In the heart of Healdsburg, H2 Hotel sets the eco-friendly standard. Rooms are fashioned from sustainable materials, the fragrant bath products are made in town, and guests can fill reusable water bottles with sparkling or still from at a bar on each floor.
Double rooms from £194.38 ($255), including tax at 16 per cent.
Rates include buffet breakfast of fruits, pastries, porridge, cooked-to-order eggs, fluffy waffles and breakfast sandwiches.
Pair sun salutations with your sauvignon blanc. H2 offers free ashtanga yoga classes every weekend morning. Care to visit the coolest museum in the world? The hotel is also home to the Hand Fan Museum of Healdsburg (www.handfanmuseum.com), which holds 500 fans from around the globe. Though there is no on-site spa, guests can book botanical-based treatments up the road at sister property Hotel Healdsburg.
At the hotel
Gardens, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD player, iPod dock, custom-made bath products. There’s a free ‘H20 bar’ on each floor where you can top up on still or sparkling.
Our favourite rooms
The Eco-Studios have an open floorplan and lounge area, and a bathroom with a deep plunge tub. Opt for one with a creek view. For a bit more space, the Eco-Suites have two balconies overlooking Sonoma. Front-facing Suites look out to the mountain. Every streamlined green-and-taupe room has a balcony or patio overlooking Healdsburg.
The outdoor pool, set off the lobby, is heated by solar panels on the roof, and surrounded by sunloungers.
Plan to cycle through Sonoma? The hotel will lend you a bike for three hours at a time. Those more comfortable with their own wheels can take advantage of the hotel’s free storage, pumps and assorted tools. If only four wheels will do, bring a designated driver: this is wine country, after all.
Pets are welcome; Fido will incur a $99 cleaning fee.
Better for younger children, the hotel offers free Pack ’n’ Plays, but cannot arrange babysitting.
As green as it gets: the LEED-certified hotel has solar panels, a living roof, natural bath products, organic cleaning products and in-house water bars to eliminate plastic bottles.The hotel also works to protect Foss Creek, a habitat for steelhead trout.
Take one of the reclaimed acacia-wood tables by the wall of windows for the best people-watching. The long communal table is great for making friends.
Edun’s ethically produced dresses for her, denim and button-downs for him.
Chef Louis Maldonado, a veteran of Napa’s famed French Laundry, has taken a local, sustainable approach to American cuisine at Spoonbar. He cures local fish, including cobia and omega-rich ocean trout, and preserves seasonal vegetables to use throughout the year. The hip restaurant brightens its wood accents – including high panelled ceilings – with bright blue Eames chairs, 3D floral art and a cascading spoon wall that gave the place its name. On warm days, the floor-to-ceiling windows open onto Healdsburg’s main road.
Take a break from wine to sip cocktails here. The list includes hyper-local versions of classics, including a mai tai and margarita. If only the grape will suffice, you’re still in luck: the wine list features a robust selection of bottles from local, small-scale wineries.
Dinner is served until 10pm on weeknights, and 11pm on weekends. Early risers can pop in for breakfast from 6am.
The full restaurant menu can be brought to your room during normal kitchen hours.
Santa Rosa’s small airport is 12 miles from the hotel. For longer hauls, head for Oakland and San Francisco International, which are about 60 and 80 miles away, respectively.
Cars are an excellent way of visiting the more remote parts of Sonoma, which is a 90-minute drive from San Francisco. H2 offers valet parking for $15 a day.
Worth getting out of bed for
After you’ve tanned by the pool, stretched in yoga and tried a sage-and-Meyer-lemon massage in the nearby spa, explore the scrumptious side of Sonoma. Relish Culinary Adventures hosts food-filled tours; the seasonal day trips lead participants on mushroom forages, dairy tours and peach-tasting at an orchard or a visit to a local olive-oil press. Each trip ends with a cooking class followed by a four-course lunch with wine. The region is packed with vineyards: try longstanding favourite Seghesio or sip exquisite zinfandel at A Rafanelli. In town, there are several tasting rooms, from wineries including Kendall-Jackson and Murphy-Goode. There are also plenty of tour operators, who’ll happily ferry you around the wineries via car, such as Platypus Tours.
Across the road from H2, Mateo's Cocina Latina serves spicy, locally sourced tacos, tamales and other Yucatecan specialites on a garden patio). One street away in a chic converted barn, Barndiva serves fresh, all-local dishes and creative cocktails. A block up from H2, Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen at H2’s sister Hotel Healdsburg is a standard-bearer for Sonoma’s food and wine scene. Spoonbar's market-driven menu celebrates the hyper-local provenance of its ingredients. Its mod-American dishes are all very tempting, but our pick is the hearty North Coast seafood cioppino, packed with gulf prawns, crawfish, blue clams, calamari, mussels and more.
A group of Chez Panisse alums opened Downtown Bakery & Café in 1987. The restaurant serves light lunches, including quiche and salads, but the donut muffin is the item that draws the biggest crowds. Pack a picnic with pizzas, salads and artisanal sodas from Oakville Grocery, a spin-off of Napa’s favourite to-go market.
‘My god, Healdsburg is the spiritual home of the happy hipster!’ declares Mr Smith, as we drive through this not-so-sleepy northern California wine country town on an unseasonably warm autumn day.
He’s not wrong. It might be located in the heart of Sonoma, with some of California’s finest wineries on its doorstep, but Healdsburg is no hokey folksy blip on the map. Upon arrival, we see that a craft beer festival has taken over the main square – smoked meats, rockabilly tunes and small batch brews carefully crafted by passionate bearded guys who’ve left their Silicon Valley jobs to pursue their dream. ‘Brisket and beer in the sun on a Friday afternoon – this is definitely my kind of town,’ marvels Mr Smith.
Pulling up at the H2 hotel – conveniently set right in the centre of town – we’re greeted with a friendly, ‘Hey guys’ from the young H2 lobby dudes casually clad in lime green Nike polo shirts and shorts. For a minute we think they might high-five us, toss us the keys to our room and suggest we join them for a drink.
After all, the reception area doubles as a bar – and a well-stocked one at that. They make their own shrubs – a sweetened vinegar-based syrup that’s all the rage with the artisan-cocktail set – from local botanicals, and focus on regional spirits and Russian River Valley wines, naturally.
As we climb the stairs to one of the 36 rooms, there are reminders everywhere of how green and virtuous we are being by staying in this eco-chic hotel. Starting with the sculpture in the entrance created from hundreds of tiny espresso spoons with recycled water flowing over them to create movement and an air-conditioning effect for the lobby.
Of course, there’s also the solar-paneled rooftop garden abounding in succulents that filter rain water into nearby Foss Creek, a bike rack full of complimentary bikes (thankfully not the fixies one would expect in a hipster heaven such as this) for tootling around town and large glass bottles in-room for filling with filtered water to avoid the waste of plastic bottles and disposable cups.
Our room is airy and light-filled, full of pale timber Scandi-design details without skimping on mod cons (eco ones, of course). Ceiling fans whir lazily overhead, wooden shutters reduce the heat, and local favourite Meyer lemon is the signature scent in the delicious smelling custom-made toiletries.
Given the timing of our visit, I curse that we are going to miss the free morning yoga class on Sunday – until Mr Smith reminds me that this unfortunate scheduling might become a convenient excuse to stay in bed after a few too many local pinots. He clearly has big boozy plans for our stay.
By the time we finally tear ourselves away from our sanctuary to partake in a craft beer or a mixologist-made ‘farm-to-bar’ cocktail by the neat little vine-shrouded pool, the lobby has turned from a laid-back WiFi hang into a bit of a party. We find it full of young things drinking their zinfandel and snacking on organic local cheeses before heading to dinner in Spoonbar, where young chef Louis Maldonado is a disciple of local hero Thomas Keller of The French Laundry fame, whose ‘support local, cook local’ ethos is stamped all over town.
We spend the following day cruising the surrounding cellars specializing in local-darling zinfandels and silken-textured pinot noirs – some of which are a convenient 10 minute drive down the road – and decide we are well and truly deserving of a spa treatment. So it’s handy to know that H2’s sister hotel, Hotel Healdsburg, just one block away, has a pretty fancy spa setup.
The hotel is the cool, calm and collected older sister of the spunky young H2, a bit more luxe with its high ceilings and open fireplaces. The spa is heavenly and we settle on massages using the ubiquitous Meyer lemon, which cleanses and revives, we are told. French doors allow the country air to breeze through the room, and we emerge fragrant and happy.
Ready for a pick-me-up, we stroll over to nearby Shed, a shop and cafe, for a kombucha on tap. We lose ourselves browsing the aisles stocked with locally-made ceramics, cookbooks by local hero chefs and tempting foodstuffs from honey to gin. Wandering back to H2, past modern little satellite cellar doors and beer gardens overflowing with the town’s happily imbibing inhabitants, we understand why so many have migrated to Healdsburg.
This idyllic little town is Disneyland for food-and-drink-loving adults – overflowing with all things local and delicious, rich with creativity, and idealistic in its approach to supporting its own and doing things as ethically and sustainably as possible – just like the hip and youthful H2. ‘They’re not so silly, those hipsters,’ says Mr Smith, as we sit on our balcony looking over the quiet street at night, ‘I just might start growing a beard…’