At a Glance: John’s Favorites
Most people zip through the Anderson Valley en route to Mendocino, cursing the twisting road, never stopping for more than a cup of coffee. Their loss. A refuge from modern-day life, the bucolic valley is a world unto itself, where you can kiss freeways and minimarts goodbye, and slip back in time to the days before empire, when America was still a modest republic of farmers and ranchers.
Like Bolinas, the Anderson Valley is a haven for progressives, scofflaws, and dropouts. Locals so eschew the outside world that they developed their own language, Boontling, in the 1880s to confuse strangers (particularly the police). This spirit of isolationism mirrors the local geography: stretching for 25 miles and surrounded by rugged hills, the valley is hard to reach. Highway 128 twists and turns, up and down, past orchards and farms, before leveling out in the flatlands around Boonville and Philo, the valley’s two main towns. Fruit-farming and sheep-ranching are the traditional industries, but wine grapes are a major cash crop.
So is marijuana. During growing season, the local radio station broadcasts warnings of DEA helicopter-flyover missions, giving residents an opportunity to harvest or hide their pot—it’s hard not to admire such renegade community spirit. There’s not a lot to do here, but that’s also the valley’s selling point: you come to slow down. Meet the locals at the Saturday farmers’ market, and sample the Anderson Valley’s other specialty, apples. Kill an afternoon tasting wine or hiking in the surrounding hills, where you can totally escape civilization—just like the locals have.
- Rent a cottage in an apple orchard.
- Sample riesling and pinot noir at indie wineries.
- Hike in the sun-dappled shade of redwood trees.
- Escape beyond cell-phone range.
- Two-and-a-quarter hours from the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Limited accommodations; reserve early.
- Nothing to do at night; bring Scrabble and a lover.
See & Do in the Anderson Valley
Anderson Valley wineries produce some superb food-friendly wines. Nighttime fog moderates temperatures, creating the ideal climate for delicate pinot noir grapes and other cool-loving varietals like chardonnay and gewürztraminer.
Find a winery in the Anderson Valley to suit your taste.
If you prefer beer to wine, make a beeline to the Anderson Valley Brewing Co, and tour the Bavarian-style brewery, then sample its award-winning porters, stouts, and ales.
Want to know what’s really happening in the Anderson Valley? Show up for the Saturday morning farmers market behind the Boonville Hotel. Yes, the seasonal organic fruits, fragrant flowers, fruity-green olive oils, and country crafts are compelling, but nothing beats the local small-town gossip. As you lean in to squeeze the peaches, keep your ears open and you’ll learn everyone’s business. The market runs from May through October, 9:45am to noon; arrive early for the best selection.
Skip the big fruit stand on Hwy 128, and instead pay a visit to the Philo Apple Farm, an all-organic old-fashioned fruit stand selling chutney, jams and jellies, and a whopping 65 varieties of heirloom apples and pears, all grown on the surrounding 35 acres. The season runs August through November, but visit any time of year to pick up a jar of delicious low-sugar preserves. Bring small bills; the stand is self-serve and operates on the honor system.
The proprietors of the Apple Farm owned Napa’s venerable French Laundry before selling it to celeb chef Thomas Keller. Now they offer weekend-long cooking classes on the farm for up to eight people – it’s like a weekend house party. The open-plan kitchen is big enough for everyone to pitch in, and there’s a wonderful spirit of camaraderie. But the dynamics depend on the group; to ensure maximum fun, bring your own posse. It’s pricy – $1500 per couple – but that includes all meals, wine, and accommodations in surprisingly stylish guest cottages in the orchards.
The rolling green hills end at Navarro River Redwoods State Park, an eleven-mile-long, second-growth redwood forest on the banks of the Navarro River. Spiky ferns and electric-green moss line lush walking trails—a shady respite from the valley’s midday heat. But the best reason to come is to swim in the Navarro River. Locals aren’t going to like me telling you this, but park at mileage-marker 3.66 on Hwy 128, and follow the trail through the woods to the river. In mid-summer, once the river warms up and stops rushing, the pebbly shores are the perfect place to kick back in the sun and splash in the water.
Anderson Valley Restaurants
Pack a picnic at the Boonville General Store ($), the closest thing the valley has to a gourmet grocery, with fancy cheeses, crusty breads, and made-to-order sandwiches. Hours are limited, only 9am to 3pm, Thursday to Monday. Alternatively try Boont Berry Farm ($), a tiny deli with daily specials, such as vegetarian lasagna, and organic groceries.
The happening café for lunch, Mosswood Market ($) makes big crunchy salads, homemade soups, cheese plates, and hot-pressed sandwiches on La Brea focaccia bread, all served on beautiful dishware. The on-site bakery makes good pastries and espresso, ideal for a light breakfast (try the lemon-ginger scones). Run by urban sophisticates, Mosswood is the best thing to open in the valley in years. Best of all, it’s quick: if you’re just passing through, you won’t get stuck here all day waiting for your lunch to arrive.
The star on the food scene, the Boonville Hotel ($$$) has a short, but changing dinner menu of New American cooking, such as flatiron steak with polenta, roasted chicken with French fries, and apple cake for desert. Like a catalogue spread from Restoration Hardware, the room has a retro-country look, with walls the colors of Fiesta Ware and wooden tables and chairs crafted by local woodworkers. On Thursdays, there’s a $28 three-course menu, with no corkage on wine. The restaurant closes on Tuesday and Wednesday, but the bar is open nightly.
Locals eat dinner at Lauren’s ($–$$). The homestyle cooking ranges from seasonal salads and homemade soups to chicken pot pies, pizzas, and rice bowls. There’s often a party atmosphere: the owner is a singer, and musicians sometimes show up and jam on weekends. On slower nights, meet the valley’s denizens over a game of billiards. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Up the road in Philo, tiny family-run Libby’s ($) makes tasty Mexican cooking, but at peak times service is slow as molasses. Alas, there’s nowhere else to eat this side of Boonville, so if you’re hungry, bite the bullet and wait out the delay. Closed Monday.
- $ = entrées under $10
- $$ = $10 to $15
- $$$ = $16 to $22
- $$$$ = $22 and up
Anderson Valley Hotels and House Rentals
The top budget choice is the Anderson Valley Inn ($–$$). The owners take great pride in the property, evident in the pretty landscaping and fresh-looking rooms, with colorful walls and country-cute furnishings. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a great value and very well kept. Two-bedroom suites have kitchens. Dogs welcome. If you’re on a really tight budget, see if Wellspring Renewal Center ($) has any of its rustic cabins available, but you’ll have to bring your own bedding and linens—and a broom. It’s primarily a retreat center, so call ahead to check availability.
The historic Boonville Hotel ($$–$$$$) is decked out with contemporary American-country furnishings and a snappy color palette of mustard-yellow, cucumber-green, and burnt-orange. Some rooms are on the small side, but many have balconies with pretty views of the garden and hills. Splurge on one of the garden cottages for maximum privacy. Not all rooms have bathtubs; if it matters, ask when you book.
The Apple Farm ($$$$) rents cottages in the orchards. They’re remarkably stylish, with a smart mix of retro farmhouse furnishings, like beadboard wall paneling and painted wooden furniture, and contemporary design details like corrugated-tin siding. Every cottage has a gas fireplace, and just outside the door are 35 acres of fruit trees. Magical.
Ditch civilization in a secluded hilltop rental cottage ($$$$) surrounded by 550 acres of ranchlands with drop-dead-gorgeous views. Cottages sleep two or four people and have a full kitchen, wood-burning fireplace or stove, outdoor deck, and barbecue. The decor is modern and austere, with neutral colors and lots of hard surfaces like tile, wood, concrete, and glass bricks. The indoor-outdoor floor plan feels chilly in winter—especially when it’s blowing outside—but in summer, this is a glorious place to hide out. Dogs welcome.
- $ = standard double under $100
- $$ = $100 to $200
- $$$ = $200 to $300
- $$$$ = $300 & up