Bonus Secrets of Wine Country An Insider’s Guide to Sonoma County and Napa Valley
This page is a mish-mash of everything that didn't fit on the other pages of our Secrets to Wine Country section. It's probably the most interesting page, too. So ready your scroll wheels, Wine Country Adventurers, and have at it, as what may interest you may be near the bottom of the page rather than the top.
I'm not sure how unpleasant it is in Napa, but over in the eastern half of Sonoma county there's a tremendous amount of pollen in the air at various times of the year. If you suffer from seasonal allergies to grass (any type) and trees (especially Oak) – remember to bring whatever allergy medicine you have when you visit – just in case. (The worst time is May and the first half of June.)
One reason Joanne and I moved here about eight years ago is that we were amazed at the quality of the local produce. We had been living in the western part of Florida, and well, the produce (and fish) there is very weak (to be kind). If you dine 'tween SF and SD, you'll often find salads made from "Sonoma Lettuces," for example.
So, except at the big supermarkets, the quality of produce is just tremendous here. Our local farmers are situated in one of the most perfect places to grow food. (And, obviously, wine grapes!) The best source for produce are the local...
Santa Rosa (Saturday morning)
Healdsburg (Saturday morning, not during the winter) St. Helena (Friday morning)
Sebastopol (Sunday morning, not during the winter) Marin/San Rafael (Sunday morning) – If you're a Farmers' Market lover, you have to visit this market on Sunday morning. You can really buy everything you need for food for the next week here.
Wild Flowers: In Mid-Summer, the most beautiful area (esp. for flowers) are above the beaches and down the cliffs along the Sonoma Coast.
The wild flowers are quite beautiful along Rt 12 from Santa Rosa to Sebastopol during August.
Where Not To Go:
Been there, never need to go again and would never take anyone there: The Geysers (in Calistoga)
('tween Calistoga and Santa Rosa) Instead, go to the Bale Grist Mill on Saturday or Sunday. A huge water wheel powers a stone grist mill; watch organic flour being made before your very eyes and take some home!
Other Places to Visit in Wine Country Charles Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA (Sonoma)
- There are still some of the Snoopy, Charlie Brown and Woodstock statues around town that were part of a charity event. You can visit the Museum and neighboring Snoopy's Home Ice Skating Rink.
COPIA “The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts” (Open 10-5, closed Tues)
Located in the city of Napa can be an interesting place to visit. First, the gardens are wonderful (the best part – Jack), especially during tomato season. Second,
they hold all kinds of events and there may be one of interest to you – check their calendar.
We have also enjoyed dining at Julia’s Kitchen a few timest. The biggest drawback to COPIA is its location – it’s quite a convoluted path to get to from the highway (and back). But, as of early 2008, it has an excellent neighbor (sharing it's parking lot)...
Oxbow Public Market in Napa
More than 20 exotic food purveyors, including 3 restaurants, wine and cheese, etc. Our pick is The Fatted Calf...simply excellent charcuterie.
The Sonoma County Wine Library in Healdsburg
Need a break? You can relax in the wine library section of the downtown Healdsburg public library. They have a tremendous selection of wines books and periodicals. Tremendous!
Napa Valley Wine Train
We love trains but still this is not something we would ever do (or take friends on it). But for those who would rather spend 3.5 to 4 hours on a train rather than actually visiting wineries, this is your thing.
This might be the best place to take young kids in wine country. Best part: The long train ride, and the kiddy amusement rides. Worst part: The lengthy petting zoo stop in the middle of this same train ride (from which you can’t escape). Open Friday thru Sunday during the off-season (don't go Friday - limited activities), and everyday from June 1st thru Labor Day.
Or this might be the best place to take young children in wine country. Located between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, but way up east on Mark West Springs Rd, this is a private zoo. Think giraffe's, exotic birds, cheetahs, and African animals. The first hour or so is a lot of fun, especially if you're with your kids. We do not recommend the food. You need to book in advance. You can also arrange to "camp" overnight in their cozy-looking cabins. Warning: wear crummy shoes...they will get covered in muck of all kinds.
This might be a fun way for you to start one of your days. In Santa Rosa, the balloons launch around 7:45 in the morning or so...so this is not a mid-day or afternoon activity. (As always, weather permitting and methinks you need to dress very warmly.) You’re in the air for 30-60 minutes (or again, so it seems from my observations) and they cost around $200 per person. Some offer a breakfast afterwards (i.e., not before, heh, heh!):
• Sonoma County (Santa Rosa) – Up & Away
• Napa Valley – Napa Valley Balloons
• Napa Valley – Napa Valley Aloft (This is not a complete list.)
di Rosa Preserve
Art in Wine Country? Between Sonoma & Napa in Carneros is 217 acres which feature three art galleries, an outdoor sculpture meadow and a 35-acre lake. Keep in mind that you *must* go on a tour to see the property otherwise the small gallery is all that is on view. Wednesdays admission is free. They have peacocks on the property (only on tour).
Cornerstone Festival of Gardens
In Sonoma (just south of the town). Is an ever-changing series of walk-through gardens, showcasing new and innovative designs from the world’s finest landscape architects and designers.There are 20 different gardens including a children's garden.
Pt. Reyes area Oysters
Southwest of Wine Country, along the coast in Marin are three local oyster companies: Hog Island Oyster Co. – You always stop and pick up oysters here, but the cool thing is to reserve a picnic table (always in advance) - $20/person. Tomales Bay Oysters – In Marshall, CA - you can buy oysters and they have a picnic area as well. Drake's Bay Oysters
– Inside the Point Reyes National Seashore (on the way to the Lighthouse).Drakes also has a stand on Saturdays at the Santa Rosa Farmers' Market. Are you at the Downtown Napa exit a few minutes before 10am? Then you just have time to make it to Copia's Wine Tasting 101 – a 30 minute class starting every day at 10:15am. "ABCs of winetasting, spit bucket etiquette and tips for your personal best bets wineries." $15
Be sure to check out their gardens, too!Olive Oil Tasting!
A few wineries also make estate-grown olive oil, like Abreu, Araujo, Turley and Grace Family. Some others also do this and sell it in their tasting rooms, such as B.R. Cohn. BUT, there are also dedicated Olive Oil Tasting rooms in...
Carneros and Napa:The Olive Press - This is our top choice for tasting many different, excellent artisan olive oils.
St. Helena: Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Company (835 Charter Oak Avenue) and St. Helena Olive Oil Company (1351 Main Street) Rutherford:St. Helena Olive Oil Co.
You can also tour Olive Oil producers and their groves:
McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma (Sonoma) offers orchard and garden tours - and even a boxed lunch for after the tour - reservations required.
Round Pond (Rutherford) offers an olive oil and red vinegar tasting and tour of their Olive Mill with an optional lunch. The 3 Saturday of every month they offer Olio Nuovo by the tin. Reservations required.
Long Meadow Ranch in Rutherford (Napa) offers a walking tour and tasting of olive oil and wine. Reservations required.
Great Olive Tours - They can arrange visits to Poplar Hill (St. Helena) and Villa Mille Rose (Oakville).What to do after Lunch
in Healdsburg? Healdsburg's Winery Walk: 16 Winery tasting rooms within walking distance of Healdsburg's Main Square
A Non-Wine Diversion on the way in Sonoma: Oakhill Farm on Rt 12 (near Valley of the Moon Rd) is an organic farm who sells to many of the top restaurants. They have a small barn store open Wed-Sat from April to Dec.Chocolate in Wine Country: Woodhouse Chocolate 1367 Main St. St. Helena, 707.963.8413 - Don't Miss it!Cheese Tours in
Wine Country Marin French Cheese Co in Petaluma Redwood Hill (once a year) Bodega Goat (pre-arranged groups)
Others are by appointment only
or not at all - do to USDA regulations. Vella Cheese has a store in Sonoma you can visit as does Sonoma Cheese, famous for it's Jack.
A Sweet diversion, at the town square's of both Windsor and Healdsburg, Powell's Sweet Shoppe is designed as an old-time candy store. They also offer ice cream (and the Windsor store a soda bar). Looking for Ice Cream? In Sebastopol, go for
Screaming Mimi's will do the trick. Try their Galaxy Chip (with belgian chocolate chips) or Jack's fave - Haystack (coconut in chocolate ice cream). In Healdsburg, go for Snowbunny Frozen Yogurt
312 Center Street
(707-431-7669) - Organic ice cream, but non-organic toppings. Cake-craving Emergency? In Sebastopol is one of the top cake bakeries in the country, Patisserie Angelica. We love their cakes! So do the big food mail-order guys, Dean & DeLuca and Williams Sonoma – but you have to pay a much higher price through them. See our review in Great Local Foods.
Wine Country Honey? Marshall Honey in American Canyon offers tours and has a honey tasting room.Big Wine Country Events Best Sonoma County Wine Tasting Event:
Russian River Barrel Tasting Weekend (the first weekend of March). It’s the one day you can taste and buy at some wineries that are generally appointment only, such as Rafanelli Cab and Zin. It’s one of two days you can purchase Martinelli’s Giuseppe & Luisa Zinfandel – up to a case. It's the first weekend each March.Great Coffee in Wine Country? Napa Valley Roasting Co They make blends for many of the top Napa county restaurants as well as a few wineries like Far Niente. Worth a stop. Calistoga Roasters Flying Goat Coffee is my favorite Sonoma Co. Coffee company. Wolf Coffee is great if you like darker roasts.Farm Visits, Pumpkin Patches, Apples, Nurseries in Wine Country? Farm Trails offers a guide to visiting farms in Sonoma county.