Part II: The Best Of Sonoma County

Riding on the wings of our previous blog post, in which we listed for our clientele our recommendations for the top Napa Valley luxury hotels, resorts, and dining destinations, we now turn to Napa’s larger but more laid-back counterpart, Sonoma County. More expansive a land mass, Sonoma County is almost double the size of Napa and grows far more grapes and produce of all kinds in various conditions. The casual West Coast agrarian lifestyle is pervasive in every small town of the county – from the Pacific Ocean shorelines of Jenner to the boutiques and cafes of Healdsburg. Wherever ventures may take you in Sonoma County, there are constant reminders everywhere that real farmers, fishermen, dairymen, and cattle ranchers live and work here. The abundant cornucopia of seasonal fresh ingredients is celebrated by its citizens and visitors alike. It is a paradise for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay growers near the coastal regions of the county, and inland, where it is warmer, some of America’s most sought-after Zinfandel grapes thrive. Many soil types, micro-climates, and terroirs are assembled within one very blessed county. While both Napa Valley and Sonoma County provide luxury travelers with dream getaways, there is a primary difference between the two. Napa Valley has many top-tier dining options from which to choose up and down the length of the valley, places such as French Laundry, Bouchon, PRESS, La Toque, and Kenzo. Most of the resorts and hotels in Napa also house outstanding restaurants – such as Auberge du Soleil. But in Sonoma County, the top luxury destination hotels are also the best luxury dining options. Foodies visiting the wineries of Sonoma and looking for an epicurean adventure will invariably stay in a hotel built around its restaurant – and not the other way around. Single Thread in Healdsburg and Farmhouse Inn in Forestville exemplify this dine-and-stay form of hospitality. Both are Michelin Starred restaurants, and both are two of Sonoma County’s most luxurious places to stay. There are many lovely and fun places to dine in Sonoma County, but the most distinguished and famous restaurants exist within recently updated inns or a newly built resort. (Montage Healdsburg) At Benchmark Wine, many of our clients come from far and wide for their annual wine country visit. As many pay a visit to their favorite wineries of Sonoma to pick up their Pinot Noir allocations, there are now several places to stay we recommend one should not pass up. We at Benchmark Wine are delighted to assist you in choosing only the rarest and the finest, whether wine or travel!

Top Epicurean Luxury Stays in Sonoma County

1. The Madrona


1001 Westside Rd, Healdsburg

Originally built as a private estate in 1881, this quintessential 19th-century California-Victorian estate manor was recently redesigned and rebuilt by the renowned San Francisco designer Jay Jeffers. The Madrona has a renewed sense of timeless elegance, reflecting the refinements of old-world charm combined with unexpected modern twists. Some of the historical building’s original antique furnishings, believed to be nearly 200 years old, are mixed with contemporary art and brightly colored walls. Rather than seeming eccentric, the design elements meld cohesively and create a stylish wow factor. Tucked away within the meandering gardens’ olive and orange trees on the sprawling property are 24 secluded private cottages and suite accommodations spread amongst a half-dozen buildings. There are also rooms in the manor house with lengthy windows that look out onto the panoramic valley below. The architectural elements are residential in nature – private, cozy, and enchantingly appointed. There are working fireplaces in most rooms and some of the most exquisite bathrooms found anywhere in the world. Like the finest boutique hotels in Europe, the services at the Madrona are thoughtful and polished, yet every modern American need is included in a stay here. The in-house chef prepares a sumptuous breakfast each morning, complete with house-made pastries and fresh orange juice provided by the orange trees in the garden. There is twice-daily housekeeping and turndown service; a hotel gym featuring Pelotons and Tonal equipment; EV charging stations; and VanMoof electric bikes for a ride into town.

Yet, the dining experience at The Madrona takes center stage. Housed within the mansion is an impeccable bar and restaurant. The interiors are as curated as the menu offerings. For 13 consecutive years, Chef Jesse Mallgren earned a Michelin star at the former property’s restaurant. Today, he is on the path to garnering another Michelin Star by combining his signature dishes alongside new mouthwatering creations. The culinary team’s inspirations are derived from the seasonal ingredients peaking in the half-acre garden and surrounding farms. If not staying at The Madrona, you should not pass up a visit and a meal or cocktail at the bar. The experience brings one back to a time of sensitive and well-mannered sophistication.

2. Montage Healdsburg


100 Montage Way, Healdsburg

This resort’s Montage reputation name precedes itself as a place to stay where guests can lead their best lives. The 258-acre retreat opened in 2021 and ushered in a new wave of luxury in the otherwise laid-back agrarian landscape of Alexander Valley. The buildings are purposely situated toward picturesque views of oak-studded forests and surrounding vineyards. Wherever one looks, there are lit panoramas through immense glass doors and windows. Utilizing textural wood and stone architectural design elements, The Montage Healdsburg becomes an ode to Northern Sonoma County’s natural beauty.

Along with 130-bungalow guest rooms, the Montage features an 11,500 square-foot spa, two pools, pickleball courts, archery, bocce ball, and a mind-blowingly gorgeous main restaurant, main bar, and outdoor café/bar. The cuisine focuses on appreciating wine country epicurean dishes, incorporating locally sourced produce, meats, seafood, and cheeses. The superb wine list features many of Sonoma County’s most lauded producers. The resort lends itself to families with firepit smores roastings and weekend “kids camp” during dinner hours – perfect for some built-in babysitting while the parents have a date night. Perhaps the best feature of staying at the Montage Healdsburg’s its center point proximity to both the northern end of the Napa Valley and the farther reaches of Sonoma County. If winery hopping in the Russian River AVA, it is a quick 30-minute drive; if visiting Calistoga, it is also just 30 minutes in the opposite direction. This location is unlike any other place to stay in either Sonoma County or Napa Valley.

3. The Stavrand Russian River Valley


13555 Highway 116, Guerneville

Located in Guerneville, The Stavrand is an oasis of luxury nestled amongst the towering redwood forest of western Sonoma County. Sitting on six-forested acres of land, the 21-room boutique inn was completely renovated in 2021. The main building is the Belden House, originally built 100 years ago in 1922, with smaller outlying buildings encircling a central courtyard. Architectural integrity was maintained during the restorations, and is an artful showcase of old-school California hacienda stucco and tiles. Notably, The Stavrand made the Travel + Leisure 2022 “It List” for the editors’ picks for the best new hotels in the world, with the article stating, “it’s easy to feel transported.” A stay here is for lovers of nature and fine food and wine, and notably, it is for lovers. Intimate and quiet, the serene environment does not lend itself to families with small children. Winery visits, long walks at the Armstrong State Natural Preserve, kayaking on the Russian River, and snuggling up to the enormous two-sided fireplace are all in order. Dogs are happily welcome and treated like canine kings. The Stavrand’s dining room is only open to guests, which cannot be missed if staying on the property. Each afternoon, the chef releases the three-to-five prix-fixe dinner menu. The culinary creations focus on sustainable and locally produced ingredients. The menu is only released when the chef has procured what is harvested fresh from the farms or caught that day. The cuisine is thoughtfully paired with Sonoma County’s outstanding local wine producers. If you miss dinner at The Stavrand, do not worry, as the breakfasts served in-room is just as deliciously noteworthy, with most guests leaving Trip Advisor reviews about how sumptuous they are. Should you and your travel partner wish to relax before returning to the real world, the Wellness Barn provides holistic spa treatments to restore your body and mind after a day spent wine-tasting or hiking through the redwoods. Massages can be arranged in your room or the spa.

4. Farmhouse Inn


7871 River Rd, Forestville

This California Farmhouse-Chic hotel epitomizes the Sonoma wine country. Embodying laid-back luxury, not a single detail goes overlooked – from the gracious and impeccably trained staff – to the lavender-strewn gardens – to the foodie destination Michelin Starred restaurant – to the 25 beautifully appointed guest rooms – to the
lovely spa – nothing is missed. It is no wonder that Travel + Leisure Magazine has ranked Farmhouse Inn as the #1 Hotel in California and #8 in the world! Sibling owners Joe and Catherine Bartolomei are part of a 5th-generation Sonoma farming family, and they seem to know everyone in the Sonoma wine business. A stay at their Farmhouse Inn is to share their love of the finest locally produced foods and wines. The inn’s restaurant is the bedrock of the hotel. A sophisticated staff of sommeliers, chefs, and servers deliver a gastronomic experience that encapsulates the farm-to-fork cuisine of Northern California.

The menu changes regularly since many of the ingredients used in the dishes reflect the daily harvests on the local farms. Since the Pacific Ocean is just 20 miles west of the inn, there is invariably a seafood dish comprised of the day’s fresh catch. “Fresh” is the keyword! Herbs, edible flowers, eggs, veggies, and honey are all produced on the owners’ farm and masterfully make their appearance on the creative menu selections. The restaurant is a destination spot unto itself, and if you are not staying at the inn, it is well worth a reservation for dinner. If needing a more casual dining alternative, Farmhouse Inn also offers an all-day dining option, Farmstand. The menu at Farmstand utilizes much of the same local produce and ingredients but focuses more on “comfort foods,” such as French toast at breakfast, and for lunch, one can order pizzas and French fries. Farmstand is the locals’ favorite hangout spot. Should you wish to tour Sonoma County’s abundant good life, the Farmhouse Inn team is the experts in putting together an itinerary of places to visit and people to meet. They have deep connections to some of the hardest to get into wineries and local artisanal producers. Additionally, should adventure be more up your alley, they know like the backs of their hands every hiking trail, nature preserve, and the best place for biking. Sharing the good life of their paradise seems to be this staff’s raison d’etre.

5. Single Thread Farms


131 North St, Healdsburg

The focal point of Single Thread Farms is primarily the owners’ culinary endeavors, but Single Thread is a three-pronged business. There is the biodynamic farm that provides the needed ingredients to the restaurant, the phenomenal restaurant itself, and an enchanting 5-room luxury inn tucked above the restaurant in downtown Healdsburg. There is a singular ideology toward thoughtful stewardship and appreciation of all nature, whether demonstrated in the farm fields or on the dining room tables. As an epicurean bucket list destination, Single Thread surpasses every culinary expectation imaginable and raises the experience of food to the highest art form. Single Thread’s owners, Chef Kyle Connaughton and his wife Katina, have based the restaurant’s service on the philosophical foundation of “omotenashi,” Japanese for “hospitality.” It means serving wholeheartedly and anticipating and fulfilling people’s needs through thoughtful acts. With these intentions, Single Thread has successfully established itself as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. The list of awards and accolades from the most notable food publications keep pouring in, but perhaps none more critical than achieving 3 Michelin Stars. To dine at Single Thread is to savor an 11-course kaiseki tasting menu.

Each incredibly presented dish uses some of the world’s most luxurious ingredients, such as caviar and foie gras; however, the prolific use of veggies and fruits is defined by the fresh, seasonal ingredients from the Connaughtons’ farm. Sashimi is brought to new heights using a drizzling of oils, which elevates the flavors. And though the dishes are small, they are rich and fulfilling. Every plate has an inventive display of flowers surrounding the food, creating a visual art piece to accompany the gastronomic. The interiors are designed with wood paneling and centered by a masterfully assembled flower arrangement. With its Frank Llyod Wright overhead pendants casting a warm light, the area is sophisticated and has an alluringly comfortable West Coast feel. A superb wine list offers an array of exceptional, difficult-to-find new-world and old-world producers and an impressive list of sakes. Diners flock to Single Thread not just to eat a meal but to participate in what the Japanese call “oishya”, which describes an attitude towards being in the moment and savoring the experience of eating and drinking as a meditation on enjoyment. Staying at the Single Thread Inn, guests are further treated to the breakfast experience. Japanese and Western breakfasts are offered, and similarly to dining in the restaurant, a series of small dishes create a whole meal. This is not the standard eggs and bacon kind of full platter meal, but rather a gorgeous small-plate collection of all the best breakfast ingredients to be enjoyed. Should one choose to dine in-room or on the rooftop wine bar, ample Japanese-style hot-pot dinner is only provided for guests of the inn. Ultimately, every detail of generous hospitality and next-level service is considered for guests of the inn. From the in-room matcha tea dispenser, the house-made ice cream waiting in the freezer, the mini-bar stock of complimentary wines, beers, and beverages, the house-made nori snacks, the bath salts, the robe, and slippers . . . there is not a single indulgence that has not been thought of. The staff is highly trained and exceedingly professional, yet the service is personal and friendly in a California-casual manner. To achieve the fully immersive experience of Single Thread Farms, reservations for at least two nights at the inn are necessary.