After hundreds of flights from hectic LAX, flying out of a small airport from the Los Angeles area feels luxurious for the ease alone. The brand new Avelo Airlines is now transporting guests nonstop from Burbank (Hollywood Burbank Airport) to 11 destinations across the Western U.S. This is an exciting announcement for those of us ready to travel short distances on a plane.
With rates as low as $39 one way, it’s time to start planning your post-pandemic adventures. Non-stop flights from Burbank/LA include Eureka (Think mighty Redwoods), Redding (Think Lassen Volcanic National Park), and Santa Rosa (Think Sonoma/Napa wine country) in California along with 3 stops in Oregon – Eugene, Medford, and Bend. Also, nonstop flights can be booked to and from Burbank/LA to Pasco, WA; Phoenix/Mesa, AZ; Ogden, UT; Bozeman, MT; and Grand Junction, CO.
Pro – Tips when booking with Avelo Airlines: Book your checked bag ($10) or carry-on ($35) in advance or it will cost an additional $10 at the airport. Since rows can be tight, book an emergency exit row or ask for a seat change upon check-in for more leg room.
Apparently, later this year, Avelo will begin service to and from its first east coast base from Tweed New Haven Airport. Founder, chairman, and CEO Andrew Levy brings a proven track record of leading airlines and Avelo’s leasdership team embodies more than 200 years of collective aviation experience.
We chose to fly to Santa Rosa just a short drive to Sonoma County wine country. Our flight on this fleet of Next Generation Boeing 737 aircraft was completely enjoyable with an easy take-off and landing. About half our plane was booked each way with about 189 seats total available. The friendly flight staff passed out packaged cookies and water.
Since I was in row 11 – the one aisle without a window seat – I asked the flight attendant if I could move and we ended up in a roomy emergency row exit after everyone boarded. Not like the smaller flight experience on JetSuiteX that can be often more turbulent, we happily landed in about an hour to what felt like an entirely new land or the next best thing outside of a European culinary adventure. Below our plane window the curve of the California coast then the vineyard green countryside had me in awe.
Since rental cars were not available after 5 PM in Santa Rosa, we booked a car in advance on the app Turo. It was our first time using this service and it worked out well as the guy who owned the car was at the airport dropping off his Lexus for us when we arrived. The car cost around $60 a day all-in ($35 a day plus taxes and fees).
Here is how we made the most of our 2 nights and 3 days in Sonoma County (link). Before checking into our hotel, we dined at the chef’s counter at Glen Ellen Star in the lovely village of Glen Ellen that reminded me of a mini west coast version of my own hometown of Old Lyme, Connecticut with its tiny post office, local newspaper, and outdoor river restaurant with live music. But with less than a thousand people living there, the woodsy location is also the home of Jack London State Historic Park where the author of Call of the Wild last lived until his death in 1916 at age 40. It was peaceful to walk around this neighborly area, but some former establishments like a patisserie and boulangerie appeared to be closed.
Dinner at cozy rustic Glen Ellen Star is worthy of your time and where you can expect seasonal California ingredients and a wood fired oven to enhance flavors. Some of the produce comes from the chef’s father in law who has a biodynamic farm. We recommend sharing one of the fresh salads with peaches and feta or Brussels with brown sugar bacon in a skillet. A wood roasted vegetables section of the menu is a good place to start. It was hard not to eye others orders passing by like a skillet of Mexican style corn with cotija cheese and cauliflower with tahini and almonds.
We gorged ourselves on duck confit pasta mixed with generous amounts of duck. The peppery dish included a nice haricot verts crunch and bursted with roasted sweet cherries that tasted like grapes. My husband and I also shared the wood roasted whole branzino that easily fell off the bone melting in our mouths in its simplicity but presented with a side of romesco sauce. Also, the daily pizzas are popular like tomato cream pie with Turkish chilies.
Forget counting calories and indulge in the restaurant’s house-made focaccia bread with cheddar and jalapeno and save room for dessert, especially when it involves affogato with ice cream made in-house.
An exquisite bottle of red may have not matched our selections but soothed our soul especially the bottle of Random Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa while the Watkins Bugay Vineyards 2014 from Sonoma elicited an immediate response as the richness might have produced an even more beautiful cabernet.
Checking into the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa brought back memories of a former one-night stay with Backroads in 2013 where we biked to a vineyard. Arriving in the evening felt like a fairytale as guests sat around fire pits maskless and the hotel’s presence reminded of a Wes Anderson film as the fountain and pinkish façade sparkled in perfect symmetry. Our room at this Spanish mission-style inn included a private outdoor area with a peaceful courtyard in view of a calming fountain but our own in-room fireplace boded well for chilly nights and even became our own S’more station. Logs in a bag are complimentary for guests to fuel the fireplace.
My favorite signature Fairmont rose Le Labo products donned our bath area as well as around our huge jacuzzi tub. Besides the grounds dripping in mature landscape providing fresh crisp wooded air, my favorite part of the hotel is the brand’s Willow Stream Spa as it sits atop an ancient thermal mineral spring flowing from 1,100 feet below the surface. The 98-degree mineral pool also comes with music under the water perfect for a relaxing Zen float. The new $35 access fee without a booked treatment may be a deterrent but it ensures reserved lounge seating and a relaxing experience void of crowds; we had the whole place practically to ourselves one morning.
Our first morning we scouted out coffee and tea in the hotel’s grand lobby before driving to find our first wine tasting stop – Coursey Graves Bennett Valley Estate. After passing numerous bucolic vineyards and spiraling up a narrow road past a few gates, we arrived at what felt like Monet’s garden. A lush colorful paradise spread out before us and when I say just us, it was just us gazing at the flowers gently moving in the wind as a naturally dyed lake below was accented by an arched bridge and stunning hillsides. Vineyards wrapped around the architecturally modern tasting room atop the rocky slopes of Bennett Mountain. It felt like we had stepped into a painting.
Here is where we began falling in love with Sonoma – a thousand feet above sea level savoring a wine tasting with tomato cucumber salad and thinly sliced prosciutto and burrata. Dragonflies and butterflies flitted as we felt like in some way we had been transported to a Europe.
As part of the Estate Vertical Experience that needs to be booked in advance, we privately toured inside the mountaintop wine cave where we witnessed wine aged in terracotta vessels brought from Italy each with their own insignia. The living breathing vessels receive a lot of oxygen since they are very porous compared to wood while the cool weather here and rocky soils mimic Bordeaux conditions, producing highly concentrated fruit. Ooooh the wine is outstanding!
Our next winery reservation included a food and wine pairing in a formal room at Hamel Family Wines, another extraordinary experience where the entire setting was also enchanting. This fully estate grown biodynamic vineyard is located in a rare region good for Cabernet. Since the property is facing southwest, Hamel Family Wines gets a huge marine layer with fog in the morning so there is a long slow ripening of grapes.
Chef Clinton Huntsman tantalized our taste buds with morsels of excellence to match wine sips from $200 bottles of wine. Wine is aged in stainless steel, French oak, and concrete tanks which wine aficionados “love for texture and minerality that adds balance.” We fell in love with the 2015 Nuns Canyon Vineyard and every wine presented as we gazed in awe from our inside dining area to the grand outdoor vineyard and green hillside sprawling in front of us complete with a modern dripping water feature cascading the length of a dinner table framing the view.
Besides the wine, the light delicate vessels aka wine glasses captured the ruby god-like glow liquid. Zalto Denk’Art deserves great admiration for their stemware along with water like I’ve never tasted hydrating us between wines. The crisp pure H2O is compliments of Nordaq Fresh, Thomas Keller’s favorite water filtration system.
Reserve this pleasurable experience of 4 wines paired with food bites in advance for $150 per person. Back at the Fairmont, we managed to find room for a late dinner by ordering from the on-site food truck where live music drew a major crowd outdoors as people happily drank and dined coming out of a pandemic.
Our last day before returning to LA included an early wine tasting at Kunde Family Winery where many other people had the same idea before noon. This 5th generation 1,850-acre estate in the heart of Sonoma Valley crafts estate-grown, sustainably farmed wines. We sipped a lengthy list of wines determining our favorites (Dirt Red 2018, Meritage 202 from 2016, Malbec 2018, and Viognier 2019) before heading into a 32,000 square foot cave where the movie Bottleshock was filmed atop with a boxing ring. Later, continuing our wine journey with a cheese plate, we watched as a dog hike for charity ended near us and many owners winded down a bucolic path with their pups post wine sipping in various locations culminating with a water tasting and dog treats for Fido.
Johnny Doughnuts was recommended to us so we couldn’t pass up sampling their rich thick doughnuts in varieties like citrus rosemary, wildberry jam, glazed, apple Cinnabon-style, and chocolate-dipped with their delicious Equator coffee. We walked off some of those bites at an outdoor market called The Barlow in Sebastopol. This beautiful ‘maker’s marketplace’ in an industrial park features local products from pillows, candles, jewelry, crafts, and more treasures as well as an endless array of dining and drinking options. The clean market district with a nod to its deep agricultural history is California at its best. For lunch, we dined outside at Blue Ridge Kitchen with its farmhouse-style wood grill surrounded by pups. In a similar fashion as our first night at Glen Ellen Star, we shared a beautifully executed smoked lamb cavatelli with fava beans, sweet peas, pesto and parm and a hardwood grilled steelhead over crispy smashed potatoes. It was a satisfying end to such an indulgent wine country escape.
The beauty of Avelo is not only the convenience but you can discover and explore a new place for a few days. Escape hectic city life and feel worlds away in Sonoma County, just a short flight away.