Think Beyond the Wine in California Vino Country

by Meredith Rosenberg

Travel Channel

It might seem counterintuitive to do anything in Napa and Sonoma Valleys beyond drinking wine all day long. However, whether you simply need a break from constant imbibing, are a teetotaler, or have already visited all the wineries on your checklist, here are nine worthy pursuits beyond the famous wine scene.

Unwind at a Spa

Calistoga Spa

J.Nichole Smith / Sonoma County Tourism

In terms of the number of leisure options, spas may come in second after wineries. One of the highest concentrations can be found in Calistoga on the Napa side, thanks to natural hot springs and volcanic mud. A-listers and those with deep pockets head toCalistoga Ranch, a 157-acre property that offers organic spa treatments and outdoor soaking pools. Other area standouts include the 40,000-square-foot spa at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, and The Meritage Resort and Spa, a cavernous space located 40 feet underground. The carriage house spa at the rustic Farmhouse Inn provides a more intimate vibe, and it’s not limited to overnight guests. (Although there’s no reason why you shouldn’t stay here.) Osmosis Day Spa is another day spa option, and the only spa in the country to offer a cedar enzyme bath. This unconventional treatment involves being buried up to your chin in a fermented mixture of cedar, rice bran and enzymes, which claims to aid everything from muscle pain to circulation. Finally, for the ultimate getaway, all the superlatives have been used to describe Meadowood Napa Valley, and the spa is no exception. Each treatment room functions as a private suite, eliminating the need for locker rooms—or any guest interaction for that matter.

Explore Small Towns

Napa is considered the jumping-off point into the region, and it’s worth a stop for theOxbow Public Market, where you can taste the area’s best oysters, chocolate, cheese and more under one roof. Part restaurant, part upscale goods, General Store Napacombines the best of everything. Head further north to St. Helena for its attractive Main Street; pick up grapefruit mimosa soap at Napa Soap Company, stylish walking shoes at Flats Napa Valley, and designer threads at Pearl Wonderful Clothing. Don’t leave before savoring a meal at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Over in Sonoma, Healdsburg represents small-town living at its best (complete with a bona fide town square and gazebo), and its walkable downtown is filled with enough charming boutiques to occupy an afternoon. Eat and shop at the architecturally stunning Shed, browse through books at Levin & Company, and pop into One World Fair Trade for artisan clothes and crafts. Further south, Santa Rosa tempts with blocks and blocks of coffeshops, independent stores and restaurants along historic Fourth Street.Whistlestop Antiques, Treehorn Books and Kindred Fair Trade Handcrafts are among the finds. Less than an hour from San Francisco, downtown Petaluma is another historic area with cobblestone streets and Victorian homes. Thrift for vintage and consignment threads at local fave Ooh La Loft. Petaluma Seed Bank is a must for gardening fanatics, who will lose it over the variety of tools, books and more than 1,800 types of heirloom seeds. For a change of pace from wine, beer lovers will appreciate Lagunitas Brewing Company’s taproom.

Visit Art Galleries and Museums

Wine country is overflowing with museums and galleries. In fact, there are about two-dozen art galleries in Healdsburg alone. Erickson Fine Arts Gallery is among the oldest, and its imposing gated entrance leads to three airy floors filled with contemporary paintings, sculptures and more. Meanwhile, Paul Mahder Gallery (pictured), showcases contemporary art in 8,500 square feet, making it the largest (single floor) gallery in the state. Elsewhere in the region, Jessel Gallery is the place for quintessential wine country paintings. If you prefer more of a museum experience, head to di Rosa to contemplate about 2,000 pieces from 800 local artists. The indoor and outdoor galleries overlook a lake and vineyards, making it just as hard to take your eyes off the setting as the art. Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz is arguably the most famous local artist. He spent the last decades of his life in Santa Rosa, where you can visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum to enjoy the largest collection of the beloved Peanuts cartoon. The museum also features a re-creation of his studio and rotating exhibits, like the current presidential-themed one. Don’t leave wine country before visiting The Hess Collection, an acclaimed private collection housed in its namesake winery. More than a quarter of the contemporary art is on display at museums around the world, but the home collection still includes preeminent artists such as Magdalena Abakanowicz and Anselm Kiefer. Even better? You can visit these world-class works for free.

Partake in Festivals

Baked Goods

Kristen Newsom / Sonoma County Tourism

Although wine festivals dominate, they’re not the only ones worth visiting. Oktoberfest activities are held throughout October in the Napa Valley, while the Napa Valley Film Festival in November will screen more than 100 independent films. Dev Patel, Viggo Mortensen and Chloe Grace Moretz are among this year’s honorees. Now in its 20th year, the Sonoma International Film Festival takes place March 29-April 2, and will show more than 90 movies. Past attendees have included Bruce Willis and Susan Sarandon. For a taste of Norman Rockwell living, the 71st annual Sebastopol Apple Blossom Festival(pictured) from April 22-23 is a highlight in this apple-growing region, complete with a parade that goes up Main Street. The end of April heralds the Petaluma Butter & Egg Days Parade & Festival, another annual tradition that attracts as many as 30,000 people.

Play in the Great Outdoors

A mild climate and easy access to the coast, state parks and more make this region ideal for outdoor pursuits. Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa is a popular destination with more than 40 miles of hiking and biking trails. Getaway Adventures serves both Napa and Sonoma, and offers biking, hiking and kayaking excursions. Or try stand-up paddleboarding at Petaluma Stand Up Paddle and Napa Valley Paddle. Swimmers and boaters can choose from Lake Sonoma, Spring Lake Regional Park and Johnson’s Beach. Horseback riding options also abound: opt for Triple Creek Horse Outfit to ride in Jack London State Historic Park, The Ranch at Lake Sonoma for rugged rides overlooking Dry Creek Valley (pictured above), Wine Country Trail Rides for scenic vineyards and Horse N Around Trail Rides for beach excursions. There’s a wealth of golf courses too; narrow it down by staying at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn in order to tee off at the privateSonoma Golf Club. On the other hand, The Links at Bodega Harbour is open to everyone and offers stunning bay views.

Go Whale Watching

Grey and blue whales can be spotted year-round off the Sonoma Coast, with peak whale watching occurring during migration periods in the fall and spring. Head to Bodega Head within Sonoma Coast State Park for prime viewing; it helps if you have binoculars and warm clothing. Weekends bring volunteers who can answer all of your whale questions. If you want to get even closer, a number of companies offer whale-watching tours, such as Miss Anita Fishing Charters and Bodega Bay Sportfishing.

Catch a Performance

The intimate Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, just outside of Santa Rosa, attracts big-name talent. Upcoming tours include 19-time Grammy winner Tony Bennett, and Monty Python founders John Cleese and Eric Idle. The space also hosts orchestras, plays, acrobatic troupes and more. Head to Green Music Center (pictured) at Sonoma State University to hear the world-famous Itzhak Perlman and the Vienna Boys Choir perform. The lineup at the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater truly offers something for everyone, whether it’s Indian drumming, a tango orchestra or The Nutcracker ballet. It’s also where the Napa Valley Film Festival is held. For a taste of regional theater, the current 6th Street Playhouse season includes musical theater favorite The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Steve_Gadomski / iStock

A hot air balloon ride is the best way to get a full overview of bucolic wine valley terrain, from rolling hills to endless rows of vineyards. Flights usually lift off in the (very) early morning and float for about an hour, depending on the company. Sonoma options encompass Up & Away Ballooning, which includes a post-flight breakfast at cool concept space Shed in Healdsburg, and Sonoma Valley Balloons, which concludes with a champagne toast. In Napa, Balloons Above the Valley provides pastries at sunrise and a champagne brunch afterward. Napa Valley Aloft can arrange a private flight, while Napa Valley Balloons wraps with breakfast at Chandon Winery.

Be Awed by a Redwood Forest

Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, and can grow as high as 350 feet and survive for upwards of 2,000 years. The majority of California’s redwoods were chopped down during the gold rush period, but luckily pockets of these majestic trees have been preserved, including 805 acres at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve (pictured) in Sonoma County. Enjoy a picnic area, nature trails (from easy to advanced), and a visitor center to learn more about the nature reserve. For example, the Parson Jones tree is Armstrong’s tallest at more than 310 feet, while the 1,400-year-old Colonel Armstrong tree holds the title of oldest. Since this park doesn’t attract the same tourist hordes as Muir Woods, you get to soak in these facts in silence.

Wine Optional: The Five Best Ways to Unwind in Sonoma County

by Katie Chang

Forbes

Pagoda massage osmosis day spaWhile most people flock to Sonoma County for its world-class wines, low-key vibes, and exquisite natural backdrop – it encompasses more than 1,600 square miles, with seemingly endless lush, rolling hills and stretches of clear sky – there’s more to chilling out in wine country than, well, wine.

The area also happens to be home to a bevy of exceptional spas, and other surprising sources of well-being and health. So here, I share the five best ways to unwind in Sonoma County (wine totally optional)

Pools and Cabines at Francis Ford Coppola Winery

Plan in advance to score a reservation (especially during weekends) at this sparkling, 3,600 square-foot swimming pool, located at one of Sonoma’s most celebrated wineries. Why? For starters, it’s among the few truly family-friendly spots in the area. Plus, the European-inspired Cabines – there’s 28 available – offer private changing rooms and showers, towels, shaded lounge chairs, and 4 complimentary Sofia Mini singles. If you’re in the mood to burn some calories, try your hand at bocce ball at one of the adjacent regulation-sized courts. And when the pool closes in the evening, beeline to RUSTIC, Francis’s Favorites for dinner. The winery’s bustling restaurant features the celebrated director’s favorite dishes, including Habit-Forming Ribs, Marrakesh Lamb, and Mrs. Scorsese’s Lemon Chicken. If you can snag a table outdoors when the weather’s fine, you’ll be rewarded with some pretty breathtaking views, too.

Sonoma Golf Club and Willow Stream Spa at The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn

This storied Sonoma property is practically faultless on all counts, and its spa and neighboring golf club are no exception. The Willow Stream is a spacious and airy oasis offering an extensive list of specialty treatments, which fall into three categories: relieve,restore, and results. No matter what you select, though, arrive at least an hour early to take advantage of the signature bathing ritual, which includes use of an exfoliating shower, mineral water soaking pools, herbal steam, dry sauna, and cool down showers. In a more active mood? Set up a tee time at the Sonoma Golf Club. The scenic course is lush and immaculately maintained, very walkable, offers water – so you don’t have to lug around your own bottle – at each hole, and plays fast. (It’s mostly local players who know the course well).

The Spa at Farmhouse Inn

Understated yet luxurious, this spa is totally one of a kind. The space has a rustic design – think whitewashed wood, paintings of horses by artist Tina Wainwright, and sliding barn doors. Naturally, the treatments also draw inspiration from the farm, and many of the ingredients used are sourced from the inn’s gardens and neighboring purveyors. Seeking a custom-tailored experience? Try The Personal Apothecary, so you can select your favorite blend of oils for a wrap, scrub, or massage. I opted for the house best seller, Catherine’s Favorite. It’s a blissful duo combining a lavender-orange hair and scalp treatment with a lavender-tangerine body massage and foot treatment. I was lulled into such a deep state of relaxation, I snoozed off mid-session more than once.

Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary

Founded by Michael Stusser in 1985, Osmosis is so much more than a spa. Over the years, it’s evolved into a true haven of well-being, complete with meditation gardens, a Japanese tea garden, Field of Hammocks, and even pagodas – where you can experience bodywork in true privacy and peace. But Osmosis’ claim to fame is the Japanese-inspired Cedar Enzyme Bath Experience. Exclusive to the spa, it involves being submerged in a tub filled with a finely ground mixture of fermented evergreens and rice bran. An attendant periodically checks in with cool water and towels for your forehead – the fermentation process naturally creates heat, so you’ll start sweating quickly. After 20 minutes, you shower off and can continue with a massage, sound therapy (music intended to lower brain wave activity for a calming effect), or a light, healthful lunch.

The Spa at Hotel Healdsburg

They aren’t the first to pioneer the farm-to-spa movement, but the spa at Hotel Healdsburg is certainly raising the bar when it comes to using the natural bounty of Sonoma – like wine grapes, meyer lemon, lavender, and honey – to nourish your skin and soothe your soul. In the Meyer Lemon Massage, for example, your therapist works out even the toughest, most stubborn knots with a whipped, lightly fragranced body cream – as opposed to oil, which can leave you feeling uncomfortably slick. While the facilities themselves are fairly fuss-free and standard, the care and technique delivered is top notch. And when the weather’s warm, retreat to the charming courtyard to unwind even further post-treatment, or take a dip in the pool and jacuzzi.

TWEET THIS

Stressed out? 5 spas that will help soothe body and soul

by Sheryl Jean

Chicago Tribune

Osmosis Day Spa Meditation GardenThe baby is crying, the dog just knocked over your coffee and you have a report due in 30 minutes.

Sound like an average day? That’s life. It’s complicated and filled with stress. Because stress is so pervasive, it may be one of the most underrated causes of health problems, including ulcers, heart disease and diabetes. Up to 85 percent of all health-related problems are linked to stress, according to research by B.L. Seaward, executive director of The Paramount Wellness Institute in Boulder, Colo.

In today’s digital world, people are under more stress than ever. Call it information overload.

More than a third of American adults experienced increased stress last year and more reported extreme stress, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association.

Yet, stress is natural. It’s the body’s way of reacting to physical and emotional demands. The key is how you manage stress — and that’s led to an explosion of spas and treatments.

“Positive forms of stress, such as birth, a new job and marriage, can help the growth of neural pathways and rewire the brain to adapt as needed,” said David R. Vago, an associate psychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory. “But if stress stays too long and you don’t recover soon enough, it can have long-term physical effects.”

Research shows that relaxation methods — from meditation and hydrotherapy to massage and other spa-like treatments — can help reduce stress, increase a sense of well-being and improve health.

Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, coined the term “relaxation response” years ago as an approach to relieve stress and lower blood pressure and heart rate.

The idea is to “break the chain of everyday thinking, which is often done through repetition of words, sound, prayers or movement,” Benson said. Similar techniques are found in scores of spa offerings — from yoga to tai chi, he said.

A day spa may be the easiest and least expensive relaxation method.

Day spas

Posh Chuan Spa on the fourth floor the Langham Hotel in downtown Chicago bases its treatments on the holistic approach of traditional Chinese medicine.

“This isn’t gimmicky,” said Director of Spa William Wesley Myers. This isn’t something new. This is ancient tradition.”

Spa guests fill out a questionnaire to determine which of the five Wu Xing elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) needs the most balancing. The spa employs an Oriental medicine master, and a 30-minute consultation is required for anyone wanting a traditional Chinese medicine treatment.

Before an appointment, visitors can relax in a Himalayan salt sauna or herbal steam room, take a cool aromatherapy rain shower or swim in the 67-foot-long pool. Afterward, they can sip tea and experience sensory therapy while lounging in the Dream Room.

Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in the hamlet of Freestone, Calif., is best known for its Cedar Enzyme Bath ($99), a Japanese heat therapy in which the whole body is submerged in a fermenting mixture of soft ground cedar and rice bran that boosts metabolic activity. But the real secret of this boutique spa about 60 miles northwest of San Francisco is its several Zen-inspired gardens.

Find nirvana strolling through the Japanese meditation garden — designed with help from a Zen priest — or laze in a cushioned hammock while listening to soothing sounds.

Owner Michael Stusser, who studied Zen meditation and landscape gardening in Japan, sees nature as a key part of healing. “It helps arrest people’s standard MO,” he said. “Our basic intention from day one was to reduce tension.”

Meditation and yoga

Rolling Meadows Retreat in tiny Brooks, Maine, adds silence to meditation and yoga, which “requires people to look inward” and away from the distractions of modern life, said Surya Chandra Das, co-owner with his wife, Patricia Brown. Its four- and seven-day retreats on a restored 1840s New England farm are limited to 11 people.

It’s all about being completely unplugged at this country haven about 200 miles north of Boston. Rolling Meadows doesn’t offer spa services, and cell phones, novels or magazines aren’t allowed, but visitors can swim in a pond or meander across its 100 acres.

Danika Jefferson Leeks, a busy single mom of an 11-year-old boy and small business owner in the Dallas area, can attest to the healing power of yoga.

“I’m juggling a lot of balls,” said Leeks, who attended an ashram in the Bahamas last year and plans to go on a six-day yoga retreat in Belize this month. “I do it to reduce stress and step away from my life for 60 to 90 minutes.”

From desert to water

If the desert is your thing, head to Miraval Resort and Spa, a luxury retreat on 400 acres outside Tucson, Ariz., to learn how to better manage your stress.

Its “mindful stress mastery” class — complementary to resort and spa guests — highlights the roots of stress and how to better regulate reaction to stress. Its “living a true life in balance” class teaches people how to balance a busy life by examining daily choices.

Miraval also offers a long list of treatments, such as floating meditation and Himalayan sound therapy, walking trails and a labyrinth. This year, the spa renovated its guest rooms, lobby and lounge.

Remember “Calgon, take me away!” The phrase was used in 1970s advertisements touting home bubble baths as a way to melt away stress. Hydrotherapy — water, steam or ice — has been used since ancient times to improve health.

You might recognize the brand Kohler from your bathroom faucet, but Kohler Co. also runs several spas that offer therapeutic water treatment.

Its flagship Kohler Waters Spa in Kohler, Wis., about two hours north of Chicago, links to a five-star hotel. If you don’t want to drive that far, Kohler runs a day spa in Burr Ridge, about 20 miles south of downtown Chicago.

“We’re all about the therapeutic benefits of water — the use of water for well-being and relieving discomfort and stress,” said Garrett Mersberger, director of Kohler Water Spas and development at Kohler Co. It also offers some therapies specifically for men.

Treatments, such as massage, with Kohler’s Vichy shower help wash away stress, Mersberger said. A sleek, horizontal shower bar with six tiles hangs over a table and sprays in a random pattern, which helps people sink into a deep state of relaxation, he said.

Visitors also can lounge in the relaxation pool with an 8-foot waterfall or a plunge into a cool pool. Waterfalls are even built into the walls so the sound of falling water is ever-present.

“Water is essential to life,” Mersberger said. “It absolutely can help stress.”

If you go

Chuan Spa, Chicago, www.chuanspa.com/en/Chicago: Day spa prices start at $175, depending on the season and treatment. Langham Hotel rooms start at $395 per night for two people.

Kohler Waters Spa, Kohler, Wis., www.americanclubresort.com/spa: Day spa prices start at $70, and hydrotherapy starts at $170. Packages (spa and hotel) start at $199 and go up to $429 per person/per night.

Miraval Resort and Spa, Tucson, Ariz., www.miravalresorts.com: Spa and lodging packages start at $499 per person per night, including meals. Day spa services start at $199 with some complimentary services and lunch.

Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, Freestone, Calif., www.osmosis.com: Prices at this day spa start at $99.

Rolling Meadows Retreat, Brooks, Maine, http://rollingmeadowsretreat.com: Prices for retreats with lodging start at $650 for four days.

Sheryl Jean is a freelancer.

Stressed out

More than one-third of American adults (34 percent) reported increased levels of stress last year, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association. And 78 percent reported at least one stress symptom, such as headaches or trouble sleeping.

Top reasons for stress

1. Money: 67 percent

2. Work: 65 percent

3. Family responsibilities: 54 percent

4. Personal health issues: 51 percent

5. Family health problems: 50 percent

6. The economy: 50 percent

SOURCE: American Psychological Association 2015 Stress in America survey

Osmosis represented at International Japanese Garden Conference

garden bird

by Michael Stusser

Over 150 delegates from around the world gathered the National Japanese Garden Association Conference at the Morikami Gardens in West Palm Beach Florida March 7th and 8th. Leading experts from Japan and Europe along with US counterparts provided two days of inspiring content at the home of one of the most celebrated Japanese Gardens in the United States.

The conference theme was: Towards a Healthier World – Japanese Gardens As Places For Wellness and Transformation.  The healing effects of this beloved landscape garden art form was presented from many perspectives ranging from public settings, studies of gardens built in the WWII Japanese internment camps, therapeutic settings and Zen Buddhist temples. In several fascinating presentations researchers presented their findings of scientific data on the effects of Japanese gardens on Alzheimer patients, hospice patience and community members with various handicaps. It was a profound confirmation of this fine tradition.

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The Osmosis garden fit right into this program.

Meditation garden designer Robert Ketchell came from England to join Osmosis founder Michael Stusser and pruning expert Michael Alliger to present the story of the spa’s unique meditation garden, how it cultivates awareness, tells a story beyond words, and nurtures a mood of repose. 

The 90-minute Osmosis session highlighted the founding intentions and collegial collaboration that seeded the success of the project. From the perspective of pruning it was shown how: anticipation and patience play out over time in ways that remind us of humility available to us in everyday life; the use of native plants reinforces a sense of place and human context in nature; the equanimity of empty space is shaped by pruning and design. The intimacy of detailed pruning techniques leads to a recognition of the unseen world of spirit.

The designer explained his use of narrative to engage garden viewers with his use of the Ox-herding parable from Zen as a way to guide on the journey to liberation. It was shown how spa programs use the garden for ritual; meditation, classes, and relaxation serve the deeper purpose of Osmosis  to synergize the renaissance in the healing arts taking place in our culture along with the distinct healing properties that have been identified in horticultural therapy. These elements along with the quest for awakening seeded by the arrival of Buddhism in America reflected in the Zen parable make for a potent combination.

The Ox herding story is cast in stone in the landscape garden. This parable is both the physical and physic heart of Osmosis. We cannot avoid being reminded of it each time we visit the garden. Every day the alchemy of this ancient tale works its magic on the hearts and souls of guests and workers alike.

Osmosis presence at this prestigious international gathering allowed us to join into the growing association among builders and curators of Japanese gardens who are focused on the healing aspects of this treasured art form.

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Left to right: Robert Ketchell, Michael Alliger, Michael Stusser and Martin Mosko

The Season of Renewal

Primed by the barrenness of winter, the renewal of spring inspires awe at the site of the smallest sprout emerging from the soil. Witnessing a tree glow with color again encourages hope for our own renewal. If we want to find inspiration in the blossoming tree and the sprouting seedling, we must also recognize the ecosystem supporting their growth and the often ignored interdependence of nature. Our society has lionized the rugged individual and forgotten the nourishing collective.

There is a revitalization that comes through connection. Our species thrives in an ecosystem of relationships and community. Vital gatherings catalyze the transformation and growth that we hope to experience as individuals and as a collective. 

The modern culture of consumption has eroded fundamental aspects of connection. Some aspects of community have been tragically absent since the demise of tribal and village culture. But our interdependent nature remains part of us; if unfulfilled, it is replaced with grief.

During this season of renewal, take cue from the soil teaming with myriad organisms that support one another in bringing forth new growth. Let yourself be nourished by the exquisite ecosystem of life. Partake in inspired gatherings.