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Ask the Locals Travel Guide: Sonoma, California

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Sonoma City Hall - photo by Matthew CalcaraThis Halloween weekend, Peter is broadcasting his radio show from the heart of wine country in Sonoma County, California.The county encompasses valley vineyards, more than 250 wineries, coastal villages, and upscale foodie towns, so we talked to the locals to figure out some of the hottest spots in Sonoma.

Andy Katz, Photographer and author of A Portrait of Napa and Sonoma

“If your restaurant has bad food in this area, you’re not going to last very long,” says Katz, a professional photographer and 10-year Healdsburg resident.If you’re going to splurge on a mind-blowing meal, he recommends Cyrus Restaurant, considered one of the top restaurants in wine country, if not the country. As a bonus, you can check out some of Katz’ photographs lining the walls while you order from the Champagne and caviar menu and dine on Chef Douglas Keane’s fresh California cuisine.

Group travel in Sonoma? See Villa Rental Tips from a Weekend in Sonoma

For a more affordable favorite, check out Scopa, which is “inexpensive, but so damned good.” Also located in Healdsburg, this tiny restaurant serves homemade Italian food just like you wish your grandmother made. Reservations are helpful as seating is scarce and the buzz on this place means it’s almost always packed with locals and in-the-know visitors.Napa Vineyard Morning - photo by David LattWhether you’re a photographer or just a spectator, you can experience a beautiful drive along Dry Creek Road to Lake Sonoma. Stop by the Dry Creek General Store for an organic sandwich and cheese, then pull over at various wineries and vineyards along the way, and end with a wine picnic on the shores of the gorgeous lake.

Although there is a thriving art scene in Sonoma, the local galleries have taken quite a hit in this economy. That said, Saret Gallery is definitely worth a visit for its collection of vintage and contemporary photography.Outdoor Art @ Cornerstone Gallery - photo by Matthew Calcara
And every year, art lovers descend upon Sonoma for the annual ARTrails Open Studios event, where local artists open up their workspaces to the public.For two weekends in October, visitors can view original works and talk to the artists about their inspiration and creative techniques. For more information on Sonoma’s year-round art scene, check out www.sonomaarts.com.

Heather Irwin, Food and Wine Writer, Biteclubeats.com

A tuna-egg-mayo focaccia sandwich and iced tea on the patio of Café Citti is something of a lunchtime tradition for gal pals in Wine Country. It’s got casual dining, a relaxed atmosphere (it’s kid-friendly without being a free-for-all) and some of the best-looking waiters in Wine Country. No wonder the ladies love it here.Screaming Mimi’s Ice Cream - photo by Screaming Mimi’s

Both a social hub and bike-path destination (for those heading from Santa Rosa along the Prince Memorial Greenway), Screaming Mimi’s homegrown scoopery dishes up ridiculously rich and creamy treats that rotate through owner Maraline Olson’s 300 recipes. And though Mexican chocolate or plain old vanilla may float some boats, the occasional appearance of olive oil ice cream is a special treat. Wrinkling your nose? The grassy, green flavor of olive oil is a perfect foil for the sometimes cloying sweetness of ice cream.

At Madrona Manor, Chef Jesse Mallgren continues to impress critics and the romance-minded at the stately Victorian bed and breakfast in the heart of Dry Creek. The $89 chef’s tasting menu is still a relative value for one of the hautest dining experiences in Sonoma. Tableside ice-cream service is a must-do.Closeup on grapes - photo by David Latt
At Willi’s Wine Bar, you never know who might be sharing macaroni or ahi tapas next to you—a local winemaker, a touring author, a Bay Area luminary, or maybe just your next-door neighbor. But that’s the fun of it. The cozy outdoor patio is a favorite Santa Rosa gathering spot for power-lunchers, tourists and everyday diners looking for a little dining inspiration.

The Santa Rosa Farmers Market at the Veterans Building is open year-round. You’ll find great local produce, bakers, jams and jellies and condiments, along with taco trucks and live entertainment no matter what the weather.

Duff Bevill, viticulturist and co-owner of Bevill Vineyard Management

Benziger Winery Cave - photo by David LattA viticulturalist and Healdsburg resident for 36 years, Bevill knows exactly where to find that perfect glass of wine in the Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley.

Travel up to Dry Creek Vineyards, a 36-year-old local institution where winemakers Bill Knuttel and Lisa Forbes produce award-winning wines using grapes from the Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley.

Yoakim Bridge Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg produces Zinfandel and Merlot, which are available for tasting every weekend and on weekdays by appointment.

 Love wine? Then check out the Wine Boot Camp Chronicles.

Sonoma Vineyards - photo by Matthew CalcaraWinemakers Jill Davis and Mitch Firestone-Gillis at Lambert Bridge Winery produce a variety of renowned wines, while visitors can enjoy tastings, cooking classes in an al fresco kitchen, and picnics around the herb and edible flower garden.

Winemaker and potter Rick Hutchinson brought together his two passions at the small-production Amphora (an amphora is a ceramic vessel often used to carry wine). Visitors can taste the winery’s Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, open daily from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

In the Russian River Valley, Bevill recommends enjoying that perfect glass at Merry Edwards Winery (some have crowned Edwards as the “Queen of Pinot Noir”) and William Selyem for handcrafted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and dessert wines.

For more information on travel to Sonoma County, visit www.sonomacounty.com and http://inside-sonoma.com.

Photos by David Latt & Matthew Calcara as indicated.

Get more information on the area with Villa Rental Tips from a Weekend in Sonoma.

To get an insider’s view of the wine-making process, check out Wine Boot Camp Chronicles.

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