Checking In: The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa attracts visitors all over the world for its natural mineral waters and unparalleled charm. It’s the reason we found ourselves there, in Sonoma Valley, during the summer, when new clusters of grapes are gradually hanging heavier and heavier on the vines, and fresh fruits and veggies are being harvested for farmer’s markets in full swing.
The spirit of the nearly forested enclave made time spent lounging throughout the immaculately manicured grounds spanning 13 acres feel more like a rustic European retreat than a hotel. For hundreds of years, ancient thermal mineral waters have flowed underneath the property. Native Americans considered the site to be a sacred healing ground and their “sweathouse” stood near the spring for generations. Today, it is proudly one of the only luxury spa resorts in the nation that has its own source of thermal mineral waters. Rich in cultural heritage and rooted in Spanish history, pulling up to this grand pink-hued architectural replica of a California Mission felt like arriving to the luxurious vacation estate of royalty.
Surrounded by lush greenery and rolling hills, The Fairmont Sonoma is just minutes away from the bustling sights and tastes of downtown Sonoma, but feels a world away. Elegance and stuffy often also go hand in hand, especially in wine country. But here, the staff couldn’t be more friendly if they tried.
It’s a renowned destination in Sonoma Valley so you’ll find everyone from conference goers to wedding parties to locals dressed in their best wine country attire. Despite its popularity, the Fairmont Sonoma proved to be a calming reprieve. Though other guests passed down stone trails and staff buzzed silently to deliver comforts to lodgers, all of this melted peacefully away.
Expect the little details—housekeeping swiftly came to the rescue to get rid of a loud fly that made it into our suite. A bottle of cool water was always available, as was a gleaming bottle of wine. A nightly wine reception in the lobby brought some of Sonoma Valley’s best wines to our doorstep each evening. The Fairmont Sonoma dispatches endless amenities:
Willow Stream Spa, a world-class retreat with five sparkling geo-thermal mineral pools
Several farm-to-fork dining options: fine dining at Santé, casual fare at 38* North, and a season pool lounge
Access to the 18-hole championship golf at neighboring Sonoma Golf Club
Complimentary fitness and wellness activities, like guided hikes
Everything from reception to dining, the service was inexhaustibly comforting and constantly replenished, the mark of true hospitality. There was something in the air at the Fairmont Sonoma, that certain soothing sense that—with everything in place—one can see the world refreshed.
Remarkably, this hotel in California’s wine country feels as historic as its nineteenth-century neighbors, like the landmark Sonoma Plaza. From the adobe / clay floors to the ornate detail molding to the colorful Spanish tiles, every detail recalls the era of old world elegance. Touches of modernity like highly sought-after Le Labo toiletries and an in-room oversized whirlpool tub in our Mission Suite were a bedtime reminder that rest and comfort were only an arm’s reach away. Our 500-square-foot suite with its open floor layout also featured a cozy wood-burning fireplace, generous double-sized walk-in shower, a Keurig coffee machine, and the most sumptuous four-poster king bed that you’ll never want to leave.
Willow Stream Spa is the real standout feature of this property and it shows: It’s consistently ranked one of the top 25 spas in the nation and many people come just for the restorative escape without staying at the property. It’s also massive. There are endless opportunities to unwind in the 40,000-square-foot spa located atop an ancient thermal mineral spring flowing from 1,100 feet below the surface. All of the resort's pools, as well as the spa’s European-style bathing ritual are fed by these healing waters. These waters are also what keep the resort’s cameo alfresco pool, a clover-leaf shaped pool equipped with an underwater sound system, to a comfortable 98 degrees.
Even if you’re not booking a treatment, you can purchase a day pass to enjoy the unmatched facilities of this massive oasis where you can experience an acclaimed European bathing ritual, exfoliating showers, two mineral-water soaking pools, herbal steam, dry sauna and cool down showers. The Bathing Ritual, which extends back to Roman times, when soaking in water was seen as essential to promoting well-being, can be enjoyed on its own or in combination with any of the spa’s signature treatments. It’s a tradition that focuses on immersing yourself between hot and cold for restorative benefits and total rejuvenation. First you start in a lukewarm mineral pool to get your body temperature to the right place, then you move to a hot tub, Eucalyptus steam, dry sauna, rain tunnel, before ending the process in a cold plunge where you dump a bucket of freezing water over yourself.
The spa’s treatments fall into one of three categories: Relieve (a simple escape from everyday pressures); Restore (recovery from things like stress, travel, overindulgence or a hectic lifestyle); and Results (intense and involved processes like detoxification, cleansing or anti-aging).
We thoroughly enjoyed our one-hour Soothing Aloe Wrap (Restore) that combined a decadent body massage with a hydrating body wrap using the healing properties of the Organiz Aloe Vera plant, nourishing elements of algae, and soothing elements of lavender. On a hot summer day, it was just what our skin needed for complete hydration and glow. After our treatment, we were treated to a glass of sparkling wine, completed one round of The Bathing Ritual, and dozed off in the spa’s “nap” room with ergonomic beds that make you feel like you’re sleeping in the most perfect cocoon. The room is dimly lit with LED lighting with relaxing mood music and a giant screen displaying images of tranquil leaves blowing in the wind.
Santé is the very definition of destination dining in Sonoma Valley. Like the Willow Stream Spa, people flock to this Michelin-starred post for its national reputation for outstanding food without staying at the property. And it’s for good reason. This high-flying restaurant opened in Sonoma with sheer enthusiasm and has been buzzing ever since.
Mornings, the space is light, airy, and cheerful beneath high ceilings and bright windows filled with diners starting their day with the restaurant’s signature ricotta pancakes. In the relative lull of the mid-afternoon, couples and groups of friends gather for drinks on the patio in view of the lavender sunset descending onto the hotel’s main pool, as they ease their way into dinner service. And as the evening wears on, the main dining room fills up and grows warmer with everyone coming together under one roof to enjoy exquisite dishes like dry-aged Sonoma duck breast with cherry-marcona almond compote and tender lamb belly.
Servers feel more like oracles: painstakingly thorough in explaining every aspect of menu sourcing and preparation. Sommeliers also pour perfectly paired selections from one of the best wine lists in town, with hundreds of bottles to mark a special occasion.
In one word: Sante is spectacular. It’s currently helmed by Chef de Cuisine Manlee Siu who brings more than 15 years of culinary experience to Sonoma Valley. She was previously Chef de Cuisine at Angle Restaurant at Eau Palm Beach Resort, a Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five Diamond resort in Florida.
What we loved
Willow Stream Spa is nothing short of world-class—it’s racked up countless prestigious awards to prove it.
You’d do yourself a disservice not to join your fellow dining patrons in the four-course tasting menu at Santé. There’s something to be said for savoring global wines and munching on local creations while you wait for your off-menu soufflé.
It draws a mix of people from all walks of life. You’ll see folks celebrating something, be it an engagement, anniversary, birthday, or promotion. The crowd is vivacious but not raucous.