Checking In and Checking Out

Country Style Meets City Sophistication at Hotel Healdsburg in Sonoma

by Jesse Oxfeld
Lush So inviting. All photos courtesy of Healdsburg Hotel.

Healdsburg may be the most charming town in Sonoma. And Healdsburg Hotel as lovely as the town it calls home.

HEALDSBURG, California — We live in a time of luxury but not of opulence, and so every tourism and hospitality operator tries to pull off the same apex of bobo extravagance: understated elegance or refined luxury or some other word that connotes expense and care for detail but no need to put on socks. Healdsburg, California, is one of the great understated elegance towns in the country, and Hotel Healdsburg is perhaps the ideal understatedly elegant hotel.

Hotel Healdsburg exterior facade

Healdsburg is a small city, population about 10,000, in northern Sonoma County, alongside the Russian River. It's more or less right at the intersection of three major Sonoma wine appellations (the U.S. government sanctions them as American Vinicultural Areas, AVAs): the Russian River Valley, the Dry Creek Valley, and the Anderson Valley. Outside Healdsburg proper, this part of northern California still has a bit of an hippie-dippie, old-stoner vibe, lots of log cabins on mountainsides, with flags and banners flying and beat-up Volvos out front. But Healsdburg itself is a very comfortably khakis-and-loafers kind of place. There's a 19th-century town square in the middle of downtown, surrounded by old, Victorian-ish buildings that were once dry goods stores and bank branches and today house art galleries and tasting rooms and farm-to-table restaurants. The celebrity chef Charlie Palmer is a co-owner of the hotel, and his Dry Creek Kitchen, on the ground of floor of the hotel, is one such fine-dining establishment.

Hotel Healdsburg, opened in fall 2001, sits at the western side of Healdsburg Plaza. ("Est. 2001" is part of the hotel's branding.) It's a newly constructed building, three stories of that understated elegance, with large rooms, broad, light-filled hallways, and windows everywhere, showcasing the greenery outside. Because everything is so spacious, because the hallways are so broad, because the place is spread out more horizontally than vertically, because there is a wide-plank, light-colored hardwood everywhere, and because you have constant peeks outside at sunlight and green foliage, you almost feel less like you're in a hotel and more that you're staying at a friend's vineyard — if your friend had a vineyard that contained a well-appointed, well-staffed contemporary guest house.

Inside the plaza suite at Hotel Healdsburg
Hotel Healsburg Garden

Book It

Room rates start at $399 per night, early in the week at slow times of year. They can run up to $699 for standard rooms on weekends at busier times, with minimum stays on most weekends. The eight suites cost more. Valet parking is included, as is an expansive daily breakfast, including both a cold buffet and cooked-to-order hot dishes, in the hotel's lobby. You can book directly with the hotel's website, or call the Fathom Travel Concierge to book your whole Sonoma trip.

Checking In

Healdsburg is a high-end town in the northern part of Sonoma County, nearly an hour's drive from the town of Sonoma. It's a charming village, with restaurants, gourmet shops, art galleries, and more tasting rooms than even the most dedicated oenophile might be able to sample. The surrounding country is gorgeous — vineyards everywhere, the Russian River slowly flowing by, and funky, untouristy towns like Guerneville and Sebastopol nearby. It's an easy drive to Armstrong State Nature Reserve, with its giant redwoods, and an only slightly further one across to the rocky, dramatic Pacific coast, where you can twist down Highway 1 from Jenner to Bodega Bay. (And stop for a roadside and cliffside lunch, in homage to Tippi Hedren, at The Birds Cafe.) The hotel is in the center of Healdsburg, across the street from the historic Healdsburg Plaza. One night you might leave the hotel to find the weekly farmers' market in full swing; another night, to a park full of locals with lawn chairs and chardonnay bottles, watching a folk-rock band.

The outdoor pool at Hotel Healdsburg
Inside the courtyard suite at Hotel Healdsburg

Hotel Style
It's the cliché but it's true: understated elegance. The building has clean lines, lots of windows, plenty of greenery, lots of wood, and plenty of space. The staff is friendly and exceedingly well trained, but also mostly invisible. You see only a handful of other guests at a time. The bathrooms are large, with huge tubs, and the branded bath products, scented with things like Meyer lemon and sage, make you feel like you've just left a spa, even when all you've done is shower. (There is also an on-site spa, of course.) In a particularly nice touch, all of the snacks in the room are complimentary.

This Place Is Perfect For
Those who enjoy their country relaxation with city sophistication.

But Not So Perfect For
Anyone looking for a bustling hotspot. Also, as this is a very urban hotel it's not the place for travelers looking for a back-to-nature, wine country stay.

Dessert at Dry Creek Kitchen
Fresh bread at Dry Creek Kitchen
Fresh vegetables served at Dry Creek Kitchen

What's on Site
In addition to Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen, there's also a less formal restaurant, Pizzando, that serves wood-oven pizzas. A small bar in the hotel lobby is staffed nightly, and once or twice we even saw someone having a drink there.

The hotel has a full-service spa and a lovely 60-foot pool, perfect for relaxing after a long day of vineyard visiting. The pool is right in the middle of Healdsburg's town center, but it manages to feel remote and relaxed. Attentive waiters provide poolside food and drinks.

Number of Rooms
The hotel has 56 guest rooms, including eight suites. Each room has at least a small Juliet balcony. This is the kind of place where you'll want to sleep with that balcony door open, both for the cool night breeze and for the birds chirping in the morning.

Inside a double queen guest room at Hotel Healdsburg
Green tiled ensuite at Hotel Healdsburg
The Hotel Healdsburg lobby in the evening

In-Room Amenities
Everything you'd expect. High-end, wonderfully fragrant bath products. Robes and slippers. A Bose Bluetooth speaker. Water and snacks, including a homemade candy at turndown. Notably, the snacks are refreshed daily. There are also bikes available for exploring Healdsburg.

The place is quiet. It's part of what gives it its relaxed vibe, but if you're looking for a bustling, Soho House-style boutique hotel lobby scene, this isn't it.

Standout Detail
There is no one thing that stands out. What stands out is that nothing stands out. Everything is simple, unfussy, and just right. One small touch: The hotel's logo is a stark, sans serif double H, one smaller followed by one larger. It's also how the hot water tap is labeled in all the sinks and showers.

Enclosed patio seating at Hotel Healdsburg
Poolside courtyard at Hotel Healdsburg

Checking Out

The Hotel Healdsburg is on the main square in downtown Healdsburg. You're an easy walk to most of the area's restaurants and tasting rooms, and all sorts of small, charming wineries are a quick drive away nearby.

What to Do Nearby
Wine. Food. Redwoods.

Good to Know
The hotel exudes urban sophistication, and the town of Healdsburg is full of appropriately bougie splendor. But this isn't a big city of night owls. If you book an 8 p.m. dinner, especially early in the week, you'll be eating in a near-empty dining room, with the staff patiently waiting to close up and go home.

Lobby and bar at Hotel Healdsburg
Balcony view of the Hotel Healdsburg exterior

Plan Your Trip

How to Get There
Healdsburg is in the northern reaches of Sonoma County, an hour and change from downtown San Francisco in a straight shot up the 101 freeway and about an hour and a half from SFO Airport. It's only a 15-minute drive from Santa Rosa and the small Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport there.

Getting Around
You can walk and bike around Healdsburg. To get there, and to explore the region, you'll likely want a car. Uber and Lyft work for visits to wineries and for the return trip from wine-soaked dinners.

Keep Exploring Sonoma

The Road to Happiness Begins in Sonoma
Fathom Guide to Napa and Sonoma

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