By Liz G., April 2015
Are you visiting Healdsburg? Here are some tips from a Hawaii visitor.
10. Take a drive. West Dry Creek Road starts at Madrona Manor. It is the less traveled route through Healdsburg wine country, offering picturesque views of vineyards around every bend, with much lighter traffic than Dry Creek Road proper. I did not plan on taking this road (hey, it can be hard to drive and use a GPS), but I’m really glad that I did.
Most of the small wineries along the road will have signs advertising tastings. In Healdsburg, most wineries do not require advanced tasting reservations. If you would like to plan in advance, the front desk team has great recommendations for wineries along the way. Definitely pack some light snacks to take with you.
At the end of the road circle back on Dry Creek Road. This is where you’ll find the majority of wineries and shops, as well as Dry Creek General Store.
9. Enjoy an espresso at Flying Goat Coffee. After my wonderful breakfast at Madrona Manor I asked the front desk staff which coffee they use. It turns out it is roasted locally at Flying Goat coffee who has a great cafe in town located on the Northeast corner of Healdsburg Plaza. Not only do they offer artistic espressos, and delicious pastries, but they have fast WiFi. Having to work while in wine country is bad enough, but fast WiFi, a lively ambiance and great coffee make it much more bearable.
It’s also a great place to meet people. Once I finished working, a group of ladies sparked a conversation with me, eventually inviting me to a private wine tasting at a home in Healdsburg that afternoon. Throughout my visit I found that Healdsburg was one of the friendliest towns I’ve ever visited, and I live in Hawaii, the “Aloha” state.
8. Dry Creek General Store. Bring your appetite: the iconic stop along Dry Creek Road offers a variety of gifts, beverages, fresh local produce and really delicious sandwiches and snacks.
I did not order a sandwich (they did look really good), and instead opted for strawberries, dates and a salad. In Hawaii we don’t have much opportunity to eat local strawberries and dates, so this was a special treat. I was not disappointed. I chose to eat on one of the picnic tables in the front of the store, but there are tables along the side of the property, too, for families and small groups.
7. Healdsburg Ridge. Just 10 minutes from Madrona Manor is a 155 acre park with a short hike that takes you along Healdsburg Ridge, overlooking wine country paradise. This is one thing I did not get to do, but wish that I had time for. Learn more about it here.
6. Stop & Smell the Flowers. Madrona Manor’s flowers were just beginning to bloom when I arrived in March. The property has incredible landscaping, including orange trees, roses, a green house and even a newly planted vineyard. Before dinner relax with a stroll around the garden, or find a good book to unwind with on the porches along several of the rooms and manor entrance overlooking the manor’s gardens.
You’ll also want to spend time in the room. This is unusual for most hotels – but the rooms are very well appointed. In the evening enjoy a glass of wine by the fire (most rooms have fireplaces) or hop into the bath- the hotel has very nice soaps.
5. Go Topless: Rent a Convertible. This was one of the best decisions I made for the trip. Driving through Healdsburg with the top down, breathing in the fresh air made my retreat from the city even more enjoyable.
Note: I only had a scarf that I travel with. Healdsburg is a low-key crowd, wear a baseball cap if you want to blend in with the locals.
4. Go Shopping. Healdsburg has a variety of specialty stores. From antiques to gourmet olive oil and accessories. Start at the Healdsburg Plaza and when you need a pick-me-up stroll through the park at the center of the town.
3. Check out the local events. There always seems to be something happening in Healdsburg. From Farmer’s Markets, to Jazz Festivals to parades there is something for everyone. Check out the calendar of events here.
2. GET MARRIED. Imagine getting married at a historic manor in the heart of wine country, with some of the best food and wine in the country. Enough said, right? Even more, what I really appreciate about their wedding services is that almost everything you need is included in the venue cost, like linens, tables and chairs. And who said weddings were stressful?
1. Wine & Dine. When in Rome, do as the Romans! Madrona Manor offers the town’s only Michelin star restaurant. Set in a historic manor less than 5 minutes from Healdsburg’s main strip, it offers an excellent chance to enjoy the best of Healdsburg.
I suggest starting dinner with an apertif from Pam, the restaurant’s top-notch mixologist in the music room. The bar menu changes based on what concoctions Pam is working on and what is available fresh from the garden. Near the holidays check if the homemade Egg Nog is available. I didn’t have the opportunity to taste it but heard rave reviews.
After seeing Pam, dinner will start in one of the next rooms. The ambiance is very old world charming, with interesting things to look at on each wall. Executive Chef Jesse Mallgren has been at the restaurant for 15 years. In fact, the restaurant earned the Michelin Star rating under his culinary expertise. Before dining here all of the locals told me how incredible it was. So, I walked in fearing that my expectations might be set too high. In reality, I had no idea how special a treat I was in for at the restaurant. Everything was… incredible. Truly an experience that will be hard to forget.
The menu changes frequently based on what is available locally. The menu on the night we dined included caviar with smoked duck gelée and crème fraîche, 40 day dry aged striploin with maitake mushrooms and roasted carrots and Manglitsa pork carpaccio with spring onions and green garlic. There is no way words or pictures could do the menu justice. As soon as you think that the evening couldn’t get any better, the next course arrives.
We also opted in for the wine pairings – they were each so delicious and at times I couldn’t part with them between courses. At the end of the dinner I had three glasses that I was holding on to. The pairings for the evening included a pear cider from Normandy (my favorite drink in the whole word), Royal Tokaji and of course a wonderful selection of California wines.
Chef Jesse came out towards the end of the meal to introduce himself and answer any questions we had. Let me say that again: the chef of a Michelin star restaurant came out to introduce himself at dinner.
Dessert was a “Flavors of Spring Time” assortment. I dare say that it tasted even better than it looked. It was followed by the hand “churned” cart “à glace”. Essentially, the ice cream is made right at your table. Check it out here.
I highly recommend making a stop here on your Healdsburg visit.
Growing up in San Francisco I don’t really have memories of a change in the seasons. My friends and I would often joke that we had no idea if it was spring, summer, fall or winter. Cold and foggy in the morning, clear skies for about 2-3 hours, then fog again. Of course I would never complain about those days of amazing San Francisco weather now (especially the fact that I never needed a seasonal change in wardrobe). I did however realize after moving to Healdsburg that I had never experienced a real fall. My first autumn here in Sonoma County I remember walking through Healdsburg and having this feeling of pure happiness. I felt like a kid – kicking the fallen leaves on the ground and looking up to the intense pink clouds at sunset. The rolling vineyards turned shades of orange, red and yellow that I had never seen before.
I have now called Healdsburg home for 7 years and each fall I am still overwhelmed by it’s beauty. My office is Madrona Manor which puts on its own fantastic fall color show and has glorious views of the changing vineyards next door. The wineries are a buzz with their grape harvesting, there are bountiful farmers markets every day of the week and festivals galore! There is a reason why Wine Road calls this area “Heaven Condensed”.
–J. Young, Special Event Coordinator @ Madrona Manor
(top photo by: Healdsburg Institute)