Pars and pinot noirs is not a new concept, nor is it difficult to find beautiful places that offer the pairing. Sonoma County, however, is one of the hidden jewels of the circuit, with some of the finest restaurants and unique courses tucked in the redwoods. A short plane flight from Los Angeles or scenic drive up Highway 101 only 30 minutes north of San Francisco will result in a sensory overload that won’t soon be forgotten.
Two golf course opposites provide the perfect pair
While there are many places to play in the Sonoma area, a couple layouts have made a reputation for themselves in the eyes of locals and visitors alike.
As host to many PGA Nike Tour events through the years, Windsor Golf Club has attracted a competitive clientele since opening in 1989. Blind tee shots, groves of oak trees and a year-round creek add a dynamic to the game, but the 6,500-yard course also offers an interesting perspective for wine country golf with its flocks of geese and silo on the course’s front side.
Inside the clubhouse, Charlie’s houses a comfortable bar and restaurant with a wine list of local vinos. Charlie’s was named after Big Break VI contestant Charlie Gibson, a Windsor native and current Fortuna, Calif. resident who was eliminated in the eighth episode of the show filmed at Trump National GC in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Links at Bodega Harbour, on the other hand, is a polar opposite from its neighbor to the east. The Robert Trent Jones, Jr. layout, recently renovated, utilizes sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and Bodega Bay along with natural grasses and foliage to provide a Scottish feel. The front and back sides of the course vary dramatically; while the first nine holes have undulating fairways and little flat areas on any hole, the back is smooth and level with holes 16 and 17 playing through environmentally sensitive areas and, thus, walking only on those two holes. Locals say the Bodega links’ hot dog is one of the best around.
Remember the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock classic The Birds? The church used in the movie is set back on a hill on the way to the course.
Wine on the vine along with the food
With a great growing region and mild climate, nearly 250 wineries call Sonoma County home. Vintners range from small establishments like Balletto Vineyards in Santa Rosa to the more robust Gallo Family Vineyards in nearby Healdsburg.
One such property, the family-owned Iron Horse Vineyards, is tucked discreetly up in the hills of Green Valley with views across Sonoma County to St. Helena. Iron Horse is one of California’s top two to three sparkling wine producers (depending on the source), and those varietals have been served in the White House for the past four consecutive presidential administrations. Inspiration for the name came from the train that stopped at Ross Station at the turn of the 20th century and the logo, the rampant horse on a weathervane, came from an actual weathervane that was unearthed as they workers were leveling the ground to build the winery.
Back in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, Syrah Bistro serves Bay Area-inspired food created by chef and co-owner Josh Silvers. Silvers calls Syrah a “chef’s playground,” and is considered to be Sonoma County’s best chef.
Tasting menus at Syrah are a good bet; cheese plates are made with local dairy products and USA Today selected Syrah’s pan-seared duck breast with crispy polenta cake, figs stuffed with duck liver mousse and braised greens as one of the top twenty dishes in the country.
If down-home cooking is more your speed, though, try Don Taylor’s Omelette Express. In the midst of antique stores and quaint shops, Omelette Express serves breakfast and lunch with Santa Rosa fresh-baked bread in huge portions at very reasonable prices.
A place to lay the head
On the outer fringe of Railroad Square, the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel and Spa is centrally located to the Charles Schulz Museum and Research Center, restaurants, wineries and golf courses. As one of the newer hotels in the area, rooms are large and the Brasserie Restaurant, with its large bar, is located next door. Also adjacent to the hotel is its sculpture garden; Hyatt commissioned local artists for the oversized metal and stone pieces.
Let stress melt away with a trip to Vineyard Creek Spa; gentlemen’s packages and salon services are available. Across the street find all of the small shops, cafes and restaurants that downtown Santa Rosa has to offer.
Experts on the Sonoma County area
Sonoma County Tourism Bureau’s website is a great resource for area wineries, activities and lodging, with interactive maps, discount offers and tickets, and more. Visit sonomacounty.com for more information on planning the perfect getaway.
If you were ever once a kid, chances are decent that Peanuts was once (or still is) a part of your Sunday comics or holiday TV cartoon routine, and identifying with Charlie Brown wasn’t so difficult. If so, a visit to the Charles Schulz Museum and Research Center is a must.
Opened in 2002 after four years of planning, the Santa Rosa attraction allows visitors to relive their childhood while looking back at 50 years’ worth of comic strips, artwork, and memorabilia while allowing a peek into the life of who creator Charles Schulz really was. Sparky, as friends and family called him, resided in Santa Rosa and retired in 1999 for health reasons. He died in 2000 at age 77, just hours before his final Peanuts strip printed in the paper.
Visitors can see early sketches of Sparky’s family dog who years later would evolve into the modern-day Snoopy, or doodles on legal pads of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus or Pig Pen that his secretary would salvage from the trash, iron out, and file away. Seasonal displays include baseball, unrequited young love and Mozart themes he became so popular for.
Perhaps one of the most special exhibits is the replica of his studio, complete with the drawing board he used from the beginning of his career, as well as his desk. The shelves and walls include his personal books, gifts, photos, and memorabilia, including his 1991 Jack Lemmon Ambassador of Golf Award from the California Golf Writers Association. There is also the child’s nursery wall from his 1951 Colorado home, which includes painted images of Charlie Brown and Snoopy when Snoopy still bounded around on all fours.
A trip outside shows the infamous kite-catching tree and a stroll next door to Snoopy’s Home Ice (also known as Redwood Empire Ice Arena) offers up the Warm Puppy Café, where Sparky (an avid hockey player) used to warm up after a spin on the ice. More information: schulzmuseum.org