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Jul 17, 2014 02:19 PM

Wine country central location

We are looking for a vacation rental in the wine country for the winter holiday season, and are trying to figure out which areas are centrally located for food. A few years ago we were in Healdsburg, and unless we were eating in Healdsburg, everything else seemed like an hour away. I am not so familiar with the restaurants up in this region, and their concentration and locations. Does anyone have any suggestions on a more central location for a home base? 80% of our outings are food related, so it makes sense for us to pick a location based on proximity to the most good restaurants. Thanks!

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  1. Do you mean for both Napa and Sonoma? Because the only place I think of that's relatively centrally located for both is the town of Sonoma (which is a fairly quick and easy trip through Carneros to the Napa Valley).

    2 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Yes, access to both Napa and Sonoma would be nice. Napa rentals are much more expensive so somewhere on the Sonoma side with easy access to Napa is preferable. Thank you for the Sonoma town suggestion! It's also close to SF which gives us access to a dinner in the city if that's what the family wants to do.

      1. re: felice

        Keep checking the Napa Rentals that are on Craigslist, airbnb, etc. Many people own homes they vacation in infrequently.

        I find Carneros to be mainly highway, with little walking or a neighborhood-kind of feel.

        I do love Sebastopol and Healdsburg also. Sebastopol has loads of good restaurants and the food scene is really kicking up. (Check out the Barlow, the new pizza place coming in, and all sorts of other options on the Press-Democrat website -- don't see it covered on Chowhound much. It's such a sweet town also. Close to wineries, Russian River, and the Pacific Ocean (Bodega Bay, Jenner, Goat Rock, etc). Might be ideal.

        I'd say the Healdsburg restaurant scene is thriving. My sense is that a great deal has changed since you were last there. Since it is so charming, perhaps re-consider it. It has so many dining options: Gourmet French, Californian, Cal-Ital, American, Mexican, and on and on.

    2. I'm a fan of Sebastopol, not too far South of Healdsburg, lots of great wineries in the area, the new Barlow Complex outside town with good foodstuff, close to Wildflour Bakery, Freestone cheese, etc., close to Petaluma – Della Fattoria, etc., not too far from SF. I suppose it depends where you want to mainly spend your time. The town of Sonoma is pretty far from Healdsburg but a little closer to Napa.

      5 Replies
      1. re: sunnyside

        I agree, but it sounds like she was more interested in restaurants. On the other hand, staying in the Sebastopol area also opens up possibilities for heading out to Bolinas, Pt. Reyes Station, etc.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          The family likes food but they are not really foodies. I have no problem driving an hour to dinner, but they are less likely to want to do that. I thought getting us closer to more restaurants would be a good solution.

          Since we dined in Healdsburg extensively last time, access and proximity to Healdsburg restaurants isn't necessary this time around.

          1. re: felice

            If you're in a vacation rental, though, you can spend the day foraging and eat at home. I rented a place up in Russian River for a week. My friend said "we should talk about what food we need to bring" and I said "you don't take food to Sonoma County -- that's where the food comes from!" He got totally hooked on Wild Flour -- we went there three times!

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Foraging and cooking at home/rental would be ideal for my friends as well. But this is family, and I don't get to pick their cooking and eating styles. We have one person allergic to shellfish and also someone who avoids gluten. Plus cooking for a group of 10 non-foodies is a pretty thankless task. Last time we brought three ducks from Chinatown, a few lbs of char sui pork, 20 lbs of rice and a rice cooker, and ate out for all the rest of our meals. The group stopped at Safeway to buy cereal, milk, etc. We spend our days in the house doing puzzles, playing games, etc., and then leave the house to eat.

            2. re: felice

              Much as I love Sebastopol's restaurants, I do think it sounds like your family might enjoy Sonoma Square/city of Sonoma a lot more. There's sufficient restaurants and things to do, and very easy access to (city of) Napa. The downtown Napa restaurants aren't as good as St. Helena/Yountville, but your family would enjoy Oxbow Market and there's some decent wine-tasting rooms and casual restaurants downtown that make the 25 min. drive worthwhile.

              Depending on that nasty Hwy 101 construction project they're doing around Petaluma, if you are thinking of going into SF you should make a point to check on-line or call, both directions. We have seen some terrific traffic jams well outside normal commute hours in this area due to lane closures by CalTrans.

        2. If you're thinking Napa Valley, then Yountville. Loads of restaurants and a very sweet walkable town. Close to wineries, museum, etc.

          St. Helena also. Thriving restaurant scene, and a very charming town. Good grocery stores, walking, shopping, the cutest movie theatre, etc.

          1. Sonoma and Napa wine country is a big place. Healdsburg is at the north-west tip of the geography, so yes, if you're trying to see the whole region, you should expect to be driving a lot. If you're serious about being in a central spot, well, that would be the City of Santa Rosa. From there you can reach most destinations in 30 minutes. But you'd be in an urban environment for the most part and not in the country.

            A few weeks ago I introduced a couple wine friends who have just broken ground to build a residence in Forestville to some long time residents of that community. They had a long and humorous dialog about Forestville being Point Zero for Sonoma County, referring to the marker near Notre Dame in Paris which is the cultural and geographic center of the city. I can't disagree.

            18 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I think I have my answer - Santa Rosa. Being in the country isn't important to us, the family just wants good weather and a place big enough for everyone (which ruled out our place in Oakland). They will have a great time at any wineries or tasting rooms nearby.

              1. re: felice

                This cracks me up. My response to you was a bit tongue in cheek, though rest assured that it is indeed true that Santa Rosa is the geographic center. It's not a place that many would pick for tourism. Usually I would tell visitors to pick a side - Napa or Sonoma - as a base, suggesting Healdsburg, Sebastopol, Glen Ellen, or St. Helena. That said, Santa Rosa offers a lot for visitors and it's a fine choice if you can't commit to just one side of the mountain range for the majority of your touring.

                Not huge at 170K population, Santa Rosa is the commercial center of the area and well-served by retailers with TWO Macy's (crazy!), 2 Trader Joe's, 2 Whole Foods, and 5 Safeways (for your family). The local grocery store you'll want to check out is Oliver's, which has two locations in SR with a great cheese counter both in selection and service. Very good Thai markets too (ask SteveG) and Mexican supermercados. SR has year-round farmers markets. And it has many good cafes, bakeries, and restaurants, such as Spinster Sisters and Pullman Kitchen, that don't get hyped as much.

                I'll bet you can get a big AND modern house rental for a lot less in Santa Rosa. Celery had a family reunion based in Santa Rosa and might have some ideas.

                Here's a piece on some of Santa Rosa's charms.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Hey Melanie, would you happen to know how the Bottle Barn on Industrial Dr. is for selection and prices for Sonoma County wines?

                  1. re: PolarBear

                    It's been a couple years since I've actually browsed Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa in person but I imagine that this long time biz has changed little. Discounts and good selection of wines from all over. Quality of staff assistance has been variable over the years . . . if you need more help, ask for Ben, the manager/wine buyer.

                    1. re: PolarBear

                      I'm not Melanie but I go to Bottle Barn every chance I get. They have a big selection of Sonoma County wines, I think that is their emphasis. Additionally, they carry a good selection of French, some Spanish & some Italian wines. A friend/tenant has a slight connection to the French wine buyer at BB and pays my rent in French wine. I've enjoyed some wonderful bottles. Compared to K&L, etc., they have the best prices.

                    2. re: Melanie Wong

                      We expect to host Christmas every 2-3 years and it's the only time each year we all get together, so spending time together is a higher priority than touring. The age range is huge, with 3 teen/college age kids that don't drink wine and grandparents in their 70s that don't drink much wine either. Add a 5 month old baby to the mix, and lengthy excursions or drives become even more difficult.

                      Back in 2011 we hit up a huge range of restaurants, including El Molino, Mateo's, Ad Hoc, Meadowood, R&G Lounge, Yank Sing, and Solbar. Driving an hour each way in 2-3 cars most nights for a two hour dinner was a drag. And after carefully selecting a few quality wineries and making reservations to their tasting rooms, it turned out everyone had more fun finding whatever tasting room they happened to stumble upon. Paying a premium for a vacation rental in Healdsburg wasn't necessarily worth it either.

                      30 minutes to anywhere, a hot tub, a few decks of cards, a 5000 piece puzzle, and a ping pong table are all we need. Definitely not the ideal getaway for most folks on this board, but it really does fit the bill for the family. Thank you for the additional info on Santa Rosa, I am looking forward to the farmers market and other small culinary pleasures that Santa Rosa has to offer.

                      1. re: felice

                        Really, Santa Rosa? Really?

                        Are you familiar with Santa Rosa, felice? I'd never recommend it in a million years with so many other better options with your requirements.

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          I have been to Santa Rosa maybe twice, driven past it many times. It was actually our second choice behind Healdsburg back in 2011, although I didn't know that SR is so centrally located. We picked the quainter more expensive option back then, thinking all the same things you and others on this thread have been thinking, and found that Healdsburg was not well suited to our needs. It was fine, but no one seemed to appreciate that we were in Healdsburg. The same way that no one cared whether we we visited Rafanelli vs V. Sattui.

                          So, the primary differentiator between locations is driving distance, and the secondary differentiator is probably price. Hence Santa Rosa.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            I've been admiring your expertise on several different threads regarding wine. Do you have any recommendations for a winery offering a fantastic affordable Napa cab ($40-50 range) that we can visit during our Oct. trip? We're hoping to find somewhere comparable to Sonoma's Haffner that we discovered during our last trip to the region - small, relatively inexpensive, relatively unknown, but fantastic.


                            1. re: usuallyhungry

                              I'd appreciate it if you would start a new thread on this, rather than piggybacking onto this one. That way, you'll get a lot more responses and ideas. Thanks.

                          2. re: felice

                            Santa Rosa is close to a lot of places, but it also has a lot of traffic, so getting in and out might not be as fast as you imagine. I generally try to detour around the city when staying in the general area.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              I agree. It's a difficult city to navigate (I'm there weekly), and other cities are more centrally located, and also better for farmers markets, restaurants, kids' activities and so forth.

                            2. re: felice

                              The five-month-old infant alluded to in this post came into the world yesterday. A healthy baby girl. Congratulations to the new parents!

                          3. re: felice

                            Good weather? Are they coming from Minnesota?

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Colorado and New Jersey. We will need at least a five bedroom rental, so we will likely end up in the outskirts of Santa Rosa rather than downtown.

                              1. re: felice

                                Sorry, I respectfully disagree with others here. Having lived in all these places, Santa Rosa is the most centrally located for everyday life...more traffic, but more recreational, shopping, eating opportunities.

                                You're likely to be here in rainy season and driving can be difficult no matter where you are. You'll spend less time in cars if you're in SR, because you're closer to many basics.

                                If I had to choose a region in SR, I'd choose NE - with 101 being the E-W divide and 12 being the N-S divide.

                                It's more scenic and spacious and has access to both town and wine country (which is mostly to the east if you're going up 12 through Valley of the Moon). It probably has the biggest houses, but uncertain of availability of vacation rentals.

                                There are many vacation rentals in Kenwood-Glen Ellen area, because many homes are second homes whose owners visit only occasionally. Santa Rosa has far more year-round residents.

                                Good luck!

                          4. re: Melanie Wong

                            Forestville might be geographically at the center of the county, but it's on the edge of the wine country.


                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              I'll mention that the unincorporated town of Forestville is a bit to the east of where its name appears on that map. More like where the "T" in Hartford is depicted. The border between Forestville and Santa Rosa is Laguna Road, where Joseph Swan is located. Swan is on the west side of the street in Forestville; it's neighbors across the street are in Santa Rosa. Swan's residence was the Trenton township post office. I was told that at the time that Joe Swan acquired the property, he was given the choice of using a Santa Rosa, Forestville or Sebastopol address and he chose Forestville.

                          5. Santa Rosa is indeed central, and while not particularly scenic in the St. Helena/Yountville sort of ways, has a number of things going for it: Matos Cheese Factory, Bottle Barn (great selection of wines),various taquerias and ethnic markets and the restaurants Melanie mentioned. The traffic on 101 has gotten marginally better in the past year with the widening of 101. There is a diversity in neighborhoods (McDonald Avenue for older homes, Montecito Heights and Fountaingrove for views, the area behind Howarth Park for wide open spaces). The town is divided into quadrants--bisected by Hwys 101 and 12. Northeast, I think, has the most amenities (Oliver's, 2 Safeways, Pacific Market, Village Bakery (reserve a Kringle for Christmas), a Whole Foods nearby.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Jan17

                              There's also Willie Bird restaurant, serving their famous turkeys. Kinda divey but great turkey, like someone's mom cooked it.