I never thought I’d say I miss the heat. I am a bit of a flower; I wilt in extreme temperatures. This is my first summer in San Francisco, and I wasn’t quite emotionally prepared for June Gloom. Dangle an opportunity to chase high temperatures, blue sky, and a minimal breeze, and I will jump at it. So, this weekend, I found myself in wine country.
My goal was to have no goal at all; to get a better lay of the land, to stop by a few hotels I’ve spent years reading about, and to have a light lunch at one of the casual places on my ‘List.’ Here is how the vines blew me:
First stop: The Gaige House in Glen Ellen, by way of rustically beautiful Arnold Drive. The little inn is on a quiet, residential road just a few minutes drive from the village of Glen Ellen, where favored restaurants Glen Ellen Star and the Girl and the Fig boast vibrant, eclectic fare. The inn is an old home, and it has that familial, intimate feeling. If you are open to it, you might spend a bit of time on the patio with the other guests, drinking wine and nibbling a cheese plate. The pool is equally intimate, and it revels in the mid-afternoon sun. I would say it is a prime spot for an easy weekend retreat from the city, or an off-the-track choice for those touring wine country. I like it’s ‘tucked away’ ambiance and its down to earth nature. Also, let it be known that their breakfasts are divine.
A little ways north lies the Kenwood Inn & Spa opposite a most picturesque Sonoma view of sweeping hills and vineyards. The property is long and narrow along the main road, and while the main pool is surrounded by greenery with views of aforementioned hills, many of the rooms listen to the sound of whizzing cars. The updated rooms sit near the pool, but they lack a bathtub. Personally, one of the greatest luxuries of staying at a luxury property is that bath that I never have time to take. As I continue on the main road heading north, I feel like I am no longer in Wine Country. Where are the vineyards and the views? The romance is conspicuously amiss until I grow close to Healdsburg, a good 40 minutes north of the Kenwood Inn & Spa. Then, because my mind always goes to food, I wonder where guests of Kenwood dine.
Healdsburg is a busy little town, especially for tourists. I love it for Copperfields Books, for Barndiva, and for one of the coolest places that I’ve ever visited: The Shed. I first visited The Shed in 2013, and my has it blossomed. It’s most definitely a destination for photographers, set designers, food stylists, cooks, gardeners, and anyone who likes to eat beautiful, simple food. I could spend a good few hours perusing its lovingly curated collection of serveware, herbs, dish towels, cheeses, chocolates, and flowers. I tucked into the bar for their famous farm salad with smoked trout and watched the entranced shoppers and diners go round.
Another fab option in Healdsburg is Barndiva: peacefully tucked away from the square with a thoroughly enjoyable front patio. Apparently, they also do small, intimate weddings out back. I snuck a peak as they were setting up, and I stole a few glances into the kitchen from the back window, leaning over their herb garden to do so. Those wedding guests are going to eat very well.
If craft ice cream with a side of homemade pie makes your heart swell, stop by Noble Folk on the square. The strawberry rhubarb pie with local strawberries would be sweet with strawberry sage ice cream, or maybe blackberry rosemary. Japanese purple yam and black sesame coconut sound inventive but still potentially delicious. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite hot enough to sample, so I’ll just have to trust the evergrowing line.
After lunch I headed east towards St. Helena, where I coasted along the Silverado Trail, vineyards on both sides, the late afternoon breeze keeping me cool under the Napa sun. Sure, you can stick to Highway 29 if you aim to hit the major wineries, but I love to explore the side roads, to get a peak at magnificent properties and Napa architecture, to hear nothing but birds, and to pass huge signs like ‘Stone Fruit Farm Stand Starts Next Sunday’ and ‘Cherries This Way.’ On Lodi Lane, The Wine Country Inn defines hidden gem. It is an idyllic retreat with lush landscaping, a swing bench overlooking vineyards, and a seemingly adults-only free form pool. It is most certainly where I would stay for a Napa getaway.
Also off the Silverado Trail is the rejuvenating Meadowood Napa Valley, where you can play as much croquet as your heart desires, or simply lounge by the pool and count the minutes until Chef Christopher Kostow astounds you with his respect for the soil and the valley’s ingredients, culminated with his incomparable vision and passion at the Restaurant at Meadowood.
I’m quite certain I’ve found my pocket of nirvana in this neighborhood. I would happily sit in traffic from San Francisco just to blaze back and forth along the Silverado Trail and the contiguous roads that cross through the valley. I wasn’t thrilled to sit in traffic going back to San Francisco, but I relished the sun and the warmth while I had it. As soon as I passed Larkspur, it was all over. Foggy city, I’m home.