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Christmas week in Sonoma, need restaurant and winery recs!

Husband and I have done plenty of trips to Napa, but never Sonoma. We are staying at the Fairmont in Sonoma and will have dinner one night at Sante. Other than that we have no idea where to go for wine or food. We will be golfing Thursday morning, so we will have Tuesday (Christmas Eve), Wednesday (Christmas Day), Thursday afternoon and Friday wide open for exploring wineries.

Might be good to schedule a hike for Christmas day as I'm sure not a lot will be open.

We enjoy most wines, anything from crisp whites to Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabs and Zinfandel (Cabs are a favorite). We would prefer not to venture into Napa this visit. That being said, we will have a car and can travel throughout Sonoma County for great recommendations.

I’ve done a bit of research on the boards and these wineries seem to keep popping up:

Bartholomew Park (hiking trail?)
Gundlach Bundschu

Kenwood (20 min):
Chateau St. Jean

Santa Rosa (40 min):
St. Francis

Healdsburg (I realize this is about an hour from where we are staying):

Food-wise we love French, Italian, Mexican, Tapas; do not like sushi. Not too worried about breakfast as we will probably eat at the hotel before we hit the road each day. Lunches will be on the go in between wine tastings. We have a reservation at Sante for Thursday and will do the Chef’s Tasting Menu. Other than Sante, we will probably try to eat on the lighter side, i.e. not a large tasting menu and are fine with more casual restaurants.

Have heard good things about:

Willi’s Wine Bar (Santa Rosa)
El Molino Central
The Girl and the Fig
La Salette
Café La Haye

Please tell me if there are any "musts" or "skips" on the list and feel free to add other suggestions.

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    1. re: macsak

      Looks delish, thanks! Adding it to the list.

    2. Good call to schedule a hike for Christmas Day as I can't think of any wineries that will be open. There is a very nice trail behind Bartholomew Park, but it might be too short.

      La Salette is top of my list of must-eats in Sonoma.

      1 Reply
      1. re: CarrieWas218

        I think we will try Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, weather permitting.

      2. I'd focus on Glen Ellen for wineries and Sonoma Mountain: Laurel Glen, and Pangloss. Up the road, and to the west: Matanzas Creek.

        I love Cafe Citti in Kenwood, which we did on a visit to Matanzas Creek. Love the roast chicken, duck and especially the potato salad.

        Listen to Carrie: She has a wonderful palate.

        1 Reply
        1. re: maria lorraine

          Cafe Citti is one of those places that, while obviously on the tourist trail, are frequented often by locals because the food is so good and the prices so reasonable. I also love the ambiance, very wine-country unpretentious casual. It's on my must-do list for taking visitors. As are Fremont Diner and El Molino Central (which I describe as the Mexican version of Fremont Diner).

        2. If you're going to Healdsburg, you should definitely stay to eat! I was just there last weekend for my birthday and had a fantastic time based on the Chowhound recs I researched before.

          Healdsburg eats:
          - Barn Diva has fantastic Californian "modern country" cuisine and a nice atmosphere. I came for brunch, but would come back for dinner as well!
          - Mateo's Cocina Latina was a great variation from typical Mexican fare in CA. Fresh ingredients, the chef was amazingly friendly and came to tell us what inspired his dishes. Again, was here for brunch, but would try it for dinner as well.
          - Bravas bar de Tapas is a Spanish tapas place with a great patio and wonderful dishes to share. We came for dinner and they had communal paella being cooked in a giant pan in the courtyard which was fun to watch.

          Healdsburg tasting:
          - Thumbprint Cellar has been a favorite of mine for years. They also have a wine and cheese/charcuterie pairing on the menu.

          Calistoga was a pretty 25m drive east from Healdsburg on a small country road. Over there we enjoyed the most beautiful estate at Chateau Montelena - seriously gorgeous grounds as well as the chateau itself. The staff was really friendly and laid back, which was nice to see, despite being so close to Napa. We bought a bottle and hung out on the lake and pagoda :)

          3 Replies
          1. re: bobabear

            i second Bravas, had our second exellent meal their today. skip Willie's, as for me their food has gone downhill. Bravas is owned by the same people. lovely space, esp. that patio, wonderful tapas, great cocktails.

            our newest favorite wine tasting room is Banshee, right around the corner from Bravas. excellent syrah, decent pinots, and i even liked their chards. but the room is great and inviting, with lounging areas and a long communal table.

            1. re: bobabear

              Thanks for the recommendations! We are spending Friday in Healdsburg and dining at Mateo's for lunch and Bravas for dinner :)

              1. re: Im4Wine

                just had another very enjoyable lunch for 11 at Bravas. hoping you'll love it!

            2. One other don't miss meal is at Glen Ellen Star.

              1. The new Kenwood is at the top of my list the next time I'm up there.


                1. I've heard good things about Harvest Moon in Sonoma lately
                  Would also suggest Loxton for Syrah and some of the smaller wineries around Sonoma

                  Definitely recommend Glen Ellen Star and also advance reservations there - it's small

                  VJB Winery is great for a coffee or a lunch snack

                  1. Not fancy in the least, but I often drive from my home in Berkeley all the way to Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar on Montgomery Drive near 3rd St in Santa Rosa. Their pizzas and antipasti are THAT GOOD, and there are some daily non-pizza specials as well. Good wine selection.

                    1. Head into Petaluma for dinner at Risi Bisi. They have a great Xmas Eve menu and keep getting Michelin recommends. The atmosphere is really cute and cozy; service is good; excellent wine list; outstanding food. And you can wear jeans, even on Xmas Eve. My personal favorites are lamb and wild boar dishes, but save room for dessert as well. Take a stroll down Petaluma Blvd., quaint western town that eschews chains and check out the boutiques, antique stores, and galleries.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: judeamorris

                        The Risbisi website ( http://risibisirestaurant.com ) gave me "This Account Has Been Suspended". Have they closed?

                        1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                          Yelp reviews still going as of 4 days ago. If they had closed, it would have been reported in the local paper.

                          1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                            Their Facebook page looks like it's still active; give 'em a call.

                          2. re: judeamorris

                            You think Petaluma is a quaint western town? Petaluma is a wealthy suburban bedroom community of the Bay Area.

                            1. re: MamasCooking

                              Petaluma may be fairly wealthy, but it is definitely a quaint western town and NOT a suburban bedroom community. Rohnert Park is a suburban bedroom community. Petaluma has a history as a city -- been here since the mid-1800s, long before the Golden Gate Bridge and easy access to SF. It is filled with Victorian homes, not mid-century modern tract housing. It has a lengthy main street with boutiques, galleries, and numerous antique stores (most of these occupying buildings from the 19th century), and eschews chain businesses or restaurants. It has a museum that celebrates its history as a small and diverse city -- it was settled by Italians, Germans, and Russian Jews; and it has a huge yearly celebration, Butter and Egg Days, of its agricultural history in the dairy farming and poultry industries. Bedroom communities are suburbs created to house commuters who work in the city. Petalumans have traditionally worked here in Petaluma or on its outskirts and take pride in maintaining a history OUTSIDE the suburban sameness of Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, or Novato.

                              1. re: judeamorris

                                didn't George Lucas shoot American Grafitti in Petaluma?
                                My apology for the thread drift...merry Christmas.

                                1. re: pinotho

                                  Yes, and we celebrate classic cars every year as well as butter and eggs. As we who live here in Petaluma say, "Keep Petaluma Egg-centric!"

                                2. re: judeamorris

                                  Adding a P.S. to my correction on the misunderstanding about Petaluma's being a quaint western city. I've added a photo of downtown.

                                  1. re: judeamorris


                                    This is a book I absolutely love. I grew up in Petaluma. My family moved there in the mid 1950's from San Rafael/Marin county.(my father worked in Marin). Living in Marin or the Bay Area was cost prohibitive for a family of 6 so we moved to the bedroom community of Petaluma. I grew up on the west side and went to west side schools. When I lived in Petaluma it was known as a bedroom community because the majority of residents commuted on 101 to Marin or the Bay Area for the jobs and wages that just did not exist in Petaluma. And FYI east Petaluma is filled with tract housing. East Petaluma was always mocked avoided and considered *the wrong side of the tracks* when I was growing up there:) (so petty huh). I am not going to name my street on Chow but it is one street west of the *main drag* and there are lots of little hills in the neighborhood where I grew up. Think West St. Cherry St.....Martha St. ( Martha is a few blocks south near the park). I hope you can click on that link......this book is full of photographs of the D street homes.....old churches......businesses etc. Maybe your generation in Petaluma has been fortunate enough to find employment locally to sustain the expense of living in that perfect little town but back in the day (probably long before you were born) people commuted to the high paying Bay Area for their jobs.

                              2. The recommendations are all great, but with three or four free days you can probably occupy yourself in one area for the whole trip (or make one day trip to Healdsburg). The drive from Sonoma to Healdsburg can be scenic but you could probably eat two meals and visit three wineries tops after accounting for the drive. Safari West is also a fun little non-food activity.

                                I like Gundlach and Bartholomew, Buena Vista is also pretty.

                                I generally stop at Fremont Diner and tour around Carneros area when I have guests. Artesa, Hess, maybe the DiRosa Tour


                                Toward Santa Rosa I like to hike at the Jack London State Park -wild turkeys and the ruins of Wolf House + a neat little Jack London Museum. Near there, you have some terrific Glen Ellen and Kenwood Wineries including Chateau St. Jean and Benzinger. Mayo Family also does a wine/food pairing by appointment.

                                1. I forgot to mention that my favorite place for olive oil in Sonoma is the Jacuzzi Winery. Wine tasting on one side of the building and olive oil tasting on the other. The olive oil is amazing, and my family from Pittsburgh, PA and Minneapolis always want to go and stick up when they visit.

                                  1. Merry Edwards in Sebastopol has an excellent, intimate tasting room, knowledgeable staff, very good pinot noirs.