STAYING IN SONOMA

Just an hour north of San Francisco is a great spot for a golf and spa experience in the heart of wine country. The Sonoma Mission Inn, now a Fairmont property, is located in the low-key town of Sonoma. The drive north from San Francisco is a scenic treat as you cross the Golden Gate Bridge and pass by Sausalito, San Rafael and Novato on your way to the Sonoma Valley. First you pass the San Francisco Bay and then San Pablo Bay with redwoods, cypress pines and eucalyptus trees framing the hilly terrain. In the middle of Sonoma sits the Sonoma Mission Inn and Golf Club.

The Sonoma Golf Club is available to guests at the Sonoma Mission Inn and it is well worth the time. The course was designed in 1928 by Sam Whiting, whose work includes the famed Lake Course at The Olympic Club. The course is host to the season-ending Champions Tour Charles Schwab Cup Tournament. (Last year’s event featured a thrilling finish as Tom Watson fired a final round 64 in a come-from-behind-win that enabled him to win the yearlong Charles Schwab prize.)

Sonoma Golf Club covers 177 acres and can be stretched to 7,100 yards; but fear not, there are multiple tee options. The course is framed by vineyards and features rolling terrain with large oaks and lakes. The Mayacamas Mountains are in view on every hole.

The course was tough but fair and was in excellent shape. The sixth and seventh holes were my favorite on the front nine. Number 6 is a 403-yard par-4 that plays uphill and is a dogleg left while Number 7 is a classic par-3 that Sam Snead once called his “favorite hole.” It plays 192 yards slightly uphill to a green protected by large oaks and a lateral hazard. The tee is located next to a large lake and it is an inspiring setting.

The Sonoma Golf Club has excellent practice facilities and is home to the Kris Moe Golf School. The new Spanish Mission-style clubhouse is elegant and available for dining for hotel guests. The club also features a pool and tennis facility.

Wining & Dining

The Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa is known for its hot springs. The spa is one of the only luxury spas in the U.S. to have its own source of thermal mineral water, which flows 1,100 feet below the inn at a temperature of 135 degrees. The spa and fitness center encompasses 43,000 square feet of state-of-the-art facilities. The large pool area just off the lobby includes the original town water tower, which is in view from anywhere on the 13-acre property. Santé is the main restaurant in the inn and the food and service were equal to the rest of my experience. Its spa recommendations and gourmet menu change daily with the seasons. The restaurant has more than 400 wines to choose from. The rooms at The Sonoma Mission Inn are luxuriously appointed and you are never too far from the main lobby or spa. For more information visit www.fairmont.com/sonoma or call 707-938-9000.

Spending this much time in Northern California turns wine tasting into a mandatory activity. To visit many of the wineries in the Sonoma and Napa valleys could take several days, though all are within 30 minutes of the Sonoma Mission Inn. Sebastiani, B.R. Cohn and Ravenswood wineries are all close to the inn.

There is much to see in and around Napa and Calistoga as well. Many more wineries, as well as the home of the mud bath. The ocean is less than an hour drive away and features some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. Bodega Harbor, sight of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” is one option. My favorite is the Point Reyes National Seashore, a large national treasure that is punctuated by the Point Reyes Lighthouse, built to prevent the many shipwrecks that were occurring on this coastline. Point Reyes alone could take a full day to see properly with its endless beaches, bays and forests. Not far from Sonoma is the Russian River, which can be fished or rafted. The famed Bohemian Grove is located in this area as well. The Grove, which belongs to the exclusive Bohemian Club of San Francisco, is attended by past U.S. Presidents and captains of industry. All of these spots can be reached within an hour of the Sonoma Mission Inn.