Sonoma has long been a popular destination for the passionate oenophiles of the world. However, obviously well known for its picturesque wineries, Sonoma has quite a few other places to visit. Today’s guest contributor, Kris Bordessa, grew up in Sonoma County and is here to tell us to put down the wine glass for a moment in order to explore off-the-beaten-path in this beautiful Californian region.
I grew up in Sonoma County – Sebastopol, to be specific – but the area these days is a far cry from the farming community I grew up in nearly half a century ago. There’s still farming, to be sure, but the apple orchards that I grew up with are mere islands amidst the rolling hillsides striped with the green of vineyards.
I was in California recently to visit family and help my mom get settled into a new place. While I was there though, I managed to do a little exploring with my eldest son.
Just an hour from the Golden Gate Bridge just off Highway 101, Petaluma was once known as the “egg basket of the world” due to its early 20th century egg industry. In later years, it was the place to “cruise” on a Saturday night, perhaps inspired by the on-location filming of American Graffiti.
It had been awhile since I’d been to Petaluma (perhaps as far back as my own cruising days), but my son, the musician, had arranged for a tour of Kala Ukulele. Their showroom features every instrument in their catalog, from rainbow bright sopranos to their Elite line, handmade right in their Petaluma facility. Kala Ukulele offers tours of their showroom and manufacturing facility by appointment.
Old Town Petaluma
These days, old town Petaluma makes for a great place to get out and walk. We stopped in at Copperfield’s Books and did some window-shopping, but we had a specific destination in mind.
The Petaluma Seed Bank is the west coast home of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. Built in the 1920s, the old Sonoma County National Bank building is now home to a huge collection of vegetable, flower, and herb seeds. Gardeners can hand pick their favorites from thousands of options sourced from all over the world. Beyond the seeds, there are books, garden supplies, tools, and even a collection of vintage resources that guests can peruse during their visit.
Once a booming farm town, Sebastopol these days has quite a bohemian vibe, with fine arts and wine coexisting side-by-side with tie-dye and dreadlocks. Groovy, baby.
The latest hot spot in Sebastopol, The Barlow is a collection of industrial-style buildings housing a variety of businesses all focused on locally produced, sustainable products.
There’s a coffee roaster, a brewery, a distillery, and a bakery, all with an open view so visitors can see the making of their favorite food or beverage, as well as dining (or tasting) right there on the spot. It’s definitely a great place for a lunch break.
Sebastopol Farmers Market
Just down the street from The Barlow, the Sebastopol Farmers Market is worth a stop if you’re visiting on a Sunday. Freshly harvested local fruits and veggies take center stage, but you’ll also find handmade items, natural bath and body products, and potted plants, all backed up with live entertainment.
As you’re driving through Sebastopol, keep your eyes open for the junk art sculptures by artist Patrick Amiot. If you’ve got time, stop and take a close look to see if you can identify any of the parts. Bicycle chain? Check. Barbecue lid? Check. All these discarded elements come together under his magical hand to create the quirky sculptures that have taken the town by storm.
American botanist Luther Burbank – who developed hundreds of varieties of fruit, vegetables, and ornamentals – maintained a test site in Sebastopol. The Gold Ridge Experiment Farm is open to the public, and maps for a self-guided tour are available.
Heading toward Occidental (and dinner!), you’ll notice a change in terrain as coastal redwoods become more predominant and you come within miles of both the Pacific Ocean and the Russian River. Occidental is a very small town, but trust me when I say it’s the place you want to end your day.
Negri’s Original Italian Restaurant has been a local institution since the 1940s. Negri’s serves up pasta and raviolis family style on red and white-checkered tablecloths. The place is casual, but the food keeps residents and visitors alike coming back for more.
Where to Stay:
- Occidental Hotel is a small, 30-room hotel.
- Inn at Occidental is a bed and breakfast option.
- Fairfield Inn & Suites is in Sebastopol, which is just 15-20 minutes away.
Have you ever explored Sonoma’s more off-the-beaten-path destinations? Join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook or send us an email to ask a question or share your experience.