Luck of the Drive: Traveling in Sonoma

A straightforward review on where to eat and stay in town


Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t. This is one of those times, more or less. I’m traveling through Sonoma and trying to find things that are new, different, or unusual to recommend to my fellow travelers. With just a week to gather all these recommendations, I have to rely on planning, and to a great extent, luck, to allow all the pieces to fall into place.
What happens when things don’t work out? Well, a less useful guide perhaps, or perhaps not. Recommendations with reservations might just be as valuable as those that one can wholeheartedly support. Some of these places might be perfect for some travelers, while on the other hand, other travelers might like to hear about some of the flaws some well regarded places are hiding. So here it is, the unvarnished truth of my stay in Sonoma.

Where to Stay

I’ve already mentioned the Dry Creek Inn in Healdsburg, and while it can be a bit of a pain, at least their vintage rooms, those in the Tuscan wing are rather a step up in luxury and appointments. It does offer terrific value and a great location, right off the freeway, a mile or so from the center of town.

I always try someplace new when I return to a region I’ve visited before, and on this trip I checked out the Sonoma Creek Inn, a few miles from downtown Sonoma. This kind of old school motor inn has potential, with clean (if small) rooms and large bathrooms with terrific water pressure. I get the feeling that things are on the upswing here; most of the rooms have a comfy private little patio, though there is a fairly busy road just over the wall. There’s nothing really close by except for the attached Creekside Café, which puts together a fine breakfast. If you don’t mind being out the way and are tolerant of some traffic noise, this could be a good value-priced option for you. Otherwise, keep looking.

239 Boyes Boulevard
Sonoma, CA 95476

Burger Battles

I’ve been on a bit of burger discovery mission since earlier this year, when I had a superb burger from the Prather Ranch outlet in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Of course, not everybody can do a burger quite that well. Case in point: Healdsburger. With a cute name and a folksy old location on the outskirts of Healdsburg, I had high hopes for Healdsburger, and truth be known their burger is pretty darn tasty, if only they could cook them correctly. I dined at Healdsburger twice, once with a friend, and out of the three total requests for medium rare we were only able to get the burger cooked correctly once; the other two times it was overcooked. I’m not that fussy, so I ate the burgers regardless, and they were mighty tasty. But if you’re a stickler when it comes to your burger then you might not be happy here. One side note: the fries, truly fresh cut, were delicious, not crispy (fresh cut fries hardly ever are) but properly cooked with excellent flavor.

48 Healdsburg Avenue
Healdsburg, CA 95448

And the Winner Is…

Superburger. I’ve driven past this place many times without giving it a second thought, but on this trip, with their bigger winner 2012 banner out, I felt compelled to stop. I forgot to look at the banner to see what it actually said, but I would imagine Superburger has won either best burger, best milkshake, or both, in Santa Rosa or Sonoma.

This is as old school as you get, with a low, U-shaped counter occupying the entirety of the restaurant, which would be a cramped NYC studio apartment—it’s that small. I doubt you could legally build this place today. Like its design, the menu harkens back to simpler times, though with some thoroughly modern touches like lamb burgers and the Montecito burger topped with guacamole, bacon and cheese.

There are fries and onion rings, and shakes that look like they’re really just blended ice cream, all properly prepared and pretty unfancy. I love the fixins tray on the counter, allowing you to lay as many pickle slices as you like on your burger, and the bun is really one of the best burger buns I’ve had in a long time. Not inexpensive, but still a relatively cheap place to stop for a burger and shake after a long day of wine tasting.

1501 4th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
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  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 155

    Sonoma County is really huge and it has a variety of viticultural areas from vineyards next to the coast producing excellent Pinots to rock soils at Rockpile and to fertile valley floors that are very sunny and hot during the days but cool off at night. It also has wonderful areas to bike ride, beautiful beaches and cliffs with pounding surf. And nothing beats sunrise amidst the vines. It is cheaper than Napa for lodging, particularly in the less well known areas along the coasts and in some interior valleys. Oh, the wines are pretty damn good too.

    Mar 11, 2013 at 4:20 PM

  • Snooth User: InWineTruth
    Hand of Snooth
    220106 1,634

    We like the Farmhouse Inn of Forestville, and the Hotel La Rose in downtown Santa Rosa for style and convenience. Phyllis Giant Burger on the Sonoma Hwy, with another location on Piner Road near Carol Shelton Wines are also good meaty, wipe your chin chomps.

    Mar 11, 2013 at 7:11 PM

  • Snooth User: tahoekr
    1240432 65

    A caption on the page 2 photo would be nice. Is it the Dry Creek Inn or Sonoma Creek Inn?

    Mar 11, 2013 at 8:24 PM

  • Just returned from a week in Sonoma, staying in the Courtyard Marriott in historic Railroad Square, a nice hotel with good ameneties and central to everything in Sonoma. Also walking distance to some very good restaurants such as Stark's Steakhouse (affiliated with Willy's), Jackson's and many others where you can get an ice cold martini or a nice bourbon (last thing I want at the end of a day of wine tasting is wine) as well as great food. Zazu is a great spot for a meal (best bacon around). Any of the mexican taquerias are really good. And get yourself down to Tomales for Oysters (Hogs Head, Marshalls, or Tomales Oyster Farm).

    Mar 12, 2013 at 4:08 PM

  • Snooth User: sesala
    178030 23

    Next month we are headed to the Sonoma Valley for the second time. I can't say enough about VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner). We found a very reasonably priced two bedroom cottage on a vineyard near Windsor. And thanks to Snooth, one of the wineries on our agenda is Talty.

    Mar 14, 2013 at 3:11 PM

  • Snooth User: wineozach
    753784 65

    I just returned from 1 day in Napa and 1 day in Sonoma. I am in love with Sonoma now. It's less pretentious and more intimate. We stayed just outside of Santa Rosa in a beautiful little town nestled in the redwoods. The Occidental Inn was a beautiful place to stay and it wasn't to far off the beaten path. We fell in love with an amazing and unique winery. Lambert Bridge's wine was the BEST wine I've had in the last year, and I have had a lot since I am a wine blogger. Jordan was awesome and we worth the visit. The last winery we visited was Robert Young Estate Winery. It was recommended by our tour guide at Jordan. I recommend all of the wineries and especially Lambert Bridge.

    Mar 19, 2013 at 9:50 PM

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