Culture / Travel

Wine Country’s Underrated Charmer of a Northern California Town — Your Guide to Healdsburg’s Wine and Food Marvels

All the Pleasures of Napa Without the Hype

BY // 02.09.22

After honing what I thought was a decent knowledge base for an aspiring 30-year-old wine aficionado, a trip to Healdsburg, California, a picturesque town in the heart of the Sonoma Valley, taught me what I never even realized I needed.

I arrived on a cold rainy December day to a warm welcome. Picture a charming central plaza with windows of cheerful shops and inviting tasting rooms beckoning you to come in.

Hotel Healdsburg, a boutique hotel with a modern yet California cool aesthetic, brings a tone of laid-back luxury to a still relatively unknown enclave in Northern California’s wine country. Healdsburg is a hidden gem of town in every respect, bringing the perks of Napa without the hype. The low-key haven is gaining a regular following of repeat visitors who fall in the love with the less discovered, northwest side of the mountains in wine country.

With five Michelin starred restaurants in Healdsburg alone and many James Beard nods, the region is certainly not light on food and wine power. Pairing the wines of the region with fresh local food is a Healdsburg obsession.

While most think of pinot noir when it comes to Sonoma, the area’s winemakers speak passionately of the creativity the land lends to their craft. The structure of the terroir gives way to many different varietals. The town of Healdsburg is all about celebrating the best of what the land has to offer.

Once I settled into my spacious room at Hotel Healdsburg, I was off to a Williamson Wines for a wine paired lunch. Winery founders Dawn and Bill Williamson invite their wine club members to regular tasting lunches with cheeses, spices and chef driven dishes that highlight the wonders of their wines. Locals and visitors chat casually over the thoughtfully crested courses and a wide range of wines, all harvested in Sonoma with passion from the family-led Williamson team.

Soon, it was time for more wine at Marine Layer, just down the block. Focusing on coastal wines, Marine Layer brings a contemporary space, where wine loves can snack on deliciously complex and brightly colored vegan dishes. I was once again schooled on how even a simple vegetable can elevate the wine experience. Marine Layer’s new tasting room has been only open for a few months — and it is already bolstering the cool factor of Healdsburg’s town square.

I capped off my first evening in Healdsburg with a five course dinner at Hotel Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Kitchen where famed Chef Charlie Palmer and his team (the chef splits his time between Healdsburg and New York) brings sophisticated dishes to the laid-back town in a unostentatious manner.

After being indecisive on my food choices, the Dry Creek Kitchen chefs stepped in and put together a five course meal paired with wines, no choosing required. The next level local flavors more than satisfied. So did the anything but pretentious service.

Healdsburg’s Wine Art Land

My first full day in Healdsburg brought an unexpected combination — a wine tasting room/fine art gallery. The unique Harris Gallery is owned by an adorable father and son duo who are not only talented artists but also wine merchants.

The artist A3L3XZAND3R and his father M.C. Harris, also an artist, transformed a historic building in the heart of Healdsburg into a space that brings wine tasting and viewing visual art together in a dance of the senses. The father and son team tapped notable winemaker Wells Guthrie to help develop their wine, all with labels adorned with their signature fine art.

I spent the rest of the day with Linda, a darling local who guides excursions for Wine Country Walking Tours. We wandered from tasting room to tasting room, enjoying bites from nearby restaurants. Which basically meant Linda led me from friend of hers to friend of hers, each one eager to share their wine and food.

“Its the kind of town you can wrap your arms around,” Linda says of Healdsburg, her hometown. It’s certainly a town where you can eat well.

Take The Matheson, a buzzy new restaurant in another renovated historic building. The Matheson brings three stories of dining space, including an epic patio overlooking the square that’s ideal for sipping wine in the sun.

The Matheson – Dustin Valette – Final Selects – m.woolsey 2021-5
Healdsburg’s newest restaurant, The Matheson, is a town hotspot.

Ending the night at Jordan Winery provided a perfect cap to my Healdsburg getaway. The dedicated family behind the Jordan Winery come across as humble and welcoming despite their widely known and award winning chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. It is surprising to realize that this is a true family operation when you consider how prevalent Jordan wine is on many wine lists and stores throughout the country.

The Jordan Estate is as impressive as the wine. The 1200 acres of vineyards are centered around a 50-year-old French Bordeaux inspired estate built by John Jordan’s parents, who set out to create California wine that rivals the standards of the storied French sommeliers. Their bold endeavor helped put California wine on the map.

The Estate house boasts three stylishly remodeled suites for loyal wine members to stay in. Only a wine tasting could pull you away from the roomy suite’s roaring fireplace, plush king bed and soaking tub. Or maybe another good meal.

Jordan’s in-house culinary team farms all the produce they use on the land. In addition to growing ingredients for their dishes, the team set up butterfly, hummingbird and bee sanctuaries to support the local ecosystem.

Jordan Estate Garden Healdsburg_33
In Healdsburg, food and wine are revered.

Of courses, you’ll also want to check out the new Montage Healdsburg resort, which is almost a complete wine world of its own. (Read PaperCity‘s full story on Montage here.)

You’re in Healdsburg, a different side of Sonoma County, where it’s easy to fall in love with the food and wine. And much more.

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