From rustic eateries to pubs, Boonville’s a small town with much to offer

For a short stopover on the way to the North Coast, or a leisurely weekend in the country, head to Boonville.

The old Anderson Valley village is filled with hidden treasures - from a quaint ice cream shop and wild gardens to boutique hotels and wineries.

Settled in the mid-1800s, the isolated farming and logging community also served as a stagecoach stop. Today, the town is accessed from Cloverdale by a winding 30-mile section of two-lane Highway 128.

Boonville's population of just over 1,000 is widely known for its quirky, recalcitrant side, and for its own, now nearly extinct, language called Boontling, which once enabled residents to ignore visitors.

A copy of the local newspaper makes for entertaining reading, especially the no-holds-barred essays by denizens of the town. Founded more than 60 years ago, the Anderson Valley Advertiser calls itself “America's Last Newspaper Fanning the Flames of Discontent” and promises “you haven't read another paper like it because there isn't one.”

So grab a newspaper and a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine, and find a sidewalk table in front of the Boonville General Store - the perfect perch for watching the passing scene of old-timers and long-haired Bohemian types, grape-stained farmers, and snazzy-dressed urbanites on the hunt for cult wines.

Then browse for hand-fashioned kitchen tools, natural fiber clothing, and artisan crafts at Farmhouse Mercantile next door. Located in a century-old, peaked-roof building, the store is your grandpa's emporium with a 21st-century vibe. It's run by Karen Bates, whose family owns the Apple Farm orchards, inn and cooking school in nearby Philo; Sandy Mailliard, who returned to her roots in the valley for this enterprise; and Vicki Moss.

The Anderson Valley Chamber of Commerce advises visitors, “Once you cross the Mendocino County line, put your head in vacation mode - don't wait until you ‘arrive.' It's all about the journey!”

“Watch for cyclists and pedestrians, and remember that food made fresh from scratch takes longer to prepare, but is awfully delicious,” it adds. “The slower pace will give you time with your family, your sweetie, or just your thoughts … “

Settling in for the weekend

Before taking part in all the noshing, shopping and people-watching, set up base camp at the Boonville Hotel, a much-lauded foodies' destination.

In a miracle of timing, Valley native Perry Hoffman was available to step in when the hotel's chef recently left for greener pastures. Hoffman, whose grandparents founded the Apple Farm and Napa's French Laundry restaurant, was a natural fit. His uncle co-owns the hotel, where Hoffman worked in the kitchen as a youngster.

After helping earn Michelin stars for Napa Valley restaurants Auberge du Soleil and Étoile and spending five years at Shed Cafe in Healdsburg, Hoffman and his young family are building a house in the valley.

He's producing a rustic, wood-fired menu at the hotel's eatery, The Restaurant.

Hotel partner Melinda Ellis owns the Paysanne, a sweets shop across the street behind a yellow vintage gas pump. Here is where some high school kids have obtained their first jobs, scooping gourmet ice cream and selling housemade caramels, popsicles, and cookies.

Word has it that a new pizza place is in the works next door to Paysanne.

In a lofty, three-domed building a few doors down, visitors will find the John Hanes Fine Arts Gallery & Studio. Hanes has hundreds of artworks on display, including his own striking bronze sculptures.

And just beyond the gallery, the new Disco Ranch Wine Bar & Specialty Market serves snacks and local wines on its rustic terrace. On Friday evenings, the Boonville Farmers Market assembles in the parking lot, where live music sets a friendly tone as growers from around the valley and the coast sell their produce, olive oils, baked goods, seafood, cheeses and meats.

Wineries in and near Boonville

With hot days, chilly nights and fog drifting in from the coast, the Anderson Valley is classified in viticultural terms as a Region 1 growing area, as the coolest climate in which grapes may be commercially grown with success. World famous for pinot noir, sparkling wine and Alsace varietals, nearly 30 wineries in the area welcome visitors for wine tasting, food pairing and picnicking.

On the outskirts of Boonville at Foursight Wines, two generations of the Charles family have won awards for their sustainably grown, unfiltered pinots - Zero New Oak and Paraboll. On hand most days, Kristy Charles, the executive director of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, regales visitors with tales of the winemaking history of the valley.

The “caviar and bubbly” sign direct visitors to Goldeneye Winery, where brut rose sparkling wine and pinot noir are available for tasting. Enjoy a glass under the red umbrellas on the terrace, surrounded by flowers and redwood, oak and fir trees.

Just up the road, discover The Madrones, a boutique inn surrounded by a courtyard and wild gardens.

Visitors will find here a small eatery, Stone and Embers, known for an array of wood-fired, Mediterranean-style pizzas and local meats and poultry, and Sun & Cricket, a tiny shop of antiques and curiosities.

Making a name for itself with pinot and syrah wines grown on the high, breezy ridges, Drew Family Cellars also is located at The Madrones complex, as is the newly opened Smith Story Wine Cellars. A sleek and contemporary addition to The Madrones courtyard, Long Meadow Ranch's tasting room shows off varietals grown on the banks of the Navarro River.

Just south of Boonville, “babydoll” sheep graze the vineyard rows at Pennyroyal Farm, while goats produce milk for cheese making. Sarah Cahn Bennett, who grew up in the Anderson Valley wine business, founded the minimum-waste farm.

There, while sipping sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir, visitors can watch as small-batch farmstead-style cheeses are made –– Velvet Sisters, Boot Corners, Boontner's Blue and more, all named after the local “Boontling” dialect. Picnickers can dig into cheese and charcuterie plates while taking in the farmyard views. They also can tour the dairy farm and goat barns.

South of Boonville in the highlands, watch for the sign to Artevino Maple Creek Winery. The winery offers award-winning chardonnay, pinot noir, and zinfandel and features a gallery of paintings by Tom Rodrigues, known as much for his artwork as his wines.

Events to catch

There are numerous events visitors shouldn't miss, including the annual Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show.

Since 1924, the fair - held in September - has honored the valley's fruit and sheep growers with old-fashioned fun, including a rodeo, sheepdog herding trials, a wool festival, and a parade ( Home-canned fruits, quilts, and 4-H livestock are put on display, while hungry fairgoers attend for the fresh apples, cider, pies, and local wines and beer.

The Legendary Boonville Beer Festival, which was held in April, draws thousands of beer lovers. They get to sample drinks from 100 breweries and cideries. Porters, stouts, lagers, meads, IPAs were on offer this year, along with live music, food and art (



Don't miss these places to eat and drink in and around Boonville:

The Restaurant: Offers a family-style, prix fixe menu sourced locally, plus pizza and roasted meats and poultry from the wood-fired oven and “paella Sundays.” Enjoy meals indoors and on the garden patio. Located at the Boonville Hotel, 14050 Highway 128; 707-895-2210;

The Bewildered Pig: Located in the restored, old Floodgate roadhouse. Former winery estate chef Janelle Weaver prowls produce farms and livestock ranches and hobnobs with cheesemongers and fishermen to get ingredients for hearty, yet sophisticated, chow. Sip wine by the fountains in the glorious gardens. 1810 Highway 128, Philo; 707-895-2088;

Anderson Valley Brewing Co.: Sample brews and seasonal releases in the taproom, hang out in the beer garden, play disk golf, and take a guided tour to see the massive copper tanks in the brew house. 17700 Highway 253, Boonville; 707-895-BEER;

Buckhorn Pub Anderson Valley: Belly up to the bar with the locals and enjoy a Boont Amber Ale on tap, then slip into a booth or onto the patio for pub grub, such as ceviche, burgers, and fish tacos; Breakfast, lunch and dinner offered. 14081 Highway 128, Boonville; 707-895-3224.

Lauren's cafe: Enjoy live music and comfort food, from burgers to chicken pot pie and berry cobbler, on the patio and in the cozy dining room. 14211 Highway 128, Boonville; 707-895-3869;


Plan to stay overnight? Check out these lodges:

Boonville Hotel: 15 country-chic rooms, cottages and suites in a laid-back, yet elegant roadhouse, circa 1860. A cross between Santa Fe, French country and steampunk, accommodations are cozy and comfortable. 14050 Highway 128; 707-895-2210;

The Madrones: Influenced by the Italian “agriturismo” concept of staying on a working farm or winery. The upscale country estate includes nine tasteful rooms and suites. 9000 Highway 128, Philo; 707-895-2955;

Toll House Inn: Built in 1912, the farmhouse sits on 650 acres in foothills threaded with hiking trails. Features four rooms, and sleeping arrangements for families and groups. 253 Boonville Road, Boonville; 707-895-2572;

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misidentified The Restaurant at the Boonville Hotel, as well as the owner of Paysanne.

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