The geothermic hot springs bubbling up under Boyes Hot Springs once drew visitors from all over Northern California to its historic resorts. These days, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is one of the few places in the area that still taps into the healing, mineral-rich waters that originally brought Native Americans to the region.
In recent years, however, Boyes Hot Springs has been revitalized as a destination, with new street lamps and sidewalks along Highway 12 and new housing and shops that are changing the face of the town.
The “Springs,” which also includes Fetters Hot Springs and Agua Caliente, is known for its residential neighborhoods and large Latino population. The highway frontage includes a string of colorful Latino markets, restaurants and ice cream stores as well as historic landmarks like Mary’s Pizza Shack. Together with other food entrepreneurs such as El Molino Central, the Latino businesses are slowly upgrading the once-beleaguered stretch of road into a trendy, gourmet hot spot.
Chef and cheesemaker Sheana Davis of the Epicurean Connection in Sonoma, who grew up in the Springs and raised her daughter there, has been thrilled with the slow but steady progress she’s seen in the town where she still lives.
“It is a true pleasure to see the Springs blossoming over time,” Davis said. “I love the selection of grocery stores, restaurants and independent businesses. The sidewalks were a giant step toward bringing our community together, offering a safe place to walk, and then the facade program with the county really helped spruce up business storefronts.”
Although it’s located on the outskirts of Sonoma, the Springs has managed to avoid some of the tourism pitfalls that have impacted that city in the past few years.
“We still have real neighbors,” Davis said. “It hasn’t gone Airbnb.”
Despite its recent facelift, the Springs still feels a little like Mayberry, a small town where everyone knows your name, drivers yield to you at the stop signs and folks pass each other on foot and two wheels.
“I like that a lot of the people are super local, and they can walk and ride to us,” said Jen Demarast, who opened Baker & Cook with her husband, Nick, two years ago. “I like being a part of a community that people can visit on a regular basis.”
Davis, who plans to offer an official food tour of the Springs in March (check theepicureanconnection.com for details), gave us a sneak peek in late November of some of her favorite food destinations in the Springs.
Although not all the spots were open when we visited, we were able to try some tasty Oaxacan bites, dip into soul-satisfying ice cream and buy a few groceries — purple tortillas and hominy, green salsa and cheese — to keep the home-cooking fires burning.
If you’re looking for something to do with your family this holiday season, this itinerary will keep them well-fed and in good spirits. Davis chose these places because they are under most people’s radar, but stop by your favorite spots, too.
If you go before Christmas, you also could sneak in some shopping at consignment stores like Plain Jane’s, which is stocked to the rafters with holiday tchotchkes and decor. Heritage Furniture, run by Maine native Steve Calhoun, sells comfortable Adirondack chairs he makes at the shop from his grandfather’s pattern plus an eclectic array of home and yard art made from silverware.
If shopping is not your thing, try one of the craft beers or seasonal ciders on tap at the Olde Sonoma Public House (18615 Highway 12). With a new owner, the pub has become a local gathering spot, Davis said.
First stop: Baker & Cook
This casual neighborhood bakery and cafe run by Jen and Nick Demerast, who previously owned Harvest Moon restaurant on the Sonoma Plaza, offers breakfast and lunch plus tea and coffee drinks and a delicious array of sweet and savory pastries and breads, all made in-house.
“Nick is on the savory side, so he cooks breakfast and lunch,” said Jen, the baker half of the couple. “Consistently, our bagel sandwiches, French toast and biscuits and gravy are very popular.”
Customers can order at the counter inside, then take the food to-go or grab a table out back on the large patio. According to Davis, crave-worthy items include the avocado toast (currently topped with delicata squash, tahini dressing and pomegranate seeds) along with warm soups made daily from Cannard Family Farm produce. The cafe also serves as the pickup spot for that farm’s CSA boxes on Saturdays.