As we laid out our wine road map we noticed the title was Heaven Condensed. It is what we were promised and it is what was delivered. A piece of heaven, a hidden gem in California wine country called Healdsburg.
Healdsburg is a town in Sonoma County with a population a little over 11,000. The town is surrounded by three major wine regions; Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley. The Alexander Valley alone has 13,000 acres of vineyards and 40 wineries. With all this at your fingertips there is no reason to head to the more touristy areas of Napa Valley and Sonoma.
When you first arrive in Healdsburg you notice the small town feel. The Plaza is directly in the middle of the town. It is a beautiful tree lined square with benches, a gazebo and a park. It is the focal point where tourists and locals alike will gather. Surrounding the square are all the restaurants, shops and hotels.
One of our favorite hotels in which we stayed in is Hotel Healdsburg. A modern hotel with the comforts of home. From the red carpet welcome to the turn down service, they have it covered. Even the smaller add ons like the water, infused with fruit, to the breakfast, they thought of everything. Bike rentals are a must as you could ride around a pre-planned route through the wineries and take in what the area had to offer while feeling like a part of your surroundings. The concierge was helpful in picking the top restaurants and one of those was Dry Creek Kitchen located in the hotel.
Dry Creek Kitchen under the direction of Charlie Palmer was an easy choice. Starting with their Bombshell cocktail creation made with gin, elderflower, fresh lemon and bitters. While wine would seem to be the first option hold off for now, there is enough time for that later. The combination will have you guessing and keep you coming back for more. The menu is simple yet innovative and ever changing. The duck and filet are a must followed by the chocolate peanut butter bar, which will leave you full and satisfied.
Looking for a restaurant where you can try a little bit of everything? Chalkboard is your go to that offers a modern approach to tapas. They emphasize seasonal food and their ingredients come from local farms. Make sure to order the wine flights that pair perfectly with their food. When you sit down immediately order the pork belly biscuits, I dare you to stick to one.
The housemade pasta is exactly that, fresh, and reminds you of sitting in your grandmothers home waiting for her to roll the dough and throw the pasta in the water. The spaghetti with the lamb ragu feels like home and is as fresh as it comes. Finish your meal with The Candy Bar. Brownie, caramel roasted milk chocolate with nougat ice cream with a peanut crunch. The perfect ending to a perfect meal.
If you are wondering what you should do for lunch, don’t. You NEED to head to Oakville Grocery right in the Healdsburg Plaza. Oakville Grocery is part of history. It was founded in 1881 and is one of the oldest operating grocery stores in California. All products in the store are local. Go directly to the butcher and find a charcuterie and cheese plate to bring to the winery along with their homemade brittle. Try to limit yourself to how much time you spend and what you buy, it could be a while.
After you picked up your lunch for the day you are ready for the wine road. You have more than a few decisions for the day. You can start with the small lesser-known wineries or ones that you have heard the name of and expect the finer tastes. Two of my favorite smaller wineries are Dutcher’s Crossing and Truett Hurst Winery. With Dutcher’s Crossing make sure to buy a bottle of your favorite wine and take it outside. The views are one you cannot deny. Make sure to sit in the wide open green with beautiful picnic tables and cushioned seats.
Truett Hurst is located directly on the creek where you can sit and feel the calming of the river and admire the animals that are living on the property. A favorite and major player in the wine game is Ferrari Carano. After taking pictures by the breathtaking views of the property that transport you into the hills of the Tuscan countryside head downstairs into the vault and make sure you try a full wine tasting. Each sip is better than the next. The connoisseurs are knowledgeable and friendly. I dare you to try to not buy something from the store.
Healdsburg might not be the most well known destination spot but it will be. Fine food, wineries, hotels, it has it all. Make sure to get in before the secret gets out.