Monday, December 21, 2015

Weekend in Boonville

Every holiday season, my family gets together for a weekend getaway. It was a decision we made five years ago to forego gift giving and instead use those resources to experience something new together. As adults, my siblings and I have spread out across Northern California, so a weekend together gives us the opportunity to reconnect and for the cousins to play together (probably the highlight of the trips for me is seeing the kids reunite). Whether it's a weekend away, or something easier like taking a family hike or playing tourist closer to home, I have found that creating memories together has been far more rewarding than gifts.

This year we landed on the small town of Boonville, nestled in the Anderson Valley and a short drive from the coastal town of Mendocino. Our home for the weekend was the beautiful Toll House Inn. I could probably devote an entire post to this amazing property alone. The Inn is made up of two rental properties (The Toll House and the Bunkhouse) that are adjoined by a common breezeway, but are otherwise completely separate. We stayed in the Toll House, which is a historic Boonville Landmark, built in 1912, and beautifully restored to accommodate large groups. There are 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms (horray for that!) as well as a chef's kitchen and an inviting common room with a wood burning fireplace. The Inn sits on 650 acres of open space that includes hiking trails and a pond and could easily provide enough entertainment if you chose to forego the local wineries and state parks.

Every square inch of the home was perfectly styled while still being extremely inviting.
As tempting as it was to spend our entire visit snuggled up next to the fireplace, we did venture out on Saturday morning to take advantage of the break in the rain. Our first planned stop of the day was Hendy Woods State Park, which much to my dismay ended up being closed for the season due to construction. The other nearby state park, Navarro River Redwoods, was also closed due to flooding on the highway that provided access to the park. Luckily, the entrance to Hendy Woods was directly next to the Philo Apple Farm, which had peaked my interest during my research for the trip.

Although apple picking season was over and the farm was clearly in it's off-season, there was a small farmstand full of fresh fruit and apple juice as well as a nice assortment of jams, jellies, chutneys and wine, among other tasty treats. The kids enthusiastically pounded a glass of their fresh apple juice and then we took a short walk down to the Navarro river that runs along the edge of the farm. The apple farm is definitely a place I would like to return to in the fall.

Since the nearby parks were either closed or inaccessible, we opted to start the wine tasting portion of the day a little earlier than intended. Our first stop was Navarro Vineyards, which in addition to a nice range of award winning wines, also offers a very popular non-alcoholic grape juice. The grounds were pristine and although the tasting room was relatively small and not ideal for 4 toddlers, the outdoor space was perfect to let the kids run free. We alternated between wine tasting and playing on the grass lawn that ran next to the rows of grapevines. This would definitely make for an ideal spot to grab a bottle and have a picnic.

Just down the road was our second stop of the day, Scharffenberger Cellars, which specializes in sparkling wines. I really enjoyed our tasting at Scharffenberger. Not only were the sparkling wines extremely good (and a bargain at $20), the woman helping us was very kind and not at all phased by our large group or energetic toddlers. The tasting menu made sure to note that they were a kid-friendly venue and offered both crayons to color with and juice to keep the children entertained. I'm always a bit uneasy when wine tasting with toddlers, but their warm welcome immediately put me at ease. An added bonus is the selection of scharffenberger chocolates that you can purchase and enjoy later immediately.

View from the front patio of the tasting room
Boonville's main street is about a block long, and there are a handful of charming shops clustered around the Boonville Hotel. If you are looking for a sweet treat, then Paysanne's is worth a stop to pick up some cookies and a pint of Three Twins ice cream (have you had their Lemon Cookie flavor? soooo good!). For lunch, we wanted an easy to-go option that we could take with us to our last stop of the day, Anderson Valley Brewing. We settled on sandwiches from The Boonville General Store. I had a difficult time finding something on the menu that would appeal to our kids and the sandwich we got was good, but not memorable. I will probably give somewhere like Lauren's a chance the next time we are in the area.

With lunch in hand, we trekked on down the road to Anderson Valley Brewing Company. I always seem to favor a good brewery over a winery when traveling with kids. The vibe is typically very relaxed and in the case of Anderson Valley Brewing, there is a large outdoor area for the kids to enjoy as well as a small herd of goats. We enjoyed a pint of their Blood Orange Gose and an experimental Cherry Gose, both categorized as sour wheat beers and both VERY tasty. The kids enjoyed trying to get the attention of the goats and walking around the frisbee golf course.

We returned home just as the clouds opened up and the rain began to fall. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent by the fireplace watching the kids chase one another around, followed by a delicious home cooked meal and Christmas presents for the kids.

The rain continued throughout the night and peaked in the morning hours. This meant, unfortunately, that we did not have the chance to explore any of the hiking trails on the property. We did enjoy a leisurely breakfast and managed to get a photo of all four cousins!

What are some of your holiday traditions? Would you prefer an experience over gifts?

Details: Boonville is about 2.5 hours from Berkeley. The Tollhouse can be rented by the room, or you can rent the entire home. I think renting by the room would be ideal for a childless vacation (or if your kids are exceptionally well behaved). The bunkhouse is another option if you have a large family, but don't require the entire home.  Tastings at Navarro Vineyards were free and most bottles were $20-$30. Tastings at Scharffenberger were $3 and waived with the purchase of a bottle, which was around $20. Pints at Anderson Valley Brewing were $4.50. Anderson Valley Brewing also offers a daily tour of their brewing facility, which you can inquire about in the tasting room.

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