Where to go in California, according to the cofounder of one of Sonoma County's most distinctive hotels.
“There is a real sense of adventure in Sonoma County,” says Joe Bartolomei, cofounder of the Farmhouse Inn, a laid-back luxury hotel in Forestville, near Healdsburg.
“Napa offers food and wine at its highest level, whereas Sonoma is more of a balance,” Bartolomei says. “You may have to work harder to find the best places here, but when you do, the experience is phenomenal—you may end up in someone’s garage, tasting wine with them!” What follows are Bartolomei’s favorite spots in Northern California Wine Country and elsewhere in the state.
Where to Drink
“People ask me what my favorite winery is, and I always say, ‘If you ask me 100 times today, I’ll tell you 100 different wineries.’ That said, there’s this little place called Ryme Cellars [in Forestville]: It’s from an amazing husband-and-wife team that’s part of this new movement called 7 Percent. Basically, 93 percent of the wine in California comes from six varietals, and 7 percent of the wine produced in California comes from all the others. Well, a lot of wineries now are saying they’ll only do varietals that are more obscure and farmed here. Ryan and Megan [Glaab] are incredible ambassadors for what they’re doing and for the region. I love their wines and the stories they tell. It’s the future.
“The microbrew movement is also strong here. Russian River Brewing Company is right down the road from us. Everything they make is delicious. When they release their Pliny the Younger IPA, people wait in line for, like, four days. They stake out their spot and pay people to get more of it because the brewery only lets you buy two growlers. It’s almost too much, but people are so passionate about what they’re doing and about being part of what they’re doing. Sonoma is a place for passionate people to do passionate projects.”
“Restaurants are like wineries—every day of the week, my favorite changes. There’s Campo Fina in Healdsburg, which is urban rustic Italian. It’s always good, the kind of place that’s full of familiar faces. I also love SHED in Healdsburg. It’s this big, metal, barn-looking place that sources everything locally. They grow a lot of the produce themselves and the presentation is beautiful; plates come out full of flowers and leaves. It’s a different menu every time you go, and I’ve never had a bad meal there.”
Where to Buy Produce
“The climate here is amazing—it can grow anything. About 45 percent of Sonoma’s agriculture isn’t related to grapes, so we’ve also got great cheeses and farms like Dry Creek Peach & Produce in Healdsburg. We work with them a lot. Peaches at grocery stores are always hard and mealy; Dry Creek’s farm-raised peaches are absolutely amazing. They come in as early as mid-May and run through early September.
“I also recommend the Healdsburg Farmers’ Market because everyone brings their A-game. The produce is beautifully displayed and looks perfect. The locals like to sit in the square, listen to music, and check in with other locals.”
Where to Stay
“It’s almost cliché to say at this point, but the one hotel that’s still the best of the best is Post Ranch Inn. It’s done such a great job at simply being Big Sur. It’s so integrated with its environment, you never have a moment there where you’re not fully aware of where you are. In the world of small luxury boutique hotels, they’re the one we’re always like, ‘How can we be more like those guys?’ We try to be really authentic at Farmhouse, but Post Ranch Inn is all about bringing your hiking boots and a windbreaker, getting dirt underneath your fingernails, and eating an amazing five-course dinner with a view of the ocean. It touches upon everything a luxury traveler is looking for.”
How to Get Outdoors in the Summer
“We love camping and our go-to every year is Yosemite. We never get tired of it. It’s iconic California. It has this Old World, early 1900s feel; you can just imagine generations of families coming to this place and it looking and feeling the same then as it does now. When you go through that tunnel, come around the bend, and get that view of the valley and the waterfalls, it’s like the opening scene of Jurassic Park. Oh my god, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen! It never fails to take your breath away.
“Our favorite trail is the one that takes you up to Yosemite Falls. You’ve gotta leave early, pack a lot of food, and take a lot of breaks, but it’s worth it because it gets you off the valley floor and up where you can see these amazing vistas. Since you’re following the river as you go up, it’s waterfall after waterfall after waterfall—absolutely beautiful.”
How to Get Outdoors in the Winter
“We’re a big skiing family, so we often head up to Tahoe for its world-class slopes. It too feels very trapped in time. Our favorite resort is Northstar. It’s big and has everything you’d want. And while it can get crowded, you can always find runs that aren’t. The other one we love is Sugar Bowl. It’s smaller and all of the lodges are built to look like Swiss chalets—that really old-school Sound of Music–type architecture. It’s exactly the same as when I was a kid.”
“The great thing about California is if you head two hours in any direction, you’re somewhere totally different and cool and unique. Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of our favorites because it’s only 2.5 hours from Sonoma but it feels a world away. The hotels are beautiful, the coastline is rugged, and there are amazing things to see and explore. San Diego is another favorite. People are going to shoot me for saying this, but the beaches in Northern California are cold, windy, and foggy. Sometimes you need to wear a parka to visit them. But the beaches in San Diego are warm and swimmable, and the waves aren’t that big. Having access to the beach in July or February is such a cool part of the culture in Southern California.”