An hour’s drive north from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, Geyserville – perched along the Russian River, where it’s surrounded by miles of vineyards and overlooked by distant mountains – provides the perfect Sonoma Wine Country getaway escape.
But that’s been true from the tiny town’s earliest days. Back in 1847, when Geyserville was still part of the huge Rancho Tzabaco Mexican land grant, a series of fumaroles, hot springs, and steam vents were discovered nearby. Eventually this collection of geological features came to be known as ‘The Geysers.’
Within a few years “The Geysers” were attracting tourists (among many famous visitors of the day: Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Jennings Bryan). A nearby settlement sprang up to provide meals, overnight accommodations, and other services; it eventually took the name of Geyserville.
By the turn of the century Geyserville possessed a block-long downtown with a saloon, a hotel, a post office, a blacksmith shop, and a store, along with handsome Victorian homes and many modest bungalows.
Today Geyserville looks much the same as it did more than a century ago, retaining most of the same buildings. The town boasts only one stop sign, with nary a gas station in sight.
But make no mistake: this is not your great-grandparents’ Geyserville. Today the town offers a hip vibe in a comfortable, laid-back kind of way. You’ll find excellent boutique accommodations, top-notch dining, many fun things to do, and some of the best wineries in California, in the Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley wine regions of Sonoma County.
It may not be very big, but downtown Geyserville has plenty going on. Buy some Dan Post cowboy boots, a pair of Rock & Roll cowgirl jeans, or a western chap and vest set for the kids at Bosworth & Son General Mercantile. You might also find the perfect vintage piece to haul back home at Gin’Gilli’s Vintage Home.
And of course you can sample wines downtown. Try family-owned Ramazzotti Wines; delve into Bordeaux-style blends at Mercury Geyserville (which shares a tasting room with Ramazzotti); or at Locals Tasting Room, you can sample and compare wines from many local boutique producers.
For other unique tasting opportunities, drive south along Geyserville Avenue for one mile. Merge onto US-101 South toward San Francisco. In one-third of a mile, take exit 509 for Independence Lane and turn right. Independence Lane becomes Souverain Road, which ends at Francis Ford Coppola Winery.
Throughout you’ll find Coppola’s movie memorabilia, including his Oscars, Marlon Brando’s desk from The Godfather, and the 1948 Tucker Sedan used in the movie Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Go swimming, enjoy a tasting, take a tour, and stay alert for a glimpse of the director himself.
Next up is the Pedroncelli Winery. Owned and operated by the Pedroncelli family since 1927, this winery stayed open during prohibition by selling grapes to home winemakers (it was legal to make a small amount of wine for personal use). Consistent award-winners over many decades, Pedroncelli wines are made from sustainably farmed grapes. It’s not unusual to be served by a family member in the tasting room. which is the oldest tasting room in the Dry Creek Valley.
Surrounded by mountains and vineyards, the AAA three-diamond Geyserville Inn provides the warm hospitality you’d expect from an excellent country inn but doesn’t stint on modern comfort and luxury.
You’ll find spacious rooms in the Inn’s main building, many with fireplaces. Balconies or patios offer sweeping views; each room has featherbeds, thick towels, Fretté bathrobes, and down comforters. Suites — all on the second floor in their own building — have hardwood floors, 360-degree views, two balconies, hot tubs, and many other amenities.
Born in Nevada but schooled in his Italian grandmother’s kitchen, chef Dino Bugica blends the best of California ingredients with traditional old-country dishes at Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria. Housed in a century-old brick building with beautiful wooden floors, the atmosphere here is elegantly casual, convivial, and fun.
And the food! The rustic menu changes daily, featuring carefully sourced meats, fish, and produce from local farms, ranches, and fisheries. Sample menu items include: Grilled Asparagus Salad (with fried egg, crispy pork belly, arugula, truffled pecorino, and lemon vinaigrette); Tagliatelle with Local Rabbit Sugo (with green garlic, wild mushrooms, olives, mascarpone, and rosemary); Local Chestnut Gnocchi (with leeks, kale, snap peas, pea shoots, asparagus, and bay scallops); Chicken Picatta (half a Rocky Jr. chicken cooked under a brick with roasted potatoes, turnips, parsnips, fennel, and puntarelle); and maybe a Diavola pizza thrown in for good measure (roasted red peppers, provolone, arugula, and homemade meatballs with pine nuts and raisins).
And there are typically about three dozen other choices equally tempting, along with an exceptional wine list that features local wines made from Italian varietals, and a large number of imported Italian wines.
Step into a page of Geyserville history at Catelli’s. First opened in 1936, Santi and Virginia Catelli’s restaurant was called The Rex. (The original sign was commissioned but unclaimed, and the local sign maker gave them a deal, hence the name.) The family retired for a while from the restaurant business, then in 2010, the third generation reopened the restaurant.
Sister-and-brother team Domenica and Nicholas Catelli have culinary credentials beyond being raised in the family business. Both are talented chefs: Domenica is a recurring judge on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America, and Nicholas managed Guy Fieri’s restaurants, Johnny Garlic’s and Tex Wasabi, for years.
Credentials are fine, but it’s the food that will keep you coming back for more. Menu items are built around what’s in season in Sonoma County. The Domenica Sauce is a flavorful marinara that makes nearly anything on the menu just that much better. Give the rabbit ravioli a try.
The outdoor area is a dining favorite, looking like an upscale patio with a dash of nightclub. Make sure to request the patio when making reservations.
There’s much more to enjoy both in and around Geyserville. If you follow the Geyserville Sculpture Trail hosted by the Geyserville Community Foundation, you’ll discover more than 25 pieces of public art. The foundation posts a gallery of the sculptures, in order from south to north, and a downloadable sculpture trail map.
If a bit of gambling appeals, visit River Rock Casino, with more than 1,200 slot machines from 1-cent to $100, 18 game tables including MiniBaccarat and Blackjack, an exclusive high limit area, and non-smoking areas for both slots and tables.
Or if you prefer to explore the gorgeous landscape surrounding Geyserville, order a picnic lunch to bring with you and head to the hills. A great place to start is at the Lake Sonoma Visitors Center and Fish Hatchery.
Nestled into a valley overlooked by mountains, Lake Sonoma (see photo) is surrounded by world-famous vineyards. Created by the construction of Warm Springs Dam by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1983, the lake provides for flood control, irrigation and recreation. When full, the lake’s surface area exceeds 2,700 acres and offers 50 miles of shoreline.
Lake Sonoma is the perfect setting for a diversity of recreational activities. You’ll find secluded coves for serene boating and fishing (the lake is stocked); defined areas for water skiing and jet skis; boat and canoe rentals; an archery field; a public boat ramp and full-service marina; miles of hiking; swimming; and the fish hatchery and visitors center. Plus, you can take a spectacularly scenic guided horseback tour of the area with a wilderness experience at The Ranch at Lake Sonoma Horseback Riding.
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