When Harmon Heald laid out the map for Healdsburg more than 150 years ago,
he never could have known that one day the plaza he created would be designated
one of the country's best.
In yet another accolade bestowed on Healdsburg by a magazine and website, Travel
and Leisure last week named the town's plaza as one of "America's Most Beautiful Town
The list of 13 squares around the country singles out the Healdsburg Plaza for its trees,
fountains and copper-roofed gazebo, which "add to the stately charm."
The publication said the picturesque squares they identified occupy a special place in the
hearts of their communities and often have surrounding colorful shops and cafes.
Unlike some cities, Healdsburg doesn't have a landmark courthouse or city hall in its
plaza, but it is considered about as perfect as they come in the eyes of urban designers.
It isn't sliced in half by a busy street, like Santa Rosa's Old Courthouse Square.
Even the historic 8-acre Sonoma Plaza, a throwback to the Mexican era and an even
older Spanish-style layout, is considered to be much larger than the ideal size of the
1-acre Healdsburg square.
"Healdsburg is a little more intimate," said Lois Fisher, an urban designer and
Windsor planning commission chairwoman, who added "It is very poetically sized."
Fisher, who specializes in creating walkable communities, said the nearby buildings
with varying heights of one to three stories provide a sort of encircling wall, "a sense
of outdoor room" that lends a feeling of safety and protection to people who
The sidewalks are wide, and the shops and restaurants that ring the square
have enticing doors every 30 feet or so.
Wine-tasting rooms, bookstores, art galleries, boutiques, hotels, eateries and
retail shops abound.
"You want people to feel there is something interesting to pull them along -- to keep
going. They can't wait to see, 'What's up here next?' " Fisher said.