7 fantastic things to do in Healdsburg, California during the winter
People from all over the world flock to Healdsburg during the summer holidays and for the fall harvest. But once the harvest is over and temperatures drop, visitor numbers decline, making winter a great time of year to visit this charming, historic town in Sonoma County, California. Fortunately, winter in this city means daytime temperatures that rarely drop below 60 degrees.
Located along the Russian River, the wine town of Healdsburg sits at the junction of three appellations: Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley. As a result, it is full of tasting rooms serving world-class wines. And when you’re done with the wine tasting – or if you’re not drinking wine – there are plenty of other things to do in the area.
1. Relax at Bacchus Landing
Sonoma County is home to several of California’s largest wineries producing wines sold around the world. But it is also the epicenter of small family-owned wineries eager to share both their wines and their stories. Bacchus Landing was created as a common space to bring together wine lovers and charming wineries. Six wine tasting rooms, each with their own stylish indoor / outdoor space, surround a spacious plaza dotted with seating areas. To complete the experience, a pétanque court and a market selling food and non-alcoholic drinks.
The Lopez family is at the origin of this unique company. As owners of a small cellar, they understood the challenge of operating a tasting room in a convenient location for visitors. So they developed Bacchus Landing on the outskirts of Healdsburg to make access to small producers easy and fun. Wineries include Aldina Vineyards, AldenAlli, 13th & Third Wines, Roller Coaster, Dot Wines, and Smith Story Wine Cellars. Each winery offers its own tasting menu and visitors can choose to try all or part of it that interests them. If you need a break between tastings, grab a chair and soak up the Californian sun. The whole establishment also accepts animals.
2. Drink more wine
With 425 wineries in Sonoma County – many with tasting rooms in Healdsburg – you’ll never run out of wines to taste on your visit. Around the historic town square are two dozen tasting rooms representing Sonoma’s most famous wineries. Taste, stroll, repeat. When you’re hungry, head to one of the many restaurants, bakeries, and cafes.
Or, step out into the countryside and take in views of rolling vineyards and massive oaks. First, head to the historic Medlock Ames tasting room. Highly renowned for its organic farming practices, Medlock Ames produces rosé, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon. Next, visit Landmark Vineyards at Hop Kiln Estate producing excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Pro tip: Hopefully the wine tasting translates into the purchase of bottles or even cases of wine. If you’ve landed in the area, check with your airline for shipping options. Alaska Airlines will transport your wine to your home for free if you are traveling to any of the 32 West Coast airports.
3. Eat the food
Where there is good wine, there is also excellent cuisine. And in Healdsburg there are a ridiculous number of great restaurants offering cuisines from all over the world.
For the authentic flavors of Spain, try the Bravas Bar De Tapas, named by Travel + Leisure as one of the top 20 tapas restaurants in the United States. Nibble on a variety of small plates including Spanish meats and cheeses, or order a pan of paella. Accompany your meal with a selection of wines, cocktails and sangrias.
Seafood lovers will definitely want to make reservations at Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar. Choose from a wide array of fish and seafood dishes, including oysters on the half-shell, squid, octopus tacos, and caramelized butterfish. Accompany your meal with local wine or beer.
For flavors from the south of the border, head to Guiso Latin Fusion, named one of the top 100 restaurants in 2019 by OpenTable. Led by chef Carlos Mojica, the menu features dishes inspired by Mexico, Spain, Cuba and even Thailand. The wine list includes selections from local wineries.
For a quick meal or picnic, try Oakville Grocers which sells gourmet sandwiches, wood-fired pizzas, fresh baked goods, and local wines and cheeses.
Pro tip: If you visit in winter, temperatures can drop in the evening. Fortunately, most restaurants in Healdsburg offer the option of indoor dining or heated outdoor patios. Also, due to the popularity of restaurants in Healdsburg, be sure to book in advance.
4. Buy until you drop
In addition to numerous wine tasting rooms, dozens of upscale boutiques surround the town square of Healdsburg. If you are here before the holidays this is a great place to do some gift shopping. Otherwise, take the opportunity to browse these pretty shops.
Try starting at Copperfield’s Books, an independent bookseller with a wide selection of books, magazines, greeting cards and gifts. It also offers a full range of author events, so be sure to check out its website.
Nearby, Forager sells one-of-a-kind home decor items, such as steak knives with rosewood handles, vintage paintings and sketches, and hand-turned wooden bowls. This is a great stopover if you are looking for a truly unique gift.
If vintage shopping is more your speed, head to Antique Harvest, Healdsburg’s oldest merchant. Inside you’ll find a large collection of vintage cameras, typewriters and records, as well as exquisite glassware.
5. Learn more about the history of the region
It’s easy to focus solely on food and wine in Healdsburg, but it’s an area rich in history, starting with the Native Americans and continuing to the present day. Fortunately, the Healdsburg Museum & Historical Society, housed in the city’s former public library, is dedicated to sharing the history and art of the area with visitors of all ages.
Exhibits include artifacts from the Native American Pomo and Wappo tribes, ancient weaponry and tools, and paintings and photographs by local artists. Entrance to the museum is always free. The museum organizes monthly events that complement the current exhibitions.
6. Browse the vines
While Healdsburg is definitely a place to relax, it can also be an active destination. Instead of driving through vineyards to your favorite tasting room, why not experience it by bike.
Bring your own bike or rent one from Wine Country Bikes and hit the open roads. The options range from moderate to difficult and can last a few hours or several days. Detailed maps are available on its website. Make it easy for yourself and opt for an electric bike. Or if you prefer professional help, book a guided tour that includes a gourmet picnic.
7. Admire the art
Despite its small size, Healdsburg is a powerhouse when it comes to art. In a city of just 11,000 inhabitants, there are two dozen galleries featuring paintings, photographs and sculptures.
The largest gallery is Paul Mahder‘s, housed in a 1940s Quonset hut. With over 8,500 square feet of space, this gallery displays works by national and international artists in a museum-like setting. And since it’s wine country, you can sample your favorite Grapeseed varietals while browsing.
Located in the historic Bank of Italy building, the Stafford Gallery showcases international artists working in a wide range of materials, including bronze and burl sculptures, as well as oil paintings, large photographs format and handmade jewelry.
The Healdsburg Center for the Arts is a non-profit community organization that presents several shows per year featuring local artists. Among its most popular shows is the Young Artist Exhibition featuring more than 400 young people from the region.
Where to stay in Healdsburg
Fans of luxury accommodation will be in for a treat at Healdsburg. There are a plethora of boutique hotels ready to pamper their guests with wine tastings, in-room fireplaces, great linens, curated experiences and much more.
Farmhouse Inn, located in nearby Forestville, offers large rooms with four poster beds, indoor and outdoor seating areas, large soaking tubs, heated bathroom floors, and evening wine tastings. There is also a Michelin starred restaurant on site. This is the type of accommodation where you will want to relax and savor all the amenities.
Located in Healdsburg Square, the Healdsburg Hotel offers oversized bathrooms and original artwork in every room, along with free breakfast and a free snack bar. From the hotel, it is easy to walk to most of the city’s shops, restaurants and tasting rooms.
For something a little more budget-friendly, the Hotel Trio – a Marriott property – is one mile from the square and offers spacious rooms, a welcome bottle of wine, and a full breakfast each day. It also offers a shuttle to town throughout the day.
There is never a bad time to visit Healdsburg. This small town is full of great food, wine and shops all year round. But a visit in winter will result in slightly lower prices and smaller crowds. It is an excellent season for holiday shopping, to enjoy the festive decorations and to appreciate the serenity of the landscapes.
There are a variety of wine experiences and activities in Sonoma County: