Enchanting Glen Ellen
In the mid-1800s, a tiny vineyard was first named Glen Ellen in what is now a beautiful town of the same name. This tiny community was also the former home of well-known authors Jack London and Hunter S. Thompson.
Located in Sonoma County’s Valley of the Moon, Glen Ellen is a picturesque location where you can explore the area’s parklands, savor great food and wine, or just kick back and relax. And it’s only about an hour from San Francisco.
In an area that’s just over two square miles, Glen Ellen offers several places to stay. Most everything is within walking distance. Here’s what we found.
The Gaige House is a luxe romantic getaway that combines modern design with an Asian influence spread over an acre of lush grounds. Whether you stay in the main house, a suite with a view of the Calabazas Creek, or a Zen suite, you’re guaranteed comfort and tranquility. Our oversized Zen suite was complete with a granite soaking tub, double shower, interior glass atrium with private garden, gas fireplace, and secluded patio. Join guests for complimentary wine and cheese in the hotel’s living room most evenings.
Interested in a serene escape? Then head to the Secret Cottages at the Glen Ellen Inn. Find privacy, a Jacuzzi tub, a gas fireplace, and a deck – all nestled by the Calabazas Creek.
Another option is The Chauvet. On the National Register of Historic Places, the building was completed in 1906 by an early settler whose brickyard was the source of materials. Large, modern vacation condos are available to rent.
The wineries of Glen Ellen are part of the Sonoma Valley AVA, birthplace of the California wine industry. It’s bordered by the Mayacamas Mountains to the east and the Sonoma Mountains to the west.
Visiting the Robert Hunter Winery is a unique experience. Make an appointment to try their superb wines in a setting of magnificently designed gardens (with many rare plants), verdant grounds, and expansive views. Sourced exclusively from their 42-acre estate, all four Robert Hunter wines shine – the 2001 Brut de Noirs, the 2010 Reserve Chardonnay, the 2007 Pinot Noir, and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.
For some fun, stop at Imagery Winery. Not only can you taste wine, but you can test your skills at bocce ball or horseshoes. The one-of-a-kind labels on Imagery bottles are designed by international artists picked specifically by the curator of the winery’s art collection. Stroll the galleries as you sip the 2009 Tusca Brava, one of the special blends from biodynamically farmed grapes.
Wellington Vineyards, a family-owned winery, farms sustainably and is certified by Sonoma County as a green business. The tasting room offers wonderful vistas of their vineyards as well as the cellar. In addition to their Cabernet Sauvignons and ports, don’t miss the 2009 Rousanne and the 2006 Syrah.
Nearby is Loxton Cellars. Call ahead and taste the 2008 Hillside Vineyards Zin and the 2008 Cuvée Ellen Syrah, among others.
Jack London State Historic Park is the site of London’s Beauty Ranch. Find hiking trails, a pond, and treasures from London’s past – his cottage, the House of Happy Walls museum, the circular Pig Palace, and Wolf House ruins. It was here he wrote “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang.”
There are several other scenic outdoor spaces in the area such as Sonoma Valley Regional Park, which feature hiking, biking, horseback riding, and picnicking. Arrange a guided nature walk in the Bouverie Preserve, part of Audubon Canyon Ranch. Find an array of birds, flowering plants, and mammals.
When it’s time to relax, the Gaige House has a heated swimming pool (as does The Chauvet) and hot tub. Fit in a spa treatment in the privacy of your room, in the Spa Loft or Zen garden.
The Jack London Village Shops is the site of the town’s original grist mill complete with waterwheel (it was transformed from a sawmill in the 1850s to a winery in 1870). Now full of artisans (and some say ghosts), find The Secret Nest antiques (707.935-8587), Wine Country Chocolates, with its own tasting room, as well as a gallery, jewelry store, restaurants, and winery tasting rooms. It is also the site of the Sunday Community Farmers Market.
It’s the Glen Ellen Village Market for picnic supplies – sandwiches, salads, wine and more.
At The Glen Ellen Inn Oyster Grill and Martini Bar, the best way to start is with one of their signature martinis and oysters. We had the Wicked Awesome Oyster Trio (raw, grilled and fried) and the X-Rated (vodka, blood orange, mango, and passion fruit). Luscious duck curry soup, a basket of warm homemade bread, and an iron skillet pizza were favorites. The recently renovated inn gets much of its produce from the owners’ farm nearby.
There is a cult-like following at the Fig Café & Wine Bar. Most evenings people are lined up with wine bottles in hand. It’s that popular; plus there’s no corkage fee. The interior is cozy and comfortable with a high ceiling, open kitchen, and banquettes positioned just beneath the windows with a great view of the dining room. The house-made pancetta kicks up the fig and arugula salad and we loved the plat du jour – grilled chicken with saffron basmati rice, chorizo, and fava leaves. The decadent chocolate brownie was just that.
In the morning, enjoy French-pressed coffee in your room and a tasty continental breakfast on the deck overlooking the creek at the Gaige House. A breakfast basketfilled with homemade pastries and fresh fruit is delivered to your room each evening at the Glen Ellen Inn. And at The Chauvet, have continental breakfast in your condo.
Sonoma County Visitors Bureau; Sonoma County Vintners
Patty Burness can be found on Twitter at @pattygb