An hour north of San Francisco, Sonoma sits at the confluence of several bucket list adventures. For fans of director Alfred Hitchcock, it harbors the setting where scenes from his 1963 horror classic, “The Birds,” were filmed at Bodega and Bodega Bay – and the chance to walk on hallowed Hitch turf.
For sybarites, it is home to lovely spas and only-here treatments, including a cutting edge therapy that can only be described as a mulch bath for the bod. It’s so invigorating for both spirit and soul you won’t hesitate to dig into this Japanese “fermentation process.”
And for oenophiles it is, of course, Grape Mecca. Legions sip their way, undertaking the pilgrimage in a quest to uncork the perfect wine in a county the size of Rhode Island.
Hitch was here
If you’ve ever seen “The Birds,” chances are it’s emblazoned on your memory. Bodega and Bodega Bay bring the movie back to life in living seaside color. Landmarks including the Potter Schoolhouse, St. Theresa of Avila Catholic Church and Tides Wharf – the setting for the restaurant, gas station fire and boat dock scenes – rise into the blue of a California sky, not a hint of menace about them.
Even better, Bodega Bay is home to the world’s largest collection of Alfred Hitchcock and “The Birds” memorabilia, on display at the Bodega Country Store. Before you reach the scads of photographs, movie posters and magazines within, you’ll be greeted at the front door by a not-quite-as-rotund statue of the director, a fun way to get into the spirit of things.
Inside, store and collection owner Michael Fahmie has amassed an impressive 500-plus piece homage to Hitch: movie scripts, costume sketches, jewelry, a museum-quality life mask and original items and props used in the movie. A few doors down, Fahmie’s Birdland of Bodega gallery is devoted exclusively to film star Tippi Hedren, “Melanie” in “The Birds.”
“I like to think of Birdland as my personal collection,” said Fahmie, noting rare items include background art and portraits used in the school teacher’s residence in the movie and Hedren’s autographed high school yearbook from 1946. “It is ever-changing, and Ms. Hedren is frequent visitor.”
Bodega Bay remains a sleepy coastal village but be forewarned . . . you will hear the screeching of seagulls and it will be creepy.
One word: Ahhh
A scenic three or so miles north and overlooking the Pacific Ocean is the Bodega Bay Lodge and Spa. Tucked off the main drag and lushly landscaped, this 84-room coastal retreat looks like the kind of place Hitchcock’s principle leads might have spirited off to for some off-camera R and R. Guests are treated to postcard-pretty ocean views outlined by rugged shoreline, bracing air and the muted sounds of distant fog horns and yes, birds.
Here is the place to slip into something more comfortable (like a plushy robe) and enjoy an in-room massage. Hitting all the right pressure points with both fingers and either heated basalt stones or a tiger clam seashell, the Lodge’s signature hot stone or warm shell massage will soothe and relax tense muscles, transporting you to a place of peace – a decadent prelude to enjoying the in-room gourmet dining service.
Ring up room service for a Sonoma-style feast provided by The Duck Club Restaurant, whose dishes are created with locally sourced foodstuffs like ancho chili braised chicken with corn and heirloom tomato tamale, zucchini ribbons and chili cream sauce and salmon with corn, peperonata, organic pea shoots and lemon vinaigrette and more. Pair with a red or white wine from Sonoma’s famed Russian River Valley – known for the enticingly sensuous Pinot Noir – light the log in the fireplace and enjoy a perfect Sonoma evening.
In the town of Occidental, located off Sonoma’s Bohemian Highway – 10 miles of scenic splendor winding through towering redwoods – the Osmosis Day Spa ushers guests into a private Japanese tea garden to begin a journey of rest and renewal. Osmosis is the only North American spa currently offering the cedar enzyme bath, a Japanese-style treatment consisting of an immersion up to the chin in a warm and fragrant “bath” of finely ground cedar, rice bran and plant enzymes.
Relax, refresh . . . surrender to tranquility. As the mixture heats up and works its magic on your body, jangled nerves calm, tension and fatigue dissolve and aches and pains melt away with the ultimate sensation of skin feeling fully cleansed and glowing – and you feeling buoyant, content and energized.
When in wine country
So many wineries, so little time. So true. Sonoma Wine Country counts more than 350 wineries in a region marked by ancient redwood forests, low-rising mountains, breathtaking coastal vistas and pretty little burgs tucked off country roads, like artscentric Glen Ellen – where dining at the Glen Ellen Star, whose show kitchen is a synchronized culinary tour de force, is a not-to-be-missed gastronomically rich adventure.
And it is teeming with vineyards, sometimes as far as the eye can see and in all directions. Tasting rooms are as plentiful, unique and in some cases downright sublime as the wines produced in this diverse and fertile wonderland for grapes: the sun-drenched estate vineyards of Gloria Ferrer Winery; the MacLeod Family Vineyard with its folksy charm and complex but approachable zinfandels; the gracious Chateau St. Jean with its French flair, well-stocked charcuterie and stellar wines; the breezy joie de vivre tempo of the Francis Ford Coppola Winery; the casually sophisticated Hanna Winery.
“We make it fun and friendly,” said Christine Hanna, a second generation vintner, about a visit to Sonoma in general and Hanna Vineyards in particular. “We try not to take ourselves too seriously. Wines go from accessible to slightly inaccessible. You can get a bottle under $20 and one for more than $60.”
Having been to Mecca, there’s no reason to leave it behind. Extend the enjoyment of the adventure home with shipments of your new favorite varietals and a fresh screening of “The Birds” – glass of Sonoma’s finest in hand. For this, Hanna advises something brooding.
“You need a wine that’s quirky, temperamental and brooding,” she said, noting that the fog rolling into the Russian River Valley, where her wines are produced, is as atmospheric as a Hitchcock movie. Luckily, Sonoma Wine Country offers up plenty of choices.
Enhance your bucket list adventure to Sonoma by signing up for Grape Camp, www.SonomaGrapeCamp.com, where you can sort grapes, blend wines and sip, sip and sip.
The open-air Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley, www.SonomaValleyWineTrolley.com, has added a new route that meanders into Glen Ellen and the Kenwood area, including stops at Benziger Family Winery, Imagery Winery, Paradise Ridge in Kenwood and Deerfield Ranch Winery. The original route includes stops at four boutique wineries located in and around the town of Sonoma. Both tours are $99 per person and include a gourmet lunch.
Sonoma Wine Country, www.SonomaCounty.com