Three stays, two spas, and one very big storm.
“Take the curves extra slow, and when you come up on a puddle, take your foot off the gas. And remember, slow.”
If Margaret’s hands weren’t holding mine while imparting this vital wisdom on handling the harrowing Highway 1 during a spring shower turned torrential downpour, everything about her felt like she was. Margaret Lindgren is the owner of Unbeaten Path Tours. We had scheduled this time so I could be graced with her encyclopaedic knowledge of this land she so loves, this majestic Sonoma coastal region, while experiencing it by foot, by flora, by one photographic vista after another after another. Instead, she was more concerned with my safety driving back down the mountain. I didn’t get to experience my Unbeaten Path tour that morning – the horizontal rain and epic winds had other plans for me. But the mixture of kindness, warmth, vitality, and authentic love of the land she inhabits, Margaret may very well have been the embodiment of Sonoma herself. I felt like she was.
With so much stimulation that confronts our everyday, it is still surprising how the faintest whisper, the one subtlest in serenade, is the one that leaves the loftiest impression. So many sights compete for our affection within the courtship that is California. But something intrinsic to the space beneath those towering Redwoods, beside that craggily coastline, tinselled with trellised vineyards and vast with culinary pioneers, an irresistible elixir results, ripe with sensory treats. The spas are state of the art. The stays are redefining rustic lux. It confronted me again and again. Something very special is stirring in Sonoma.
Harkening an historic gateway to the bevy of Bay Area attractions, our journey began at the newly restored Hotel Petaluma. A humble hub of modern renovation (marble bathrooms, refreshed color palates) meets architectural preservation (exterior stonework, that courtyard, that elevator!), this ideally located lodging makes for easy exploratory anchorage. The Goldman Ballroom, with those Tiffany blue walls, wooden ceiling fans and grand columns honor an easy, airy elegance, reflective of the hotel’s 1923 genesis, situated ever so aptly within this impossibly charming town. An aged grandeur has been preserved here, not the fussy kind, the kind that is sure of its place, comfortable in all its unpretentiousness. There is a calm here, something settled, something so happy to have you. This would be an easy starting point to have an extended stay, an ideal homestead in the hub-bub of travel.
And The Shuckery, their on-site restaurant, is a natural extension of the hotel, and everything you want it to be after a day of northern exposure. Fresh fish, homespun service, come as you are, and enjoy cuisine like you came somewhere much fancier. This place has all the makings of that seafood restaurant you can enjoy with relished repetition. Back in the hotel (the ease is a gift all its own), the service is welcoming and the bar side fireplace in the lobby invites you to stay awhile. It’s genuinely hard not to.
Morning calls for breakfast at Della Fattoria, proof that the simplicity of this unceasingly photogenic town (American Graffiti? Basic Instinct? Scream… Cujo . . all filmed on these streets…) does not compete with its innovative and imaginatively gifted stature. If the 150-year old building doesn’t sell you the smoked salmon on seeded wheat will, as will their bakery whose aroma will summons you (possibly render you powerless) from the street. The Della Breakfast Toast with that Bellwether Ricotta looked great, everything looked great. I went with the poached eggs on sautéed vegetables, along with a bounty of blood oranges and berries. Looking around, nothing would have disappointed – their décor is as decadent as everything coming out of the kitchen. And you’ll want to depart sated for that drive through Sebastopol en route to the Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, located in the lost in time land of Freestone. Population 32.
At Osmosis, found following the audaciously scenic Bohemian Highway, expect to receive a Japanese style spa treatment, the only of its kind in North America. I won’t lie, it’s a bit of a trip. Steeped in a woodsy, cedar and fir filled bathtub… no bubbles, oils, or Epsom, but Cedar Enzymes. Up to my neck I’m submerged in a serene, powdery pool of finely ground evergreens and rice bran, my body warmed with each movement I made (biological fermentation – I learned things!), my brain began to comprehend how this organically radical approach to restoration is emblematic of Sonoma culture and creativity. From the treetops on down, there is something stronger than eco-consciousness afoot. It resonates as a livelihood brought on only when such an approach is predominant. The Osmosis Fusion Massage that followed my cedar enzyme bath, a Swedish, Thai, Shiatsu, and Chinese blend, one of my best ever, to date.
So with an external radiance and a notable subtraction of joint and muscle pain, we reluctantly part from this uncelebrated metabolic stimulator they’ve stylishly heralded here. And up we went, and down came the deluge. Taking that famous for all the right reasons Highway 1, with those transcendental views and bridges that spawned a million car commercials, only to arrive at Timber Cove.
Let me pause right here. The road from Freestone to Jenner, where Timber Cove awaits, is something. The immensity of beauty – physically breathtaking. Emerald elevations, plunging drops to the coastline, roaming bovine, rushing waterfalls, plumes of calla lilies in the dandelion lined hillsides. It is a picturesque wonderland. It also might win a contest for most hairpin turns in the shortest distance between two points.
Which is why when they hand you a ginger spiked cocktail with an aromatic layer of fresh mint leaves, fittingly titled “The Recovery,” it’s exactly the welcome you want. Like a sublime ‘60’s vestige, Timber Cove resonates that Big Sur seduction with its massive lodge-like windows over the what feels like the world. Just reopened in August of 2016, this property might be a toast to Mother Nature flaunting her finest. Forty-six guest rooms (including eight premium suites) on twenty-five acres perched majestically atop those misty waves, forest flanked, with an unfair allotment of awe inspiring vistas and the occasional opportunistically situated Adirondack, Timber Cove is a gateway to the upside of camping for those who have no interest in actually camping. Bed. Over the ocean. Vinyl records (Art Garfunkel, Otis Redding… Miles Davis), eco-friendly LATHER amenities, and custom Russian River Roasters coffee, this enclave celebrates Sonoma innovation with a hippie-chic spin on honouring their local pioneers. Modern in only the ways that make your stay a plush one (thread count, massive showers), nature unites with nurture in a setting born to marry them.
It was here that Margaret and I were scheduled to take our Unbeaten Path outside the property. A rain check that will without question get cashed.
Coast Kitchen, Timber Cove’s on-site restaurant, enables all the enjoyment of Sonoma’s seasonal best without having to leave the property, which once stationed, will be the last thing on your list. The preparations are beautiful, the stovepipe fireplace crackling, and the Pacific panoramas just might make time stop. Coastal wine country cuisine made comfortable, convivial, and a destination worthy of the drive. Coffee is served from Swell bottles, and the staff make it feel more like a local haunt than haute cuisine. Chef Paulo Mendoza outdoes expectation, even one set to the standard of this bastion of bohemian revelry. Expect to leave with little wonder as to why Ansel Adams made these environs his muse, why Jack London endeared the term “Valley of the Moon,” and why Sonoma County is reputed to house more artists per capita than anywhere else in the state. Timber Cove is a tribute to their trailblazing spirit, an allegiance of artistry and appreciation of the luminaries who made it so.
And when you’re ready to submerge yourself in Sonoma’s most statuesque and ancient deliverance, take in the trails beneath those staggeringly beautiful redwoods at Armstrong Redwoods Natural State Reserve. Don’t bypass this – we had to because of sheaths of rain. Quite literally the tallest living thing on the planet, those ancient coast redwoods have an undeniable majesty, a grandfatherly calm. Come for solitude. Inspiration, reflection, and perspective, common parting gifts.
No better place to put the final punctuation on your Sonoma sojourn than Farmhouse Inn. This place had lived like an impossible relic deep in my memory reserves, back from when I had visited many moons ago. No way could the revisit live up to the fantasy I had surely concocted over the years. No way.
Until it did.
Those post and beam ceilings, the double-sided fireplace blurring the boundary between inside and out, the heated marble floors (it wasn’t a dream!), the personalized steam shower, and the homemade cookies by the bed. Characterized by the Bartolomei sibling duo behind the design and the development of this multi-generational manifested dream, this Inn is the forbearer of farm charm that launched a million mimics. The forefront of Farmhouse chic is achieved with ease and an informal flawlessness. Sonoma-made organic Sumbody soaps, vanilla bean marshmallows in the serve yourself s’mores, fresh cut flowers in each room, all impeccably selected, all amounting to what was already a decadent diversion from the everyday, resulting in an impossibly inspiriting one. A prefecture of outdoor fire pits, buttery exteriors, a central pool and Jacuzzi, vine winding landscaping, where an interdependence of boutique charm and meticulous attention to detail unite in what has to be the epitome of Sonoma style.
And then, the Spa at Farmhouse by Francis & Alexander (whose credits include the Spa at Auberge du Soliel and Solage in Calistoga), a continuation of their clean motifs, luxurious linens, organically hewn heritage. Equine accented, where a farm to massage table experience is accomplished with an aptitude of excellence on par with the Inn itself. From herbs grown in the garden and honey harvested at their home ranch come spa treatments that enables nature to be the primary source of nurture. Punctuated properly by a star grapefruit Anais elixir finish.
We took our final dinner to John Ash & Co., the vanguard of wine pairings with locally produced plates, each arriving like a celebration. Surrounded by tables of jubilant diners, multiple large parties, it was but one more staple in the cultural code that meals are meant to be shared and enjoyed in good company. The boneless “Rocky” brick chicken was more memorable than one would ever expect chicken to be, incredibly well prepared. And let their wine stewards guide you towards the ideal pairing. It will likely be locally produced and add to the growing list of reasons to resist your pending departure. Enhanced further by our final breakfast back at Farmhouse.
Sonoma’s neighboring Napa notoriously holds highest honors when crowning California’s wine region royalty. But with Sonoma, I am smitten. In versatility alone, no standard is sacrificed – whether your Zen is the old world charm of Hotel Petaluma, the Bohemian rhapsody that is Timber Cove, or the quintessence of wine country ethos that echoes from every gorgeous corner of Farmhouse Inn. Those monastic meanders beneath the redwoods, memory etching meals beneath the Michelin stars, we didn’t even get to a single one of its 370 wineries. By daydream or deluge, this place, beyond the realms of a writers over caffeinated imagination, with its arresting topography, trendsetting stays, and spa treatments of evergreen and home-grown honeys, make it hard to fathom amore gifted, gracious ground, than that which Sonoma graces.
A special thank you to Sonoma County Tourism who arranged my trip and transportation and to the wonderful places I stayed at during my visit to this beautiful region, including:
Hotel Petaluma, 205 Kentucky Street, Petaluma, CA 94952.
Tel: +1(707) 559-3393
The Shuckery, 100 Washington Street, Petaluma, CA 94952.
Tel: +1(707) 981-7891
Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, 209 Bohemian Hwy, Freestone, CA 95472.
Tel: +1(707) 823-8231
Timber Cove, 21780 Highway 1 Jenner, CA 95450.
Tel: +1(707) 847-3231
Farmhouse Inn, 7871 River Road, Forestville, CA 95436.
Tel: +1(800) 464-6642
Unbeaten Path Tours
John Ash & Co. at Vintner’s Inn, 4350 Barnes Road Santa Rosa, CA 95403.
Jolie Loeb is a Luxury Lifestyle columnist based in Los Angeles.
Photographs courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism and Farmhouse Inn