Last month family members gathered from across the state to celebrate my mother’s 80thbirthday. We decided early on to rent a vacation homein Sonoma/Napa Wine Country. But what to do on her special day with a group of people aged 20 through 80 with interests as diverse as skydiving and crocheting? We landed on the idea of a cooking class.

The epicurean adventure turned out to be ideal— a way to be together while focused on a collaborative activity. Not only was it a way to bring out only the best of our family dynamics, cooking classes, I’ve discovered, are a lot of fun.

Even if cooking isn’t necessarily your thing, eating delicious food likely is. And when you discover your culinary creativity, the finished meal you prepare tastes even better! Whether you’re a seasoned chef or novice, cooking classes expand your skills, show you how to tame kitchen tools, and let you practice techniques you can take home with you. Having a chef as your guide gives you the confidence to trust the dishes you make will turn out great. 

Wine Country cooking classes aren’t just for family reunions. They make a great date night. Creative collaboration brings people closer — whether it’s with your partner, a group of friends, or your work team. Then, of course, there’s the wine. Classes usually include sipping wines while you prepare recipes and enjoy the food.

Wine Country is foodie paradise, so why not add a cooking class to your vacation experience? You get to try new foods and have fun, and you don’t have to do the dishes! Here are a few local cooking schools we like.

Healdsburg cooking classes

Right off the plaza in downtown Healdsburg is the home base for Relish Culinary Center. Relaxed and friendly classes are led by well-respected chefs that include local restaurateurs, winemakers, cookbook authors, caterers, wine experts, and other food-industry professionals. The wide variety of culinary backgrounds makes for diverse and stimulating classes. 

Relish offers demonstration and hands-on classes, as well as excursions to wineries, farms, and food venues throughout Sonoma Wine Country. Hands-on classes provide you the opportunity to try new recipes and techniques under the guidance of a chef. Typically, classes run about three hours, and are recommended for ages 12 and older.

Most classes conclude with a full meal of menu items prepared. Guests leave with copies of all recipes and new techniques and ideas. And if you prefer, they can plan a private event designed to your party’s tastes and interests.

Napa cooking classes

For an intimate culinary experience, check out Cooking with Julie. Certified Culinary Professional (CCP) Julie Logue-Riordan has been teaching for more than 25 years and opened her school in Napa in 2005. 

Her hands-on cooking classes feature seasonal menus with ingredients from local farms. You’ll learn culinary techniques to cook delicious meals with confidence. From pasta to pastry, classes are interactive fun.

In addition to the regular class schedule, she offers private day or evening demonstration dinners or hands-on classes for small groups of up to eight people. You can even arrange for Julie to come to your location for a private lesson.

Classes include a three-course meal paired with wine, in addition to nibbles and wine to enjoy during class. You’ll leave with a recipe booklet and an apron. Classes sell out, so plan ahead.

Malcolm de Sieyes is the owner and main chef at Silverado Cooking School, just a mile from the center of Napa. An interesting lineup of classes cover cooking techniques — for example, braising, roasting, and grilling — and a range of cuisine styles, like French and Italian. You learn to prepare delicious, seasonal meals and how to use handy culinary tools.

The class menus pull from produce grown at the school’s own two-acre farm, Stone Tree Farm. Almost all the produce is started in their greenhouse from locally source, non-GMO heirloom seeds.

In class you prepare dishes that everyone sits down and shares together at the table. Recommended for ages 16 and up.

The school also will custom-tailor a private cooking experience — half-day to a full weekend — and wine tasting flight to complement your menu.

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It’s no surprise that tourism is a huge global industry. People love to experience new surroundings, from basking on tropical beaches to exploring ancient ruins. There’s a new trend in travel — ecotourism — that appeals to those who want to submerge themselves in the natural environment.

Ecotourism in Sonoma

What is ecotourism? According to The Nature Conservancy, “Ecotourism is distinguished by its emphasis on conservation, education, traveler responsibility and active community participation.” In other words, ecotourism is about respecting natural environments and keeping them intact.

More and more businesses describe themselves as offering ecotours, but you don’t have to join an official tour to be an ecotourist. All you need to enjoy ecotourism is an appreciation of nature’s beauty and the desire to leave a small footprint behind. Feel the sunshine, breathe in fresh air, be part of the local habitat, and when you leave take your trash away with you and leave everything as you found it, for the next person — and generation — to enjoy.

Ecotourism in Sonoma and Napa offer a bounty of unspoiled countryside and opportunity for outdoor fun. Wine Country and ecotourism go hand in glove. There’s a large movement toward environmental awareness in Northern California; people want to preserve the beauty. There are plenty of opportunities to get close in to nature and dive into the ecotourism in Sonoma.

Ways to Experience Wine Country au Naturel

Take a hike  

The nonprofit organization, Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, was founded on the principles of ecotourism in Sonoma long before the term was even coined. They partner with California State Parks, offering eco-classes and managing the preservation of Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, more than 800 acres of majestic Coast Redwoods, and the nearly 6,000 acre Austin Creek State Recreation Area. This pristine natural habitat includes shady redwood forests and meandering streams. Austin Creek offers twenty miles of trails and magnificent vistas as you traverse the rugged hillsides. An eco-paradise for hikers — and equestrians.

Saddle up

Gorgeous Lake Sonoma spreads across 2,700 acres of rolling, oak-studded hills in northern Sonoma County, just a short jaunt from downtown Healdsburg. Check out The Ranch at Lake Sonoma to enjoy the area on horseback. They provide all the gear and lead you on guided rides along gentle trails. Wine Country horseback riding is a one-of-a-kind experience of untouched countryside that you just can’t see any other way.

The Ranch at Lake Sonoma

Kayak coast and river

Want to submerge yourself in Wine Country’s natural environment? Rent a kayak and experience life outdoors. Guaranteed to slow down your pace and relax you, skimming the waters of the Sonoma Coast and Russian River offers a unique perspective of the environment that’s not to be missed. Keep your eyes open for egrets, deer, seals, and a large variety of wildlife as you quietly paddle through the water — a sublime eco-experience!

Smart Tours

WaterTreks EcoTours

Cycle the backroads

To fully engage yourself in your surroundings, hop on a bicycle and peddle the roads of Sonoma, Calistoga, Napa, and Healdsburg. And there’s so much to see — lush vineyards, bright sky, undulating hillsides. Bicycling puts you up close and personal with the environment. It’s low-profile ecotourism that always satisfies. Rent the bike you like, and hit the roads. You can take a guided tour or explore on your own. Cycling barely disturbs the environment, but be sure to leave nothing behind for a lightweight footprint.

Calistoga Bike Shop

Sonoma Valley Bike Tours

Visit a working farm

Sonoma County’s Farm Trails invites you to learn from local farmers. Every year, Farm Trails farmers open their gates to offer a behind-the-scenes peek at life on the farm. This year the farms are open to the public during the weekend of October 13 and 14. But at other times of year, many of the farms let you schedule an appointment to visit the farm in person. Their website has a detailed map that you can filter by product or region. Visiting farms makes for a fun experience for the entire family. It doesn’t get more eco and educational than visiting an active farm — often organic, always local, with high-quality produce of all types, from fragrant lavender to the plump berries.

Luxury home rentals

We want your vacation experience to be more than a getaway. The Wine Stay can help you plan experiences,  from wine tasting tours to a guided hike. Contact us for more information!

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Endless vistas of rolling hills, vineyards, redwoods, and oak-studded grassland soothe your soul. Fresh air enlivens you. While deer graze quietly and jack rabbits nibble nearby, a sense of calm overtakes you. You gladly surrender to the magnificent beauty of Wine Country backlands.

If you’ve been enjoying a few days of wine tasting, you’ve discovered how many great wineries are tucked throughout the countryside around Healdsburg, Calistoga, and the Pacific Coast. Whether it’s wine, beer, cider, cheese, or organic produce, a day of tasting brings you close to the pristine countryside and great outdoors. But maybe you’re ready for a deeper dive into nature. Sonoma and Napa counties offer thousands of acres of hiking trails, from flat pastureland to steep mountain treks.

Getting in close to nature awakens your senses. It’s enlivening and puts you right in the moment. Not only does hiking help quiet your mind, it helps you connect with yourself and those you’re sharing the experience with. So why not recharge yourself with some delicious “soul food”? Taste the ideal complement to Wine Country’s world-class foods and wines!

Here are a few of our favorite local hikes in Sonoma. Each one is an easy drive from your HB Experience vacation home. So lace up your shoes, grab your sunscreen and water bottle, and enjoy!

Hikes in Sonoma

Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve

http://parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Visit/Taylor-Mountain-Regional-Park-and-Preserve/

If you want an easy hike that won’t last all day, check out this park southeast of downtown Santa Rosa. Traverse grassy hillsides, oak chaparral, and creeks along 5.5 miles of trails. Spend the morning in nature, and then indulge in an afternoon of wine tasting!

Jack London State Historic Park

http://www.jacklondonpark.com/index.html

This park has something for everyone. Built around the home of renown novelist and adventurer Jack London, there are 20 miles of trails through forests and redwood groves and open meadows. Visit the many historic buildings, bring a picnic lunch, and make a day of it. Great for the whole family.

Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve/Austin Creek

https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=450

Experience the majestic coastal redwoods at this well-maintained natural reserve. Self-guided nature trails, picnic areas, and space to run around make this a fun destination for you and the kids. Hikes range from short and easy trails to steep and strenuous. Climb the Austin Creek trails to Bullfrog Pond for views you cannot see from any other vantage point.

Robert Louis Stevenson State Park

http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=472

Trek through forests and chaparral and, if you’re feeling it, climb the five-mile trail to the top of Mount St. Helena. The views of the San Francisco Bay Area will make your effort pay off. You can see all the way to Mount Shasta, nearly 200 miles away, on a clear day! Just a few miles north of Calistoga on HWY 29, it’s a good choice for a morning hike followed by an easygoing afternoon of lunch and wine tasting.

California Coastal Trail/Kortum Trail

http://www.californiacoastaltrail.info/hikers/hikers_main.php?DisplayAction=DisplayCounty&CountyId=5

Over half of the Sonoma coastline is dotted with hiking trails that afford magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean, rugged cliffs, and pebbly beaches. In springtime, the blooming wildflowers are not to be missed! The Kortum Trail has a well-maintained stretch from Wright’s Beach north to the bluffs above Shell Beach. About two miles roundtrip, this easy hike is ideal for a couple to share a romantic afternoon together.

Luxury home rentals

We want your vacation experience to be more than a getaway. We can help you plan experiences, from wine tasting tours to guided hikes. Contact us for more information!

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Everyone knows Sonoma Wine Country for its rolling hills lined with grapevines and fertile valleys. But don’t forget the coast! More than 55 miles of spectacular shoreline form the western border of Sonoma County.

If you want to take a break from the inland heat and experience unparalleled beauty, head out River Road (off Hwy 101 just south of Healdsburg) to the coast. In less than an hour’s drive, the cool Pacific awaits, and you’ll find easy access to beaches up and down Hwy 1.

Carved out by nature among rocky bluffs, the Sonoma Coast State Park beaches run from just north of Jenner, where the Russian River meets the Pacific, to Bodega Bay and afford breathtaking ocean views, dramatic bluffs, well-maintained hiking trails and a total of 17 miles of beaches scattered with driftwood and seashells. These aren’t warm, white sandy beaches — but they are incredible portraits of natural beauty.

Search for seashells, fly a kite, spread out a picnic, hike the Kortum Trail or simply watch the waves splash the shore. There’s a good chance you’ll see white plumes in the distance. Whales migrate from Alaska to Baja from December through April, but you may see whales spouting offshore any time of the year.

Wrights, Portuguese, Schoolhouse beaches — each beach with its distinctive name also has its unique appeal and all are worth stopping at. Pull your car over, breathe in the fresh air and explore the Sonoma Coast on foot. Here’s a sampling of some of my favorites.

Sonoma Coastal Beaches

Goat Rock Beach

This northern SoCo beach lies where the Russian River meets the sea. Search tide pools for sea anenomes or find jeweled abalone shells. Goat Rock is home to numerous seals and pups who you can hear barking near the mouth of the river.

Shell Beach

If you’re in for a gentle hike along the bluffs, park at Shell Beach. From here you can head either north or south on the Kortum Trail, named for a local coastal preservationist. The trail is marked and even has stretches of boardwalk to span marshy areas.

Salmon Creek Beach

Salmon Creek spills into the ocean and separates this beach into two. South Salmon Creek Beach with nearly two miles of sand and dunes is ideal for flying kites or long shoreline walks.

Bodega Head

The rocky point that forms the entrance into Bodega Harbor has trails along the headland. There’s level walking if you head south from the parking lot; head north for a more robust hike. Abundant wildflowers color this area in spring and early summer. The high cliffs present great views of the coast and opportunities for whale watching.

Although the Sonoma Coast presents unbelievable photo ops, it’s best to keep your distance. The waves can be unpredictable, sometimes taking you by surprise even when the water appears calm. Cold water temps, sleeper waves and a strong riptide add to the dramatic feel of the rugged coastline. Don’t plan on swimming or even wading in the shallows. There are no lifeguards. Although not good for swimming, the beaches of Sonoma Wine Country brim with vitality of nature.

One last thing to keep in mind: summer days typically begin foggy on the coast. But don’t be dissuaded. It usually burns off by midday. The weather is variable, so bring layered clothing and enjoy your date with the great Pacific.

Check out this handy list with descriptions of dozens of Sonoma coastal beaches here.

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