It’s rare that I go on a vacation where I just show up, and everything is taken care of.
I’m one that leans towards the adventure vacation—the kind where you go off-the-beaten-path and later refer to as “character building.” That’s my usual style.
But this past weekend, we went to Sonoma, a place that is quite literally the opposite of strenuous and on a trip that was completely planned for me by my wonderful friend Whitney. It was a trip to celebrate her 30th birthday, and we celebrated so hard. A couple months back she called me and asked me for recommendations in Napa Valley because we’d been there before. I didn’t give her any. Instead, I asked if we could come. This is the kind of thing you can do with best friends.
She said yes so Jason and I just got on an airplane last week and just showed up in San Fransisco without as much as lifting a finger. We spent the weekend touring wineries, riding bikes, telling really good jokes and of course, eating at some wonderful restaurants.
It’s probably no surprise to you that The Girl and The Fig was on our list of restaurants to devour, which is where this melon salad inspiration came from. Crisp, fresh, and surprisingly spicy, I really loved the flavor combinations and thought it was the perfect thing to recreate at home.
But of course I’m working with Wisconsin produce, so while I wish I could say this watermelon and cantaloupe came straight from the yard, the truth is it probably came from California (ours will pop later in the season). The radishes and cucumbers though—those are from our state—and the Napa cabbage is straight from the CSA that I added to give this salad a bit more substance.
It’s not by any means as interesting as it’s original version from The Girl and the Fig, but it’s a damn good homemade interpretation that will forever remind me of this trip. If you’re heading that way – I think you should make a reservation at The Girl and the Fig. And if you’re looking for other things to do, some more recommendations below.
In full disclosure, as I’ve said above, I did zero research for this trip, so I take no credit for finding any of these places and no blame for missing other great spots. Sonoma has 1 million + 1 establishments that are worth visiting, so it’s impossible to make a comprehensive list. These are the places that we went and enjoyed.
- Ravenswood – relatively well known winery famous for Zinfandel. Their tasting is surprisingly excellent for such a commercial place and they serve a lot of wines you can’t get else where. They were almost too generous with the pours.
- J Vineyards – known for their bubblies, this winery is a bit more high end. Fancy but not too fancy with a really lovely outdoor seating area. The rosé itself makes the visit worthwhile.
- Preston – picnic areas (bring sandwiches), cats, and great wine. This is a good one to just hang out at for a while. Things get a bit hazy around the time we got there, but I know I liked it.
- Hawley – the winery itself is by appointment only and you should do it—if you can’t do that, they have a tasting room you can go to. But go to the winery—not only is the view from the estate jaw dropping, but the private experience of sitting amongst their wine barrels is really something memorable. Plus the wine, it’s freaking great. If you’re lucky, maybe the host will even tap one of the barrels and give you an exclusive taste of something that hasn’t even been bottled yet. No promises.
- Russian River Brewing Co – if you have a second to step away from the wine, grab the sampler at this brewery to taste all the amazing and diverse beers they brew. Piney the Elder is a must, of course, but I’d happily take another swig of Salvation.
- Sonoma Springs Brewing Co – small and cozy and not nearly as crowded as Russian River, I loved the Tsonami Session IPA at this place.
- Fremont Diner – picnic tables outside and fried oysters on the menu. For breakfast. I swoon.
- Oakville Grocery – I don’t know if it was because I really needed a sandwich to soak up all the wine we’d tasted, but this was one of the best sandwiches I’d ever had.
- La Salette – a Portuguese restaurant with lovely seafood dishes.
- The Girl and the Fig – already introduced. I’ll say no more.
- Renting bikes from Sonoma Adventures – we spent one day on bikes riding around wineries near Sonoma and it was perfect, regardless of the 105 degree heat. This place delivered the bikes to our house and picked them up at the end of the day, making the whole experience super easy.
- Driver and tour with Terrific Tours – while biking was fun, we also wanted to get to some of the wineries outside of town, so we hired this company to drive us around. Not only did they make great recommendations (Hawley and J Vineyards mentioned above are both from their list) but our driver was fabulous and hung out with us at the wineries.
- ¼ cup slivered almonds
- 3-4 outer leaves from a head of Napa cabbage, stems cut out, leaves torn
- 2 cups watermelon, cut into ½ inch pieces
- 1 cup cantaloupe or honeydew melon, cut into ½ inch pieces
- 1-2 small Persian cucumbers, sliced thin
- 3 medium radishes, sliced thin
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Maldon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- In a small pan, toast slivered almonds until they are golden brown, about 2-4 minutes. Remove from heat.
- In a large bowl, combine watermelon, melon, cucumbers, and radishes.
- In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil and lemon juice. Pour dressing over melon mixture and gently toss to coat.
- Place torn Napa cabbage leaves on the bottom of a platter. Top with melon mixture and toasted almonds. Sprinkle with Maldon salt and cayenne pepper before serving.