This Sonoma girlfriends’ getaway is perfect for pals with a personality.
Repeat after me: “I deserve a break from my momly duties. My girlfriends deserve a break. We are awesome, therefore we should do awesome things on our break.”
Of course, escaping your family’s hectic schedule is not easy, nor is coordinating a getaway with busy friends. And finding a location not too far from home with activities that appeal to your posse’s style can be challenging.
Fortunately, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa exists to make your life easier – and a whole lot more fun.
Earlier this fall, my gal pal Robyn Green and I visited Sonoma on a girlfriend getaway. Our home base was the Fairmont, a low-slung, Spanish-Mission-style property with wooden benches dotting the manicured grounds (perfect for sitting and sipping our latest winery find). We avoided girlie clichés – shopping and spa treatments – and instead chose activities that appealed to different sides of our personalities: mojo-seeking, fitness-focused and wine-loving.
So pick a theme, round up your mob and go. Remember, you deserve this.
Start Your Engines
“Drive it like you stole it,” says Dane Rudolph, the lead instructor at the Audi Autocross Challenge. He has watched me complete a cautious lap on the twisty-turny autocross track and is now urging me to get more aggressive. “Trust the car,” he says. “Don’t overthink the technical. Keep hustling.”
Despite years of carpool driving that have obviously impacted my ability to put the pedal to the metal, Rudolph’s advice hits the right chord. My next two laps are fast and furious.
Robyn (who is way, way outside her comfort zone in a fast car) is up next. She exhales one big, nervous breath, grabs the steering wheel and hits the gas.
The Audi Autocross Challenge proves to be an absolute gas for us both. We begin with a short “here’s what you got yourself into” briefing in the swish Audi Forum facility overlooking Sonoma Raceway. Before my anxious friend can bolt for the door, we’re pulling on racing helmets and heading to the Paddock, an asphalt-covered expanse where two pylon-lined racing courses await.
Our class of 16 pairs off and we take turns roaring around the pylons in Audi TTS model cars. After each lap we pause for advice – hit the brakes hard at the corners, steer toward the apex, accelerate out of the turns – then peel off for another run. All this practice culminates in a timed relay race that leaves Robyn and me feeling a whole lot more competent, cool and, yes, powerful.
There’s more power to inhale when we shift on to the raceway’s 2.52-mile professional track and into Audi S4 and S5 models. For three adrenaline-inducing laps we chase a pace car up curving hills, through tight corners, over undulations and down straightaways.
The final activity, sitting in the passenger seat while an instructor drives an Audi R8 on one screaming-fast lap of the track, has me holding on for dear life – and wanting more.
So what does Robyn, the woman who (until today) detested driving fast on freeways, have to say about the whole driving-school experience? “Exhilarating. Confidence boosting. Wicked.”
Later, we’re still on racecar highs when we head into the town of Sonoma in search of some moto-mama-worthy nightlife.
First stop is the Hopmonk Tavern beer garden for samosas, salads and glasses of Bear Republic Pace Car Racer beer. (How could we not order racer beer?) We scour the week’s live music listings and are sorry to see we’ve missed by one night Danny Click and the Hell Yeahs are performing at Rossi’s 1906 dance hall.
Instead, we head to the Sonoma Speakeasy, a tiny venue reached via an alley off the town’s central plaza. Talented singer-keyboardist Dallis Craft is on stage, joined at various times by locals playing the saxophone, accordion and guitar. My favorite moment is when Speakeasy owner Jodi Stevens steps out from behind the bar and belts out a raise-the-roof cover of “Lady Marmalade.”
Our final stop is Steiner’s Tavern, a local dive bar that’s loud and lively (and really not that dive-y). We order glasses of whiskey, spy an available pool table and agree that, heck yeah, smacking billiard balls around the felt is a perfect way to end this kickass day.
Spin and Soothe
Despite our high-octane embrace of Sonoma nightlife the previous evening, Robyn and I are up and ready for the Fairmont’s 8 a.m. bicycle tour.
We meet our guide, Dan Cortright, at the Fairmont’s curving entranceway. In a jiffy he adjusts the seats on the BMW-branded bicycles provided by the Inn and we’re off.
It’s a two-hour spin along quiet city streets, down a walking/biking path that follows a former railway line and, at our farthest point, up a short hill to Gundlach Bundschu Winery and its sweeping views.
Cortright sets an easygoing pace and there’s time to savor Sonoma’s fresh air, chattering birds and picture-perfect vineyards. We stop at interesting sights and Cortright shares a great mix of historical and contemporary stories. He seems to know so much about wine that I ask him if he works in the industry. “No,” he replies, “I just live here.”
After the cycle, Robyn and I extend the easygoing pace with a visit to the adults-only oasis that is the Fairmont Willow Stream Spa.
Although tempted, Robyn and I walk past the spa’s well-appointed fitness center on our way to the bathing ritual. For an hour, we move through a series of self-guided stations: hot mineral soaking pools, an herbal steam room, a dry sauna and a tunnel shower that shoots water from all sides and – in what Robyn and I label our “Flashdance” moment – dumps a bucket of cold water over our heads when we pull the dangling cords.
The final station in the bathing ritual is a seductive relaxation room (think reclining lounge chairs, low lights, soothing music, trippy video display). We do not want to leave the room. Ever.
Luckily, we find more opportunities to chillax during a water yoga class in the spa’s outdoor Watsu pool.
Our instructor, Elizabeth, guides us through familiar poses – tree, child, lotus, bow – that feel entirely different in the water. The final 10 minutes we float on blue pool noodles, one positioned lengthwise along the spine, the other under our knees.
Later, Robyn and I discuss our new appreciation for pool noodles as we sip Fig Fashioned cocktails at “the girl & the fig” restaurant. Not surprisingly, figs figure prominently in our cocktails (fig liquor is a key ingredient, along with bourbon) and in the French country cuisine that’s made this lively restaurant a must-score reservation for 19 years.
We share everything we order, from the grilled peach and salmon rillette starters, to duck confit and scallops entrees and, finally, fig caramel trifle and cheeses with fig cake. It’s all so delicious.
Blame it on the food, the perfectly paired wines or all the fun we’re having in Sonoma, but when dessert arrives Robyn and I are trading yawns. We take it as a sign that, on this night, our batteries need charging back in our room.
Go Ahead and Wine
Thank goodness the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley picks up and drops off at the Fairmont. After six hours sampling wines on this trolley tour – and not once using the spit buckets available at the wineries – we’re in no shape to drive.
“Our adult field trip” is how Robyn refers to our day of touring that includes visits to four distinctly different wineries. There’s the intimate Mayo Family Winery where pooches Nibby and Gus greet us in the tasting room, Imagery Estate Winery that impresses with its art-filled labels and facilities, and Ravenswood Winery where winery guide Tammy Cooke leads us into the vineyards and pours samples of wines in situ.
And then there is Buena Vista Winery, a historic property where owner Jean-Charles Boisset, “the Willy Wonka of wine” according to tour guide Melanie, has applied his considerable imagination. There is a two-story tasting room; a labyrinth of caves, some filled with barrels of wine (expected) and others with sculpted hands holding colorful scarves, stuffed birds and a cabinet of aromas and other curiosities (unexpected); as well as a Bubble Lounge that boasts all-white furniture and plenty of crystal bling.
There’s more wine to sample – and an “off the beaten track” side of Sonoma to discover – when we join guide Mia Steiger on a Sonoma Food Tour.
The food (and wine and history) tour begins at the Depot Hotel Restaurant, where Chef Antonio Ghilarducci serves us perfect pizza and shares his family’s long association with the place. “I was raised 14 feet from here,” Ghilarducci says with pride, pointing to the second floor where his parents, who originally ran the restaurant, brought up their children and where he is now raising his own.
Over the course of three hours with Mia we stroll, nibble and sip our way through a series of stops, including the 85-year-old Vella Cheese Company (famous for its dry jack), Figone’s Olive Oil Company (family owned and passionately operated), stylish BUMP Wine Cellar (named after the winemaker’s mother, Betsy Bump) and Enoteca Della Santina wine bar where we admire a 250+ bottle “wine wall” and nosh on gnocchi from the trattoria next door.
At our final stop, Wine Country Chocolates, we are invited to choose a flavored chocolate truffle. After much hemming and hawing, I select one infused with local Zinfandel, surely the right choice in delightfully wine-soaked Sonoma.
Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa: www.fairmont.com/sonoma
Audi Autocross Challenge: simracewaydrivingschool.com/programs-experiences/audi-sportscar-experience
Willow Stream Spa bicycle tour, bathing ritual and water yoga at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn: www.fairmont.com/sonoma/willow-stream
Sonoma Food Tour: www.sonomafoodtour.com
the girl & the fig: www.thegirlandthefig.com
Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley: www.sonomavalleywinetrolley.com
Hopmonk Tavern: www.hopmonk.com
Sonoma Speakeasy and American Music Hall: sonomaspeakeasyandamericanmusichall.com
Steiner’s Tavern: www.steinerstavern.com
Sonoma County Tourism: www.sonomacounty.com
Ann Britton Campbell is an award-winning travel writer and mother of two. Find her on Instagram and Twitter: @DearAnnTravels.