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Escape the Heat This Summer in Beautiful Northern California

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When you think of Napa Valley, what comes to mind? Images of picturesque rolling hills with miles of vineyards, world-class restaurants with incomparable food and wine, pampering at exquisite spas, luxurious resorts, and quaint bed and breakfasts, right? Well, I bet your first thought isn’t that you would find eco-friendly lodging there. Think again…

A Romantic Getaway at the Inn on First in Napa
In May of 2007, Jim Gunther and Jamie Cherry of San Francisco, CA, took the reins as the new innkeepers of The Inn on First, a contemporary bed and breakfast located in the heart of Napa. Jim and Jamie brought a fresh look and fervor to excel in service to their guests. What distinguishes their deluxe bed and breakfast from any other in Napa Valley is not only the touch of San Francisco style they have added to the decor and their focus on hospitality as a personalized gift to their guests, but their commitment to contribute to an improved way of living and environmental consciousness.

Owners Jim Gunther and Jamie Cherry have truly outdone themselves with this bed and breakfast. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, this is the place. Jim makes all the breakfasts from scratch with deliciously unique food and over 130 selections in his repertoire. In fact, he even keeps track of what you had when you stayed there before, so you never have the same breakfast twice!

From the moment you step through the doors of The Inn on First, you’re greeted with a feeling of coming home. Jim and Jamie help orchestrate your memorable stay in the wine country, and it’s their combined talents that shape your experience. Situated on a quiet street in downtown Napa, this American craftsman-style B&B offers luxury, pampering, and peaceful surroundings, and you can feel good that you’re staying at a property that is environmentally conscious.

We stayed in the Noble Vineyard suite with gold- and red-toned décor, which has a luxuriously comfortable king bed, private entrance, gas fireplace, large seating area, whirlpool tub, twin sinks, and spacious rainfall shower. The best part? There is NO TV! You have your own private balcony that is hidden under the branches of a large oak tree with a small cafe table and two chairs. Other cool things for your use while staying at the Inn are the stainless-steel water bottles and a picnic basket equipped with everything you need.

Inn on First: Seating Area

The Noble Vineyard Suite at the Inn on First.

Inn on First: Bathroom

Whirlpool tub, twin sinks, and spacious rainfall shower at the Inn on First.

In 2014, they were one of thirteen businesses in the State of California to receive a Climate Leader Award from CoolCalifornia.org, which is funded by the California Environmental Protection Agency. This award recognizes California small businesses that demonstrate exceptional climate change management practices and communication. Other green practices they’ve implemented include:

  • Low-flow water sources and tankless water heater.
  • Kitchen waste and garden composting.
  • Re-usable glassware instead of paper or plastic; stainless steel water bottles replacing plastic water bottles.
  • In-room recycle bins.
  • In-room climate control. Each room has a personal air-conditioning/cooling unit, heat source, and ceiling fans with occupancy sensors which allow for energy savings in unoccupied rooms
  • Luxury Toiletries from Gilchrist & Soames.
    The BeeKind® Collection features formulations that contain no parabens, phthalates, petrol-
    derived ingredients, mineral oil, urea, DEA, TEA, or propylene glycol. They use recyclable packaging and are free of any artificial colors or dyes.
  • Household natural cleaning products that protect both the environment and the housekeepers who use them.
  • Certified-green linen service.
  • House-made snacks, which reduces unnecessary packaging/shipping and cuts back on the pollution derived from automobile-based distribution and paper waste.
  • Food storage bags that are composed of clear 100% home-compostable cellulose product made from wood fiber that causes nearly zero environmental impact.
  • Natural cleaning and gardening products are used to keep rooms and grounds in
    pristine condition

Interestingly enough, we met a couple at breakfast that was spending their honeymoon at the Inn on First – I couldn’t imagine a more perfect place!

Mouth Watering Food, Delicious Wine, and Pure Romance in Sonoma
Sonoma is a magical place dotted with quaint towns, each with its own unique flavor. I recommend Healdsburg as a home base for a couple of days and then spend a day further south in Sonoma. Healdsburg has a lively downtown area, yet you can get away from it during the day by driving or cycling through wine country. If you’re a foodie, you’ll be excited to hear that a bumper crop of award-winning restaurants has popped up, further elevating Sonoma’s reputation as a culinary epicenter. Other things not to miss are mingling with locavores at the Healdsburg Farmer’s Market, held every Saturday from May through November from 9 am to 12 pm, one block west of the town square.

We stayed at Case Ranch Inn, located on the quiet side of Healdsburg. The Inn is a peaceful respite in a country location where you can relax and enjoy the renowned Russian River Valley wine country and all its many beautiful attractions. Case Ranch Inn is a Registered National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Habitat. The two-acre setting includes the main house with two guest rooms and a cottage, a wrap-around porch, and lush gardens with a gazebo, a pond, and a fountain.

Case Ranch Inn Exterior

Case Ranch Inn in Healdsburg.

Case Ranch Inn Interior

The Garden Cottage at Case Ranch Inn.

Built around 1894 by Joseph Walker, the Case Ranch was purchased by James L. Case in 1910, when it consisted of a Victorian farmhouse on 50 acres in the rolling hills of the Russian River Valley.

Case Ranch Inn is now owned by Barbara Wolf. Barbara became interested in bed and breakfasts after traveling extensively with her daughters in Europe, staying at a wide variety of charming bed and breakfast lodgings from the British Isles to Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, and Italy.

Case Ranch Inn received the Bay Area Green Business certificate for conserving resources and protecting the environment. You can enjoy antique shopping in Sebastopol and Healdsburg, hiking in beautiful Armstrong Woods State Park in Guerneville, tasting award-winning wines at hundreds of Sonoma County’s nearby wineries, and visit the magnificent California coastline where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. If you’re in the Sonoma Wine Country to relax and unwind, there’s always ambitious porch sitting or deck napping! Your stay includes a FREE Wine Tasting Passport for tastings at premium Russian River Valley wineries.

Now let’s get to the food! My favorites in downtown Healdsburg are Barndiva and Chalkboard. With a tagline like “Eat the View,” you know Barndiva is going to be fresh, local, and seasonal! Innovative cuisine and delicious cocktails are served in an impossibly hip setting: a renovated barn with a sleek but unstuffy design, which consistently draws a big crowd. We had the king salmon and potato croquette with heirloom beet salad, shaved radish, Belgian endive, and kumquat, and the banh mi house ground pork loin with shaved cucumber, cilantro, pickled chili salad, aioli, toasted brioche. Both were amazing, but keep in mind that the selections are very seasonal, so these options may not always be on the menu.

Located just off the square in downtown Healdsburg, Chalkboard is casual and contemporary. Executive Chef Shane McAnelly’s menu of small plates is inspired by produce from a dedicated three-acre garden, paired with local wine flights and inventive cocktails. Chalkboard’s daily-changing menu is defined by ingredients sourced from local purveyors and farms, highlighting crudos, just-picked salads, handmade pasta, roasted and grilled meats, seafood, and a selection of playful dessert offerings. They also do a rotating happy hour based on different cities. We sat at the lively bar and had the short rib sliders with marmalade, blue cheese, and bacon aioli and the roasted butternut squash with brown butter, sage, kale, and garlic. Delicious!

One of California’s premier wine regions, Sonoma County, is a hidden gem. It’s a short drive but worlds away from the sometimes pretentious and always pricier Napa tasting rooms. You’ll rarely have to wait in line or make a reservation for a tasting, and most tasting fees range from $5–$15. This area is known for amazing zinfandel, pinot noir, and chardonnay. Here’s my not-to-be-missed list:

  • Chalk Hill Vineyard: Chalk Hill produces one of my all-time favorite chardonnays, and I love their commitment to sustainable farming, which ensures that the land will remain healthy for generations and wines will accurately reflect their origins in the hills of eastern Sonoma County.
  • Ridge Vineyard: Surrounded by beautiful 115-year-old vines, this eco-sustainable winery stands as one of the most unique sites in all of Sonoma County’s wine country. The facility is built of straw bales and vineyard clay, and primarily solar-powered, and produces exceptional single-vineyard wines.
  • Preston Vineyard and Winery: This is an experience unlike your typical wine tasting. In addition to estate-grown, organic wines, you’ll find many farm-fresh products like organic vegetables, fruits, and nuts, you-pick strawberries, estate-laid eggs, sauerkraut, salami, and a selection of local, artisanal cheeses grown and produced in small batches by the Preston family. Sample Lou’s bread, estate-grown and pressed olive oil, and cured olives in the tasting room. Enjoy this fresh food and wine in the picnic area, and when you’re done, take a stroll through the organic gardens.
  • Hartford Family Winery: This pinot noir is amazing. Small and low-yielding vineyards deliver meager amounts of expressive and personality-rich wine. The single-vineyard Hartford Court pinot noirs and chardonnays total as few as 93 cases up to about 800 cases. Be sure to get your hands on some.
  • Dutton-Goldfield Winery: A laid-back, cool vibe atmosphere in the tasting room with amazing chardonnays and a Pinot Blanc. Pinot Blanc is a white-skinned mutation of pinot noir, prized for its fresh stone fruit flavors and cleansing mouthfeel.

If you feel the need to work off all this amazing food and wine, you can saddle up for a two-wheeled excursion through the gorgeous countryside of Dry Creek Valley, where farms co-mingle with some of Sonoma’s top wineries. Pick up your bike at Healdsburg’s Wine Country Bikes, which supplies rentals, helmets, maps, and bike-mounted wine bottle carriers for your bounty. Newbies should consider a guided tour, but experienced riders can venture out on their own. An excellent, not-too-ambitious route is north along West Dry Creek Road, which has less traffic than Dry Creek Road.

Your first stop: Procuring a picnic lunch at the inimitable, circa 1880s Dry Creek General Store. You’ll beat lunchtime crowds at this wooden-floored general store, whose gargantuan made-to-order sandwiches and artisan snacks never miss. Though it might be too early to start drinking (or not), check out the historic bar, full of decades-old memorabilia, where both draft beer and live bait are sold.

While wine drinking has become much less elitist in recent years, knowing a few industry terms always comes in handy. One that’s especially useful in tasting rooms: Ask to “revisit” a certain offering if you like it or are considering buying a bottle. Most tasting rooms will waive tasting fees with a purchase, and you should also consider sharing a tasting if you’re planning on hitting several wineries in one day.

For you beer aficionados, you’ll definitely want to check out Bear Republic and Russian River Brewing Company. There’s something for every person and for every palate in the breathtaking wine country of Northern California.