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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 & Spa, 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 + Ryokan, 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 & Spa: This luxury resort in the Sonoma Valley includes the state-of-the-art Willow Spring Spa, with baths fed by the resort’s ancient natural thermal waters. The signature Bathing Ritual included with each spa visit features an exfoliating shower, two mineral water soaking pools, herbal steam, dry sauna, and cool-down showers.

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

Opened with much anticipation in late 2016, SingleThread in Healdsburg earned two Michelin stars in 2018 for its 11-course tasting meals customized to guests’ dietary preferences and restrictions. Their dishes are crafted as works of art, with delicacies like black cod Fukkura-san (donabe style, which is rustic clay pot cooking) with root vegetables, cabbage, charred onion, and walnut-nori pesto.

Three Sonoma County restaurants earned a single Michelin Star in 2018. Madrona Manor Wine Country Inn & Restaurant 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. Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant earned a star 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. And in a cozy neighborhood setting, Terrapin Creek Café in Bodega Bay earned a star for its focus on farm-fresh ingredients and boutiques wines, with plates gorgeously arranged for signature dishes like cold crab salad with the seafood plucked straight from the sea outside.

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, 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.

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 California 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 a weekend of elaborate lunches, dinners, and the showcase event Taste of Sonoma.

Throughout the year there are plenty of other wine tasting events, 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 like the annual Sonoma County Art Trails event.

Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.

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