A marvelous thing happens as you travel Highway 101 through the spine of Sonoma County. The scenic journey takes you through a collection of small cities and towns that appear classically rural on the surface. Take an exit off the highway, explore a little, and one discovers restaurants, inns and conversation of cosmopolitan quality, missing only the pretension and the price.
One of these fine towns is Geyserville, just an hour or so north of San Francisco. It’s a great California Countryside day trip for sightseeing and picnicking, and an even better place for an overnight or weekend stay.
One of California’s thermal wonders, Geyserville has always been hot. However, there have never been “geysers” in Geyserville itself. Just under the surface, there are numerous fissures from which flow hot springs that made the area a “must” for California’s first wave of tourists. Some 3,500 guests stayed at The Geysers resort during 1875; the hotel was so crowded during the summer of 1882 that “people were compelled to sleep in the bathhouses and on billiard tables.” Among the visitors were Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and William Jennings Bryan.
As the century drew to a close, the hamlet had one store, a post office, one saloon, one hotel, and one blacksmith shop. In addition to being the gateway to The Geysers, Geyserville had the advantage of a stunning setting, lying at the foot of Geyser Peak and along the banks of the shimmering Russian River.
Today, one encounters terrain remarkably similar to what T.R. and his posse enjoyed, with some delightful differences. While The Geysers was said to be four-star for its time, it would have a hard time comparing to Geyserville’s contemporary collection of accommodations.
The historic Hope-Merrill and Hope-Bosworth Victorian inns, Isis Oasis Lodge, and the Geyserville Inn offer distinct (and distinctive) overnight experiences, but they all share an extraordinary commitment to their guests and great breakfasts. They are managed by innkeepers schooled in the art of hospitality and offer creative packages and amenities.
Bosworth & Son General Merchandise Store, est. 1911, is a western wear haberdashery where you can buy a pearl snap shirt, a Resistol hat, or a little girl’s buckskin vest and skirt. It also carries saddles, tack and boots. Need a tractor? Visit Lampson’s Tractor dealership (tip: also a great place to take your kids for climbing on a life-sized Tonka Toy!).
Geyserville makes a great base camp for wine country exploration. A dozen or so wineries, many more than a century old and open for tastings, ring the town. The art of the vine is also celebrated at nearby Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley wineries; there is boating and fishing on Lake Sonoma (five miles away); and perhaps the perfect way to idle away an afternoon can be had by renting and paddling a kayak or canoe down the winding Russian River. Locals is the name of an innovative new wine shop and tasting room that presents amazing nectars from local, small production wineries that you probably can’t find outside of Sonoma County.
When that internal lunch whistle blows, find the perfect sandwich and salad to go at either Hoffman House Wine Country Deli or Schuman’s Geyserville Market. Geyserville may only have one stop sign and no gas stations, but it has three outstanding restaurants. The Geyser Smokehouse continues the western theme with house-smoked tri-tip, chicken, pulled pork, thick steaks and red-alert western chili. Taverna Santi works Italian alchemy on Sonoma County’s bountiful fresh, seasonal and locally-grown ingredients. Try the Galletto al Mattone, a boneless half chicken cooked under a brick, served with sautéed rapini and gnocchi tossed in browned butter and herbs. Chateau Souverain Winery & Café serves dinner on weekends; its menu is haute cuisine, its dining room is dressy or casual, however you like (a lot like the town).
Geyserville’s iconoclastic mix of wine and western gear, gourmet restaurants and gracious inns, all surrounded by spectacular scenery makes for a “countryside cosmopolitan” wine country visitor experience.