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Sonoma County Ocean View Restaurants

By Alexa Chipman Feb. 18, 2017

The Sonoma County coast is a rugged rock garden of pluming surf, tidal estuaries, and sea life such as gray whales, elephant seals, and birds. Wind blown trees create unique sculptural formations that range across grassy knolls and pockets of sandy beaches nestle at the bottom of steep cliffs.

After a day of exploration, feeling the chill and sting of salt, or perhaps to enjoy the rough coastline from a sheltered perspective, there are countless restaurants offering spectacular views and fresh seafood. When I am having a rough day, I often drive out to an oasis of relaxing dining on the Northern California coast.

The Tides Wharf Restaurant
Website: www.innatthetides.com
Hours: Daily from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Location: 835 Bay Highway, Bodega Bay

The Tides Restaurant & Wharf

If you have seen Alfred Hitchcock’s terrifying film The Birds, you may be familiar with this location. Although it has since been renovated, The Tides retains a charm and timeless elegance that makes it a favorite lunch destination from around the county. There is outdoor seating for picnics using their well stocked snacks, wine, and seafood shop, a small bar, and the main wharf restaurant with open views of the water.

They have a wide array of daily specials and a menu that ranges from elaborate dishes to variations on traditional fare like their Bodega Bay chowder. For seafood with a breakfast twist, come early in the day on a weekend for brunch. Best of all, their range of deserts is to die for—stop by their bakery for sumptuous mini cakes, éclaires, tarts, and pies.

The Tides Gift Shop

I always stop by The Tides gift shop for ocean inspired home décor, seashells, books, and more. Last year I slowly collected ornaments until I had enough to entirely deck my Christmas Tree in a blue-green array of fishing boats, shells, and sea creatures. I am particularly fond of a small Bodega Bay model ship with sparkling lights running up and down its mast that I hung near the top. If you know someone who enjoys the ocean and need a quick gift, I recommend taking a look.

River’s End
Website: www.ilovesunsets.com
Hours: Daily (Closed Wednesday) from 12:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. for Lunch
and 5:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. for Dinner.
Location: 11048 Highway 1, Jenner

rivers-end-2-2017-new

Drive farther North up the coast for a truly delicious treat at River’s End. Even on stormy days, their small parking lot is overflowing. If it is full, there are several overlooks a leisurely stroll away. Their menu is limited and everything on it is mouthwatering with exquisite presentation. The staff is attentive and cheerful, eager to help and explain what is offered. For a tiny, busy restaurant they have efficient service. I have never gone wrong with a dish here—their sauces are perfectly balanced and decadent.

River's End Jenner

Despite amazing food, the real reason I go to River’s End is their talented mixologist, who has gathered onto a searchable iPad an assortment of difficult to find cocktails, such as “Aviation”. Your server will bring the tablet to your table to search through, making you want to stay all day and drink through the menu to try them all. In addition they have local wine choices and a lovely pairing for couples of oysters with the airy white wine gewürztraminer. This is my go to restaurant when I visit the coast.

Cafe Aquatica Jenner

Café Aquatica
Website: Facebook
Hours: Daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: 10439 Highway 1, Jenner

For the adventurous, experience the local Jenner scene in the cozy Café Aquatica with casual outdoor or indoor seating, often serenaded by live guitar music. Its rustic décor is reminiscent of the Sonoma County coast’s fishing community origins, and their menu is straight forward comfort food with a seafood twist like their salmon melt sandwich. If your shoes are still sandy from the beach and you aren’t up to a formal atmosphere or fine dining, they are the place to go for a laid-back lunch with a view of Russian River flowing into the sea.

Lush Oak Forest at Matanzas Creek Winery

By Alexa Chipman Feb. 7, 2017

Settled in an oak grove between sweeping vineyards, lavender fields and rolling hills, Matanzas Creek Winery’s cheerful stream runs down the property, forming miniature cascades. The architecture is designed to fit in with its environment, primarily of wood and stone, with small seating areas scattered throughout to enjoy the scenery. They are set up for a fun summer afternoon, with bocce ball court and corn holes, the popular game of tossing bean bags at a target.

It is easy to imagine Little Red Riding Hood emerging from the grove—there is a fairy tale beauty to the property, especially when the hills are still green. I visited during the winter, so the lavender was not in bloom, but if you wait until late May, the winery explodes with color. They have Lavender Days events that celebrate the property with live music and tastings—check the events calendar to find one that appeals to you. There is limited parking, I would recommend arriving early.

Matanzas Creek Winery

The gift shop is carefully curated, with helpful wine accessories such as the Menu Breather Decanter, which allows you to aerate an entire bottle of wine, then pour it back into the bottle, lovely cheese sets, wine pairing recipe books, and a wide array of lavender products created by the winery from their gardens. If you need to buy the perfect gift for a wine lover, they are a great place to look, and the prices are reasonable. I have been to a lot of different wineries in the area, and I think this is the best gift shop in Santa Rosa / Kenwood / Glen Ellen.

Matanzas Creek Winery Gift Shop

Matanzas Creek is primarily known for their sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and merlot. I chose to try their wine and cheese pairing flight, which was $25 and well worth the experience. Be ready to wait, they do not have quick service, but I did not mind, since it gave an opportunity to enjoy wandering about the grounds.

Matanzas Creek Winery cheese and wine tasting pairing

2014 Sauvignon Blanc – Knights Valley Helena Bench
It had delicate notes of smoke and fruit in the aroma, with a mineral bite to it on the finish; adding the soft cheese allowed a gentler, more refreshing flavor.

2013 Journey Chardonnay
On its own, I did not find it remarkable, what brought out the flavor was adding orange honey glazed almonds, which blossomed the wine into a luscious nutty flavor.

2013 Cabernet Franc / Malbec – Sonoma County
The nose had a strong berry aroma that was delightful, I could have smelled it all day! The wine itself was unfortunately extremely tannic, but the cherry jam pairing complimented the flavor for an intense combination.

2012 Merlot – Bennet Valley, Jackson Park
I am not a fan of Merlot, and this wine changed my rather biased opinion. It is smooth with a beautiful earthiness to it without that odd aftertaste that many merlots suffer from. It was definitely my favorite of the flight, leading me to also try their 2012 Sonoma County merlot. You can taste anything on their wine list, because they have a Coravin Model 8 available, which can pour wine without opening the bottle, rather a nifty tool to have around!

A quick fifteen minutes from the freeway through quintessential Sonoma County landscapes, this quiet little winery is well worth visiting, especially if you love red wine and are tired of endless pinot noir.

Why visit Matanzas Creek Winery?

  • Beautiful lavender fields
  • Casual wine and food pairings and summer events
  • Postcard perfect creek trail and grounds to explore
  • Gift shop with high quality books, cheese boards, and gifts

Website: www.matanzascreek.com
Hours: Daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
(11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for the cheese tasting)
Location: 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa

Tea Rooms in Sonoma County

By Alexa Chipman    Feb. 1, 2017

Muir's Tea Room Sebastapol
Muir’s Tea Room in Sebastopol

Treat your friends to a relaxing lunch in a quaint Victorian tea room with these two scrumptious options in Sonoma County.

Tudor Rose Tea Room – Traditional English Tea in Santa Rosa

Muir’s Tea Room – California Cuisine in Sebastopol

Ambience & Location

Both tea rooms have a sweet elegance about them and welcoming staff who are attentive and ready to answer any questions you have about the menu. Muir’s includes outdoor seating on the porch and a comfortable rustic feel. Tudor Rose is decorated like the parlor inside a Jane Austen novel. Parking for both is challenging, but there are public lots within a few blocks, and the new train should make arriving in downtown Santa Rosa easier.

Tudor Rose Tea Room Santa Rosa
Tudor Rose Tea Room in Santa Rosa

Luncheon

Muir’s fare includes tantalizing salads and classic Sonoma County cuisine, with a delicate attention to detail and thoughtful presentation. If I want a mouth watering shepherd’s pie, Tudor Rose is where I trace my steps for hearty English “pub grub”.

The Tea

Both offer an intriguing selection of teas which are excellent and worth working down the menu to try, and include endless pots of tea to enjoy or share with friends.

Scones

This is the benchmark of a good tea room. The scone itself is superior at Muir’s, however their tiny bit of jam and butter is not sufficient to spread on it. Tudor Rose gives you heaps of jam and clotted cream, and when you request crumpets, there is also lemon curd.

Sandwiches & Sweets

Sandwiches at Tudor Rose are simple and delicious in relatively large portions for tea sandwiches. Muir’s edges toward presentation over taste, and is better for a light snack. Where they shine is in the sweets, which arrive in seasonal varieties and are worth purchasing on their own.

If you are near Sebastopol or Santa Rosa, consider the tradition of afternoon tea for a delightful dining experience. Both offer reservations for larger groups, and Tudor Rose has an event room for parties.