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Romantic Getaway Guide to Sonoma

Destination(s): Glen Ellen

The essence of romance is stripping away the distractions and pressures of daily life and finding a place to hide away together. In Sonoma, you can toast your future to the tune of crashing waves in a coastal hideout, or wine and dine in Zagat-rated and Michelin-starred comfort. Best of all, in place of chain hotels and big branded resorts, Sonoma offers intimate, boutique inns and hotels where luxurious settings and personalized service make it easy to feel that loving feeling. Take a beach walk or a stroll through town, picnic in a vineyard, soak in a mineral pool under the stars. With few crowds and no loud tasting room louts, Sonoma makes it easy to enjoy wine country culture while getting further off the beaten path. read more about Romantic Getaway Guide to Sonoma

Wildwood Farm Nursery

Wildwood Farm Nursery

Wildwood Farm, located next to Kenwood Inn and Spa on the Sonoma Highway, is a garden and nursery specializing in maples, dogwood, and other ornamental trees and shrubs. It's also a sculpture garden and outdoor gallery, featuring works by West Coast artists designed to be displayed outdoors. There are gigantic cast iron sculptures, stone carvings, ornamental birdbaths, and ceramics. Stop by to make a purchase for your garden, or just to take a stroll through the gorgeous grounds.

Gardeners all over the west know Wildwood Farm, which specializes in exotic varieties of decorative trees and rare plants. Proud of their selection of more than 300 different Japanese maples and 40 types of dogwood, Wildwood Farms has also expanded their stock to include Gingko biloba trees and other hard-to-find trees and shrubs. But that's only one reason to visit. Owners Sara and Ricardo Monte and their son, landscape gardener Joe Monte, also display an en eclectic and adventurous selection of sculpture and garden art by artists of both local and national renown. Stroll among gigantic abstract cast iron structures and insects, or sit and contemplate elegant stone carvings and ceramic sculptures. New in 2009 is an organic vegetable garden and orchard planted by Joe, and a farmstand selling the garden's heirloom produce.
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girl and the fig (the)

girl and the fig (the)

  • 110 West Spain Street
  • tel:707- 938 3634
  • Visit website
  • Sonoma, 95476
Hop Kiln Winery

Hop Kiln Winery

  • 6050 Westside Road
  • tel:+1 707 433 6491
  • Visit website
  • Healdsburg, 95448

Once a kiln used for roasting locally grown hops, the aptly named Hop Kiln winery makes a great stop for tasting specialty wines, learning a bit of local history, and takig some snaps in a spectacular setting. Located on Westside road at the south end of Dry Creek valley, Hop Kiln is equidistant from Healdsburg and from the Russian River valley, and should be included in either itinerary. A gorgeous example of local stonemasonry, the historic hop kiln itself dates back to 1905 and is surrounded by vintage gardens and orchards of gnarled fig trees, roses, and other heirloom plantings. The duck pond is a favorite of kids, who will want to throw bread crumbs to the quacking resident ducks. Picnics a must.
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A. Rafanelli Winery

A. Rafanelli Winery

  • 4685 West Dry Creek Road
  • tel:+1 707 433 1385
  • Visit website
  • Healdsburg, 95448
Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary

Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary

  • 209 Bohemian Highway
  • tel:(707) 823-8231
  • Visit website
  • Freestone, 95472

Like a magical trip to ancient Kyoto, a visit to Osmosis day spa and sanctuary feels like an escape to another time and place. Oddly located in the tiny town of Freestone, west of Sebastopol, this holistic therapy spa is less about pampering and more like giving yourself the gift of a health-boosting treatment. Despite the name, an "enzyme bath" is more akin to a ritual sauna than a soak. Used by Japanese practitioners as a detoxification procedure, an enzyme bath involves immersing your body into a hot bed of fermenting cedar chips, which raises your internal core temperature and allows your body to sweat out toxins. Osmosis founder Michael Stusser is a serious believer in the importance of alternative healing, and hires only the best massage therapists available. So take advantage of the deep relaxation you'll feel after your bath and indulge in a massage as well, and you'll leave feeling restored, relaxed, and energized beyond what you thought possible. read more about Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary

Kenwood Inn and Spa

Kenwood Inn and Spa

  • 10400 Sonoma Highway
  • tel:+1 707 833 1293
  • Visit website
  • Kenwood, 95452
Applewood Inn

Applewood Inn

  • 13555 HWY 116
  • tel:707-869-9093
  • Visit website
  • Guerneville, 95446

You don't have to trust Zagat and Michelin to tell you that Applewood is one of Sonoma County's top dining destinations -- though in fact both rate this wine country find highly. Rather, ask SF Bay Area residents where they dine when they want a romantic gourmet dinner in the Russian River valley, and Applewood will be one of the first names mentioned.

Despite this restaurant's long and respected history, it feels fresh and new thanks to the arrival two years ago of chef Bruce Frieseke, a Sonoma boy made good who worked in Paris and San Francisco before returning to his Russian River roots. An even newer arrival is young sommelier Christopher John, whose enthusiasm for the local appellations he's just discovering is palpable and fun to share.

Applewood's menu of beloved Tuscan farmhouse favorites maintains its classic selection, but many dishes have been refreshed to better highlight local ingredients. The overall impression is one of lightening - a salad of tender butter lettuce and Laura Chenel chevre felt farmer's market fresh, and there are more seafood selections to balance the beef, pork, and lamb choices. It's hard to single out any one item from the stellar menu, but the appetizer of Muscovy duck sausage paté topped with an egg yolk poached in red wine is a don't-miss, as are the dark chocolate cannolis for dessert.

Applewood is thriving once again under the fresh stewardship of Carlos Pinna and Sylvia Ranyak, who bought the inn in November 2009 and have ambitious plans to green the facilities and expand the services offered. Among the exciting new offerings will be cooking classes focusing on rustic Tuscan cuisine, to be held in a new, modern kitchen in the historic Belden House. So guests who love to come and eat the latest dishes on offer at Applewood will now have the chance to cook them themselves, too.

The dining room atmosphere is lively and casual, with stone fireplaces at either end and a lively bar by the entrance where guests can gather for a pre-dinner drink. Applewood promises to be even more festive as the weather warms up; Pippa and Ranyak plan to put tables out in the inn's lovely central courtyard and have live music on weekends nights.
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Inn at Occidental of Sonoma Wine Country

Inn at Occidental of Sonoma Wine Country

  • 3657 Church Street
  • tel:800-522-6324
  • Visit website
  • Occidental, 95465
Prohibition

Prohibition

  • 340 Healdsburg Avenue
  • tel:(707) 473-9463 (WINE)
  • Visit website
  • Healdsburg, 95448

Hidden behind a small retail storefront selling wine-related gifts, Prohibition is accessed through a "secret" entrance accessed through an antique telephone booth. Once inside, you find yourself in a mid-century moderne-style wine bar where small tables made from burnished cask lids are enclosed behind silky draperies and local wines are on "tap" at the sleek semi-circular bar.

Among the artisanal beers on tap are Prohibition Ale, Speakeasy Ales and Lagers, White Lighting, and other small-batch brews. House-designed cocktails are cutely named after iconic pre-War stars and characters; I don't know if the hipsters who will flock to this joint will order a drink called "Bubbles LaRue," but only time will tell.

With the full name of Prohibition: A Speakeasy Wine Club, it doubles as a wine club; members will receive two bottles of award-winning local wine every two months, or six bottles every six months, depending on the arrangement. Sure to be a popular stop on wine country getaways, Prohibition seems destined to be a locals' hangout as well.
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Barn Diva

Barn Diva

  • 231 Center Street
  • tel:707- 431 0100
  • Visit website
  • Healdsburg, 95448

A founding member of Fork & Shovel, an alliance of chefs and local farmers, BarnDiva is the ultimate farm-to-table dining experience. The staff proudly explains that scraps from the kitchen feed the chickens, which in turn produce the eggs used in tonight's meal. The used cooking oil is recycled to run the farm's tractors. But none of this is done in hippie fashion; everything looks polish, artistic, upscale. Owners Jil, Geoffrey and Lukka Feldman have backgrounds in architecture, design and photography as well as food and hospitality, so the whole enterprise feels sophisticated and cultivated.

While chef Ryan Fancher is a "name" thanks to his three-year stint at The French Laundry and role in opening New York's Per Se, Barndiva doesn't stand on ceremony. The bar is warm and friendly, the back patio an almost perfect copy of a Provencal garden cafe. The rustic yet elegant interior feels like a country barn cross-pollinated with a downtown loft.  The list of local purveyors on the menu is as long or longer than the list of available dishes; local cheeses, figs, olive oil, heirloom vegetables, and local seafood, free-range chicken, and grass-fed beef are the centerpieces of every meal.

But at BarnDiva, cocktails are treated as goals unto themselves, and concoctions such as the Basque Lolita, A Kiss with a Slap and Maharani of Cooch-Behar now have their own fans who return just to sample the latest creative combination of flavors.
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Zichichi Family Vineyards

Zichichi Family Vineyards

  • 8626 W. Dry Creek Rd
  • tel:707 433 4410
  • Visit website
  • Healdsburg, 95448

Zichichi Family Vineyard and Winery was founded in 2000. It is run by Steve and Kristin Zichichi, who decided to open their own winery after years of selling their grapes to other local wine producers. Taste the Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, and jammy Zinfandel right at the redwood bar in their tasting room. If you're lucky, you may even get to go in back for a barrel tasting! read more about Zichichi Family Vineyards

River's End

River's End

Everything about River's End is an unexpected delight, from the friendly, unpretentious atmosphere to the thoughtfully organized menu listing one joyfully inventive dish after another.

Named for its breathtakingly romantic location, River's End overlooks the mouth of the Russian River where the placid waters mix with the crashing waves of the Pacific. Repeat guests know to time dinnertime reservations for the sunset hour, and to come early for handcrafted cocktails or "bubbles and oysters," to be savored while toasting the fiery sky from the riverside deck.

This isn't one of those seaside restaurants where the view trumps the food, however; everything we ate was mysteriously delicious enough to have us dissecting the details of dishes from first to last bite. We ate every crispy leaf of the kicking ahi salad, with its zingy Mandarin orange vinaigrette, and had to take multiple photos of the technicolor beet salad, a rainbow tower of farm-fresh beets layered with mascarpone and goat cheeses. The eclectic entrees feature pan-seared duck and roasted elk in addition to more standard fare, but the star of the show is the Dungeness crab tasting menu, which showcases the day's catch in a variety of playful combinations. 

The best restaurants reflect the personalities of their owners; you know instantly upon entering that you couldn't be anywhere else. River's End is such a place; owner Bert Rangel seems to be everywhere, greeting guests personally and conveying his ebullient delight at having landed in this gorgeous location to one and all. River's End is a true family affair; on Sunday nights, Rangel's two young daughters help with hostessing and sauce-tasting duties, and guests couldn't stop smiling at their cheerful enthusiasm.

While dinner at River's End makes the perfect anchor point for a romantic weekend, many people also make the trek up the coast for a sunny lunch or romantic dinner alone. With Goat Rock just one of several spectacular beaches nearby, River's End makes the perfect cap to a day of beachcombing. t read more about River's End

Dry Creek Vineyard

Dry Creek Vineyard

  • 3770 Lambert Bridge Road
  • tel:+1 707 433 1000
  • Visit website
  • Healdsburg, 95448