‘My god, Healdsburg is the spiritual home of the happy hipster!’ declares Mr Smith, as we drive through this not-so-sleepy northern California wine country town on an unseasonably warm autumn day.
He’s not wrong. It might be located in the heart of Sonoma, with some of California’s finest wineries on its doorstep, but Healdsburg is no hokey folksy blip on the map. Upon arrival, we see that a craft beer festival has taken over the main square – smoked meats, rockabilly tunes and small batch brews carefully crafted by passionate bearded guys who’ve left their Silicon Valley jobs to pursue their dream. ‘Brisket and beer in the sun on a Friday afternoon – this is definitely my kind of town,’ marvels Mr Smith.
Pulling up at the H2 hotel – conveniently set right in the centre of town – we’re greeted with a friendly, ‘Hey guys’ from the young H2 lobby dudes casually clad in lime green Nike polo shirts and shorts. For a minute we think they might high-five us, toss us the keys to our room and suggest we join them for a drink.
After all, the reception area doubles as a bar – and a well-stocked one at that. They make their own shrubs – a sweetened vinegar-based syrup that’s all the rage with the artisan-cocktail set – from local botanicals, and focus on regional spirits and Russian River Valley wines, naturally.
As we climb the stairs to one of the 36 rooms, there are reminders everywhere of how green and virtuous we are being by staying in this eco-chic hotel. Starting with the sculpture in the entrance created from hundreds of tiny espresso spoons with recycled water flowing over them to create movement and an air-conditioning effect for the lobby.
Of course, there’s also the solar-paneled rooftop garden abounding in succulents that filter rain water into nearby Foss Creek, a bike rack full of complimentary bikes (thankfully not the fixies one would expect in a hipster heaven such as this) for tootling around town and large glass bottles in-room for filling with filtered water to avoid the waste of plastic bottles and disposable cups.
Our room is airy and light-filled, full of pale timber Scandi-design details without skimping on mod cons (eco ones, of course). Ceiling fans whir lazily overhead, wooden shutters reduce the heat, and local favourite Meyer lemon is the signature scent in the delicious smelling custom-made toiletries.
Given the timing of our visit, I curse that we are going to miss the free morning yoga class on Sunday – until Mr Smith reminds me that this unfortunate scheduling might become a convenient excuse to stay in bed after a few too many local pinots. He clearly has big boozy plans for our stay.
By the time we finally tear ourselves away from our sanctuary to partake in a craft beer or a mixologist-made ‘farm-to-bar’ cocktail by the neat little vine-shrouded pool, the lobby has turned from a laid-back WiFi hang into a bit of a party. We find it full of young things drinking their zinfandel and snacking on organic local cheeses before heading to dinner in Spoonbar, where young chef Louis Maldonado is a disciple of local hero Thomas Keller of The French Laundry fame, whose ‘support local, cook local’ ethos is stamped all over town.
We spend the following day cruising the surrounding cellars specializing in local-darling zinfandels and silken-textured pinot noirs – some of which are a convenient 10 minute drive down the road – and decide we are well and truly deserving of a spa treatment. So it’s handy to know that H2’s sister hotel, Hotel Healdsburg, just one block away, has a pretty fancy spa setup.
The hotel is the cool, calm and collected older sister of the spunky young H2, a bit more luxe with its high ceilings and open fireplaces. The spa is heavenly and we settle on massages using the ubiquitous Meyer lemon, which cleanses and revives, we are told. French doors allow the country air to breeze through the room, and we emerge fragrant and happy.
Ready for a pick-me-up, we stroll over to nearby Shed, a shop and cafe, for a kombucha on tap. We lose ourselves browsing the aisles stocked with locally-made ceramics, cookbooks by local hero chefs and tempting foodstuffs from honey to gin. Wandering back to H2, past modern little satellite cellar doors and beer gardens overflowing with the town’s happily imbibing inhabitants, we understand why so many have migrated to Healdsburg.
This idyllic little town is Disneyland for food-and-drink-loving adults – overflowing with all things local and delicious, rich with creativity, and idealistic in its approach to supporting its own and doing things as ethically and sustainably as possible – just like the hip and youthful H2. ‘They’re not so silly, those hipsters,’ says Mr Smith, as we sit on our balcony looking over the quiet street at night, ‘I just might start growing a beard…’