“Expect a warm welcome at this heritage inn in the heart of Sonoma County, just 90 minutes north of San Francisco”
The 16 themed rooms and suites are divided between the original dwelling (once named Heart's Desire for the brick heart on the exterior chimney) and the newer Courtyard Wing at the end of the garden.
All are decorated in keeping with their theme, and each has a beautifully stitched quilt. So the top-floor Marbles Suite (where we stayed) has a collection of antique marbles; across the hallway the Ivory Room features a collection of 19th-century Japanese ivory miniatures.
The Quilt Room has a former tailor's sign - a giant pair of scissors - on its wall, along with folk-art lamps and a quilt wall-hanging above the queen bed. Tiffany is ideal for honeymooners with a 4-poster canopy bed, double shower, private balcony and mahogany loveseat.
On the ground floor, green-walled Leaf Umbrella, named for a prime example of Victorian glasswork, has a canopy bed from which you hear the fountain bubbling. Further along the corridor, the Cut Glass Suite has a private patio with a full-sized hot tub, and is named for its collection of English 19th-century glass bottles.
The Courtyard Rooms are uniform in size, with private entrances and balconies, mini-fridges and two-person spa baths. Inside, they are every bit as colourful and whimsical as the themed rooms. For example, Folk Art has hand-cast croquet wickets above the fireplace along with a handmade Humpty-Dumpty doll. Kitchen Cupboard is adorned with heirloom gadgets such as a waffle iron, an electric marshmallow toaster and an oversized cheese grater. Sonoma Lodge has an unusual birchwood 4-poster, while fishing nets and rods hang above the spa bath.
Uniquely, all feature a fireplace, as well as air-conditioning, heaters and radio/CDs. Beds are comfy with down duvets and overstuffed mattresses; bathrooms have robes, Frette towels and Aveda toiletries. Six rooms can be made up as twins. All but four have indulgent spa baths, with signature yellow ducks. Televisions can be placed in all rooms on request (the Inn is fully cabled with Comcast).
For families or a group of friends wanting more privacy, the 2-bedroom Sonoma Cottage just along the street has a fully equipped kitchen, dining room with table for 12, and a double-height, green-walled living room with a sofabed, TV/DVD and antique musical intruments. The two king-/twin-bedded rooms, each with an ensuite shower and tub, have nautical or playful references, including a vintage pinball machine and porthole-shaped windows.
Breakfast, the only meal available, is served in the basement wine cellar. The Inn prides itself on its Sonoma Harvest breakfast, which consists of freshly baked pastries, house-blended granola and local fruit. A daily changing hot dish is served next: perhaps pecan caramel French toast, or apple sour cream waffles, maybe lemon ricotta pancakes or smoked salmon hash with poached egg and hollandaise sauce. There's freshly ground coffee and a choice of juices too.
For other meals you'll need to head out, though a picnic lunch basket is available with a little notice if you want to go on a hike. Between 5 and 6 every day, complimentary local wine and cheese is served in the living room: a convivial occasion where guests mingle and swap stories. You can also order champagne & chocolates, or a wine and cheese platter, in-room at any time.
If you're staying in Sonoma Cottage, the kitchen is fully equipped for self-catering with a gas stove, fridge-freezer, dishwasher, coffee maker, microwave, toaster and all crockery, cutlery and pots and pans. A large selection of spices, salt, pepper, oil, coffee and tea is supplied. For groceries, the Bohemian Market offers natural foods, a wonderful deli, local veggies and everything else from wines to curry powder. Gonnella Market stocks name-brand groceries. Both of these are one block away. The Farmer's Market is every Friday through May-October.
The lack of a restaurant on the premises is no hardship - this is gourmand Sonoma County! Occidental is famed for its Italian eateries (harking back to the its origins as a sawmill worked by Italian lumberjacks), from the cheerful large servings on checked tablecloths with the obligatory candles in wine bottles at the Union Hotel a block away, to the family-favourite Negri's, which has been an institution for nearly a century.
Also within walking distance is excellent French cuisine at Zagat-rated Bistro des Copains, and Mexican at El Mariachi. A short drive away are more good choices: Sebastopol's K & L Bistro is Michelin Bib-recommended (denoting good value for under US$40/head), while an actual Michelin star was bestowed on Applewood Inn and Restaurant in Guerneville. 'Roadside' restaurant zazu towards Santa Rosa is known for its 'playful Americana' meets rustic Northern Italian; Underwood Bar and Bistro has a great emphasis on wine and small plates.
If you want to cast your net wider for a special treat, check out the terrific Dry Creek Kitchen at Hotel Healdsburg, or the two-Michelin starred Cyrus also in Healdsburg - about 25 minutes away.
Children over 2 are made very welcome at the Inn and will be very intrigued by the vintage toys and dolls which form part of the decor. But note that younger exuberant kids and the extensive knick-knacks and antiques may not be an ideal match. Children under 2 are accepted in special circumstances and only if the Cottage and Tiffany are available. There are heaps of activities in the area for families to enjoy including beachcombing, fishing, canoeing the Russian River, and ziplining.
Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)
Families are usually placed in the 2-bedroomed Sonoma Cottage, which can accommodate 6 as it has a double sofabed. The Marbles Suite also has a sofabed. Tiffany and Sandwich Glass can also host a third person on a rollaway bed.
The 400-acre wildlife sanctuary, Safari West in Santa Rosa, about 30 minutes' drive, is a great day out for families. Visits are by appointment only: you are driven by the park's naturalists through herds of African native animals.