An Anti-Tasting Room Weekend in Sonoma
For a teetotaler such as myself, traversing the winery circuit in Sonoma leaves much to be desired. Luckily, other equally tantalizing delights await discovery. For a beautiful 36 hours, test drive this anti-tasting room itinerary.
A five-mile loop hike through Annadel State Park, where the mountain-biking terrain makes for challenging rambles, is worth about 16,000 well-earned steps on your FitBit (don't be surprised if you spot bleach-bottle blond celebrity chef Guy Fieri hoofing the tracks), and is a great way to earn your lunch at the Girl and the Fig, right on Sonoma's town square. The garden-fresh California bistro fare sufficiently restores the calorie burn from the hike. As expected, figs are vital to the menu, from the fig and arugula salad flecked with salty bacon to the fig shrub, a O% ABV fizz with a refreshing sour note. The steak frites was one of the best this meat-and-potatoes connoisseur has ever devoured, an accolade I don't bestow lightly, but in this case is well deserved due to the singular achievement of a perfectly mid-rare steak (the generous heap of crisp matchstick fries didn't hurt either). We ended our meal with a thick slice of zucchini bread studded with chocolate chunks, a delicious way to put the summer's usual abundance of squash to good use. Even if dessert seems too much to bear given the binge, the fig kisses—chocolate-dipped figs naturally shaped like a certain foil-wrapped candy-store confection—that come with the check are just sweet enough to put the finishing touch on the feast.
Check in for the night at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, where the suites are appointed with beds of the four-poster variety, wood-burning fireplaces, and deep, jetted tubs. A seduction scene in the making, if ever there were one. The property's lap-length pool exists at the foot of a looming old water tower, which is both confusing and quirky. The temperature of the drink is bordering on bathwater, making those ambitious plans to swim 20 laps in the morning chill a less intimidating prospect. By noon, expect the lounge chairs to be occupied with scantily-clad sun worshippers, Arnold Palmers in one hand, gossip rags in the other, and the shadow of the looming old water tower moving slowly across their bodies as the day ticks on.
Sonoma's best-kept secret, however, unfolds during most summer evenings: In the winery ruins at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, 10 minutes away by car from the Fairmont, the Transcendence Theatre Company stages a lively Broadway revue the likes of which has been, until recently, the stuff of New York City. Seeking a progressive solution to the rash of park closures, in 2011, Transcendence offered to host a show-cum-fundraiser for JLSHP. More than 900 show-tune junkies blew in to see Broadway Under the Stars that first year, and now in 2014, the company is on track to donate $100,000 of their ticket sales to keep Jack London open. From the musicians in the live band to the entertainers who sing and dance for two hours straight without even a subtle sign of fatigue, the talent is unparalleled, and the show is among the most fun, the most enchanting, the most special I've ever witnessed, with sing-along opportunities galore, countless laughs a minute, and plenty of temptations to shake your tail feather, all under the breathtaking canopy of a zillion-star sky.