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As if it needed more validation as a hip destination beloved by travel writers and foodies, Healdsburg has been named one of the "10 Best Small Towns in America."

The travel website Fodors.com this week singled out Healdsburg's small-town character, fine dining and Wine Country "bounties," as a perfect fit for the savvy traveler.

"Napa and Sonoma's quieter wine country sister mixes contemporary cool with plenty of Norman Rockwell charm -- not to mention mouth-watering eats and drinks," was how Fodor's describes Healdsburg.

The website noted that Healdsburg has garnered its fair share of glossy magazine features, but said the town of 11,245 population balances the hype with a relaxed pace and affordability.

"That's pretty nice," Mayor Susan Jones said Wednesday. "It might just mean we'll see the tourism increase."

She noted that the Zagat guide recently rated Healdsburg one of the "Twenty Awesome Winter Foodie Destinations" in the world.

Healdsburg and other surrounding towns also benefited when another travel site, Trip-Advisor, last fall ranked Sonoma County as the nation's premier wine destination, ahead of Napa, and second in the world only to Tuscany, Italy.

"Sonoma County is a shining star right now and Healdsburg being the heart of the Wine Country, with all the wonderful restaurants and charm, we're doing great," Jones said.

Fodor's Blog Editor Nicole Campoy said the list was winnowed down from dozens and dozens of nominations by the editorial staff for towns of 50,000 or fewer inhabitants.

Even though Healdsburg appears first on the inaugural list, she said the top 10 towns weren't ranked.

But it happens to be a personal favorite for several of the Fodor's editorial staffers.

"We love it, and I think it's a beautiful town," Campoy said.

City officials were thrilled.

"It's pretty cool," said City Manager Marjie Pettus, who believes it will help stimulate more revenue in the form of bed and sales taxes.

"It feels like a nice feather in our cap," said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carla Howell.

As far back as 1989, Newsweek anointed then-relatively obscure Healdsburg as one of the last vestiges of California's "sunlit fantasy."

Over the years it's been described as "Mayberry with vineyards" and designated a hot spot in publications ranging from Wine Spectator to Bicycling magazine.

Pettus said there's been an uptick in recent press, magazine and TV coverage, including "little blurbs about cycling opportunities, restaurants and wine tasting in Sunset Magazine."

"We do see that things look busier," she said of the activity downtown and improved sales tax revenue.

In the most recent period, the third quarter of 2012, Pettus said restaurants accounted for 19 percent of the city's sales tax revenue, virtually the same amount produced by the city's other major business sector -- new vehicle sales represented by four car and truck dealerships.

The transformation of Healdsburg into a chic destination occasions some consternation among longtime residents worried it is too visitor-oriented or expensive, but city officials said it remains genuine and friendly.

"This is a real place where I live and raised my family and generations before us did," Howell said. "The same people are moving here now -- young families. It's a real place, not just a tourist town."

The Fodor's blog said those who want to splurge can stay at the Hotel Les Mars, at $700 per night on weekends, or the Honor Mansion, an 1883 Italianate Victorian, complete with bocce courts and spa pavilions.

For the budget-conscious, they recommend h2Hotel, although the Friday night room rate starting at $265 might be a little steep for some pockets.

They also singled out Scopa restaurant for its homemade meatballs and thin-crust pizza, along with free concerts in the town square and "the charming country stores tucked among the lush wineries."

The latter could easily be a reference to the Jimtown Store, a darling of travel writers on junkets who come for the homemade food, gift baskets and antiques.

While the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce through its visitor bureau has helped sponsor some of the travel and food writers, Howell said "when they write about us, often in glowing terms, it's pretty honest because they are having a wonderful experience."

You can reach Staff WriterClark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.

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