By Elaina Verhoff
Sometimes when your birthday is around the corner, and you’re craving some quality friend time, you have to take matters into your own hands. And that’s exactly what I did when I suggested to my girlfriends that we all take a mid-November trip to wine country. Amazingly, all four of them were free, we booked a smoking deal on our flight, rented an awesome minivan, and soon we were on our way.
My super helpful dad offered to shuttle us to the airport, a quick trip that set the tone for a no-filter, snort-laughing weekend.
“Just pretend I’m not here,” he joked after silently enduring 20 minutes of free-flowing girl talk before dropping us curbside at Sky Harbor.
FYI at the Airport
Now, before I fast-forward and tell you about my totally embarrassing goof at the airport, I want you to know that in my past life (pre-kids), I was quite the world traveler. These days, not so much. OK, so what did I do at the airport? I forgot my driver’s license! Yes, I made the stupid move of throwing my license and debit card in my small purse for a night out earlier in the week—and leaving it there!
But because of this bonehead move, I now have a very important travel tip to share. You can get on a plane without a photo ID! Yes, it’s true. If you are a big nerd and carry a huge wallet with a checkbook (proof of address) and a few other pieces of ID like a credit card or insurance card, you have to endure a little more thorough security, but you can still fly! It was close, but I made it through the cavity search (kidding!), caught up with my friends, and slid into my seat not a moment too soon.
One bloody Mary and a bag of pretzels later, my heart rate had returned to normal, and we were there. So if you do find yourself enjoying a long weekend with your girlfriends in Sonoma, where should you indulge? Here are some of the highlights of our girls trip to wine country.
Where to Eat
El Dorado Kitchen
If contemporary California cuisine is your thing, stop in for a meal at El Dorado Kitchen. We arrived at the tail end of the lunch hour, so we found a spot in the lounge area by the bar and had our pick of both the lunch and lounge menu. I went with steamed mussels, topped with bright green poblano rings and accented with perfectly toasted bread points to dip into the garlicky broth. I ended up going in halfsies with my friend who had ordered the mushroom flatbread. The thin yet perfectly airy bread was piled high with fresh mushrooms and arugula, dusted with a flurry of freshly grated parmesan, and accented with earthy truffle oil. And while the unique cocktails were tempting, crisp local wine won out.
the girl & the fig
I knew we had to have a meal at the girl & the fig when every single person I asked for recommendations put it on the list. Again, fresh, local seasonal food—after all, it is Sonoma. We sat out on the patio, which while nice, was not quite the al fresco experience this Arizona girl craved. We were wrapped in a thick plastic roof/tarp (think snow globe) due to it being rainy season. So despite the unseasonably warm sunny weather, we couldn’t bask in the sun. Also, I’m an ambiance girl, so I’d recommend opting for the small indoor space, which was oozing with cozy vibes.
That said, the food and cocktails were sublime. More mussels, the most substantial quiche Lorraine I’ve ever encountered, and matchstick frites that were pure potato perfection. My friends even surprised me with a lemon birthday cake, which our waiter was so kind as to keep cold for us for the afternoon while we wandered the town and digested our mid-day meal.
Where to Drink
If daytime drinking in a prime patio spot is your thing, head to Zina Lounge on the square. We zenned out for hours at an outdoor table, where we made friends with passersby, and tried some amazing local wines. If the weather is nice, do yourself a favor and stop by Zina Lounge to sample the reds and whites, small bites, and sunshine.
Sigh Champagne Bar
We kicked off our Saturday evening with a visit to Sigh Champagne Bar, located just off the plaza. Pure bubbly, girly deliciousness in a compact mirrored space, where worries don’t exist, and the stresses of kids, relationships, and work disappear.
The owner, Jayme, told us she grew up in the area, the daughter of the town orthodontist. Eight years ago, she saw a niche and opened the town’s first champagne bar in a tiny alley space. Since then, she’s moved and expanded, and business seems to be booming. She shared some insight into the difference between Champagne from France (chalky mineral soil) and its cousin in Sonoma (volcanic soil).
This is a must-visit spot. But don’t take my word for it. Travel & Leisure named Sigh one of the top 25 wine bars in the country.
A hike was one of the must-do items on our agenda, so Sunday morning we headed to the Sonoma Overlook Trail, a 3-mile hike that starts in a cemetery and winds its way up to a beautiful view of Sonoma Valley. For us, it was the perfect manageable trek—not too tough, but enough of a workout that we felt prepared to dive into another cheese plate with wine with zero regrets.
Where to Stay
If staying in town, El Dorado Hotel would be a prime spot to land. However, if you’re planning to have the true girls wine country weekend, a rental home is the way to go. After checking out many amazing options online, we chose a five-bedroom farmhouse estate on 3 acres near Sonoma plaza. This dream home had its own vineyards (swoon), a fire pit ringed with Adirondack chairs, a putting green, and a big kitchen island to gather and gab over coffee and evening cheese plates.
Check Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO. Lots of options.
Our vacation home, dubbed Carneros Ranch, was on Shainsky Road, where neighborhood morning walks showcased foggy tree-lined streets, farms with cows, wandering roosters, peacocks and guinea hens. We grabbed loads of provisions at Whole Foods, so wine, coffee, chocolate, fresh fruit, and plenty of cheese and crackers were at our fingertips.
The only bad thing about this trip was having to pack our things and leave it all behind. Fortunately, we’re already talking about our next girls trip—possibly to Palm Springs!
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Elaina Verhoff is a freelance writer, mom, and owner of a public relations firm.