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Romance in California Wine Country
Falling in love amid the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma
Maybe it’s all of the cozy-but-exquisite restaurants, or the quaint B&B’s. Perhaps it’s all the vineyards that invite long, quiet walks. Heck, maybe it’s just all that wine. Whatever the reason, Napa and Sonoma counties—the heart and soul of California’s Wine Country—together comprise a great place to take your sweetheart for a romantic getaway at just about any time of year.
I know because I live there.
For years, our local haunts have delivered us some of the best date nights a couple could want; nights on the town that have been intimate, decadent, unforgettable, and quiet. With two kids at home, we see these jaunts as precious commodities. The getaways don’t only keep our romance sizzling; they also are great ways to relax.
Because we live in Sonoma, we spend most of our time west of the Mayacamas Mountains that separate the two counties. Our favorite local spot: the understated Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant in rural Forestville. When we do “the Farmhouse,” we check into one of the property’s 18 rooms, my wife gets a spa treatment at the on-site spa, and we dine at their Michelin-starred restaurant. Then we spend the rest of the time simply laying low.
For more adventuresome getaways, we bring in grandparents to watch the girls and opt for the Hotel Healdsburg, a modern resort down the road in our hometown of Healdsburg. We use this place as a home away from home; from here, we drive to Dry Creek Valley wineries (try Papapietro Perry) for tastings during the day, then stroll to one of the restaurants on the town plaza (our faves: Scopa and Campo Fina) at night. We end every night of these escapes at the lobby bar, cuddled on a couch in front of a roaring fireplace. It’s hard to get more romantic than that.
As an aside, we also love taking romantic escapes north of Sonoma County, in Mendocino County. Our favorite spot there: the Little River Inn, which has been owned by the same family for the last 75 years. While we adore the standard rooms overlooking the ocean south of Mendocino, we spent our last visit in the private cottage, tucked into the woods. As guests here, we had access to all of the fresh produce in the nearby restaurant garden, which meant a veritable buffet of strawberries and snap peas whenever we craved them.
The Napa Valley, on the eastern side of the Mayacamas, has its share of romantic retreats, too. One of our favorite places to stay: Solage Calistoga, a spa-driven resort where the standard accommodations are modern, standalone one-room cottages. We usually opt for a cottage with a fenced in patio out back; this way we can spend most of the visit lounging around in our robes.
Solage accommodations come with bicycles, and we often use these to pedal down Silverado Trail to wineries in the middle part of the valley. Among our regular stops: Schramsberg, which makes sparkling wine using the same method they use in Champagne, France; and Round Pond Estate, which commands a stunning location beneath towering palm trees. On recent visits, we’ve also found the vibe at Hall Wines to be pretty romantic; the recently renovated tasting room south of downtown St. Helena makes great use of the color red.
Viewfinder Tip: Book mid-week romantic getaways for lower rates and better availability for dinner reservations.
Of course no lovebird weekend in Napa would be complete without some serious meals, and we love dressing up for dinner at étoile Restaurant inside Domaine Chandon. This restaurant overlooks gardens and vineyards, serving up one of the best views in the entire valley. The wine and food are stellar, as well—Chandon is known for its sparkling wines, and chef Perry Hoffman serves up French-inspired cuisine such as duck with fennel and chanterelles or king salmon with pole beans and escabeche.
We have our picks for lower-key dining experiences, too. In downtown Napa, we love the steaks at Cole’s Chop House. In St. Helena, we love the downstairs pub (and the bourbon drinks) at Goose & Gander. We even have been known to get burgers and fries from the Gott’s Roadside drive-in and bring them back to our hotel to down with a hearty cabernet.
This is perhaps the most important secret we’ve discovered about romantic weekends in Napa and Sonoma counties over the years: So long as you’ve got grown-up time, good wine, great food, and stellar views, you pretty much can’t go wrong.
What sorts of activities do you like to incorporate into a romantic getaway?
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