BY CHRISTINA WONG OF FRUIT + FLOWER CO. | Original graphic by Ember
Attending Hall of Flowers in Santa Rosa on October 5-6 this week? Tag along with Christina Wong as she takes us on a sweeping tour of Santa Rosa's rich culinary and cannabis offerings—just in time to jot down a few travel stops for your Hall of Flowers agenda.
A few hours north of San Francisco and over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is a magical land of great food, wine, cheese, and weed. If you’re a foodie, weedy, wine, and craft beer enthusiast, Santa Rosa and the surrounding area is a weekend-road-trip-worthy adventure.
Armed with snacks, a Raw Garden Strawberry Rosé vape pen, and a pack of Stone Road Black Jack pre-rolls, I hit the road and drive north on the 101 until I hit Santa Rosa, California to visit my Weed Wednesday friends. Weed Wednesday, you ask? During the early pandemic, I joined a weekly virtual hang every Wednesday night with a group of weed enthusiast strangers who live nearby. They've since become good friends of mine, essential therapy, and a regular source of joy and inspiration. It was high time to meet my newfound friends for a baked boondoggle!
I roll into downtown Santa Rosa and check into Hotel E, a chic boutique hotel located in an iconic Beaux Arts building on Old Courthouse Square. I make a mental note to have a nightcap at the lobby wine bar later that night. My new friends welcome me with a homemade chicken adobo dinner, pack of Sundae School Milk Tea Sundae Mochi Gummies (I’m obsessed), and a six-pack of locally brewed Henhouse Brewing IPA—which they declare as the best local craft beer, even better than Russian River. Ooh, them’s fighting words! Each can of Henhouse beer is bottled fresh and features hilariously awesome artwork of chickens, so I’m convinced. At this point, on a stoned scale of 1-10—with level 1 at microdose level and 10 being fully baked—I’m a happy, chatty 4.
I rifle through their cannabis collection and we nerd out over weedy shit while I sniff jars of flower. One smells like funky grape soda and we roll joints with it. We take our freshly rolled joints out for a sunset walk to admire the historic 1800s Victorian and Queen Anne-style homes in the Junior College Neighborhood. The beautiful homes in this neighborhood include Mableton, also known as McDonald Mansion, which you’ll recognize from the Disney film Pollyanna.
A hazy warmth flows through me as we stroll the tree-lined streets and I settle into a comfortable 7 on the stoned scale. We pause to admire each home’s unique architectural style, stop to smell the roses, and pick a handful of petals to roll rose petal joints. Rose joints are absolutely delicious and one of my favorite things to indulge in when I can get my hands on organic rose petals. As the rose petal slowly burns and mingles with the cannabis smoke, there’s sweet, smooth, floral notes on the inhale and exhale. I tuck one into my purse for tomorrow and head back over to my hotel to enjoy a nightcap.
1. Downtown Santa Rosa
I grab morning coffee and a lemon scone from Crooks Coffee before meeting up with Michelle, who takes me on a terpene tour of the best spots in Santa Rosa. But first, brunch and a light draw from my vape pen because food is that much more enjoyable with weed. I’m at a hungry, upbeat 3. We order bloody marys, crispy baby artichokes in a creamy sumac labneh, silky smooth pelmeni (Russian dumplings), and Terri’s Griddled Pastrami Breakfast with golden, runny yolk poached eggs and avocado toast to share at Grossman’s Noshery & Bar, a New York-style deli. I contemplate how many rugelachs I can fit into my purse so I have snacks for later.
We head over to Savory Spice Shop to sniff the spices. Spices, like cannabis, get their unique flavor and aromas from highly aromatic compounds called terpenes. I recall what Chef Wendy Zeng told me about using whole spices and grinding fresh-to-use rather than keeping ground spices that oxidize and lose flavor over time. I pick up some whole cardamom pods and star anise.
We drive north to the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmer’s Market that’s open every Saturday and Wednesday. Stone fruit season is starting—the sticky, sweet scent of ripe peaches mingled with ripe strawberries wafts through the air. I sip mushroom teas from Sporgy Mushroom, ogle exquisite bonbons that look like modern art jewels from Fleur Sauvage Chocolate by acclaimed Pastry Chef Robert “Buttercup” Nieto, and can’t resist getting a couple late night snacks from Sister’s Sweet Shoppe. The Cereal Bowl Bar with Frosted Flakes, Corn Chex, and salty Ruffles potato chips is the stuff my munchie dreams are made of. Into my snack purse they go!
"The Cereal Bowl Bar with Frosted Flakes, Corn Chex, and salty Ruffles potato chips is the stuff my munchie dreams are made of."
On our way to Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Culinary Gardens, I light up the rose petal joint which elevates me to a cozy 7 on the stoney scale. The sprawling three and a half acres of lush culinary gardens and wine estate grows plants, herbs, and fruit trees grouped by wine varietals. We walk under the canopy of cherry trees as we learn about grape varietals, aromas, and wine bouquets. Honey bees buzz about collecting pollen, and a flock of bantam chickens scratch around in the dirt softly clucking. The chicken eggs are used in the restaurant kitchen, and their waste is used for fertilizer in the garden. Like curious children, we peek into the chef’s kitchen through the floor-to-ceiling windows to admire a tray of perfectly baked Canelés de Bordeaux—crisp and caramelized on the outside, soft and custardy in the center, sweetened with a kiss of rum.
15 minutes southwest of Santa Rosa is a town that’s known as Grateful Dead land—there’s even a local bagel shop called Grateful Bagel. As we pass through the main intersection in town, we spot hand-painted street art from local artist The Velvet Bandit (I'm going on a late night pasting adventure with her later on) and quirky junk art sculptures by local artist Patrick Amiot.
We stop for fish tacos, oysters and cold beer at Handline before going treasure hunting at Antique Society, the largest antique collective and vintage marketplace in Sonoma County. Inside the airy, sunshine-filled warehouse with exposed wood beam ceilings, items are organized and curated into sections. I find a surprising amount of chicken-themed oddities including a rooster ice cream mold, and Michelle finds a vintage flower frog to store vape pens on her Bud Cart.
"It’s like I walked into the Whole Foods of weed."
On our way out of Sebastopol we swing by Solful, a cannabis dispensary that’s regularly voted “Best Dispensary in Sonoma County,” to peruse locally grown flower displayed in glass jars like precious spices, organized and color coordinated by hybrid, CBD, indica, and sativa with descriptions about each strain, test results, and the local farm that grew it. It’s like I walked into the Whole Foods of weed. I show a modicum of restraint and walk out with only four jars of flower: Blood Orange Punch by Alpenglow Farms, Cherry Moon by Moon Made Farms, Lemon Velvet by Sun Roots Farm, and Razzleberry Cream Cake by Moon Gazer Farm.
4. Santa Rosa
Back in Santa Rosa, I part ways with Michelle and enjoy my Black Jack pre-roll from Stone Road before heading to dinner at Willi’s Wine Bar, a roadside cottage wine bar serving small plates.
My joint tastes creamy, woody, earthy with a hint of toasted caramel. It fits with the vibe of the wine bar and I’m at a 6; my body and mind are relaxed and flowy as I float to dinner. I sit at the bar and order a glass of Txakoli, an effervescent wine from the Basque region of Spain, burrata and fava bean toast for dinner, and Meyer lemon pudding for dessert.
After dinner I meet up with The Velvet Bandit and go guerilla street art-pasting with the mom graffiti gang. We pass around joints like we’re 16 years old again, joyriding through town, up to no good. We’re in search of smooth, flat surfaces to wheat paste art in public spaces using non-toxic, biodegradable materials. I learn there’s a code of decency for where to post, not post, and how not to start a turf war (true story!).
Under the cover of darkness and bright street lights, we stealthily dance through the shadows on a secret mission to spread positive art. We slap up a “Zero Guacs Given” avocado by the Chevy’s Fresh Mex restaurant, “This Is Bananas” in a grocery store parking lot, “Send Noods” near a Thai noodle restaurant, and nearly fall over in fits of laughter pasting “Le Pipe Dream” on an actual pipe. My heart is pounding; I’m giggling uncontrollably like a teenager, and flying high at an 8/9 on the stoney scale while committing harmless acts of vandalism. Absolutely no one is paying attention to a bunch of stoned middle-aged ladies with a paintbrush.
5. Worth the Drive: Hopland and Willits
90 minutes north of Santa Rosa on the 101 is Mendocino County, the gateway to the Emerald Triangle and California’s renowned cannabis growing region.
Before hitting the road on our Weed Wednesday group road trip, I start my morning with a matcha latte and fresh doughnuts from Johnny Doughnuts. Their handmade raised doughnuts are mixed with fresh potato in the batter, which gives it a super soft, fluffy, and perfectly chewy texture. I highly recommend the Sweet Potato Donut, Cro-Dough (flaky layers of croissant meets doughnut), and Apple Fritter. I brush doughnut crumbs and sugar off of my face, pop a 10mg Sundae School Milk Tea mochi gummy into my mouth and wait for it to kick in on the drive up to Hopland. The mochi gummies have a soft, bouncy texture and are lightly dusted in a toasted kinako powder. I’m into it.
"This is the best sandwich I’ve ever put in my mouth—but maybe I’m just really high."
First stop: Hot sandwiches for lunch at the Loose Caboose Cafe in Willits, home of the best sandwiches in town. I’m fully toasted at a mellow 8 on the stoney scale from the Sundae School edible I had earlier, and the joint we’re sharing. The Chattanooga Chicken is choo-choo-ing my name with its tangy ranch dressing, green chilis, bacon, baked chicken, and swiss cheese in a soft sweet French roll. This is the best sandwich I’ve ever put in my mouth—but maybe I’m just really high.
Down the street is Shanachie Pub, where “trimmigrants” from all over the world who travel through Mendocino County to trim cannabis during harvest season gather for a drink. During harvest season, stacks of backpacks from travelers line the narrow alley leading to the back patio. They serve a selection of local beer and wine, cash only.
Outside the pub, we’re greeted by Richard Jergenson, curator and archivist of the Emerald City Counter Culture Museum currently located in the old Rexall Drug store in Willits, California. Inside there’s a sun-faded “Prescriptions” sign on the back wall, a relic from the building’s previous occupant, and Richard’s collection of cannabis memorabilia and art that unravels the history of cannabis in the Mendocino region from the late 1960s to today.
A large corner is dedicated to the ProtoPipe, a popular brass smoking device that Richard and his brother Phil invented in the 1970s. There’s underground cannabis comics, art by local artists, a copy of Brownie Mary’s Marijuana Cookbook, a massive tome titled “Chronic Freedom Book” (an archival history of the hippies of weed in southern Humboldt from 1968-2010), and a traveling hemp museum. Visitors anonymously share their cannabis secrets and stories on the “Canna Confessional Wall.” The popup museum is located in a temporary space, check www.cannabismuseum.us for current exhibit dates.
"I ask him how he feels about the legal weed industry today... Like a weed hippie version of the Lorax, he speaks for the plants."
Richard has made it his mission to chase and encapsulate as much of the past to inform the future. He hopes to find a permanent home for his collection and create a collaborative self-sustaining museum that people can enjoy for years to come because “to move forward into the future, it’s important to know the history of cannabis and the people who made a pathway for the plant.” I ask him how he feels about the legal weed industry today. He pauses, takes a deep breath, and warns about greed and destruction of the earth for money and profit. Like a weed hippie version of the Lorax, he speaks for the plants.
6. Santa Rosa
Back in town, we swing by Doobie Nights, an experiential cannabis dispensary with immersive art and light projections. It’s a slice of Las Vegas hidden inside a nondescript business park and feels worlds apart from the one we just left in Willits. I reflect on Richard’s words and take a moment of gratitude for all the men and women who pioneered legalization and made it possible for me to be here casually buying a pre-roll and box of Emerald Sky infused cremé-filled chocolate cookies.
Across the street from Doobie Nights is HenHouse Brewing Company’s brewery and tasting room. Since my local friends rave about the fresh batch craft beer (and because I love everything chickens), naturally we stop for afternoon beer and tacos. The IPAs are excellent, and they have a Big Chicken brew that is only available one day out of the year, but I’m smitten with their signature Oyster Stout that’s brewed with oysters but tastes surprisingly like a dry, light, salted brownie. I slide open the Emerald Sky box and eat one of the Oreo-like cookies because the flavor profile matches my beer. It just makes sense.
I enjoy my last night in Santa Rosa walking around downtown and watching the train go by. I’m feeling the 10mg cookie behind my eyes and in the center of my head as I sink into my happy place with a scoop of Coffee and Doughnuts ice cream in one hand and a slice of Cherry Key Lime Custard Pie from Noble Folk Ice Cream & Pie Bar in the other while the sunset splashed golden pink watercolors across the sky. Today was a good day.
It’s late morning, I sip a pourover coffee from Land + Water before heading out of town and impulse-buy a Dick Taylor Chocolate Brown Butter & Sea Salt Bar from the counter and slip it into my snack purse. It's a damn delicious small-batch bean-to-bar craft chocolate and the only other place I’ve seen Dick Taylor chocolate is in Eureka, California.
I make one last stop at Flora Terra, a dispensary with a large picturesque window looking into an indoor vertical cannabis farm and nursery. I pick up a seedling to take home and grow my own cannabis flower this season. Their motto “respect the plant” seems like a fitting theme to end my road trip. Grow big and sticky, little plant.
Christina Wong is a culinary cannabis writer, educator, recipe developer, content creator, baked baker, and baking show host who’s earned accolades for her imaginative and delectable creations, including a contest-winning pie that KCRW’s Evan Kleiman called “f*&%ing delicious." She’s the Founder & CEO of Fruit + Flower Co., a creative media company that brings together cannabis and food in intriguing and sometimes unexpected ways. Her work has been featured in High Times, Cherry Bombe, CannaCurious, and Kitchen Toke Magazine.