Where to experience cannabis like a tourist in Sonoma County
There's a new amenity in the exquisite rooms at the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville: cannabis menus.
No, the edibles, drinks and oils aren't available on-site. But the ultra-luxurious resort works with cannabis delivery service Eaze to allow guests to have their picks delivered straight to their rooms.
The service rolled out this summer has drawn a strong response so far. Farmhouse co-owner Joe Bartolomei said about one-quarter of guests indulge. The menus are a “soft-sell,” he said, that meets a demand for some but doesn't force product upon guests who may not be interested.
“Sonoma County is so much more than just great wineries and great dining, and with the legalization of cannabis, we of course had to fold that into our portfolio of offerings,” he said.
“By using the in-room menus and understanding the sensitivity that some travelers may have [about cannabis], it's a passive program that guests choose to take advantage of.”
The Farmhouse isn't the only local business to embrace cannabis tourism. Hotels and hospitality outfitters across the county are creating cannabis-friendly programs for visitors.
And local cannabis companies are rolling out new lines of business to attract tourists and interest them in trying something new.
“Cannabis tourism is definitely in the early adopter, trend-setter phase, but it's growing pretty steadily,” said Brian Applegarth, who founded the California Cannabis Tourism Association in 2017. “The reality is pretty simple. People are visiting here, going to dispensaries and seeking to make cannabis part of their experience. It's up to us to guide them, teach them and make sure they have positive experiences at every step of the way.”
Cannabis tourism on the rise
There are no official statistics on the number of visitors who come to Sonoma County specifically to use cannabis. But a look at anecdotal evidence would seem to show the numbers are rising.
Attendance growth at the annual Emerald Cup, happening this weekend, is one example. When the open-to-the-public (for those 21 and older) cannabis competition started 16 years ago, it attracted only a cult-type following. Last year, it pulled in more than 25,000 visitors, and this year organizers expect more than 30,000 attendees.
“We'll attract a lot of local people, but those who are visiting from out of town will make [the Emerald Cup] the focal point of their visit,” said Sponsorship and Vendor Director Hazel Bagwell. “It's amazing how we have grown.” The event brought the county $17 million in revenue last year, Bagwell said, citing an economic impact statement.
Hotels try to keep up
Naturally, local hotels have been vying to keep up with this crowd.
The Flamingo Resort & Spa, the official hotel of the Emerald Cup, doesn't offer cannabis products in its rooms. But Robert Bondanza, director of sales and marketing, said the hotel will “go in that direction.”
Other hotels are inching closer. The Sandman Hotel in Santa Rosa was planning to launch a program soon through which guests can order cannabis products such as pre-rolled joints and chocolates from Cloverdale vendor Garden Society. Starting in January, Garden Society ambassadors also are scheduled to give monthly presentations at the hotel on recreational cannabis use and explain the effects of cannabis compounds CBD and THC.
The five-room inn at luxury restaurant Single Thread in Healdsburg also has dipped a toe into the world of cannabis.
Executive Chef and co-owner Kyle Connaughton said the property has experimented with offering locally-made edibles in the rooms - as part of the in-room goodie basket and as a turndown treat - and is still figuring out which approach will work best.
“It's something we've been trying a little bit to see the uptake and interest,” he said.
Other local businesses are expanding operations to embrace cannabis tourism in more interactive ways.
Exhibit A: Flora Terra, a cultivator and dispensary that opened in the Coffey Park neighborhood in September, soon will unveil a guided tour for visitors to see up-close the hundreds of plants that have taken root in the 10,000-square-foot growing facility.
Co-owner Alicia Wingard said the tour will be educational in nature and teach visitors about different strains of cannabis and the growing process.
“Until now, we've given tours on sort of an impromptu basis, when a customer is in the store, looks through the window onto the growing facility and expresses curiosity about what's on the other side,” Wingard said. “This will take that process and make it more formal.”
Exhibit B is The Sonoma County Experience, an outfitter offering full-day tours from San Francisco that couple an introduction to cannabis with the one-of-a-kind wine and craft beer that make Sonoma County famous.