I have the luxury of living in beautiful Sonoma Valley in California – the valley that comprises of three historic Wine Country towns: Sonoma, Glen Ellen and Kenwood.
When people visit, they often ask me two things: (1) where to eat “Wine Country cuisine” and (2) where to go wine tasting.
I get it, that’s what we do well in Sonoma Valley, but we also do a few other great things: kick ass Mexican food, fresh produce, tattoos and tarot, one of the best spas in the Bay Area, oh, and amazing hangover breakfasts, all in Boyes Hot Springs, a small community just north of the city of Sonoma.
So get out of the typical Sonoma Valley vibe and hang out with the locals!
Here are 5 cool things to do in Boyes Hot Springs!
A brief history of Boyes Hot Springs
You can probably guess by now, Boyes Hot Springs has hot springs.
The area was historically occupied by Indigenous populations who discovered natural hot mineral waters. The hot springs were used for everything from bathing to cooking food and are still considered sacred by Native peoples today.
A physician from San Francisco, Dr. Thaddeus M. Leavenworth, is credited with commercializing the hot springs in 1849. However, his business did not last long after he got into a fight with his wife and burned the bathhouse down. In 1888, Henry Boyes bought the land and in 1895 he drilled a well, found a hot spring, and by 1900 he was operating the Boyes Hot Springs Hotel.
It became the go to place for the elite of San Francisco – over 70,000 people visited annually. The waters were touted as being able to cure everything from malaria to arthritis. In 1923, it was destroyed in a fire.
The Sonoma Mission Inn (today a Fairmont hotel that I’ll discuss later), was built in 1927, which became the new hub for hot springs action in the area. After a number of closures and reincarnations (as a military recreation facility during WWII, a training facility for the NFL), it is now one of the largest and most luxurious hotels in Wine Country.
Today, Boyes is a vibrant community, where one of the largest Latino populations in the county live and some of the best kept secrets in Sonoma Valley are kept.
1. Drink margaritas and eat mole at Taqueria La Hacienda
Taqueria La Hacienda (or simply “La Hacienda”) (17960 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma) is one of the most popular Mexican restaurants in Sonoma Valley. With a cult following of locals, the casual restaurant offers a mix of reasonable priced Mexican classics and some of the best margaritas in the region.
The mole here is a real deal, with rich flavors of spice and chocolate. It’s so popular, locals order it by the container full to serve at home.
La Hacienda has a full bar. Don’t get the house margarita, it’s pre-made and forgettable. Go for the Top Shelf Margarita – it’s made freshly made and comes in a gigantic glass just asking for selfie.
The waitstaff is to the point and mean business, and after your first round of salsa, you’re better off serving yourself at their salsa bar. But, that’s part of the charm. Dogs welcome outside and it’s a great place to mix and mingle with the locals.
2. Get a tattoo and your tarot read at T.A.T. Gallery
T.A.T. Gallery (by appointment) is a one of a kind. We only have one tattoo artist in Sonoma Valley, Shotsie Gorman, and thank goodness he’s one of the most acclaimed in the US. On top of that, not only can you get one heck of a tattoo, but you can also get your tarot read by “Visionary Woman” Kristine Gorman.
Power couple Shotsie & Kristine have a good thing going, and their gallery serves as a spiritual and cultural hub in Boyes for those seeking guidance through ink, cards and art.
Shotsie is internationally recognized for his skill – he has a fine art background and is known for his groundbreaking black and white portraiture work.
Many friends of mine get tattoos whenever they travel, representing their experiences during their trip, and this is the perfect place for just that. In fact, my father got his tattoo touched up by Shotsie recently!
If tarot readings are your thing, Kristine will do just that – read your future and advise accordingly. She is the only tarot reader in the country with her own radio show devoted to the divination tool.
3. Stock up on fresh fruit, veg and feta at the Fruit Basket
The Fruit Basket (18474 Highway 12, Sonoma) is an icon in the community. They have remarkable produce, including organic, from throughout California.
Outside, you’ll find great prices on fresh fruit, including the best avocado and lime prices in town. Inside, there are endless surprises: local olive oil, dried pasta and pasta sauces, imported anchovies, organic milk and cheese, olives, and amazing fresh feta cheese (ask for it at the counter).
Even if you’re not in the market for fresh produce (get it…market? heh!) it’s a beautiful visual experience.
4. Recover at Creekside Café
Creekside Café (239 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma | (707) 996-8062) is one of the best places for breakfast in the area. They have a cute little patio (dog friendly) and a casual diner atmosphere, perfect for a hangover cure.
My friend Bart, a winemaker, swears by the chilaquiles after a rough night. My recovery dish is their huevos rancheros. You’ll quickly learn each local has their favorites.
A special treat is their French toast, which is coated in a secret ingredient that will please your sweet tooth – it’s indulgent. Creekside also has burgers and patty melts, and other diner classics to fulfill your need for grease.
Be sure to check out their salt and pepper shaker collection!
5. Chill at the Fairmont Willow Stream Spa
I had the best massage of my life at the Fairmont’s Willow Stream Spa. It’s also my favorite place for “me time” in Sonoma Valley.
As mentioned previously, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is a historic place in Boyes. In fact, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places!
Their spa is open to the public, by appointment, and includes multiple indoor and outdoor pools that use the naturally occurring hot springs, mentioned earlier, as their sources (the Watsu pool is my favorite!).
If you live within 100 miles you can score a “good neighbor” discount (call ahead) with ID proof and hangout poolside (with poolside service on the weekends) for a mere $49. You also get a discount on spa treatments!
Out of towners can access the pools with a spa treatment – whether a mani/pedi or a massage, whatever floats your boat. It’s a stunner of a spa.
What are you favorite things to do when visiting Boyes Hot Springs?