Visiting Wine Country: A Local's Guide To Eating, Exploring and Imbibing in Sonoma
 
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Sonoma—there’s something about this town. I’m writing in the evening with the windows propped open. Outside, a summer’s day gives way as a backyard dinner grows quiet and the pleas of crickets echo into something like silence. It’s dark except for the moon, which casts shadows, playing tricks with my imagination and the breeze. In the morning, it’s just a short walk to the vineyards where I’ve gotten used to the way that leaves move—disguising themselves—and the colors the grapes make when they’re ready for pressing.

I moved here after years in San Francisco and fell into love with life in the “country” in less than a heartbeat; but then again, it’s easy to love a town with a central plaza, Tuesday night Farmer’s Market, and restaurants and wineries everywhere you look. I’m accustomed to familiar and friendly places everywhere I go, and the ease of buying vegetables at farm stands with handmade signs on the road that say things like “Local Peppers, Turn Left in 50 feet.”

Still, there’s something that's still wild and dusty here—this Valley of the Moon—where farmers first settled to mine the land for juice. The rest of us just live here because we know what they knew at first press: there’s something about this town. 

At the request of friends, family, clients and thirsty folks everywhere, get to know the spots from my personal Sonoma that you shouldn’t miss during your next visit to wine country.

 

EAT

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GLEN ELLEN STAR

My favorite restaurant in the area, Glen Ellen Star has mastered the art of wood-fired cooking in a way that’s fresh and seasonal, quintessentially Californian, hip and entirely approachable. They embrace the art of simple food, but with an effortless refinement that you can’t master at home. Just off the main road in downtown Glen Ellen, the red-starred façade offers a no-frills but well-executed interior that makes you feel welcome right away—like you’ve stumbled upon a neighborhood gem. Don’t be mistaken: you have. 

The menu changes with the seasons, and often by the day, but it’s always food that you want to eat—crave-able, straightforward, and of the moment. Vegetable starters are served family style in cast-iron skillets that are shared amongst intimate tables, and the nightly dessert special is best enjoyed with single serve cartons of house made ice cream. Servers bounce around in jeans, red sneakers, and matching t-shirts, and if you’re lucky you’ll eat close enough to see Chef Ari Weiswasser and his team carefully dancing around the central spirit of the restaurant—the open hearth.

Here's a tip: Order all of the vegetables—no, really, just do it. You must try the Tomato Cream Pie before you die and the seasonal pasta is always memorable.

HARVEST MOON CAFE

A quaint and unassuming restaurant just off the Sonoma Square, Harvest Moon offers a surprising, fresh, and completely sustainable menu that changes daily. Run by a husband and wife chef team, I admire their commitment to the bounty of Sonoma County and their commitment to sourcing meat and produce that comes from farms, ranches, and fisheries that uphold their shared principles of sustainability. Their menu is an ode to the hard work of these farmers and their collective culinary experiences as chefs. I’ve never ordered the same thing twice and I am always surprised by what I order—a testament to a great menu.

Though simple in ambiance, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a quiet dinner followed or preceded by a walk around the square or a visit to a tasting room like Pangloss.

Here's a tip: At Sonoma's Friday morning Farmer’s Market, Harvest Moon has a stand of baked goods and breakfast items that people line up for.

EL MOLINO CENTRAL

A perfect stop on the way to Glen Ellen or Kenwood, El Molino is located in Boyes Hot Springs and just might be some of the best Mexican food around. Hey, I’ve even heard it called the best in the Bay Area and that’s saying something. A brightly colored façade offers at-the-counter ordering inside, along with some key takeout items, and a back patio where you can eat under the shade of red umbrellas. The seasonal and soulful menu offers delicious fish tacos, seasonal enchiladas, tamales, and more.

Here's a tip: They only offer one item before 11am, but it’s delicious: Chilaquiles Merida. And trust me on this one: share it with a friend. Grab guacamole with whatever you order and enjoy the thickest, crunchiest chips around.

Photo by Sarah Deragon

Photo by Sarah Deragon

SWEET SCOOPS ICE CREAM
 

Do you know why that old adage about all of us screaming for ice cream is true? It’s probably because Joe and Ramie Hencmann have set out to make the world a sweeter place one scoop at a time and it’s working. You can find their incredibly charming ice cream shop right on the square, or look for their Ice Cream Cart at the Tuesday Night Farmer’s Market or at Cornerstone on summer weekends.

Here’s a tip: In addition to all of their creative and delicious flavors made from local ingredients, they make some very delicious vegan flavors. Three words: Vegan Cookies & Cream. You’ll never look back. 


 
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SONOMA'S BEST: MODERN MERCANTILE

For the kind of place that’s perfect to explore, eat, and imbibe, head to Sonoma’s Best to grab lunchtime essentials and local sundries to take along to Jack London Park or Bartholomew Park Winery. Located a little out of the way, it makes for a great jaunt through local neighborhoods. If you decide to stick around, they have a charming outdoor garden where you can enjoy your lunch along with beer on tap and wines by the glass.

Here's a tip: They have an excellent little wine shop—it’s the perfect place to pick up a delicious and reasonably priced bottle for dinner.

 

STILL HUNGRY? I DON’T BLAME YOU. TRY:

Café La Haye for a charming, white tablecloth dinner just off the square that feels like a local’s spot, located right near my favorite local bookstore, Reader's Books.
The Girl & The Fig or The Fig Café for a chance to eat at one of Sondra Bernstein’s classic Sonoma restaurants.
Sunflower Caffé for a healthy breakfast, lunch, or quick smoothie pit stop.
Frenchie Picnics & Provisions for a perfect grab and go meal for your next picnic in the park.
El Dorado Kitchen for an upbeat vibe with drinks and appetizers at the bar or on the patio.
Delhi Belly Indian Bistro for excellent Indian just off the square.
Café Citti for a wine hangover; head to this checkered tablecloth restaurant in Kenwood where the ambiance and pasta is best served to go.

 

EXPLORE

JACK LONDON PARK

Long before I ever dreamed of living in Sonoma County, I was fascinated with Jack London Park and the rich and mysterious stories that the land must hold. Once the home of the writer Jack London—famous for penning adventure tales and naming this area the Valley of the Moon—the park features miles of trails and historic buildings from when London called it home. The site includes the ruins of a 19th century winery, which now hosts Broadway Under the Stars, an event worth planning a trip around if you visit during the summer. You can set out to hike the trails or simply explore the museum, the cottage where Jack wrote, or the mysterious Wolf House, where a fire destroyed the structure before they ever lived in it.

In addition to being a writer, London was curious, inventive and experimented with farming methods that he gleaned from abroad—demonstrating early examples of organic and sustainable farming practices that are still used today. It’s one of the most beautiful ways to explore Sonoma Mountain. Often dripping with fog in the early morning, I’ve never had a visit that didn’t prompt a clear head and a hungry pen.

 

CORNERSTONE SONOMA

Just off Arnold Drive before you get to Sonoma proper is Cornerstone—a modern marketplace featuring boutique shops, tasting rooms, art-inspired gardens, and Sunset Magazine’s Gardens + Outdoor Test Kitchen. I think it offers some of the best shopping in Sonoma so save your sips for of any of my recommended wineries and hit the shops after a stroll through the gardens, which are certainly worth a visit. Here’s the shopping you shouldn’t miss:

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Chateau Sonoma: More than just an expertly curated collection of French antiques and artful home décor, it’s a lifestyle experience that recalls the very best things about French culture and brings them to you in a sensory manner. In addition to home goods and antiques, they also carry the collections of local jewelry and handbag designers that make excellent gifts.

Nomad Chic: I actually first discovered this hip boutique in Todos Santos, Mexico and was delighted when they opened a shop in Sonoma. Taking boho-chic to the next level, Nomad carries global, unique, and often handcrafted items for the home as well as clothing, jewelry, and accessories—all that make you wish you were on a beach in Mexico sipping a margarita. 

Artefact Design & Salvage: I dream about this place. A sensory-awakening collection of artifacts sourced from all over the world—furniture, gifts, oddities, and large architectural elements—this is the kind of place where every piece has a story to tell. For example, I own a doorstop that was once a piece of a ceramic stove in the original Hearst castle. Prepare yourself.

 

FRIDAY MORNING FARMER’S MARKET

If you ever happen to be in Sonoma on a Friday—every week, rain or shine—don’t miss the chance to explore the farmer’s market on Arnold Field. Grab fresh local produce, iced-tea from local purveyor Tea & Trumpets (Earl Grey Lavender and Jasmine Rose are my favorites), and get the Hippie Hash from The Green Grocer—it’s one of my favorite things to eat, ever.

 

IMBIBE

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THREE STICKS

Just off the square, you can step into another world where time is unhurried, wine is an art form, and ambiance is lionized. Located in a historic Adobe—the longest occupied residence in Sonoma and a remnant from California’s Mexican period —Three Sticks is a can’t-miss winery in Sonoma. Thoughtfully preserved, the Adobe is designed by Ken Fulk who artfully layered Spanish influences and antiques with modern finishes, an array of stimulating textures and colors, and a truly unforgettable hand-painted wall. It's an experience that feels uniquely akin to Sonoma today, and yesterday.

The wines? Let’s talk about them. They make some of the best Pinot Noir in Sonoma County and well beyond. That’s all you need to know.

Here's a tip: Book an appointment and take your time, you’re going to want to savor this experience from the wine tasting to the rich space and the completely wonderful and sincere hospitality. 

 

SCRIBE

Quite the trendy hotspot these days, Scribe lives up to the hype, especially with the reopening of the historic Hacienda, sitting like a citadel at the end of their iconic palm-lined drive. A perfect match for their terroir-driven wines, the Hacienda—a building with bones that date back the 1850’s—has been restored to accommodate an array of food and wine experiences. 

The Hacienda itself is something to behold, a careful blend of nuanced old details—chipped paint, original wood, old windows—with quietly modern furniture that lets the naturalism of your surroundings speak for themselves. Above all, Scribe showcases a reverence for style, the land, and things built over time with your hands. Pair all of this with a glass of Sylvaner or Skin Fermented Chardonnay and you’ve got yourself an afternoon. 

Here's a tip: The food and wine experience at the Hacienda is worth the price—allowing you the opportunity to taste food from the garden and local purveyors, all curated with the same style and panache that goes into the rest of their brand.

 
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PANGLOSS

If you’re on the Sonoma Square and want to find the best environment to enjoy a glass of wine or a tasting, look no further than Pangloss. Named after the eternal optimist in Voltaire’s Candide, the tasting room is spacious and open with restored rock walls, a giant portrait of the author, and books and miscellany—all lending to its modern drawing room appeal. Admittedly, I go most often for the ambiance and energy (it’s often lively), but their food program is well done and there are a few standout wines that pair incredibly well with their thoughtfully curated space.

Here's a tip: If you don’t want the whole tasting you can enjoy a glass of wine or wine flight with food pairings in the lounge area. The bar—which surrounds a built-in olive tree—is for tastings only.
 

STARLING BAR

Wine’d out? It happens. Starling is sort of the cocktail bar in Sonoma. A dive-bar reinvented as a friendly local watering hole with excellent cocktails, fun atmosphere and neighborhood vibe, Starling is the place to get that cocktail you’ve been craving since your Xth glass of Pinot. Seasonal favorites include: the Watmaugh Margarita and Hibiscus Paloma. 

STILL THIRSTY? TRY:

Kivelstadt Cellars for great wines, a cool and laid back tasting room in Glen Ellen, really cool labels, and some of my favorite naming and wine descriptions in the business—be sure to read them!
Westwood for Pinot, Pinot, Pinot just off the square. 
BUMP for another tasting room experience just off the square that offers, wine, art, and a great vibe.
Auteur for the wines and great hospitality in a charming cottage just off the square 

*This blog was originally posted on meghanmarshking.com on August 26, 2017


POSTSCRIPT: Wow, this got long. Volume 2 is inevitable, as are other locations by special request. I’ve done my best to capture the Sonoma that I adore, but please note there is certainly much left for me to explore.  Did I miss something you love? Let me know. I’d love to visit and write about it.

 
Meghan King
Client Spotlight: Turning Point Spa
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From the moment we first chatted with Laurence McKee, owner of Turning Point Spa, we were excited and expectant for the work we would do together. After the past 8 months of creating a fresh brand identity for her, transforming her website, designing custom collateral pieces such as business cards and brochures, and continuous collaboration on strategic marketing efforts like social media and SEO, Laurence has become such a valued friend and client of ours and we’re excited to share more about her and her awesome brand with you.

With over 35 years of experience as an esthetician and massage therapist, Laurence was professionally trained in Paris, France and San Francisco, California. Her professional journey with skincare began at the age of 17 with her family business, Institut de Beaute, an upscale spa in the center of Paris. Committed to treating the wellness of the whole body, Laurence is also trained in Ayurvedic treatments.

Rooted in this vast experience and a deep passion for skin care, Turning Point Spa is a unique French Skincare experience based in Marin County that calls people to care for and indulge in the health and beauty of their body, inside and out. Believing in the art of French luxury, the important ritual of self care, the beauty of all skin types, and the joy of slowing down.

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Meghan had the opportunity recently to visit Laurence at her new space in Mill Valley, and it was an experience more unique than any spa visit she’s had before (and she’s had many!)

 

“Visiting Turning Point Spa was like a rebirth for my skin. Upon entering the space, Laurence greets you with her warm, French energy and a hot cup of herbal tea. We sat down to chat about my skin, and how it relates to my busy life and my needs for self-care and occasional restoration. Nothing felt rushed, or hurried. It seemed like we had the whole day together.

The treatment started with a skin analysis tool, which I had never had experienced before. The results gave me insights into my skin that I had never heard, and I learned that I’ve most likely been treating my skin wrong for many years. Laurence then treated me with the most relaxing and healing  lymphatic facial using natural oils from De La Terre and a facial gemstone tool, chosen especially for my skin. The amazonite was used to stimulate cell regeneration for skin that is stressed. After my facial, I was served tea using the same herbs that were used in facial and given some suggestions for caring for my skin over the course for the next few days, and beyond.

I learned more about skin in a few hours with Laurence than I had in many years of facials. I won’t miss the opportunity to continue to be treated by Laurence and her magical art of skincare.”

-Meghan

 

If you ever find yourself in the Bay area in need of a little self-care day, we can’t recommend Laurence and Turning Point Spa enough! It truly is a spa experience unlike any other. Book an appointment and tell her we sent you to receive 10% off your first visit!

Meghan King
Branding From The Beginning: Why A Copywriter Should Be The First Person You Hire
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If we have one small piece of formative advice for entrepreneurs and proprietors who are starting businesses and setting out to build memorable brands, it’s this: start with the story first. It sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly uncommon in our world.

It’s quite frequent that we work with founders who already have a brand identity, a website and perhaps even some brand collateral and they have been so busy creating these assets that they can’t articulate their own brand position or core values. Likewise, it’s not uncommon to work with someone who has exhausted all of their financial resources, creative energy and time on building the visual pieces of the brand and then realize, often too late in the game, that they now need this one essential piece of their story to bring it all together—the language of it all.

The language is often the last and final puzzle piece of an asset that you’ve been putting a lot of energy into. But here’s the thing: it needs to be the first. The story should inform the brand identity process. The copy should inform the structure and user experience of the website. Discover the story that you want to tell and then create the assets that will best serve that story. To do it backwards is like attempting to fertilize a seed that hasn’t even been planted yet.

Planting the Seed: Telling the Story

Since you asked nicely, we’re prepared to give you a little free advice to ensure you do it right. Before you set out to create a brand identity, push a website live, or even start advertising your services, you should intricately know and have easy access to the following storytelling pieces for your brand:

  1. The Brand Boilerplate
    This is the heart of your story. Let’s say you meet someone (it’s a meet-cute) and have limited time to tell them who you are and what you do, but you don’t have a lot of time (but for purposes of creativity let’s pretend you’re somewhere cooler than an elevator, ok?). What do you say? And if a team member, colleague or partner were in the same situation, would they say the same thing? Beware of the old game of “telephone” and know that if the message isn’t clear at the top, or even in the middle, that the brand message will become less potent and less powerful over time the more it’s shared in a way that’s not cohesive.

  2. Mission, Vision, Core Values
    You know the drill. Have fun with them, let them showcase your personality, make them really freaking aspirational. Don’t know where to start? Get help.

  3. Brand Promise
    What will people come to truly rely on you for? It better be something and it better provide value.

  4. Brand Position
    Who are you in relation to others in your market? What do you do that makes you unique? This is how you will be talked about in the “marketplace of needs” and it’s incredibly important to how you may decide to tell your story and make connections that matter with real humans who need you.

  5. Tone and Voice
    It’s the way that you talk about yourself, the words you use to do it, the slang you use (or choose not to use). It’s your verbal personality and all great brands have one that’s indistinguishable from all the rest of the noise. If that’s not a reason to hire a copywriter, I don’t know what is.

  6. Look and Feel
    It’s a vibe. Oftentimes, it’s a lifestyle. Talk about it, know it, live it. And most importantly: be so consistent about it that it feels redundant and unchanging at times. Repetition deepens impression. You want to impress the hell out of them.

There’s a lot more that a skilled copywriter or brand strategist can do for an emerging or repositioning brand, but this is an essential start. It’s almost passé at this point, but brand-building has become so intricately tied to storytelling that thinking about telling your story after you’ve already gotten started is to try and recreate something that’s already developed a storyline of its own—it’s just not one that you cultivated. Start at the beginning. Discover who you are, shape the narrative and then build the rest. And certainly, if the story is good, they will come.

If it’s not apparent, we’re pretty passionate about stories, the way that they are told, and how we connect to them. If you have any questions or think we can help, drop us a line!

Meghan King
2018: A Year in Music with MMK

As creatives, we spend a lot of time at the computer looking at screens and words and brand assets and social media accounts (more than we’d like to admit). We can work from anywhere and everywhere, so the ability to enliven an environment makes a huge difference in the vibe of any given workday. Enter music. As a self-proclaimed playlist fanatic long before this project, Meghan set out to create a playlist of fresh tunes every month of this year. This is how it turned out.

We hope that you jammed with us, that maybe you discovered something new and that the music left behind each month said something about who we were, what we were up to and what we felt. We’re all about creating things that aim to enliven, inspire and create movement. So here’s to all of the good jams in 2018 and many more in 2019.


Want to be the first to hear our 2019 playlists?

Sign up for the MMK Creative newsletter

 
 
Meghan King