The #1 complaint I receive from folks who visit the Wine Country is that it’s just too expensive. By the time you end up paying for lodging, dining, and a few bottles of wine, you’re out a thousand bucks for a weekend getaway. My advice? Book a hotel room in Santa Rosa for as little as $79, then spend the day tasting world-class wines and noshing on small plates of farm-fresh Sonoma County cuisine. Only in Santa Rosa can you get a $6 glass of luscious old-vine zin (Cellars of Sonoma), a plate of Liberty Farms pulled barbecue duck with white cheddar polenta for $10 (Willi’s Wine Bar), and end the day with a $75 Swedish massage (Avanti Day Spa). Give Santa Rosa a go—you’ll be surprised how much this city has to offer.
SANTA ROSA SAVEUR
For a city with more than 150,000 residents, downtown Santa Rosa has a surprisingly small-town feel. Yet it’s cosmopolitan enough to have its own symphony, performing arts center, theater productions, and trend-setting restaurants serving world-class cuisine straight from Sonoma County farms, ranches, and dairies. If you’re a connoisseur of fine cuisine, here are five dining destinations you have to visit:
Zazu: Chefs/owners Duskie Estes and John Stewart take roadhouse dining to gastronomic heights at this Santa Rosa destination restaurant. The cozy, warmly lit dining room with comfy banquettes is the perfect setting for the couple’s creative and playful American and northern Italian–inspired menu. A must-have is their balsamic pork shoulder with creamy buttermilk mashed potatoes. 707/523-4814
Hana Japanese Restaurant: This humble little restaurant located in a strip mall serves mind-blowing Japanese cuisine created by chef-owner Ken Tominaga. It’s Ken’s specials that make finding this place worth the effort—divine creations such as foie gras with unagi, sea-urchin egg custard, ahi poke, and octopus salad. For the sushi experience of your life, just say “omakase please”. 707/586-0270
John Ash & Co.: This casually elegant restaurant, founded by Wine Country cuisine guru John Ash, has topped the list of Santa Rosa’s best restaurants for many years. It’s pricey, but the service is expert, the food is fabulous, and the serene dining room with cream-colored walls, tall French windows, and a crackling fire will entice you to settle in for a good long time. And since it’s part of the Vintner’s Inn, it makes for an easy (and quite romantic) overnight getaway. 707/527-7687
Syrah: Owners Josh and Regina Silvers preside over this local favorite that serves French-inspired American cuisine within a casual-chic historic building. Choose a table on the patio or near the open kitchen, where you can watch Chef Josh prepare dishes such as poached foie gras and duck confit from his monthly changing menu of seasonal Sonoma cuisine. 707/568-4002
Willi’s Wine Bar: Locals slink into this dark, low-slung, and laid-back spot for wine and a whimsical global dining adventure. Each dish bucks the expected—from artfully presented brandade spring rolls with herb salad and romesco to wonton-paper-wrapped scallop dumplings seasoned with lemongrass butter and pancetta. Pairing’s not a problem thanks to 40 wines available by the 2-ounce pour, glass, or half bottle. 707/526-3096
There are so many wineries surrounding Santa Rosa that it’s a bit daunting trying to decide where to go. A smart move is to stop by the California Welcome Center at 9 Fourth Street in Santa Rosa and pick up some free tasting coupons and winery map, then plot your wine-tasting journey. Here are a few of my favorites that are just a short drive from downtown Santa Rosa.
Matanzas Creek: If you only visit one winery during your getaway, make it Matanzas Creek. After a scenic drive from Santa Rosa you’ll arrive at one of the prettiest wineries in California, blanketed by fields of lavender (usually in bloom near the end of June), and surrounded by rolling hills of well-tended vineyards. This state-of-the-art, environmentally conscious winery produces chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, merlot, syrah, rosé, and cabernet, all of which you can taste for $5. Also available for purchase is culinary lavender from Matanzas Creek’s own lavender field, the largest outside Provence. Tip: Purchase a full glass of wine and bring it outside to savor as you wander through these wonderfully aromatic gardens. Picnic tables hidden under groves of oak have pleasant views of the surrounding vineyards. 800/590-6464
Kendall-Jackson Wine Center: Just north of Santa Rosa in Fulton is one of the region’s biggest wineries and the best bet for visitors who want a soupcon of education and winery grandeur with their chardonnay. Though it’s right off the highway, KJ is a 120-acre world unto itself, complete with stunning gardens, picnic spots, and demonstration vineyards. Hot Tip: Log on to www.kj.com/visit/kjwebcoupon.pdf to download a Complimentary Classic Tasting for Two coupon worth $10. 866/287-9819
Ledson Winery & Vineyards: Located in a modern-day castle complete with formal gardens and fountains, Ledson is “like a gothic blast from the past.” Located a few miles east of Santa Rosa on Highway 12, the 16,000 square foot French Normandy winery is just one of those places you need to see to believe (bring a camera): hand-crafted tasting bars, picnic areas shaded by century-old oaks, gourmet deli/market, and a large array of hand-crafted wines for tasting. 707/537-3810
For more information about all the restaurants and wineries mentioned above, log on to VisitSantaRosa.com, where you’ll find dozens of other fun and affordable things to discover and experience in and around Santa Rosa.
And if you have your own tips and recommendations on wine-tasting getaways that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments to our blog below. We’d love to hear from you.