Sonoma’s so­phis­ti­cated, re­laxed, wine coun­try town

Travel Guide to California - - CONTENTS - 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. One of the liveli­est plazas in Sonoma wine coun­try, it re­tains the charm of a small com­mu­nity, sur­rounded by a vi­brant and di­verse re­tail scene.

The plaza plays host to numer­ous events in­clud­ing the highly re­garded Healds­burg Jazz Fes­ti­val, cel­e­brat­ing its 20th an­niver­sary this year. Held in early June, it takes place in var­i­ous venues and lo­ca­tions around town. On Tues­day evenings through­out the sum­mer months, the plaza trans­forms into an out­door com­mu­nity liv­ing room where lo­cals and vis­i­tors gather for a free con­cert se­ries. The sum­mer also of­fers Art Af­ter Dark on the last Fri­day of each month.

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 30 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.

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