Taking the Kids: Supporting Sonoma County
If only we had more time. Should we spend more time soaking in the natural thermal pool (heated to more than 90 degrees) flowers all around us at the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, one of the few in the country to feature natural thermal mineral waters (135 degrees), flowing 1,100 feet directly under the resort.
Or we could opt for a "Bathing Ritual" that includes an herbal steam room, mineral soaking baths and my favorite, a "water tunnel" with a shower that includes a cascade of rain and water shooting up from your feet and, if you dare, a bucket of cold water over your head.
But we want to have enough time to sample the wonderful food (more than 500 restaurants to choose from, including one we often visit, The Girl & The Fig) and, of course, the wineries (425 wineries in 17 distinctive wine regions. We especially love the small, family-owned ones like Acorn Winery in Healdsburg.)
And we want to go hiking, too. There are more than 50 state and regional parks to choose from, including the famous Armstrong Redwoods, or the chance to walk along the spectacular 50 miles of Pacific Coast -- and hit a farmer's market or two (there are more than 100 organic farms here). It's fun simply to peruse the shops in Healdsburg or the historic Sonoma Plaza -- Sonoma is said to be the birthplace of California's wine industry and the northernmost and is the location of the last Spanish/Mexican mission on which the Mission Inn is modeled.
Just 30 miles north of San Francisco and a popular getaway for families, as well as foodies and wine lovers, Sonoma County has been much in the news, of course, because of the recent devastating Northern California wildfires that raged in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties and now have been largely contained. At least 40 people died, more than in any other California wildfire on record; more than 6,000 lost homes and 27 California wineries, though only a handful in Sonoma County, were destroyed or damaged, including one of our favorites, Paradise Ridge in Santa Rosa, known for its outdoor sculpture gardens, as well as its wine. "We count our blessings that our family and team are safe," the Byck family says, promising to rebuild.
For those not familiar with this area, the fires were mostly along Sonoma County's eastern border, including parts of Sonoma Valley, Santa Rosa and Geyserville. The 2017 harvest was nearly complete and 90 percent of Sonoma County, which is more than a million acres, hasn't been impacted by the fires. Most of the businesses catering to tourists are open and upcoming events -- concerts, farmers' markets and farm tours, art walks and holiday celebrations -- are going ahead as scheduled, according to County tourism officials.
Sonoma County has always been a favorite getaway to share with our daughter and son-in-law, who live in San Francisco, the perfect combination of food, wine, stellar scenery and outdoor adventure for millennials willing to share a "grown-up" weekend with parents, as well as those with younger kids seeking activities that will please all ages -- perhaps kayaking on the Russian River or visiting a local farm?
Now as the region recovers, it is important, I think, for us to help in any way we can, including visiting and shopping, even just for a day, if you are visiting the San Francisco area. Come the day after Thanksgiving when many wineries have open houses, suggests Betsy Nachbaur, who with her family owns Acorn Winery. "The vast majority of our wineries were untouched," she said.
No one wants to at all diminish the horrible impact of the fires. They just want people like you and me to realize that the best way to help is to visit. "Please continue to support Sonoma County wineries, breweries, cheese makers, farmers and local artisans," said Tim Zahner, interim CEO of Sonoma County Tourism. "Purchasing products that were bottled in, made in, grown in, brewed in or otherwise came from Sonoma County help local families recover."
"We're going to need visitors now more than ever," he added. "Getting back to our livelihood of providing hospitality to travelers will be the best way to help Sonoma County get back to work. Our 20,000-plus tourism jobs are among small, locally owned businesses." (Travel information updates will be offered via www.SonomaCounty.com and Sonoma County's social media channels.)
This is a win-win as hotels, restaurants and wineries offer special deals this fall -- everything from two-for-one tastings, free hotel nights, bike tours and discounted packages.
Look for ones designed to help you give back, especially to help those dependent on tourism dollars, those who work on an hourly basis in the vineyards and restaurants. The historic Fairmont Mission Inn, which escaped damage, for example is offering a (hashtag)SonomaStrong rate of $199. (You won't want to miss their spa!). Timber Cove Resort, which sits on a bluff above the Pacific Coast, is touting a third-night free. (Kids will love the four-bed bunk rooms, the cabinet full of board games and the treasure hunt around the extensive property.)
Celebrity Chef Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg is offering a Sonoma Neighbor Menu at $27, with $2 from each meal sold going to the Sonoma County Resiliency Fund. And Acorn Winery is donating $1 for every bottle purchased in the tasting room through Nov. 25 to North Bay Fire Relief Fund or to the Sonoma County Foundations' Resilience Fund.
"Please reassure people that it is safe to visit," said Betsy Nachbaur. "And it's beautiful, the most beautiful time of the year! Your visit matters -- and will make a huge difference."