Sonoma’s quin­tes­sen­tial wine coun­try town

Travel Guide to California - - HEALDSBURG - BY MARCY GOR­DON

DAT­ING FROM 1857, the cen­ter­piece and defin­ing fea­ture of Healds­burg is its beloved his­toric plaza de­signed by Har­mon Heald. Com­plete with cop­per-topped gazebo and shaded by tow­er­ing red­woods and date palms, the plaza is grand in scale but has an in­ti­mate, ac­ces­si­ble feel. Pos­si­bly the liveli­est plaza in Sonoma wine coun­try, it was re­cently voted one of “Amer­ica’s Most Beau­ti­ful Town Squares” and Healds­burg was ranked among the best small towns to visit in 2014.

The plaza plays host to nu­mer­ous events in­clud­ing the An­tique Fair in May and the pop­u­lar Beer and Sausage Fes­ti­val in Septem­ber. The highly re­garded Healds­burg Jazz Fes­ti­val held in early June takes place in var­i­ous venues and lo­ca­tions around the town. Through­out the sum­mer months, on Tues­day evenings, the plaza trans­forms into an out­door com­mu­nity liv­ing room where lo­cals and vis­i­tors gather for a free concert se­ries.

From the plaza it’s a leisurely stroll to the many wine tast­ing rooms, ar­ti­san bak­eries, cof­fee spots, cheese shops, art gal­leries, book­shops and bou­tiques of­fer­ing cloth­ing, house wares and in­spired one-ofa-kind gifts. Or ven­ture a few blocks off Cen­ter Street to see scores of col­or­ful, well­p­re­served his­toric homes, many in use as B&BS. Sur­rounded by vine­yards, and lo­cated just 70 miles north of San Fran­cisco off High­way 101, Healds­burg is the ideal home base from which to ex­plore the world-renowned wine ap­pel­la­tions of Alexan­der Val­ley, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Val­ley and Rus­sian River Val­ley. Wine, of course, is a main fo­cus of the town, with more than 35 tast­ing rooms and winer­ies within walk­ing dis­tance of its cen­ter.

Din­ing op­tions are plen­ti­ful, from ca­sual cafés to elite restau­rants cre­at­ing sub­lime sea­sonal fare in­cor­po­rat­ing the bounty of lo­cally sourced in­gre­di­ents and show­cas­ing re­gional wines. Al­though most fa­mous for its wine, Healds­burg also has a lively craft beer scene and in­spired ci­der­mak­ing.

Be­yond the city cen­ter, the Rus­sian River and peace­ful stands of an­cient red­woods are the fo­cal point for hik­ing and ca­noe­ing, and the mostly flat back roads that wind through the vine­yard val­leys make the area a world-class bi­cy­cling des­ti­na­tion.

So­phis­ti­cated, yet rus­tic, Healds­burg, with its agrar­ian roots, de­liv­ers small town charm and a wine coun­try life­style that’s both laid-back and lux­u­ri­ous.

SUN­SET IN A HEALDS­BURG VINE­YARD, above; Healds­burg’s plaza, be­low.

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