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I’ve already told you that Sonoma Wine Country is one of my favorite places for a girls’ getaway in California, offering all those things that you need to make a weekend with your favorite girls a huge success: wine, good food, plenty of fun activities. Throw some shopping and some relaxing spa time in the mix and everyone will be happy.
To give you a better idea of what a perfect girls’ getaway to Sonoma Wine Country could look like, I put together an itinerary for a weekend in Sonoma County, including where to stay, what to do, and practical information, such as: How would you even get there?
I recommend flying straight into Santa Rosa, the capital of Sonoma County. The Charles M Schultz airport is tiny, but that’s what makes this a super easy travel experience. There aren’t many direct flights to Santa Rosa, but if you live in L.A., Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Las Vegas or Phoenix, you’re in luck. Coming from NYC, I took a connecting flight to Santa Rosa from LAX, but I could have also flown into San Francisco and rented a car there.
You can get to Santa Rosa from SFO in just under 90 minutes, and you’ll want a rental car for your time in Wine Country anyway. Extra bonus if you’re driving up from San Francisco: You can drive up Highway 1, aka the Pacific Coast Highway, which is arguably one of the most beautiful drives in the U.S., followed by the Bohemian Highway, which winds through Redwoods and charming little towns.
Alternatively, you can rent a car at the airport in Santa Rosa – check Priceline or RentalCars.com for the best rates.
Where to Stay
There are hundreds of options for accommodation in Sonoma Wine Country – dozens of little towns, farmhouses, AirBnbs in the countryside… how to decide what’s the ideal location? I’d recommend staying in Santa Rosa, since not only is it convenient if you fly in and out of there, but it is also a decently sized – yet compact – town with plenty of things to do right there, which means you don’t need to spend too much time driving.
Two hotels I’d recommend are:
Vintners Inn – A 44-room boutique hotel surrounded by vineayards, that all have a balcony or their own patio. Every room comes with a half-bottle of Fume Blanc, (a wine made by Ferrari-Carano, who own the hotel), perfect to start off a girls’ getaway. I love that the Vintners Inn is certified by the California Green Lodging Program, i.e. consciously making an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. The fabulous John Ash & Co restaurant right on the property is well worth a visit, and next year a day spa will be added, which will make Vintners Inn even more perfect for a relaxing weekend.
The Flamingo – This historic spa resort used to be very popular with the Hollywood crowd when it opened its doors in the 1950s, and you can still feel the nostalgia of this once posh and sought after hotel, even though these days it is neither particularly fancy or pretentious, but a reasonably priced option (rates for a double room start at $125 on the official Flamingo website). The hotel has a state-of-the-art health club and spa, including a yoga studio, two Olympic-sized swimming pools (heated), five tennis court and a restaurant with nightly entertainment.
Get your Bearings
If you are staying at the Flamingo Resort, you can start your exploration of Santa Rosa with a short walk over to Montgomery Village, an open air shopping mall with 75 shops and 12 restaurants – and don’t let the word ‘mall’ put you off – I found the name ‘village’ well chosen, since this is a cluster of shops set in an village-like environment with beautiful landscaping – nothing like an ordinary mall.
You’ll find a number of restaurants at Montgomery Village and if you want to have dinner there, I recommend Monti’s Rotisserie, where I enjoyed some excellent Mediterranean cuisine. The show stopper here is, as the name indicates, the wood-fired rotisserie, but the menu also features enough vegetarian dishes to make me happy, plus Happy Hour cocktails and a comprehensive wine list. The cheeseboards alone were reason enough for me to love Monti’s Rotisserie, sea food lovers will love the oysters and shrimps, and meat lovers can feast on grilled and roasted specialties such as pomegranate-glazed pork ribs or oak-roasted chicken.
Dinner and Drinks
If you prefer heading into town, check out The County Bench Kitchen + Bar (535 4th St) which only opened in 2016 but has already received a lot of praise, including a mention in Forbes’ 5 New Wine Country Restaurants You Need To Know About, and which upgrades Downtown Santa Rosa’s dining scene to another level, with hand-crafted cocktails and a chic bistro atmosphere. Not really a surprise, considering the restaurant is the brainchild of two Michelin-star chefs: Michelin-starred chef Bruce Frieseke (Applewood, Bella Vineyards) and Ben Davies (Petite Syrah, Spoonbar, Mirepoix).
The menu, focusing on American cuisine, includes innovative dishes such as a Farro Risotto, Red Wine Braised Short Rib and $1.50 Happy Hour Oysters. Speaking of Happy Hour (from 4-6pm on weekdays) – the high-quality $5 cocktails and happy hour snacks are hard to beat, so if you prefer a light dinner made up of a range of small dishes to share, served with inexpensive cocktails and wines, the County Bench & Kitchen is perfect for you. If I lived in Santa Rosa, the County Bench would be my regular hangout spot for sure.
For a more casual dinner, head to Left Coast Kitchen & Tap Room (523 4th St), just a couple of doors down from The County Bench. Chef Gray Rollin (who used to be a tour chef for celebrities like Katy Perry, Linkin Park, Justin Timberlake and Metallica) and is dedicated to everything ‘Left Coast’ – emphasizing dishes, beers and wines from the Pacific States: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and Hawaii. The menu ranges from tacos to a number of meat dishes (pork sliders, steak, pork belly), but also vegetarian-friendly options such as a delicious roasted beet, goat cheese & arugula salad, and grilled artichoke and truffle mac’n’cheese. And while I love wine, at Left Coast I was particularly impressed with the number of Pacific micro brews on draft.
If you’d like to include wine in your first dinner experience – you are in wine country after all – make your way to Willi’s Wine Bar (44 Old Redwood Highway) where you can enjoy local wines paired with delectable dishes made from locally sourced food. Don’t expect a fancy restaurant – Willi’s Wine Bar is a classic, laid-back roadhouse restaurant with both familiar comfort foods as well as inventive international bites, but expect the same quality that Monti’s Rotisserie offers – it is run by the same owners, Mark and Terri Stark. You can choose from 32 contemporary American as well as international small plates, perfect for sharing, divided into ‘surf’, ‘turf’, ‘earth’, ‘cheese’ and ‘charcuterie’.
Breakfast in Santa Rosa
For breakfast in Santa Rosa, I have two suggestions. One is just across the street from The Flamingo Hotel: Jeffrey’s Hillside Café. The small, family-owned café uses local ingredients and offers brunch classics such as Huevos Rancheros, bagels & lox, chilaquiles and omelettes, but also a few breakfast items with their own twist added to them, such as a Sticky Bun French Toast and a Tex Mex scramble.
My other recommendation is Dierk’s Parkside Café, another small family-run café, and winner of ‘Best Breakfast in Sonoma County in 2016’. If you eat here, don’t leave without trying Grandma Dierk’s Pull-A-Parts (tender fried bread dough with sugar & cinnamon).
Head to Armstrong Redwoods
After breakfast, it is time to walk off some of these calories. Drive to the nearby Armstrong Redwoods, which are about 30 minutes west of Santa Rosa, which make for one of the most magical forest experiences you’ll ever have. This serene, tranquil forest with majestic Redwoods trees doesn’t fail to impress, with trees that grow 200-250 feet tall and live to be 500 to 1,000 years old.
Tip: Park outside the State Park at the Armstrong Redwoods’ Visitor Center and save yourself the $10 fee for driving into the park. Walk instead, it is a gorgeous hike. Depending on your fitness levels, you can decide when to turn around, but it is a relatively small forest.
First Wine Tasting: Korbel Champagne Cellars
After this active morning, it’s finally time for your first wine tasting. Start off with an afternoon of wine tasting in style with some bubbly at Korbel Champagne Cellars, which you would have passed on your way to the Armstrong Redwoods.
The winery, which dates back to 1882, is located just outside of Guerneville and in addition to sampling the most popular méthode champenoise champagne in the entire U.S., you can enjoy a light lunch or a snack here – Korbel Delicatessen and Market adjacent to the tasting room has tasty salads, coffees and cakes.
And the extended tour through the historic champagne cellars, which includes a tasting, is completely free (most wineries charge a fee for their tastings).
Francis Ford Coppola Wineries & A Native American Lunch
You might know that Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola has long had an affinity for wine: he bought his first winery in 1975 from the proceedings of the first Godfather movie. He now owns several wineries in Napa and Sonoma, and in 2016 he added another addition to his ever growing wine emporium – the former Geyser Peak Winery – which he renamed Virginia Dare Winery (22281 Chianti Rd), after the first child of English parents born in the New World. The other wines produced at Virginia Dare Winery also carry names based on folklore and history, such as White Doe, The Lost Colony or Two Arrowheads – but I’ll leave it to you to find out what these names are based on during a wine tasting.
If you haven’t eaten anything at Korbel yet, I recommend having lunch at Virginia Dare, where the Werowocomoco Restaurant (right next to the tasting room) serves Native American food – something you don’t find very often, especially in this part of the U.S. The giant fry bread taco I had there was finger-licking good.If you want to check out another one of Coppola’s wineries, you can visit the Francis Ford Coppola Winery (300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville) next, which is also located in Geyserville, only five minutes up the road from Virginia Dare. This one is the most spectacular of his wineries – Coppola himself describes it as a ‘wine wonderland’, and the stunning property, based on Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens amusement park, is well worth a stop.
The views are amazing, there are two connected swimming pools, a park with bocce courts and game tables and a movie gallery. The pool is open to the public, and you can also play bocce here – and of course taste wine. And if you’re a film buff, don’t miss the museum, where Coppola’s Oscars and a whole bunch of movie memorabilia are showcased.
A third winery worth checking out in Geyserville (again, only a five-minute ride away) is Trione Vineyards (19550 Geyserville Ave), a family-owned winery with a small tasting room and bocce courts.
An Afternoon of Winery-hopping
From Geyserville, head to Healdsburg, which is only 10 minutes away. Healdsburg sits at the juncture of three prime winegrowing regions: the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley, so there are plenty of wineries to visit. In addition, you can explore the small town center, which has a number of interesting shops, including jewelry stores and antique shops, and over 20 art galleries. The walkable downtown has artisan bakeries, wine bars and restaurants – it’s a great place to stroll around for a couple of hours.
As for wine tastings, here are a few of Healdsburg’s over 30 tasting rooms that stand out: Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery (8761 Dry Creek Rd) which offers exquisite wines and sweeping views over the vineyards and Dry Creek Valley; Lancester Estate Winery (15001 Chalk Hill Rd) has a picturesque setting in the rolling hills of Alexander Valley, and remarkable wine caves on the property (reservations required); Lambert Bridge (4085 W Dry Creek Rd) offers artisanal wines, a vaulted, redwood tasting room and gorgeous grounds; SIMI Winery (16275 Healdsburg Ave) has a historic stone cellar and 140 years of history, plus a redwood grove; MacRostie Winery (4605 Westside Rd) is home to a fabulous patio that offers expansive views over the Russian River Valley (reservations required).
Dinner at John Ash & Co
Back in Santa Rosa, take a nap after all those wine tastings or relax for a couple of hours before heading to Jon Ash & Co for a memorable dinner (perfect if you’re staying at the Vintners Inn where the restaurant is located). John Ash & Co is one of Sonoma County’s most iconic restaurants, and one of the pioneers in local farm-to-table dining, having introduced the concept of cooking with local produce and seasonal foods – many of the vegetables and fruits used are grown in the on-site gardens. I recommend going for the four-course tasting menu ($68) which is available with wine pairings ($35).
Breakfast at Coffee & Brew
To make the most of your day in Sonoma Wine Country, head to Coffee & Brew for a quick breakfast – the owners of the cozy coffee shop, Alisse and Jessica, are coffee industry veterans, so you can expect an outstanding cup of coffee with your breakfast. You’ll find freshly baked pastries here, eggs, or their to-die-for avocado toast on Pullman bread – very thick and prepared with seeds, lemon, and spices.
Sundays are for Art
Just around the corner from Brew is the Art Museum Of Sonoma County which used to be housed next door, in Santa Rosa’s historic Post Office building, now home to the History Museum Of Sonoma County. Despite being small, the museum has some fantastic pieces and artwork by well-known modern artists, such as Andy Warhol, but it mostly features artists who have lived and worked in Northern California.
The History Museum might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I happened to be in town for an exhibit that I was excited about: The Beat Goes On: Peace, Love and Rock & Roll in the North Bay featured rock posters, artifacts and images that trace the influences of music, counterculture and rebellion in the North Bay Area. So it’s worth checking what exhibit is on while you’re in town.
Now it is time to combine art with wine – for that, head to Paradise Ridge Winery (4545 Thomas Lake Harris Dr) on the outskirts of Santa Rosa, where not only will you get to enjoy some fine wines, but also some fine art in the delightful sculpture garden (Marijke’s Grove) on the grounds. In addition to the sculptures, I found the exhibit in the tasting room about Kanaye Nagasawa, one of the first Japanese winemakers in California, very interesting – who knew that there even were Japanese winemakers!
Another aspect I loved about Paradise Ridge was that you can take a self-guided walk around the winery, including the vines, where plaques educate you about the entire wine making process.
Time for Lunch
Head to Rosso (53 Montgomery Dr) for lunch, an unpretentious yet absolutely divine pizzeria and wine bar. Go for the truffled burrata, the calamari with green chili aioli or try the whole head of sweet roasted garlic, followed by one of their wood-fired pizzas which all have unique toppings.
Spring Lake Loop
After lunch, go for an easy hike around Spring Lake, just a ten minute drive from Rosso. Spring Lake Loop is an easy 2.3 mile hike on a trail that follows the lake shore. If you’re visiting during the warmer months, take advantage of the swimming lagoon or rent a boat.
Finish your girls’ getaway with some spa time – a massage, a facial or a body scrub will ensure you feel rejuvenated after this weekend, too.
If you’re staying at The Flamingo, you can also just hop in the pool for a while, and enjoy the spa facilities next door at Montecito Health Spa, for which all hotel guests receive complimentary use of the Spa and Health Club facilities with all spa treatments 50 minutes or longer.
As for other spas in Santa Rosa, your two best options are The Best Day Spa (3082 Marlow Road, Ste B4–B6) and Soulstice Spa (2462 W. 3rd Street).
For your last dinner in Santa Rosa, I recommend the following places:
- The County Bench (see Friday night above) for upscale Californian fare
- Pullman Kitchen (205 5th St) for Californian & Mediterranean dishes
- Best of Burma (528 7th St) If you’ve never tried Burmese food, you must eat here!
- Willi’s Wine Bar (see Friday night above) for Californian cuisine paired with local wines