Healdsburg is a small, vibrant, foodie and wine town in Sonoma Country, California. It was by far my favorite town in the area when we stayed in Sonoma. If I could do it again, I would definitely have stayed in Healdsburg for the month that we stayed in northern California. We stayed in nearby Santa Rosa on our one year trip around the country with our three young children, which was only a 15 minute drive from Healdsburg.
One of the things that I really liked about Healdsburg is that it is built around a town square, which is a bit uncommon. Typically towns in the U.S. are built around a “Main Street” rather than a town square which is more common in some places in Europe and Mexico, and I'm sure other places too. This centralizes a lot of activity in the town and acts as a gathering places for friends, family, and neighbors. It provides a great sense of community. During the summer, Healdsburg has a farmers market in the square along with free summer concerts.
We first visited Healdsburg early on in our trip. I had wanted to take a cooking class, and figured I could find something good in the Sonoma/Napa region. My parents-in-law were with us for our first week in California and I wanted to take advantage and check out a cooking class while they took care of the kids.
I looked around online and couldn’t find anything. I did see one or two but the timing didn’t work. One was held only once a month and another one was just getting started and hadn’t opened yet.
However, I did find a food tour. We have done food tours in the past while traveling around Europe before we had kids, and we absolutely loved them. It’s a really fantastic mix of getting a walking tour of the city/town, some of the history, but also learning a lot about new cultures through food. You often stop at restaurants and parts of town that you never would have otherwise, and eat food that you would never order on your own.
For instance, in Prague we ate at a restaurant that Albert Einstein used to go to, which I never would have known about or dined in otherwise. The other big plus to a food tour is you often end up eating with a small group of people from all over the world. Sitting down to eat with someone is a really nice an intimate way to get to know someone new and learn about their life and culture – an experience that is very hard to come by in such a short space of time, especially while traveling.
So I signed us up for a food and wine tour in Healdsburg. It was run by Savor Healdsburg Food Tours and called Gourmet Healdsburg Food Tour. The company and our tour was run by Tammy Gas, who did a phenomenal job leading the tour. We learned a lot about the town itself and how it has expanded dramatically over the last several years. We learned about many of the restaurants, wineries, and boutique hotels as well as the chefs, winemakers, and developers and their journeys to creating or expanding their businesses in Healdsburg.
Our first stop was to Journeyman Meat Company, a deli in town that specializes in all things meat. The deli is actually called a salumeria, or retailer that sells salumi (plural of salami). We had a selection of salumi (it’s hard not to just keep calling it salami), paired with a glass (or two? It's hard to remember) of wine. The salumi was really excellent and definitely more delicate and flavorful than store bought salumi.
I went back here once afterwards to buy some sausages that we made at home as well as a few slices of salami. I like the salumi a lot more than the sausages. Our guide also said that this was a good spot to get a quick and easy bit to eat, or even take as a picnic to the town square just two blocks over, which a lot of local people do.
The next stop was Bravas, a Spanish tapas style restaurant. A number of the tapas blew me away, but my favorite by far was the Fried Eggplant Chips with Truffle Honey & Rosemary. I loved this tapa so much that I worked on recreating it, which you can read more about here: Quick Fried Eggplant Chips with Rosemary and Honey.
We also had the Creamy Chicken Croquetas with Ham and Gruyere Cheese. This was very similar to the croquetas that we had all the time in Barcelona. Croquetas are like dumplings (but not really like dumplings) that are breaded and fried on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside usually made with cheese and either pork or fish. The gruyere was a really nice touch and made them super creamy and flavorful.
Our guide ordered Duncan’s Mushrooms with Toasted Garlic, Parsley, Sherry Vinaigrette. Mushrooms are one of the few things that I really don’t like, mostly because of the texture. So its something that I never would have ordered. But because our guide ordered them, I tried them, and loved them. The texture was so different from what I am used to when eating mushrooms and the garlic, parsley and sherry vinaigrette was so bright and tasty. I went back for seconds and thirds.
We also had the patatas bravas, which were very good, but my favorite are still from a place called Bar Tomas on a little street far from the center of the city in Barcelona. I loved Bravas the restaurant so much that we went back on a separate day as a family and ordered tapas. We got many of the same things that we did on the tour as well as the Roasted Cauliflower and Monterey Calamari (not fried). My favorites were still the eggplant chips and the croquetas – another thing I’d love to learn how to make.
We also stopped and did a wine tasting at Portolupi wines and had a vegan ice cream at Little Saint which offers a 100% plant-based menu. Finally, we stopped at Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar where I ordered the Maple Chocolate Walnut Pie a la mode with Dutch Cookie Ice cream. They were both incredible and I’d highly recommend them. We loved it so much that we came back here as a family so that the boys could enjoy it too.
In addition to the food tour, Sebastian and I came back here on a separate night for a date night dinner at Valette, a very well renowned and successful restaurant just off the town square. The interior of the restaurant was beautifully designed, like many of the other restaurants in town. I loved the wood trusses in the ceiling and the sun burst chandeliers.
We ordered the Fresh Italian Buratta and the Day Boat Scallops en Croute. The Day Boar Scallops was a most impressive dish. The scallops were cooked in a small sauce pan and then covered in puff pastry. It is brought to the table as a giant puff pastry dome covered pan then broken and plated at the table along with a creamy sauce and caviar. I had never had caviar before and while I know it’s a very fancy and expensive dish, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it, but the caviar was actually quite good, and the whole dish was fantastic.
For the main course I ordered the Pan Seared Alaskan Halibut (a dish that I have worked on recreating at home) and Sebastian ordered the Crispy Skin Duck Breast. I loved the halibut and the combination of the creamed corn and chorizo, and would also highly recommend it.
We ordered three of the four desserts: Bread Butter and Jam; Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta; and ItsNotA ‘Snickers Bar’ Deux. Our favorite by far was the Bread, Butter and Jam. I never would have ordered it if it wasn’t suggested by our server who said it was their most popular dessert. I asked the server how it was made and soon after getting home I worked on recreating it. You can find the recipe and more details here: Sweet Brioche Bread and Jam Dessert. Despite looking very fancy, it’s actually quite simple, very unique, and super super good.
Eating at Valette was such a great experience. If you're in town, I would definitely recommend it.
Healdsburg is such a nice town and definitely worth visiting and there are so many good restaurants worth checking out. It was really nice to walk around the well-kept streets, peak into the beautifully designed shops and restaurants and attend the free concerts in the town square while licking ice cream from nearby ice cream and pie bar, Noble Folk. It was definitely my favorite town in Sonoma and Napa, and I'd highly recommend it. If you have little kids there's also a nice little park and playground at Healdsburg Recreation Park.
What to Do: EAT, but also…
- Walk around the town.
- Have a picnic in the town square, pick up salumi from Journeyman Meat Company.
- There’s a really cute playground at Healdsburg Recreation Park for kids.
Where to Eat:
- Savor Healdsburg Food Tours: Gourmet Healdsburg Food Tour
- Bravas: fancy Spanish style tapas (low key vibe). I’d Recommend:
- Patatas Bravas
- Creamy Chicken Croquetas
- Duncan’s Mushrooms
- Fried Eggplant Chips (link to my recipe here)
- Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar
- I loved the Maple Chocolate Walnut Pie with Dutch Cookie Ice Cream
- Day Boat Scallops en Croute
- Pan Seared Alaskan Halibut
- Bread Butter and Jam (link to my recipe here)