Beautiful, historic and surrounded by rising hills and vineyards, Healdsburg is a picture-perfect wine country town. With its hip boutique hotels and gracious B&Bs, it’s a convenient take-off point for wine-tasting and cycling in the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys, and just a short hop from the Russian River Valley. However, don’t be surprised if Healdsburg’s seductive charm causes you to slow down and enjoy the town.
Explore Healdsburg’s Historic Plaza: One of the best, easiest and most fun ways to get familiar with Healdsburg—one of the nation’s six “Most Romantic Small Towns,” according to CNN Travel—is to take a leisurely stroll in and around its 19th-century plaza. Sample wine in tasting rooms, browse in a bookstore, shop boutiques and art galleries, relax in a coffee shop. If you feel like it, walk beyond the plaza to delight in beautiful 18th- and turn-of-the-century homes. As you meander, study menus posted in the windows of heralded restaurants (you’ll quickly find that deciding where to eat is just about impossible).
Play Bocce Ball: Derived over centuries from an ancient game of the Roman Empire, Bocce involves rolling metal or plastic balls on long smooth courts. It’s a social game with plenty of opportunity for laughter and joking around. Thanks to the many Italian immigrants who settled in Sonoma County in the 19th century, Bocce has long been popular hereabouts.
Why not try your hand at this sport while in Healdsburg, where a few wineries and an Italian restaurant make courts available? It’s fun to join in a game or just kick back with a glass of wine and watch a competition. Here’s where you can play in Healdsburg:
- Armida Winery, housed in a geodesic dome, has killer views, three beautiful picnic areas and a full size bocce ball court.
- Campo Fina is a fine Italian restaurant where you can sit inside and concentrate primarily on dining—or sit outside in the courtyard, dining or sipping a glass of wine while watching bocce games in progress (or joining in).
- Davis Family Vineyards, steps from the Russian River, invites you to stroll through its organic garden and join in on the bocce court.
- De La Montanya Winery’s picnic area and bocce ball court are shaded by a lovely apple grove (both are reserved on weekends for wine club members).
Dry Creek Vineyard added a bocce ball court in fall 2014, next to one of its famed vineyards.
- Seghesio Family Vineyards, one of the county’s pioneer wineries, welcomes you to its picnic grove and playing Bocce beneath the cork tree.
Meander through an Extraordinary Garden: With five acres of dazzling gardenscapes, Ferrari-Carano Winery and Gardens on Dry Creek Road is a study in color nearly year-round. Gardens here are Italian/French in style with classic, geometric shapes forming an architectural backbone. The color scheme and plantings change constantly throughout the year, but always begin with a vibrant display of more than 10,000 tulips and daffodils each spring. On a self-guided tour you’ll explore at your own pace, meandering along pretty paths, passing waterfalls, and crossing foot bridges arching over gentle streams. More than 2,000 species of trees and shrubs are sport identification tags, so you’ll learn while you wander. To ascertain when tulips will bloom in spring, phone the Gardens’ Tulip Hotline at 707-433-5349 beginning in late winter.
Enjoy a “Sip & Cycle” Adventure: Where else but in wine country can you get a good workout in-between sampling top-tier wines? And you can do this on one of the best wine-cycling routes in the world, a 30-mile mile loop that stars and ends in Healdsburg and takes you through Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys in the process. Whenever you feel like it, pull off to a winery to relax over a glass of wine, and then continue on. Another great but shorter route: Alexander Valley’s Red Winery Road, between Healdsburg and Geyserville. It’s flat, quiet and peaceful, running through beautiful oak-covered hills and miles of vineyards. For directions for either route, read "Popular Bike Itineraries: Cycling Through Wine Country."
Explore the Healdsburg Museum: Housed in a one-time Carnegie Library, the Healdsburg Museum, built in 1910-1911, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum’s focus—the history of Healdsburg and environs—may seem geared to locals, but the creative exhibits invariably address universal issues. A 2013 exhibit entitled “Twisted History” looked at offbeat and sometimes disturbing customs, characters and events in Healdsburg’s past; in 2014 the “Visionaries, Believers, Seekers & Schemers” exhibit delved into Sonoma County’s 19th century utopian communities, of the sort then flourishing across the nation; and a 2015 exhibition explored the challenges facing "Healdsburg Immigrants." Permanent exhibits look at local Pomo and Wappo Indian tribes, the county’s reign as the Egg Capital of the World, and much more.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodgriguez