Romance on the cheap
Love is free.
Of course, millions are spent in its pursuit, but ultimately, love costs nothing.
Real love is not about money or glamour or glitz. Real love is about kinship and emotional connection. It’s also about science, this thing we call love, it’s about a physiological-chemical response to stimuli. You experience love and your pituitary gland oozes oxytocin, causing a rush of good feelings. It’s why married people live longer.
Here in the Valley of the Expensive, you can drop serious cash searching for love. But is going broke a requirement of courtship? Does spent money actually trigger the pituitary? Or might it be true—as it’s so often said—that the best things in life are free (or nearly)? To follow, a dozen cheap dates. Heavy on the love. Easy on the wallet.
Trails and Tres Leches
Maxwell forest is a sacred place: dense scrub, dappled sunlight, the meandering course of Sonoma Creek, solitude. Loop around the Meadows Trail and you may find nesting quail, black tail deer and otter. Skip some rocks on the Sonoma Creek beach and pick berries when they’re in season. Celebrate your zen with an impossibly good slice of Tres Leches cake from Little Maya Bakery across Highway 12.
Maxwell regional Park, Highway 12 @ Verano; Little Maya Bakery, 19891 Sonoma Highway.
Try a little bike ride through Boyes Hot Springs to get the endorphins flowing. Or play a little tennis at Larson Park to fire a wee rivalry. Follow that with some outrageously awesome, homemade, coconut ice cream from Michoacana to cool things down. A simple little recipe for connection.
Larson Park, De Chene Avenue; Michoacana Natural Ice Cream, 18495 Highway 12.
Days of wine and eucalyptus
A blanket, the Sunday paper, shady eucalyptus, Plaza Park, nirvana. Thirsty? Search for the perfect pinot at one or three of the 16 surrounding tasting rooms. Hungry? Sample cheese, fudge and wine before ordering the $6 burger at the Sonoma Cheese Factory. Nap, shop, smile, taste, sip, repeat.
Sonoma Cheese Factory, 2 Spain Street. Tasting rooms, all around the Plaza.
Wine and Chocolate
Kenwood is tasting room nirvana. Start with Annette at Paradise Ridge, who’ll serve you the biggest, best pour in the Valley. Then walk 50 yards south to Ty Caton/Muscardini Cellars, where the reds will literally change your life. Buy a bottle of Caton’s TyTanium, or Muscardini’s Sangiovese, continue on to Wine Country Chocolates in Jack London Village. Pair that red with truffles laced with cappuccino and tiramisu. Who needs dinner now? Not you, baby.
Paradise Ridge, 8860 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood; Ty Caton/Muscardini, 8910 Sonoma Highway; Wine Country Chocolates, 14301 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen.
Ig Vella was a Sonoma institution. Stop in and taste his legacy at Vella cheese after a walk down the bike path from Depot Park. Once stocked with a hunk of aged Monterey Jack, sit on the bench under the fig tree near Second Street East and listen to the sound of leaves falling.
Depot Park, 270 First Street West; Vella Cheese, 315 Second Street East.
Pizza and Pinot
The best Wine Country dinner deal for miles around is the $15 pizza and pinot served every night at Estate. Sit on the patio while the sun sets over the Mayacamas Mountains. Feel the warmth of the outdoor fire, sip the wine, taste the fresh, cheer the cheap.
Estate, 400 West Spain Street.
Bubbles and Fly Fishing
People come to Gloria Ferrer for the champagne, but the view from the deck is worth at least 95 points. Tour the caves, taste the bubbles, then move on to some fly-fishing fun at nearby Leland Ranch. Cast in the ponds, play billiards on the 100-year-old Brunswick pool tables, try owner Josh Frasier’s exceptional Tight Line Wines pinot. A river may not run through it, but the romance is deep and wide.
Gloria Ferrer, 23555 Carneros Highway 121; Leland Ranch, 24120 Carneros Highway 121.
Looking for an eight-foot-tall clockface? Artefact.
A realistic body sculpture suspended from the ceiling?
A New Leaf Gallery.
That special, naughty, 3D picture book for someone on your Christmas list? Zipper.
A nice game of bocce with a glass of Rockpile Malbec?
A contemplative walk through unique garden installations? Cornerstone Gardens: one-stop date utopia.
Cornerstone Sonoma, 23570 Carneros Highway 121.
Grab an outdoor table at Café La Haye, order coffee and chocolate cake with espresso mascarpone. Watch as the people pass by. When you’ve licked the plate clean, follow the hipsters to the La Haye Art Center, where—if you’re lucky—you might find a cache of super collectible local artists like Brigitte McReynolds and Jim Callahan ready to school you. Try out phrases like “luminous color” and “voluptuous texture,” then tell your date she belongs on a canvas.
La Haye Art Center, 148 East Napa Street; Café La Haye 140 East Napa Street.
Blood Is Life
“You, me, 4 p.m., Safeway parking lot, big bus, comfortable sleeves, be there.” Donating to the Blood Bank of the Redwoods may seem like an odd date, but you’ll win big points for selflessness. Plus there’s free Fig Newtons and cold apple juice. Celebrate your philanthropy at Sonoma Springs with a pint of ‘Lil Chief pale ale. Easy on the suds, though. Remember, you’re down a pint.
Safeway, 477 West Napa Street; Sonoma Springs Brewery, 750 West Napa Street.
Sonoma Big Screen
Take in a blockbuster matinee at Sonoma Cinemas. Hold hands in the dark. After the movie, present your ticket stub to the barkeep at Olde Sonoma Public House. Said barkeep will give you a free beer. Stay way too long indulging in pool, darts, free popcorn, an awesome jukebox, and the best beer selection north of San Francisco.
Sonoma Cinemas, 200 Siesta Way. Olde Sonoma Public House, 18615 Sonoma Highway.
Sonoma Small Screen
Pick up a locally filmed movie at Blockbuster and a to-go pizza from Little Caesars. Park at one of the locations from your film, pop it into your laptop or portable DVD player, enjoy a vicarious Hollywood thrill. Go with Bottle Shock, Scream, The Animal, or any of the 90 other films shot in our area.
Blockbuster Video, 500 Fifth Street West; Little Caesars Pizza, 19209 Highway 12.
A rose under the windshield, a hidden poem, hands held on a park bench, a spontaneous cleaning of the house: know what your mate loves, then just do it. Make it thoughtful, loving, unique and fun.