With its blend of small-town charm and big-city chic, Healdsburg, California, has become a sophisticated hub that continues to celebrate its rural roots. Hereâ€™s how to make the most of it.
As far as California wine country destinations go, Healdsburg, an hourâ€™s drive north of San Francisco in Sonoma County, has always been one of my favorites. Everything is within a minuteâ€™s walk; two, maybe, if youâ€™re dawdling. The town is home to disarmingly friendly people as well as a swath of stylish concept stores, cutesy home-ware boutiques, and irresistible places to eat, drink, and linger, most of a caliber youâ€™d expect to find in a much larger city. Yes, nearby Napa has always had more sparkle when it comes to places to drink and dine, but Sonomaâ€”and especially Healdsburgâ€”offers laidback charm in spades.
WHERE TO EAT
The biggest news on the culinary front comes with the hotly anticipated opening of Kyle and Katina Connaughtonâ€™s Single Thread (131 North St.; no telephone), a 52-seat fine-dining restaurant with an attached inn and its own farm plot at the nearby San Lorenzo Vineyard. Katina, a skilled horticulturalist with a focus on sustainable agriculture, manages the farm as well an â€śedible roofscapeâ€ť atop the restaurant to supply the kitchen with olives, fruit, micro greens, and eggs from her flock of Ameraucana and Light Brahma heritage-breed chickens. Come September, her chef husband Kyle, a soft-spoken L.A. native whose rĂ©sumĂ© includes stints with Michel Bras and Heston Blumenthal, will serve an 11-course kaiseki-style tasting menu nightly, driven by whatâ€™s fresh in Sonomaâ€”particularly from Katinaâ€™s farmâ€”that day. Dinner starts with champagne and canapĂ©s on the roof at sunset; dishes served in the home-kitchen-inspired dining room might include Sonoma duck with spinach, green garlic, and morel or Monterey abalone with garlic scape, melted onion, and fingered-citron kosho.
A short stroll away, Valette (344 Center St.; 1-â€¨707/473-0946) was openedâ€¨last year by brothers Dustin Valette and Aaron Garzini. If Ă la carte options such as day-boat scallops en croĂ»te with fennel, caviar, and a rich champagne-infused beurre blanc donâ€™t tempt you, opt for the as-many-courses-as-you-can-handle tasting menuâ€”chef Valette will pop out to say hello and introduce dishes whenever he gets a spare moment. Or head to ChalkboardÂ â€¨(29 North St.; 1-707/473-8030), where vaulted ceilings and marble-topped tables give the dining room a cloistered, cellar-like ambience, ensuring your attention is fully directed to those plates of fried Brussels sprouts, hamachi crudo, and buttermilk-fried chicken being whisked from the open kitchen.
Chef Perry Hoffman, who earned a Michelin star three years running during his previous tenure at Domaine Chandonâ€™s now-shuttered fine-dining restaurant Ă‰toile, helms the excellent cafĂ©â€¨ at SHED (25 North St.; 1-707/431-7433), a grange hall and marketplace set in a barn-like steel-and-glass structure. Dishes such as the duck patĂ© salad with autumn squash, Asian pears, chestnuts, chicories, and cider syrup prompted San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer to name it Sonoma Countyâ€™s â€śmost authentic and beautifully conceived restaurantâ€ť in a recent three-star review.
For standout Italian fare, eight-year-old trattoria Scopa (109A Plaza St.; 1-707/433-5282) remains a must for its grilled baby octopus and tomato-braised chicken servedâ€¨with a warm cloud of polenta. And if itâ€™s the sweet stuff you crave, Noble Folk Ice Cream &â€¨Â Pie Bar (116 Matheson St.; 1-707/395-4426) is sure to satisfy. Grab a slice of chocolate-maple-walnut or lemon-custard pie with a scoop of organic buffalo-milk vanilla ice cream and sit out in Healdsburgâ€™s tree-ringed town square to enjoy it in the sunshine.
WHERE TO SHOP
Tucked around the townâ€™s foodie haunts are a handful of chic boutiques with edits to delight even the most discerning shopper. For home furnishings and decor, Saint Dizier Home (259 Center St.; 1-707/473-0980) is a one-stop shop for the wine countryâ€“style house, while the drawers at all-white Gallery Lulo (303 Center St.; 1-707/433-7533) contain a kaleidoscopic array of jewelry by independent designers, including sculptural pieces by co-owner Karen Gilbert. OSKA (310 Center St.; 1-707/431-7717), a Munich-based label, stocks contemporary womenâ€™s clothing cut in loose, flowing silhouettes in neutral colors. Style-conscious gents arenâ€™t left wanting, either. Hipster haven Ereloom (110 Matheson St.; 1- 707/395-0550) sells handcrafted leather accessories and tweed bowties alongside edgy urban menâ€™s labels such as Theory and John Varvatos. At Outlander (103 Plaza St; 1-707/433-7800), which curates pieces ranging from Tommy Bahama shorts and tees to sartorial selections from Rodd & Gunn, the fitting room is inside a huge vaultâ€”staff say itâ€™s left over from the time the building housed a branch of the Bank of Italy.
WHERE TO SLEEP
Another of Healdsburgâ€™s major plus points is its clutch of charming, boutique places to stay. With â€¨its September debut, this includes the inn at â€¨Single Thread (doubles from US$700), where those lucky enough to snag one of the five upper-floor guest suites can look forward to an experience inspired by a stay at the Connaughtonâ€™s own home. Kitchen-made drinks and snacks are offered in lieu of a mini-bar and potential daytime experiences include cooking classes with Kyle and the kitchen team, wine tastings, and trips to the farm to work alongside Katina and her 20-year-old daughter Chloe.
Home to Charlie Palmerâ€™s excellent Dry Creek Kitchen restaurant, where people come as much for a glass of wine at the bar or outdoor patio as the tasting menu, Hotel Healdsburg (25 MathesonÂ â€¨St.; 1-707/431-2800; doubles from US$399) is another standout. Accommodations feature contemporary lighting, illuminated laurel-wood headboards, and decorative pieces by local artisans, including ethereal cloud paintings by Healdsburg-based artist Wade Hoefer. The spa offers indulgent massage and beauty packages while the newly updated pool and outdoor relaxation area is a perfect place to while away a few hours.
A short drive from town, rooms at the gabled, 1881-built mansion Madrona Manor (1001 Westside Rd.; 1-707/433-4231; doubles from US$235) come with antique four-poster beds and furnishings, framed Victorian-era christening gowns, and balconies with views over the estateâ€™s rambling flower gardens and vineyards. Even if youâ€™re not staying the night, the hotelâ€™s Michelin-starred French restaurant is well worth visiting in its own rightâ€”dishes on chef Jesse Mallgrenâ€™s seasonal nine-course tasting menus might include quail with onion soubise and Bulgarian osetra caviar with smoked-duck gelĂ©e and crĂ¨me fraĂ®che.
If you have a free afternoon, spend it at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery â€¨in neaby Geyserville. The directorâ€™s â€świne wonderlandâ€ť offers a cabana-lined pool and sipping and dining amidst movie memorabilia, including the bridal dress from Bram Stokerâ€™s Dracula and prop galleons from Sofia Coppolaâ€™s Marie Antoinette.
Summer visitors will want to book advance tickets to the Transcendence Theatre Companyâ€™s Broadway Under the Stars.Â The season runs until September 11 and sees spectacular music and dance revues staged within the ruins of a 19th-century winery in Jack London State Park.
This article originally appeared in theÂ August/SeptemberÂ print issue of DestinAsian magazine (â€śHereâ€™s to Healdsburgâ€ť).