Dry Creek Valley: What To See and Do!
Rolling hills, vines as far as the eye can see and an immediate sense of calm washes over you upon arriving in Dry Creek Valley. This place is the yin to Napa Valley’s yang. Sonoma has always been a little bit more restrained, down to earth and relaxed compared to the ‘World-famous Napa Valley.’
Dry Creek Valley is situated between two lakes in the northern part of Sonoma Valley. With the Russian River Valley to the south and Lake Sonoma to the north, this tiny wine region is 16 miles long and only 2 miles wide. It’s studded with old vines of Zinfandel, riper expressions of Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Writer’s Note: Dry Creek Valley is the AVA that I live in. So you’re getting some insider information on my favorite stops as a local. During my “Day Job” (I work nights) I have the pleasure of serving people from all over the world as a sommelier. They often ask me for my favorite wineries, and visitors often share the favorites that bring them back.
Getting To and Around Dry Creek Valley
Dry Creek Valley is located just north of the town of Healdsburg, CA. The closest airport is small, Sonoma County Airport, which services many of the county’s visitors. The two nearest international airports are Oakland and San Francisco. Both offer connecting flights to Santa Rosa. You can search for deals on flights here.
By car, Healdsburg is ~12 minutes from Sonoma County Airport or ~1.5 hours from either Oakland or San Fransico.
Dry Creek Valley is spread out, with spotty bus service. It’s recommended that you rent a car or use a car service to get around. Uber & Lyft are prevalent all over Sonoma. SFO and OAK provide access to most of the major rental car companies.
First Stop: Healdsburg
Where to Stay in Healdsburg
Healdsburg is the largest town near Dry Creek Valley, yet it still offers a quaint vibe. Several Dry Creek Wineries have set up satellite tasting rooms here. Lodging options range from high-end luxury like SingleThread or Hotel Les Mars both located right in the heart of downtown to budget options like the Best Western and the Harmon Guest House.
Wineries To Visit in Healdsburg
Several wineries and tasting rooms are within walking distance of downtown Healdsburg. For a relaxed vibe, Lo-Fi Wines and Lioco wines are great places to go. For a more luxurious vibe, JCB is your go-to. JCB does take walk-ins, and their indoor-only space is quite large, but calling ahead to make a reservation is recommended.
Williamson Wines is another local favorite. They make several different styles of wine and pair each of them with house-made jams and cheese.
Ceritas Winery produces some very nice Burgundian style wines from throughout California. The tasting room is in the middle of their winery so it offers you an insight into their operation and will provide a more intimate experience. Their wines don’t all come from Dry Creek Valley, however, and some are sourced from neighboring appellations.
Go for a Hike at the Healdsburg Ridge Open Space
The Healdsburg Ridge Open Space is great for all levels of fitness. With two separate loops, you can choose to take the more physically demanding ‘All of the Oaks’ Trail which takes you to a stunning lookout point or a gentler walk up Nancy’s hill. During the hike, you will come across native trees, including the Madrone and Bay Laurel. Mushrooms, moss, and lichen line the trees and the filter of sunlight magically sets the mood.
Wine and Dine around the Healdsburg Square
As you meander through the square and window shop, there is no shortage of places to wine and dine. The seafood restaurant, Willis, is a local destination for oysters and crab with great by the glass offerings. If you’re looking for a lively vibe and great cocktails, Campo Fina offers pizza and great appetizers.
Winetraveler Tip: Ask to sit in the back patio, where the enclosed and cozy space (warm even on cool nights) has a full-sized bocce court!
A stop at the neighborhood’s favorite bar Dukes for handcrafted cocktails is always a smart move. The family-owned Guiso Latin Fusion has a homey atmosphere with only 7 tables. Their open kitchen feels like you are sitting at home and provides a great place to BYO wine from winery stops earlier in the day.
Lastly, if you aren’t staying at SingleThread, it’s well worth a stop to eat! Located right off Healdsburg square, many guests venture to this northern California region for the dining experience alone. SingleThread offers a tasting menu every night, featuring 11 courses of California cuisine with a Japanese influence. The restaurant is owned by husband and wife team chef Kyle and farmer Katina Connaughton. The people behind this operation are extraordinarily genuine. The dining experience features whatever they are currently focusing on at their farm in the Russian River Valley. You’ll have the opportunity to taste many local ingredients to get a sense of what’s ‘in season’ in this part of the world.
Editor’s Note: This author works at SingleThread. Winetravelers, you may even see Alexandria in the dining room during your visit, if that is the case, don’t hesitate to say hello!
Wineries To Visit in Dry Creek
Dry Creek Road is now a prominent wine country destination. You will find a different style of winery in virtually all directions. Within the below list you will find overnight stay options, dining/picnic, farm experiences, and a plethora of wine options.
Winetravler Tip: Dry Creek Road has a bike lane and is worth exploring on two wheels. You can also bike down West Dry Creek Road which has less vehicle traffic. Wine Country Bikes offer bike rentals in Healdsburg.
Wineries that Offer Lodging
Reeve Winery’s 55-acre property just off Dry Creek Road also features a four-bedroom villa. Their property is secluded and has some of the most delicious offerings of Riesling – perfect for a thirst-quenching treat while in the heat.
A smaller family-owned property with a home that offers 3 rooms is ZO Wines (pronounced Zoe), affectionately named after their son, Enzo. ZO offers several Dry Creek wines, with some favorites being the Sauvignon Blanc & Syrah.
Wine & Dine
For a picnic experience, first stop at Dry Creek General Store to pick up provisions. Then take a short drive over to Dry Creek Vineyard right across the street to enjoy the picnic in their courtyard. Tastings here cost just $15 per person.
Winetraveler Tip: They do offer several other tasting experiences and it is recommended to call ahead so that you secure your picnic space.
Quivira is another local favorite that features an all-organic vineyard and farm on the property. The estate tasting is $20 for five wines with the option for a more curated and private tour with advanced booking. There is the option to bring your own picnic & purchase charcuterie for a pairing with their wines.
Ridge Winery is an absolute must while in Dry Creek Valley. Their wines are sourced from some of the oldest and most sought after vineyards in the region. Simply being on their property takes you back in time as their Lytton Springs vineyard has vines that are over 115 years old. Unquestionably, their ‘Montebello’ is one of the most prized wines and is responsible for putting them on the map some 50 years ago.
Winetraveler Tip: Advanced reservations are not required for a bar experience. For a more intimate experience, call ahead. There are several options to taste ranging from $10 and up. Picnics are allowed!
Horseback Riding on Lake Sonoma
One of my all-time favorite things I have done in Dry Creek is horseback riding on Lake Sonoma. Booking is required in advance, and you will need to select your preferred trail between several options available. You will have the opportunity to ride well-behaved horses, learn about the native plants, and take in the scenery.
A Stop in Geyserville
Geyserville is the town on the northern edge of Dry Creek Valley. This sleepy town has a few fun stops to check out, including the famous Francis Ford Coppola Winery. This winery offers several unique experiences including a Scavenger hunt with wine included for $15 per person. Coppola also has a public pool.
Dining and drinking options don’t fall short in Geyserville. Diavola Pizzeria has some of the best pizza the author has ever enjoyed. (She is gluten-free, and their home-made gluten-free crust is the best she has ever tasted). Next door, the same owners have Gun Club, a festive bar with pool tables, and an impressive selection of spirits, beer, wine, and sake. If you still are itching to enjoy another winery, Meeker Winery has a tasting room set up right next door.
More Things To Do Around Dry Creek Valley
If you have additional time in wine country, drive over to Alexander Valley and Napa Valley. While in Napa the options are endless. This regional guide from Winetraveler provides a nice overview. Some personal favorites to visit in Napa are Newton, Stony Hill, Darioush, Cade, Stags’ Leap, and Failla.
If you’re up for it, take a drive over to the California coastline. It’s about an hour from the Dry Creek area. Hog Island Oyster Co. is a hot spot on sunny days. They sell oysters and you are welcome to reserve a “table” to host a picnic. This does require a little pre-planning. Get some snacks from a local grocer, like Shelton’s or Big Johns, and your favorite bottle of chilled white wine (BYO wine glasses) to sip while enjoying beautiful ocean views. Point Reyes Cheese & Wild Flour Bread are great spots near the coast to pick up provisions.