November/December 2021 Issue
Heading north from San Francisco, Highway 101 takes drivers across the Golden Gate Bridge—and the scenery only gets more epic from there. As the road winds through Sonoma, Mendocino, and Humboldt Counties, big-city bustle becomes a distant memory as thick stands of impossibly tall, awe-inspiring redwoods tower above the asphalt. Make a day of the drive to newly renamed Sue-meg State Park, and you’ll be rewarded with sensational wine, charming small towns, and a windswept beach along the way.
Downtown Healdsburg might just be the perfect blend of city and country. Surrounded by vineyards and centered on a tree-shaded square, the small town encourages a slower pace, but still offers the sophisticated shopping and dining (fine leather goods, Michelin-starred chefs) that you’d find in a big city. At Banshee Wines’ tasting room, for instance, wine lovers can sip pinot noir perched on a cozy easy chair while enjoying tunes spinning on the record player. Nearby, celeb chef Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen—the restaurant that turned the town into a culinary destination 20 years ago—is still sending out inventive seasonal fare, such as roasted eggplant casoncelli with tomato conserve, sweet orange peppers, balsamic vinegar, and fresh mint. As for pairing, diners are spoiled for choice, with a wine list 500 bottles deep.
Of all the small towns tucked into the trees, Leggett (population: 83) earns the title of most intriguing. Exploring the clutch of houses and shops along the highway, you’ll come to the Chandelier Tree, a 276-foot redwood with a six-foot tunnel carved into the base that you can drive through, and Confusion Hill’s Gravity House, where you feel you have to lean to stand up straight, even if your posture is perfect. Don’t miss the Peg House, a wood-paneled store hawking T-shirts, mugs, and the most delicious salmon burgers on the planet. Order from the handwritten menu, then post up on the patio, where you might hear live music.