They say the third time is a charm, and I think Paul and I agree, this trip to California wine country was the best one yet. We did it all wrong the first time, improved upon it significantly the second time, and nailed it the third time. While I don’t regret any of our travel adventures, we often learn from our experiences. So, let’s recap:
Trip #1-On our month-long cross country trip, we stopped in Napa for a night. After several sleepless nights of tent camping and many long, long days of driving, we weren’t up for hopping around Napa Valley with a wine glass. What we saw: the Culinary Institute of America, Yountville, and the inside of our eyelids (we were so tired). The good: we discovered Hog Island Oyster Company and figured out the location of The French Laundry (just in case Thomas Keller sends us a personal invite and we need to get there quickly).
Trip #2-You want to see wine country the right way? Then head straight to Sonoma Valley. We hit up Sonoma as part of a three-part trip that also included San Francisco and Carmel. On this trip, we discovered the Four Sisters Inns, a small chain of adorable California boutique hotels that run similar to a bed and breakfast, including a wine and cheese hour at 5pm each evening. Kind of like a Kimpton, but more like staying at the home of your California friend whose mom knows how to make a good quiche and a classy cheese plate. On this trip, we ate one of the best meals of our lives at The Girl and the Fig (no other soft-shell crab will live up to that one) and learned about the incredible existence of biodynamic vineyards. We went on a tram tractor tour of Benziger and ate a grape straight off the vine.
Trip #3-Third times the charm. Here are some of the details of our latest adventure, plus links to all of the good stuff, just in case you are planning a trip full of California sunshine and wine. This post is all about our stay in Sonoma. Stay tuned for part 2 to learn all about our stay in the beautiful town of Healdsburg.
How We Got There
We flew Southwest Airlines out of Philadelphia. I couldn’t resist the price of the early morning flight to Chicago, then Chicago to San Francisco. Because our flight left at 6 AM, we stayed at the Marriott Philadelphia Airport the night before. Since this hotel is conveniently connected to the airport, you can roll right out of bed and into the terminal, avoiding the hassle of hailing down the hotel shuttle. Added bonus: rooms with an airport view allow you to continuously watch planes take off and land.
I know I say this a lot, but I love Southwest Airlines. I’ve always loved them for various reasons, but just about every time I fly them, they give me more and more reasons to stay loyal. On our flight from Chicago to San Francisco, we had a bachelorette party sitting behind us, on their way to celebrate in Napa. The flight attendants made the bride to be a crown out of bags of Southwest pretzels, then had her walk down the aisle before we made our descent. Once on the ground, they played “Going to the Chapel” while she and her friends giggled in glee and pronounced their love for Southwest over and over again, in both verbal and Instagram hashtag fashion. Just like that, Southwest gained another group of loyal fans.
Paul captured this shot right out of the plane’s window. The Rocky Mountains at 35,000 feet are pretty spectacular.
After landing in San Francisco, we picked up our rental car and began the foggy, then sunny drive to Sonoma.
We were greeted at The Lodge at Sonoma with white sparkling wine garnished with a deep red raspberry. After checking in, we took in a little California sunshine by the pool before indulging in our first cheese plate of the trip.
The Lodge at Sonoma is a gorgeous resort conveniently located a short walk from Sonoma’s town square. With a cozy lobby and bar and a breathtaking pool, you’ll feel tempted to never leave the hotel grounds. You get a complimentary glass of sangria each day of your stay and daily wine hour begins every evening at 5 PM with tastings courtesy of a local winery.
However, we highly recommend walking to town or, if you’re feeling nostalgic, hopping the coolest hotel shuttle you’ve ever laid eyes on. Who wouldn’t want to take the teal VW bus?
The Girl and the Fig is one of the best restaurants in Sonoma. The food is excellent and the French bistro ambiance pairs well with California wine. Go for the Bistro Plats Du Jour and add the wine pairing. For $54, you get an appetizer, entree, and dessert each paired with a small glass of wine that enhances the flavor of each course. This three-course seasonal menu changes every Thursday. During our most recent visit, our Girl and the Fig experience started with an asparagus salad, followed by lamb sausage over Sardinian pasta (fregola). In true French style, dessert consisted of the chef’s selection of cheese presented to you on your own board.
You don’t have to go with the Plats Du Jour to enjoy everything The Girl and the Fig has to offer. My mom thoroughly enjoyed her wild flounder meunière over yukon potato purée with spinach and lemon-caper brown butter. And if ice cream is more your style rather than cheese, the tahitian vanilla bean ice cream-filled cream puffs with bittersweet chocolate sauce is sure to satisfy all of your dessert-filled dreams.
Breakfast in Sonoma is done best with a visit to the Sunflower Caffe. If the sun is shining, order up in the front and carry your number straight to the back patio. The avocado toast wins best dressed in this beautiful setting, and the poached egg atop is essential in making it perfect. If avocado toast just isn’t your thing, you won’t go wrong with any item on the menu. In fact, you’ll probably stand in line for quite a while trying to calculate just how many times you can eat breakfast while visiting the town of Sonoma.
There are so many vineyards to choose from when visiting wine country, and it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few. One of the best ways to choose is to visit the front desk at any hotel you are staying at. No matter where you lay your head, the hotels always have two for one tasting coupons at nearby wineries.
We visited Buena Vista Vineyards for our first tasting of the trip. Buena Vista is known as the oldest vineyard in Sonoma. It is a historical landmark and the grounds are phenomenal. You can visit Buena Vista just for a tasting or bring a picnic and enjoy a meal amidst their beautiful surroundings. The staff at Buena Vista are charming and they gave us our own personal tasting in their wine cave. We sat at a big glowing marble table while we learned about the history of Buena Vista while sipping their different varieties of wine.
Our second tasting was back at Benziger in a town called Glen Ellen. We had been there before, but we wanted our moms to also experience the tram tour and learn about a biodynamic vineyard. Because we were visiting at a different time of year, we were not able to taste a grape since they weren’t there to taste. Grapes are usually picked in September, so most of the vines at this vineyard were bare. Biodynamic vineyards are unique in that they are not allowed to use any type of chemical on their vines. Wine growers study how to keep predators away through natural means, with fields devoted to attracting the insects that would normally wreak havoc on the grape vines.
Heading to Healdsburg
A couple of years ago, Paul and I read an article in The New York Times about a small town in wine country. Healdsburg, with its plethora of restaurants and its charming town square made it on our list of places we just had to go. Stay tuned for part 2 of our wine country adventure: Healdsburg.