Three Ways to Wine Country in Northern California
Enjoy Your Time in Mendocino, Sonoma, and Napa
I can’t help but compare other California wine regions to what’s right in our backyard, but these three places that I checked into while sipping and road-tripping around Northern California last August proved well worth the visits. They could each stand alone as longer destination stays or easily be combined into an eclectic road trip serving up the distinctly different flavors of Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties.
Boonville Hotel & Restaurant, Mendocino County: Starting with the northernmost destination, Mendocino takes work to reach, but your efforts are rewarded at the Boonville Hotel & Restaurant, the perfect gateway for Anderson Valley wines. Set in a bucolic bohemian town with redwood forests nearby, the modern “roadhouse” has a familial atmosphere, and the staff even made me feel at home when I arrived well before check-in time. Each of the 17 rooms is different, but I chose the Front Room for the heavenly outdoor vintage claw-foot soaking tub, which I enjoyed under the hot afternoon sun as well as during a foggy, cool morning.
The key is timing your stay Thursday through Monday to experience Chef Perry Hoffman’s renowned prix-fixe feast. After wandering through the gardens in the late afternoon, I settled into an Adirondack chair for a pre-dinner snack of oysters and olives. Dinner itself had a lively communal energy, so if you’re feeling sociable, you can chat with fellow guests and resident restaurant patrons. In the morning, an organic breakfast spread is set out for grazing at your leisure. I mostly soaked up every minute of hotel time on this trip, but favorite stops from past visits include Pennyroyal Farm for their fresh goat cheese, Roederer Estate for their divine bubbles, and Baxter Winery for their gorgeous pinot.
Olea Hotel, Sonoma County: Sonoma has always felt like a kindred spirit to Santa Barbara wine country to me. When it comes to where to stay, there are so many appealing options between the Russian River, Alexander Valley, and seaside towns like Jenner.
I became newly enamored with the tiny town of Glen Ellen (population: 784) on Sonoma Valley’s bucolic eastern side when I checked into Olea Hotel. The serene, family-run property was damaged in a 2017 wildfire and they took the rebuilding opportunity to upgrade the hotel, refreshing the 13 guest rooms while adding a swimming pool, hot tub, and two poolside cottages. I stayed in the Lower Garden Cottage, where luxury came via the indoor-outdoor fireplace, spa-like bathroom, and comfortable king bed. Added value comes in the form of complimentary self-service wine and snacks in the afternoon and evenings, as well as the made-to-order hot breakfast.
I also savored a phenomenal dinner at Glen Ellen Star, saddled up for a morning horseback ride in Jack London State Historic Park with Triple Creek Horse Outfit, and washed that adventure down with a tasting at Belden Barns, perched in the scenic hills of Sonoma Mountain Road. I was so charmed by the owners, Lauren and Nate Belden, as well as their wines, I joined their club, so I’d have a reason to return sooner than later.
Vintage House, Napa Valley: Fittingly, things got extra posh when I reached my Napa Valley destination: Vintage House, part of The Estate in Yountville. My elegant premium king room was appointed with its own private patio and yet another phenomenal bathtub. One of the big perks of staying here is being walking distance to shops, galleries, and top-rated restaurants, many with Michelin stars. My stay was so brief that I didn’t want to stray far from Vintage House because the swimming pool and my room’s cozy fireplace were calling to me.
I had a memorable lunch at neighboring Bottega Napa Valley, where I tried chef Michael Chiarello’s sublime raviolo paired with a Napa sauvignon blanc. The French Laundry is right across the street from Vintage House, so if you’re celebrating a special occasion, score that bucket-list reservation well ahead of time! The closest I got was strolling through their culinary garden on the way to R+D Kitchen for sushi on the buzzy patio in the evening. An impressive complimentary breakfast buffet was available on property at Vintage House, but I bypassed it for Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery goodness, including some extra pastries for the road!
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