If you go
Oakland International Airport is your best bet if California's wine country is your primary goal. The easiest option for Chicagoans is to fly Southwest Airlines non-stop from Midway to Oakland. A recent check found weekday fares as low as $99 each way. Once in Oakland, rent a car and head for the interstates.
To get to Sonoma County, take Interstate Highway 880 north to Interstate Highway 580/80. Turn onto I-580 east toward Richmond and the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. Cross the bridge into Marin County. Merge onto U.S. Highway 101 north. To go to the town of Sonoma, get off U.S. 101 and take California Highway 37 east toward Napa and Vallejo. Turn left onto California Highway 121 and head north to Sonoma. For Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Geyserville, stay on U.S. 101 north and exit as directed. The trip takes 90 minutes to 2 hours.
To get to Napa, take I-880 north, to I-980 to I-80 east toward Vallejo. Get off at the exit for California 37 west (Marine World Parkway). Take California 37 and turn right at California 29 north (Sonoma Boulevard). Follow the exits on California 29 to enter Napa. For Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena or Calistoga remain on California 29. The trip takes about 1 hour.
There is a dizzying array of lodging options in wine country, from jaw-droppingly beautiful resorts to charming bed-and-breakfasts to anonymous motels by the highway. It's your pick.
Me? I settled on the Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa, a Santa Rosa landmark in Sonoma County. One look at the pink neon flamingo rotating atop a retro 1950s tower tells you this place is going to be different. It is.
There's a campuslike feel to the 170-room hotel, which is made up of a chain of buildings arrayed around the swimming pool like beads on a mid-20th Century necklace.
Built in 1957, the hotel's design was inspired by Las Vegas' famed Flamingo. There is lots of rugged stone, plus large glass panels, exotic plants and curving lines, appropriate given that Jayne Mansfield, the busty movie star, used to stay here.
As you might imagine, the Flamingo logo is ubiquitous, showing up on everything from cocktail napkins to the pink pens in your room.
The Flamingo was a center for Santa Rosa's social set in the early days, and it continues to draw a graying crowd of regulars to the cocktail lounge. Thank goodness there's live jazz Wednesday and Thursday nights as the cocktail chat ain't always scintillating.
Overlooking the pool is the Terrace Grille, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch either poolside or in the dining room. It's a soothing spot to begin or end the day. Another great way to de-stress is to get a facial or massage at the adjacent Montecito Heights Health Club and Spa.
The Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa is at 2777 4th St. in Santa Rosa. Telephone: 707-545-8530. Rates fluctuate depending on the room size and season. The range goes from $89 for a regular room with king bed or double beds on a winter weeknight to $359 for a two-room patio suite on a summer Saturday night. flamingoresort.com