I think so much of the Sonoma County experience has to do with the outdoors, the redwoods, and the ocean, so that's mostly what I'll focus on in this Field Guide to Sonoma. West Sonoma County, specifically, has a real "laid back, somewhat hippie" vibe that I know and love well—I did grow up in Sebastopol, after all. With long drives on country roads between towns, it's helpful to have local recommendations to navigate this rusting and winding county. Here's my weekend guide to spending a day at the coast, in the forest, and in town (Santa Rosa, specifically).
Depending on when you're starting your day, take a trip to Spud Point Crab Co. Get takeout and bring food to the picnic tables at the Bodega Bay Trailhead. There are trails on the bluff to walk and explore. Note: it's cold out there, even on a sunny day so pack accordingly and bring warm coats! Mornings are the calmest and then it gets windier as the day goes on. If you're short on time and need a faster alternative, or if you're just not ready to commit to crab, you can stop by Fishetarian for fish tacos.
My absolute favorite hike in Sonoma County is the Red Hill to Pomo Canyon trail hike. You park at the Shell Beach parking lot and walk across Highway 1 to the trailhead. Head uphill and keep left. After about 20 to 25 mins you'll see one of my favorite views if you look north, the Jenner hills and the Russian River. It's a long hike (~5 miles) to do the whole loop, so I'd turn back around after this, unless it's the only thing you want to do that day. Same note as above: it's cold out there, even on a sunny day so layer up! Mornings are the calmest and then it gets windier as the day goes on.
End the day by stopping for dinner at Casino in the town of Bodega, which is an old dive bar with good food and is right next to where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds. You can find their daily menu on their facebook page. Note: the Casino is cash only. There is an ATM on site.
Let's start the day in Monte Rio with beautiful drive along the Russian River. If you reach Monte Rio before 3pm, stop at Lightwave for a coffee or smoothie. If it's lunch time, I really love the shakshuka there. Lightwave is next to a garden and a skate park, quintessential Sonoma County.
Nestled deep in the forest is the quaint town of Occidental. You must stop to check out Altamont General Store, a favorite all day café kind of place with a great grab-and-go bottle shop. A quick 10 minute drive from Occidental is The Grove of Old Trees, a sweet short walk and a way to see old growth redwoods that Northern California is famous for.
Even more impressive is Armstrong Woods, which is in Guerneville. Jon and I hike in Armstrong Woods regularly, and August loves it too.
By this time, if you're ready for dinner I recommend: Altamont General Store (but they do close at 7!). Wanting to stop in Sebastopol for dinner? I recommend: Piala, The Redwood, Khom Loi, and Ramen Gaijin. For a classic natural wine bar hang, head to The Punchdown in Sebastopol.
Sarmentine is my favorite go-to morning spot. If you're looking for other amazing pastries and coffee, check out the newly opened Marla Bakery in Santa Rosa, which took over the space from one of my favorite cafe/shops, Miracle Plum. You can wander around the Railroad Square Historic District (a real hit if you have train-loving littles, as I do). I recommend the Spinster Sisters for dinner, and often suggest The Flamingo as a hotel option to stay the night.
HONORABLE MENTIONS/OTHER FAVES:
Cafe Aquatica in Jenner has live music on the weekend, overlooking the water's edge. It's a magic place!
Little Saint in Healdsburg for shopping, eating, drinking, music, and all things plant based.
Valley Bar & Bottle in Sonoma for excellent food and a mix of local and international wines. They also just opened a seafood-forward spot, Valley Swim Club! Tim and I pulled into that parking lot with a big old stack of bins (and grapes) for lunch this harvest season, definitely recommend.
In the mood for ice cream? Screamin' Mimi's in Sebastopol is a whole team fave, and for good reason. You'll know you're in the right place when you see a line around the corner.
Look no further than Rose and Rae Vintage for an incredible selection of finds, plus you can stay in their B&B (complete with a breakfast option by Hunter's Supper Club, a Sonoma County fave!).
Sebastopol is an apple town, and the best time to come experience the magic of Gravensteins is during the Gravenstein Apple Fair in August.
UPick farms are open seasonally, ripe and ready for a family adventure of fruit picking!
Taste a rainbow of Sonoma County natural wine producers at Big West Wine Fest, ourselves included, in June.
Visit during October to catch the Sonoma County Art Trails.