Healdsburg: Sonoma's New Star
With a mix of chic hotels, creative chefs, and stylish boutiques, Healdsburg, California, has emerged as a cosmopolitan hub that still pays homage to its rural Sonoma roots.
GETTING THERE Healdsburg is an hour's drive north from San Francisco or northwest from Napa WHEN TO VISIT High season runs from May through September; better deals are available midweek, or in October, when grape crushing is winding down RESOURCE For an introduction to the town, book a walking tour with expert Darla Meeker (www.healdsburgwalkingtours.com)
SLEEP Healdsburg's transformation began in 2001 with the opening of the Hotel Healdsburg (25 Matheson St.; 800/889-7188 or 707/431-2800; www.hotelhealdsburg.com; doubles from $325, including breakfast), co-owned by chef Charlie Palmer. The 55-room hotel is done up in an earthy palette inspired by its surrounding landscape: olive- and leaf-green walls, pecan-wood plank floors, and teak headboards that crown the downiest bed you'll ever sleep on. • The 16 over-the-top rooms at the new Les Mars Hôtel (27 North St.; 877/431-1700 or 707/433-4211; www.lesmarshotel.com; doubles from $525), which is modeled after a French château, are decked out with four-poster canopy beds and 17th- and 18th-century antiques. • Duchamp (421 Foss St.; 800/431-9341 or 707/431-1300; www.duchamphotel.com; doubles from $325, including breakfast) is a minimalist's dream come true: six bungalows with polished concrete floors warmed by sheepskin throws, cavernous white-and-black bathrooms, and clean-lined custom blond-wood furniture. Breakfast is served poolside, at café tables shaded by olive trees. • Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza (112 Matheson St.; 800/431-8663 or 707/433-6991; www.healdsburginn.com; doubles from $225, including breakfast) is the town's latest arrival. Rooms are sunny, with high ceilings, bay windows, fireplaces, and claw-foot bathtubs. For maximum privacy, we like the carriage house, which comes with a full kitchen and its own patio.
EAT "Eat local" is a rallying cry throughout northern California; in Healdsburg, many chefs are putting their menus where their mouths are. At Dry Creek Kitchen (317 Healdsburg Ave.; 707/431-0330; dinner for two $110), chef Palmer serves only Sonoma County wines—650 of them—and spotlights regional purveyors in dishes like chestnut-glazed squab. • Light-flooded and tranquil by day, Barndiva (231 Center St.; 707/431-0100; dinner for two $70) roars to life at night, when locals and in-the-know visitors descend on the big red barn for late-night meals, creative cocktails, and the hippest scene in town. • Newcomer Cyrus (29 North St.; 707/433-3311; dinner for two $116) amps up the glamour with dramatic vaulted ceilings and a theatrical reception: the maître d' phones the chef to announce your arrival, cueing the tableside champagne-and-caviar cart. Warm, intuitive service and exquisite dishes (truffled red-wine risotto, Thai marinated lobster) by rising chef Douglas Keane save the place from feeling pretentious. • The rustic Oakville Grocery (124 Matheson St.; 707/433-3200; www.oakvillegrocery.com) is a one-stop shop for discriminating picnickers. Call ahead for a gourmet packed lunch, or assemble your own from its selection of handmade cheeses, charcuterie, wine, and freshly baked bread.
SHOP The pea-sized 21 Arrondissement (309 Healdsburg Ave.; 707/433-2166) showcases interior designer Myra Hoefer's best French flea-market and estate-sale finds: a pair of gilt-and-velvet armchairs, a giant papier-mâché pinecone (formerly a Paris Opéra prop), and jewel-toned silk-screened pillows. • Scout (125 Matheson St.; 707/431-0903) is a mash-up of beach cottage and kaleidoscope, where gingerbread- trimmed shelves brim with kids' clothes in a riot of colors and patterns. • Baksheesh (106B Matheson St.; 707/473-0880) focuses on fair-trade, handcrafted gifts from the developing world, including carved beechwood bowls from Haiti and djembe drums from Burkina Faso. • Scoop up Sonoma County's best artisanal goodies at Plaza Farms (106 Matheson St.; www.plazafarms.com). Here's your cheat sheet: DaVero's Meyer-lemon olive oil, sheep's-milk cheese from Bellwether Artisan Creamery, and homemade salumi from Bovolo. • M Clothing (381 Healdsburg Ave.; 707/431-8738) is stocked with women's designs from both established and emerging labels. This season, look for eyelet tunic dresses by Burning Torch, straight-leg jeans by Notify, and sexy habotai (Chinese silk) shirts by Rozae Nichols. • Overseen by Lisa Palmer (Charlie's wife), Lime Stone (315 Healdsburg Ave.; 707/ 433-3080) sells restaurant-quality dining furniture and tabletop accessories (durable slipcovered chairs, affordable crystal stemware) alongside a global assortment of antiques.
DO There are more than 12 tasting rooms located within a square mile of the plaza; among our favorites are Thumbprint Cellars (36 North St.; 707/433-2393; www.thumbprintcellars.com), for its loungelike ambience and small-lot wines, and Toad Hollow (409A Healdsburg Ave.; 707/431-8667; www.toadhollow.com), for its unstuffy atmosphere and intriguing no-oak Chardonnay. • For a scenic drive through hillside vineyards and wineries, head west out of town on Dry Creek Road. Double back when you hit Lake Sonoma and return south on Yoakim Bridge Road, to link up with the winding West Dry Creek Road, peppered with a handful of small family-owned wineries.
Toad Hollow Vineyards
Toad Hollow's tasting room boasts an unstuffy atmosphere and intriguing no-oak Chardonnay.
The tasting room at Thumbprint Cellars is a favorite for its loungelike ambience and small-lot wines.
M Clothing is stocked with women's designs from both established and emerging labels.
Baksheesh focuses on fair-trade, handcrafted gifts from the developing world, including carved beechwood bowls from Haiti and djembe drums from Burkina Faso.
The pea-sized 21 Arrondissement showcases interior designer Myra Hoefer's best French flea-market and estate-sale finds: a pair of gilt-and-velvet armchairs, a giant papier-mâché pinecone (formerly a Paris Opéra prop), and jewel-toned silk-screened pillows.
This spin-off of a Napa Valley original is located in Healdsburg’s bustling town square. Staffers line shelves with local specialty foods like olive oil, mustards, and marinades; pack a deli case with meats, cheeses, and prepared foods; and house a showcase oven that yields seasonal pizzas topped with toppings like garlic and basil or mushroom and pancetta. Oakville Grocery sells grape leaves by the dozen, a host of salads and sandwiches, entrees like marinated tri-tip or vegetable lasagna, and sides such as penne pesto and Mediterranean orzo. There's a low-walled patio for on-site eating, though many stop only to pick up picnic provisions.
A locavore’s paradise, this all–regionally sourced, all-sustainable restaurant (set in a soaring, modern version of a red barn) takes haute farmyard cuisine to a whole new level. The vibe here is hip yet rustic: though the dining room feels rather like a gallery space (all polished stone floors and giant black-and-white farm-scene photos), the servers are casual and friendly, and diners won’t feel out of place wearing jeans and work boots. Chef Ryan Fancher (who previously worked with Thomas Keller) constructs his menus around the produce he gets from 200-plus small-batch local food suppliers; naturally, the lineup changes constantly. Still, if you’re lucky, you might get to taste dishes like chèvre croquettes with tomato jam and organic honey; Liberty duck breast accompanied by
sweet onion ragu and sautéed arugula; and sublime beef sliders with smoked bacon and cherry ketchup.
Insider Tip: Barndiva’s outrageous cocktails made with organic spirits are a draw unto themselves; try the Bond’s Green Destiny, made with Boodles gin, cucumber, kiwi, and apple juice.
Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza
This airy inn on Healdsburg’s plaza dates to 1901. Many rooms have canary yellow walls, curtained windows, and contain gas fireplaces and a jetted spa bathtub. Prime rooms face the plaza, but deluxe Kings in back share a welcoming balcony. Healdsburg Inn doesn’t have a restaurant on-site, but does include a complimentary breakfast buffet, afternoon wine and hors d’oeuvres, cookies and chocolate. The Inn also has relationships with local companies that can lead wine tours by bike or horse-and-carriage, or provide in-room spa treatments.
Overseen by Lisa Palmer, wife of Dry Creek Kitchen chef, Charlie Palmer, Lime Stone sells restaurant-quality dining furniture and tabletop accessories (durable slipcovered chairs, affordable crystal stemware) alongside a global assortment of antiques. One top seller: trays decoupaged with bottle labels from local wineries
Les Mars Hôtel
Hotel Les Mars, an intimate 16-room hotel, evokes a French maison, complete with hand-hewn-walnut wood in the library, as well as fireplaces, four-poster beds, and 18th-century antiques in all guest rooms. A member of Relais & Châteaux, the property also distinguishes itself with service. Turndown is punctuated with a small circular box of Napa Valley’s well-known Le Belge chocolates, and a romance director is on hand to arrange special evenings, from private tastings at wineries around town to rose petal turndowns. All guests receive a daily in-room French continental breakfast of fruit and fresh-baked pastries, as well as invites to daily wine-and-cheese pairings in the hotel lobby, when they can mingle with each other other travelers and, occasionally, local winemakers. Though serious oenophiles often head four miles west to explore Unti, Papapietro Perry, and other wineries in the Dry Creek Valley, the hotel is one block from Healdsburg’s downtown plaza, where there are more than 20 tasting rooms and a host of high-end boutiques.
Sonoma Valley dining doesn’t get any finer than it does here, at this two-Michelin-starred restaurant set in Healdsburg’s Hotel Le Mars. The dining room—where the vaulted ceilings glow with golden light and where natty servers proffer selections from the caviar cart, cheese cart, and truffle humidor—encourages dressing up; and the sublime multicourse tasting menus from chef Douglas Keane (formerly of Restaurant Gary Danko) invite lingering. Look for dishes like Wagyu strip loin with leeks and Japanese winter squash; roasted lobster in a tamarind-ponzu sauce; and pumpkin tagliarini with truffled Pecorino. And opt for the pairings, especially if the 750-plus labels on the wine list make you dizzy. Reservations are required.
Dry Creek Kitchen
Chef Charlie Palmer has been a busy fellow since he first opened his landmark NYC restaurant, Aureole, back in 1988. Over the past two decades, he’s diversified his interests to include more than a dozen properties around the country—including this upscale comfort-food outpost in the Healdsburg Hotel. The menu here is hearty and draws heavily on local produce; dishes might include truffle-stuffed chicken breast with English peas and smoked bacon lardoons; or garlic confit–marinated Berkshire pork chop with caramelized horseradish. The Sonoma-only wine list is more than 600 labels strong and will keep you sipping happily all evening long (corkage is waived on your first two bottles of local wine).
Healdsburg’s historic downtown got a big dose of modern chic when this hotel opened in 2002, right on the main square. The property has a sophisticated, W-ish aesthetic, with common areas (a cavernous, firelit lobby lounge, a glassed-in breakfast atrium, a sleek outdoor pool) that feel luxe and decidedly angular. The 55 guest rooms are more inviting, with sunny yellow walls, polished pecan floors, and teak furnishings warming up the otherwise spare décor (the goose-down duvets and Frette linens help, too). Celebrity chef Charlie Palmer runs the excellent on-site restaurant, Dry Creek Kitchen; be sure to nab a dinner reservation when you book your room. For a more hands-on experience, sign up for any of several one-day cooking classes at nearby Relish Culinary School—they run the gamut from pickling and cheesemaking to mushroom-foraging.
Duchamp Hotel, Healdsburg
Urbanites who prefer sleek, self-serve apartments to homey, antiques-filled B&Bs will appreciate the Duchamp, just two blocks off Healdsburg’s main plaza. The property’s six freestanding, metal-roofed bungalows are a study in clean-lined modernity, with poured concrete floors, flat-screen TVs, flokati rugs, and brushed-steel bathrooms. All have private patios facing onto a central, heated outdoor pool. You’ll find no staffers fussing over you here; apart from the specific hours when guests check in and breakfast is served, you’ll be left blissfully alone.
Room to Book: All six bungalows are identical, but Room 9, at the edge of the property overlooking a creek, offers the most privacy.
Insider Tip: Though not well known, the small, nearby Duchamp Estate winery (run by Peter and Pat Lenz, who also own the hotel) is worth visiting for its tasty, organic Syrah.