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5 Sonoma County Experiences Worth the Splurge

Everyone needs to splurge once in a while on extra-extraordinary, spirit-lifting wine tasting, dining, and spa pampering in California's Wine Country. With the million acres of ocean-to-meadow-to mountain landscapes in Sonoma County, 400+ wineries, plus a vibrant arts and culture scene – many pleasures exercise the body and the soul, too.

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A Wealth of Wine Tasting

Celebrity owners and grand estates roll out the red (or perhaps vineyard-mustard-flower yellow) carpets for indulgences like the multi-course wine and luxury chef’s bites tour through the 1,200-acre Jordan Estate in Healdsburg, or the lavish vineyard and culinary garden tour plus seated luncheon in the Olympic caliber equestrian pavilion of Alexander Valley’s Chalk Hill Estates.

In Sonoma ValleyHamel Family Wines woos with elaborate cave tastings and sophisticated small bites menus, while St. Francis Winery celebrates a sumptuous five-course tasting menu with guided wine pairings.

Or, there’s the temptation of the Palate Play Wine & Food Pairing at Ram’s Gate in Carneros-Sonoma, beginning with a backstage tour of the Howard Backen designed winery, then a seated, guided tasting through four wines and four dishes prepared by the estate chef and featuring organically grown, estate garden ingredients.

The Bliss of Spa Resorts

Many Wine Country spas use local products like honey, grape seeds, and even wine.

Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, of Forestville, shines with farm-to-table spa signatures using heirloom cider apples from the inn’s home ranch for facials, plus herbs grown in its kitchen garden for a sumptuous “body melt” with a warm pillow of muscle-healing herbs, alfalfa hay, lavender, and chamomile.

Applewood Inn, of Guerneville, woos with a spa suite that’s pure luxury down to the curved black-tile-and-glass rain shower, plus Jurlique biodynamic facials and warm river stone massages, while Gaige House, of Glen Ellen, tempts with deep-tissue massages in an outdoor cabana in the Japanese gardens followed by a soak in the hot tub or steam in the sauna.

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn: This luxury resort in the Sonoma Valley offers two swimming areas, both filled with the resort’s unique mineral spring water (see photo). The main pool is open seasonally during the warmer months and is family friendly, offers lap swimming and poolside dining. The spa pool is part of the Inn’s beautiful Willow Spring Spa and offers a romantic setting and is a great place to relax after a spa service.

For an only-in-Sonoma indulgence, Kenwood Inn & Spa, of Kenwood, specializes in vinotherapy baths, soaking with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or sparkling wine salts and oils, while at Bodega Bay Lodge, in Bodega Bay, spa suites overlook the Pacific Ocean and Sonoma coastline, offering a signature warm-shell massage with tiger clam seashells.

It’s a virtual trip to Japan via Freestone, meanwhile, with Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary’s  cedar-enzyme baths, meditation in sand gardens, and massages in outdoor pagodas amid the whispering trees.

Decadent Dining

The Michelin Star Madrona Manor in Healdsburg is a historic 1881 Victorian mansion modernized with New Californian-Global cuisine like roasted brassica with estate-grown persimmon, pickled cippollini and charred onions sauce, while there’s another Michelin Star glittering at Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant of Forestville, bestowed for dishes like Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit which includes a roasted rack, a loin wrapped in applewood smoked bacon, and confit draped in velvety whole grain mustard sauce.

Santé in Sonoma shines with seasonal signatures like sweet butter-poached Maine lobster with globe artichokes, buttered carrots, grilled spring onion compote, pickled pearl onions, and barigoule vinaigrette, while Drakes Sonoma Coast Kitchen, in Bodega Bay, is ultra local with crab cakes slathered in tomato-ginger chutney, and braised California lamb shanks with Valley Ford Highway One polenta.

For hidden gems, Terrapin Creek Café in Bodega Bay offers artfully arranged cold crab salad with the seafood plucked straight from the sea outside, and the Black Point Grill in Sea Ranch wows with Sonoma duck tacos topped in queso fresco, cabbage and sweet lime vinaigrette, or roasted Northern halibut with warm pineapple salsa, and crisp parsnips.

Heart Pounding Adventure

Brave enthusiasts free-dive the craggy rock and pounding wave shores of the Jenner Coast in search of rare abalone, guided by Sonoma Coast Divers of Rohnert Park/Jenner.

Others lose their breath in the 180-degree hairpin curves of Simraceway Performance Driving Center at Sonoma Raceway, driving an Audi R8 sports car at more than 122 mph, with or without a NASCAR driver riding shotgun.

Back in the water, Norcal Sportfishing Adventures of Bodega Bay leads Dungeness crab catching charters, fishing for rock cod, 25-pound-plus salmon, albacore, halibut, and Humboldt giant squid, with the bonus of some lucky, seasonal whale watching in between.

For the dare of the air, it’s hard to beat zip lining through a redwood forest, over a ravine 300-feet below, and along a creek with Sonoma Canopy Tours, of Occidental.

Festivals, Music, Wine & Food Events

Imagine hundreds of boutique cheeses awaiting sampling, and you’ve got the Artisan Cheese Festival, featuring hands-on farm and creamery tours, learning how to make cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milk cheeses, and the highlight Marketplace for tasting endless local cheeses, wines, beers, ciders and other local foods.

More eating and drinking awaits with the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, where thousands of guests join hundreds of chefs, wineries and artisan food purveyors for three full days of elaborate lunches, dinners, and the showcase event Taste of Sonoma.

There is plenty of wine tasting, too, like barrel sampling along the Wine Road, Taste Alexander Valley, April in Carneros, Savor Sonoma Valley, and Passport to Dry Creek Valley.

If music moves you, grand concerts and festivals range from the Russian River Jazz & Blues festival to Broadway under the Stars in Jack London State Park, world-renowned artists performing at Green Music Center, in Rohnert Park, or headliners at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, and lots of winery concerts like the ever-popular Rodney Strong summer series or the B.R. Cohn Fall Music Festival. See all events here. Feed your appetite for art, meanwhile, with open studio insider’s tours during the annual Salmon Creek Art Walk and Sonoma County Art Trails events.

Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.

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