The Bear Republic Brewery and Restaurant in Healdsburg relies on Russian River water and worried the drought could affect the taste of its beer. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
The Bear Republic Brewery and Restaurant in Healdsburg relies on Russian River water and worries the drought could affect the taste of its beer. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Smithsonian magazine has deemed Healdsburg one of the best small towns in the United States to visit. In fact, it’s rated No. 2, right behind Chautauqua, N.Y., which is harder to pronounce but apparently even more charming.

“Poised between Calistoga and the wild Pacific Coast, with damp morning fogs and blistering afternoon sunshine, the place is so fertile anything grows,” Susan Spano wrote in the magazine’s April issue. “The eat-local movement inspired by Bay Area chef-restaurateur Alice Waters has fully flowered in Healdsburg.

“Four celebrated Sonoma County wine regions nearby — Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Chalk Hill — helped drive the gastronomical renaissance,” the story continues. “But these days growers with small family farm biodiversity in mind are pulling up vines on prime grape-growing land worth $200,000 an acre to plant many-colored baby beets, hops, Belgian endive and Meyer lemons, and make way for sheep and free-range chickens.

“Chefs from town forage at Preston Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley for wild salad greens like stinging nettles. Area farm families are finding ways to hold on to their land by producing homemade comestibles, from sausage to vinegar, and marketing them on the Internet instead of letting food manufacturers mash their crops into jars with big-name labels.”

The piece gushes over all kinds of things in Healdsburg, including Healdsburg Plaza, Fitch Mountain, a food store called Shed, wine-tasting lounges and the Healdsburg Museum.

In February, Healdsburg appeared on a less auspicious list — one of 17 communities and water districts in California that could run out of water within 100 days, according to state public health officials. The previous month, Healdsburg became the first town on Sonoma County to put in place mandatory water conservation measures.

Other towns that landed in the top 20 include Williamsburg, Va., Marietta, Ohio, Sedona, Ariz., Columbia, Pa., and Steamboat Springs, Colo., were among the towns that landed in the top 20.

This is the third year that the magazine has done a search like this. The story said communities have been selected for particular strengths in history, music, visual arts, learning, food, theater and science. The editors worked with Esri, a geographical information systems company, which analyzed massive amounts of data to find towns or cities of fewer than 15,000 residents with lots of cultural opportunities, on a per capita basis.

Healdsburg Is No. 2 “Best Small Town to Visit in U.S.,” Smithsonian Magazine Says 7 May,2014Patricia Yollin



Patricia Yollin

Pat Yollin has written about all kinds of stuff, including wayward penguins at the San Francisco Zoo, organ transplants, the comeback of the cream puff, New York on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, a Slow Food gathering in Italy and the microcredit movement in Northern California. Among her favorite stories: an interview with George Lucas at Skywalker Ranch, a profile of Italy's consul general in SF, and a pirate Trader Joe's operation in Vancouver that prompted the grocery chain to sue -- and lose.

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