You’ll pay through the nose for the convenience of staying near the plaza, but you won’t have to drive anywhere till it’s time to go home.
If you can’t swing $200+ a night, choose one of town’s four motels, which cost around $120. The top budget choices are the generic Best Western ($$) and the family-owned, budget-friendly L&M Motel ($–$$), a mile south of town on Healdsburg Ave.
No place epitomizes the new face of Healdsburg better than the Hotel Healdsburg & Spa ($$$$), the local outpost of urban chic. The decidedly minimalist, fashion-forward decor blends soft earth tones – fawn-brown, olive-green, khaki and tan – with hard-edged materials like poured concrete, wood and tile. The centerpiece of the uncluttered lobby is a way-cool fireplace, a blazing sculpture of perforated pipes, like something you’d expect at Burning Man, not in Wine Country. Guest rooms have all the requisite high-end amenities: Frette linens, goose-down duvets, feather-light pillows in high-thread-count cases, and plush bathrobes. Bathrooms have enormous concrete vanities, extra-deep soaking tubs, and open-sided, glass-enclosed showers. Alas, the rooms are styled with a lot of hard surfaces; personally I’d prefer heavy-velvet draperies instead of wooden plantation shutters, if only to reduce echo, but the look is definitely sexy, and sometimes sexy looks matter more than practicality, especially when you’re on a shag-away-from-home weekend. (Note: the fridge is unstocked, so bring wine and chocolate to munch on in bed.) A lavish buffet breakfast, prepared by the adjoining Dry Creek Kitchen, is included in the rate and served in the lobby. The bagels are lousy but everything else, especially the house-smoked salmon, is spot-on. (Tip: If the main lobby feels too crowded, snag a table in the adjacent screen porch for more elbow room.) Rates are on the high side, but if you update your shoe collection seasonally and dig the aesthetic of Dwell magazine, it’s totally worth the splurge. Inquire about spa packages.
Madrona Manor ($$$$) is Healdsburg’s crown jewel – you know you’re somewhere special the moment you drive through the gate and up the winding driveway beneath gracefully arcing, century-old trees. At the top of the hill stands a stunning 1881 Victorian mansion, dripping with gingerbread trim and surrounded by eight acres of jaw-droppingly beautiful gardens. Rooms in the main house are chock-a-block full of Victorian antiques; second-floor rooms have higher ceilings and more space, but third-floor rooms are cozier, with fireplaces and gabled windows. There’s nothing unusual about the Victorian decor, but there’s a wonderful feeling here of stepping back in time. There are also rooms in four outlying buildings, which have less Victorian frill, but tend to be more spacious. Breakfasts are okay, nothing great, but you’ll have your own table and won’t have to make small talk with strangers before you’ve had your coffee. Dinners, by contrast, are exceptional – especially in summer when the gardens are in full bloom; book a table on the veranda for maximum romance.
Smack dab on the on the plaza, Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza ($$$$) got a complete renovation in 2005, and everything looks fresh and sparkling. The khaki color scheme is anything but risky, but the look is definitely soothing, with clean lines and visually open spaces. The century-old architectural details – high ceilings, bay windows, crown moldings – lend a simple sophistication to the rooms, and there’s no space-occupying frou-frou to get in your way, just a cute little teddy bear sitting on the bed. Every room gets flooded with natural light and has a comfy sitting area and gas fireplace – alas, building codes didn’t allow them to keep wood-burning fireplaces in the rebuild. Best of all, you can walk everywhere in town. Though technically a B&B, the inn is part of the Four Sisters Inn group; consequently there’s no on-site owner demanding you pet the cat, and you can maintain your anonymity if you want to. Full breakfast is included, as are afternoon wine and hors d’ouevres. If you’re working with an upper-midrange budget but can’t quite swing the Hotel Healdsburg, you’ll get good bang for your buck here.
One of Healdsburg’s original bed-and-breakfast inns, Belle de Jour Inn ($$$$) has a down-to-earth simplicity that you won’t find at town’s newer lodgings. Surrounded by six acres of rolling, landscaped grounds, the inn has only five rooms. They’re in several freestanding cottages surrounding an 1873 farmhouse so there’s plenty of privacy, especially in the rambling gardens – perfect for a stroll with your sweetheart. Rooms are spacious and have a cozy Americana decor, with four-poster beds, wide-plank wood floors, and fireplaces. But it’s the little things that make the place special, most notably the sun-dried bed sheets, fresh flowers, and friendly reception. Alas, there’s only one seating for breakfast, and it’s early – 9am – so if you like to sleep in, plan to eat in town. The inn is two miles north of the plaza.
A ten-minute walk from town, the 1883 Honor Mansion ($$$$) exudes stately charm. Rooms are individually styled with an eclectic mix of fine fabrics and European antiques. The decor tends toward the frilly, with too many pillows on the bed, but it manages not to be overdone (except in the Angel room, with its kitschy cherub mural). Still, the essential details are solidly in place – sumptuous mattresses, high-thread-count-sheets, evening turn-down service, and extras like fireplaces, deep claw-foot tubs, and private balconies in some rooms. In the B&B tradition, breakfast is bountiful and served on fine china, but guests have their own individual tables, a nice touch for couples on romantic weekends. The parlor and reception area could use a bit of sprucing up (ditching the dried-flower arrangements and cutesy clutter would be a big improvement), but the grounds are magnificent: four acres of lush landscaping extend from the back of the house, with a fern-edged koi pond, vast croquet lawns, a putting green, bocce ball, tennis courts, and a 24-hour solar-heated swimming pool (whether it’s warm depends on the cloud cover). Book a poolside massage in one of the cabanas. If you’re looking to don white linen and quietly play Great Gatsby for the weekend, the Honor Mansion may be just the spot, but if you like to get buzzed on zinfandel and whoop it up, choose somewhere else.
I’ve intentionally left out Les Mars Hotel ($$$$+) because its fancy-pants Louis Quinze style is totally out of place in Healdsburg, like wearing white tie and tails to a pot-luck dinner party. Besides, the doormen are haughty and the rates ridiculous. A room with a gas fireplace for $700 a night? Pshaw. If you can afford to spend that much, why waste it on faux French in an ag town in Northern California? Stay at the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris instead and get the real deal. Better yet, put the money toward a fabulous rental house in Healdsburg and participate in the local culture, rather than be insulated from it.
Of Healdsburg’s four motels, the Best Western Dry Creek Inn ($$–$$$) is the top choice for up-to-date furnishings and amenities. Rooms are standard-issue and style-free, but they’re spacious and clean, and all were redecorated this past spring. Service is (way) better here than at the neighboring last-choice Travelodge. A swimming pool (strangely, with salt water), a hot tub, and continental breakfast sweeten the deal. NB: The motel is building a new wing, so be sure to ask about construction noise, and request a quiet room. Just in case, pack ear plugs.