The 19th Century Plaza -- rimmed by art galleries, book stores, gift shops, restaurants and tasting rooms -- in the heart of downtown Healdsburg, California offers a shady respite after a bicycle jaunt or winery tour of Sonoma County’s wine country.
Inspired by the idyllic surroundings and Foss Creek that meanders through town are some of the most environmentally hip hotels and creative farm-to-table restaurants in the region, if not the country. Here, sustainability thrives, blending small-town hospitality and charm while still offering the hipster vibe and modern flair you might associate with the urban scene. Outside town, you can take a natural escape to see the magnificent Sequoia sempervirens or hop on a bicycle tour and visit biodynamic farms or wineries.
This is the second of a two-part article of my exploration of Healdsburg, joined by my husband-photographer John Ivanko.
Farm to Table Dining
Whenever you’re ready to sit down for a meal, Healdsburg offers a sundry menu of farm-to-table fare. We loved Mateo’s Cocina Latina where Yucatán-born chef Mateo Granados blends Sonoma sourced ingredients infused with the vibrant flavors of his homeland. We recommend his nightly tasting menu, where you can have a multi-course menu with optional wine pairing. Upwards of seventy five percent of his seasonal vegetables comes from Mateo’s own Dry Farm Merida’s Garden. Appropriately enough, our multi-course meal started with a freshly-picked salad greens topped with edible flowers.
For a true “art to farm to table” experience, check out Barndiva, a whimsical spot that mashes farm-fresh ingredients with a funky, casual gallery atmosphere. Barndiva’s motto: “Wherever you are, eat the view.” Barndiva serves up the unexpected, from goat cheese croquettes, accented with Healdsburg wildflower honey and lavender, to the largest framed collection of cigarette cards outside of the United Kingdom. The display of these cards is totally worth a look. The cards were designed to build brand loyalty, covering a range of topics with original art pictures, mainly produced in England between 1880 and 1930.
Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen, overlooking the historic tree-lined Plaza, is guided by the culinary vision of Executive Chef Scott Romano. Thanks to his talent for creating tasty dishes from seasonal abundance, Romano builds the restaurant’s menu around what his farmers bring in. This results in a “quality versus quantity” fine dining. Of course, Romano is happy to make wine pairing recommendations, too. We enjoyed his Pan Seared Diver Scallops, with an unexpected combo of accompaniments including candied walnuts, smoked raisin puree and house-made lardo, a type of salumi.
“We take ‘cook in season’ to a new, higher level here in Healdsburg, distinctly different than any other restaurant I’ve worked in,” sums up the particularly convivial Chef Romano. “Farmers come to my door with something like carrots and I work with them to create menu items that use what they have, rather than me just ordering what I need. It results in fresh flavors you won’t find anywhere else.” Save some room for their desserts; they're like edible masterpieces.
For the homespun taste of Healdsburg in your home kitchen, check out the recipes shared by area chefs, including a Winter Squash Soup Recipe with Yogurt and Bee Pollen, Wild Mushroom Tartine, and Simple Vinaigrette Salad Dressing from Jordan Vineyard.
Snack & Shop Local in Healdsburg
Healdsburg’s commitment to sustainability can be seen in the array of local shops and flavors to savor in an organic ice cream scoop shop or artisanal bakeries. You’ll likely be drawn Healdsburg’s charming 19th Century Plaza in the center of town when arriving. It’s a welcoming green space that invites folks to linger on park benches and chat, earning Healdsburg the reputation of being one of the best small towns in the country to visit.
You won’t find t-shirt dives or franchises downtown. Instead, we were blown away by the uniqueness of each locally-owned shop while strolling around the Plaza and exploring the adjoining streets. For those who can’t pass up a bakery, like us, prepare to be impressed. Moustache Baked Goods, run by a sweetly creative team of twenty-somethings, brings farm to table to your cookie. With a goal of sourcing ingredients within thirty miles of Healdsburg, Moustache takes cupcakes to an elevated flavor profile with seasonal offerings such as “The Beekeeper” made with local lavender, honey and Meyer lemons.
More bakeries? Sure, we say. Don’t miss Costeaux French Bakery, baking up treats like Cinnamon Walnut Bread since 1923. It didn’t take us long to figure out that the platters of morning croissants served at the complimentary breakfast at H2 Hotel were from Costeaux French Bakery. Delivered fresh daily from Costeaux, we felt obliged to indulge in more than one buttery, chocolate croissant.
You had us at “pie bar.” Be sure to stop by Noble Folk Ice Cream & Pie Bar, an additional venture of the folks at Moustache, this time focused on handcrafted pie and ice cream featuring – of course – local flavors like Dry Creek peaches and triple crown blackberries from the local, certified-organic Front Porch Farm, which we also toured during our stay.
Craving for something savory? Check out the handcrafted salumi at Journeyman Meat Company, an old-world butcher shop in the Italian tradition. Reaching back to Medieval times, the “Journeyman” name harkens to the European tradition when traveling craftsmen traded their skill in exchange for welcoming room and board. Looking for something uniquely local that travels home easily? Stop by Russian River Tea Company where the cheerful owner, Holly Hunt, will gladly guide you to find your favorite among her many unique, hand-crafted tea blends, including Gingered Pink Peppercorn, one of her best-sellers.
Healdsburg also offers a diverse menu of shops and spots in town to explore. The town boasts two independent bookstores: Levin and Company Bookstore and Copperfield's Books, complete with a resident bookstore fluffy and friendly cat. Pick up picnic supplies at Oakville Grocery, the longest continually operating grocery store in California, bustling since 1881. Art galleries pop up throughout town, along with plenty of wine tasting rooms. If you still need a diversion, stop by the quirky Hand Fan Museum, the first museum in the United States dedicated solely to hand fans.
Out and About on Ecotourism Adventures
While the town of Healdsburg will surely lure you in, be sure to allocate some time to get out and explore the natural settings and more eco-minded businesses in surrounding Sonoma County. Check out our previous post on the inspiring sustainability movement led by area wineries, including Quivira, DaVero and Truett Hurst. Nose and sip your wine while helping healing the Earth.
Healdsburg even blends wine with a workout if you’re so inclined. Join Getaway Adventures Sip N Cycle as they lead you via bicycle down the tranquil backroads with Instagram-worthy postcard views of this fabled wine region. Hosted by award-winning guides, Getaway Adventures takes care of every detail including your bike, a tasty picnic spread and insider navigation to their favorite vineyards for an up close and personal “Grapes 101” course.
Bond with a primeval forest that covered much of the area before logging operations began during the 19th century at the Armstrong Redwood State Natural Reserve. These stately and magnificent Sequoia sempervirens, commonly known as the California redwood, stand tall and together serve as a testament to the wonders of the natural world. The grove offers solace and inspiration for quiet reflection, so bring your camera, journal or canvas and paint. Trails range from short flat nature trail loops of less than two miles up to longer back country hiking excursions.
Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam and millions of ladybugs.
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