bellies full and ready for another fun day, we headed out. On the way to our first winery we passed an old cemetery and explored for a bit. We gathered that there were a lot of Italian and French immigrants that had settled in the area. Birth dates went back to the 1830’s. There were a collection of small plots for children- that was heartbreaking.
We also came upon a random collection of grand, beautiful homes. They resemble the quaint Craftsman homes with a touch of Victorian. They had wide wrap around porches and beautiful detail, except that they are new and enormous. Absolutely stunning. When I have an extra two million, I’ll go check out what they have in stock.
The first two wineries we went to are only worth mentioning to tell you that their wine was gross. Both places has stunning views and picnic areas. So if you are looking for photo ops, give them a try. But the wine- ehh. Both places were listed on a web site that offered free tastings to Visa signature card holders- but neither honored it. They offered two-for-one instead. Which would have been a good deal if my husband liked wine. But both flights we tried were boring, dry, and lacking anything special. With so many wineries to visit, feel free to cross off Gunlach Bundschu and Bartholomew Park Winery from your list.
My favorite stop was at Cline Cellars. They have a very nice, laid back property and complementary tastings. The man who poured for us was so easy going. He kept telling us just to pour out what we didn’t like and he had us try more than the “complementary five” that they offer. This is the kind of wine experience I need. I don’t do snobby- I just want it to taste good. Which it did!
Jacuzzi Family Vineyards across the street is worth a stop too. We only stayed long enough to taste their olive oils and vinegars (wow- jalapeno olive oil is delicious), but we were getting short on time.
The last stop was Petaluma to visit Lagunitas Brewing Co. We intended on eating lunch there but their restaurant and bar were closed. Boo. BUT….a tour was leaving right as we walked up so they told us if we wanted free beer, we could go! We tried five 4-ounce tasters in their original bar. This bar had couches, shuffleboard, and random beer décor. It was an awesome laid back, beer-loving group. We left at the “pee break” since we really needed to eat, so we’ll have to go back for the full tour someday.
I won’t even pretend to remember the name of the restaurant where we ate linner. We were running so short on time and starving. All I know is that I had a hot dog, and after all that alcohol, it hit the spot. Next time I would like to see more of downtown Petaluma. Another quaint little town with a lot of charm.
My best takeaways and advice for the fellow traveler:
- Don’t always head to the wineries that offer free tastings. Not because they aren’t quality but because I felt more inclined to have to purchase something while I was there. Luckily I liked the wine at the free places this time. I was happy that the other two that charged us our $15 tasting fee and I walk away without a $40 bottle of sub par wine.
- Try new food. You are on vacation! You can have a cheeseburger or Alfredo pasta any day. My wild boar and random Dutch crunch toast were my two best vacation decisions!
- Appreciate the time together and be flexible. This 30 hours of uninterrupted together was a gift. When a winery went sour or traffic took longer than expected, I reveled in our extra time to share experiences and time to have great conversations. The landscape was beautiful and the trip went well but the most important thing, especially after a holiday season of crazy, was to reconnect and recharge.