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4th of July Trip: Sonoma County in 4 Days

Get away this summer with this colorful Fourth of July adventure in California's Wine Country. The Fourth of July is on a Monday in 2016. Lucky for us, that heralds a full weekend of fun and frolic, leading up to fireworks in Sonoma County.

Start early on Friday, and make it a long weekend, why don't you? Sonoma Wine Country brings so much to celebrate, with special winery celebrations, Fourth of July parties, barbecues, camping, and traditional summer gatherings at the beach, you’ll want to pack in as many days as you can.  This itinerary suggests some specific choices, but check our list of the best fireworks and 4th of July parties in Sonoma County for other options. And of course, this itinerary is a great starting point for any summer trip to Sonoma County with or without the 4th of July.

Friday, July 1 — Exploring the Stunning Sonoma Coast

Get an early start on the weekend and head west to quaint Bodega Bay for brunch at The Tides Wharf Restaurant & Bar (800 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3652). Known as the backdrop for scary scenes in Alfred Hitchcock's horror classic, The Birds, this oceanfront eatery specializes in local seafood. Choose a breakfast of grilled snapper, eggs and hash browns; a Hangtown Fry of crispy oysters tossed with eggs and bacon; or oysters Benedict.

It’s summer time, and the beaching is easy, especially at nearby Doran Regional Park (201 Doran Beach Road, Bodega Bay). The two-mile stretch of dog-friendly sandy beach is quiet and secluded. This area protected by the bay, so the water is calm, perfect for dipping toes. Bring your picnic basket, your camping gear, and even your boat. There’s a rock jetty at the harbor mouth for fishing and crabbing under gentle wind-scudded clouds dancing across the sky.

To fuel that picnic, stop at Pelican Plaza Grocery & Deli (1400 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-2522), for monster-sized sandwiches, cheeses, breads, wine, and beer. Or pick up a crab sandwich or a to-go cup of clam chowder (fans claim it’s the best they’ve ever tasted) at Spud Point Crab Company (1910 Westshore Road, Bodega Bay, 707-875-9472).

Then, celebrate America’s natural beauty with a drive north on Highway 1. The Sonoma Coast State Park stretches for 17 miles along the coast, offering a series of long sandy beaches and rugged headlands, with natural arches and secluded coves. Enjoy bluff-top trails, scenic vista points, and great opportunities to go beachcombing or explore tide pools.

For a taste of California’s roots, a bit farther north the Fort Ross State Historic Park (19005 Coast Highway, Jenner, 707-847-3437. Parking/gate fee $8) offers a rich adventure. This former Russian colony was established in 1812, and some of the ancient wood structures still remain on the 3,200 acre cliff-top site, as does an antique canon and water tower. The park’s visitor center features ongoing interpretive presentations about Russian-era buildings, neighborhoods, intercultural relations, agriculture, and trade.

Drive north of Fort Ross to check into the Ocean Cove Lodge Bar & Grill (23255 Highway 1, Jenner, 707-847-3158), an intimate retreat with 16 rooms nestled around a hot tub and picturesque gardens. Tip: The upstairs rooms have private sun decks, Jacuzzi tubs, and spectacular ocean views. 

Enough driving for the day. The hotel’s Bar & Grill offers fresh coastal fare in a relaxed setting with outdoor seating and a beautiful ocean view. The menu is simple, but so satisfying, offering excellent burgers and fries, a prawn quesadilla, and fancier entrees like steak and salmon.

Of course, there are several other options for bedding down for the night. In the town of Jenner, River’s End Restaurant & Inn offers spectacular sunset views at a one-of-a-kind location where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean, with cabins designed for couples looking to rejuvenate (no TVs, no telephones, and no data ports).

Or if you want to drive back to Bodega Bay for the night, the hillside Bodega Bay Lodge (103 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 800-368-2468) offers views of both the Pacific Ocean and the bay itself. The lodge is located close to Doran Beach for a stroll or the links at Bodega Harbour for a round of golf (21301 Heron Drive, Bodega Bay, 800-503-8158). And the lodge’s Drakes Sonoma Coast Cuisine restaurant is renowned for its fresh-from-the-ocean seafood, sustainably farmed produce and meats, and attention to detail.

For more options, read Sonoma Coast & Sea Villages.

Saturday, July 2, More Coastal Adventure

Ocean air stirs the appetite, and Café Aquatica (10439 Highway 1, Jenner, 707-865-2251) is a charming roadside retreat for a casual, organic meal, and a hot cup of coffee.

The deck overlooks the water, with its resident ducks, pelicans, otters, seagulls, and more. During seal pupping season, you’ll usually see the playful animals, too, as they poke their curious heads out of the water.

Soaking up the sun in such a spectacular setting makes the simple fare all the more delicious, so go for breakfast pastries, cookies still warm from the oven, overstuffed breakfast burritos, and the specialty — poached eggs on homemade toasted pesto focaccia with crab or lox.

If you didn’t stop at Goat Rock Beach yesterday, be sure to check it out this morning. Part of Sonoma State Beach, Goat Rock offers views of immense sea stacks (tall rocky columns), white-capped waves, sand dunes, and the massive rock that gives the place its name. With a legal launch point above the sandy beach, hang-gliders are a common sight. Whales are often spotted offshore, particularly during the migration season, and each summer a colony of Pacific Harbor seals and their frisky pups make their home on a sandy spit at the far end of the beach (always stay at least 50 yards away from the seals).

If you’re eager to get out on the water, WaterTreks EcoTours (10438 Highway 1, Jenner, 707-865-2249) offers coastal adventures for all, from beginner boaters to skilled sports enthusiasts. Owner Suki Waters is a local Native American descendant, guide, and kayak instructor, specializing in wildlife, Sonoma Coast history, and ecology tours. Explore the quiet estuary or tackle the dancing sea, and keep your eyes peeled for area residents like sea lions, harbor seals, otters, birds, and maybe even a whale.

Follow Highway 116 west just a couple miles inland from Jenner and explore the tiny hamlet of Duncans Mills. Nestled in a wide, flat area along the Russian River, this former lumber town and railroad stop now boasts more than a dozen unique specialty shops, several restaurants, a bakery, a wine tasting room, and a tiny regional museum. It’s a great place to stroll and shop, and perhaps enjoy a bite to eat.

However, if you’re still on the coast at dinnertime, enjoy a romantic dinner featuring internationally-influenced dishes using the freshest local ingredients at River’s End Restaurant & Inn. The sunset views from the dining room are particularly amazing.

You can choose to spend another night on the coast, or get a head start on tomorrow’s activities by heading inland to dine and sleep in the charming Russian River Resort area.

Tuck in among the redwoods at the Applewood Inn, Restaurant & Spa, (13555 Highway 116, Guerneville, 707-869-9093). This charming inn offers a choice of accommodations: The historic charm of the original house or a room in the newer building that suggests a modern-Mediterranean feel. The noted restaurant adds to the feeling of a retreat. 

Or you might want to check into Monte Rio Vacation Cottages (20790 Kingston Ave., Monte Rio, 707-865-4161). Cottages feature private hot tubs, fenced and gated yards, and cute birdhouse themes like Heron, Hummingbird and Stellar Jay. The Russian River setting is serene, and each cottage includes a private gas grill for barbecuing on the redwood deck. 

If you’d rather eat dinner out, The Village Inn (20822 River Blvd., Monte Rio, 707-865-2304) will keep you happy. Built in 1906, the 10-room hotel features The Restaurant with classic American cuisine and cocktails.

The kitchen favors local ingredients for temptations like Dungeness crab croquettes, tender duck breast in Cabernet plum sauce over rice pilaf, and cream cheese crepes stuffed with apricots and pecans in a drizzle of honey. The setting is beautiful, too, boasting walls of windows and an expansive deck overlooking the forest.

Find more info about the area through our articles on Redwoods & RiversGuide to the Russian River Resort Area, and Armstrong Redwoods.

Sunday, July 3, Under the Redwoods

Enjoy a flavorful espresso, latte, mocha, or a specialty coffee with a handmade, flaky pastry at Gold Coast Coffee and Bakery(25377 Steelhead Drive, Duncans Mills, 707-865-1441). Chomp down on an innovative breakfast sandwich (with a side of fruit salad) at the hip yet retro Big Bottom Market (16228 Main St., Guerneville, 707-604-7295). Or for a full traditional American breakfast, visit Pat’s Restaurant (16236 Main St., Guerneville, 707-869-9904), which has been serving breakfast and lunch in the Russian River Valley since 1940. 

Fueled up and fired up, head next to the Independence Weekend Celebration at Dutton-Goldfield Winery (3100 Gravenstein Highway N. Sebastopol, 707-823-3887). Clear away your blues by celebrating with their highly coveted, cult-quality reds and whites, which are perfect for summer sipping and barbecues. Extend your visit by scheduling an appointment for a seated tasting on the courtyard patio (call 707-861-9120 or email Nicole@duttongoldfield.com). The cost is $20, or free with a two-bottle purchase.

After your tasting, take a walk across the lawn to Red Car Wine (8400 Graton Road, Sebastopol, 707-829-8500), which is right next door. Think convertible cars for summer fun, rockin’ music, and wonderful Syrahs and Pinot Noirs from owner/winemaker Carroll Kemp, focused on all-Sonoma County fruit. Much of the décor comes from local antiques shops, too, like a green velvet couch and plush orange armchair-footrest combo, plus a stuffed fish.

Apple pie. Need we say more? No Fourth of July is complete without the treasured treat, and the prime place to indulge is at Kozlowski Farms just a short drive from Red Car (5566 Gravenstein Highway N., Forestville, 707-887-1587). The bakery’s marvelous double-crust fruit pies, pecan streusel crumb-top pies, and bites like oatmeal jam squares are made on-site, using apples grown in the surrounding orchards.

If you feel like being a bit more active, rent a canoe or kayak from Burke’s Canoe Trips (8600 River Road, Forestville, 707-887-1222) and paddle the waterway, or stroll under a canopy of majestic trees at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve (17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville, 707-869-2015).

Then it’s time for the Monte Rio Fireworks over the Russian River. Everything starts in the early evening on Saturday, July 3, when groups unveil their homemade floats bedecked in lights and perform skits while floating past a cheering audience. That’s followed by a free show at the town’s famous water curtain, as images of the American flag are projected off the Monte Rio bridge, and then the dramatic fireworks display (Monte Rio Beach, 20488 Highway 116, Monte Rio, 707-865-9956).

It’ll be dark when the fireworks end, so you can either stay in the Russian River area for another night, or head to your next day’s destination, to spend the Fourth of July in the Sonoma Valley.

At the north end of the valley in the town of Kenwood, the Casa Bella Inn (8790 Sonoma Highway 12, Kenwood, 800-819-1388) offers comfortably elegant rooms in a "prairie style" country home that is now on the Historic Register. Enjoy vineyard and mountain views on the wrap-around porch. Stroll through the gardens, which grow much of the produce and herbs used in the gourmet breakfasts available each morning. This is a great location for discovering the best of Sonoma Valley.

Or head south a few miles and check into the Jack London Lodge in Glen Ellen (13740 Arnold Way, 707-938-8510). This small motel hangs onto its historic motor court vibe, while giving guests the amenities they come to expect: free WiFi, complimentary Continental breakfasts on the weekends, a pool and hot tub, and more. This is the perfect place to unwind, and to rest up for a full day of celebrating the Fourth of July in Wine Country style. 

Monday, July 4, Celebrating in the Heart of Wine Country: Kenwood and Sonoma

Get off to an all-American start with an old fashioned pancake breakfast provided by Kenwood Community Church, at Kenwood Plaza Park (7 to 11:30 a.m.,200 Warm Springs Road, Kenwood, kenwoodparade.com).

Then, work off the indulgence with the community-building, friendly 3k-10k Footrace that starts at 7:30 a.m. and tours through the bucolic town of Kenwood.

Return to the park by 10:30 a.m., to cheer and celebrate a perfect small-town-charming parade, showcasing classic vehicles, music, bicycles, Uncle Sam, and gaily-dressed pets. All entries will be judged for awards in various categories. After the parade, loosen your belt for a family style barbecue on the park lawn.

But the Kenwood celebration is just one of the Fourth of July options in the Sonoma Valley. If you start your day just a little farther south in Sonoma Valley, breakfast simply doesn’t get any better than it is at El Molino Central (11 Central Ave., Boyes Hot Springs, 707-939-1010), with a salute to our American heritage of organic, heirloom corn.

The kernels are ground on-site with an authentic stone wheel, for superior tortillas and masa. Owner Karen Taylor Waikiki (Primavera Tamales) packs the crowds into the tiny blue-and-red-trimmed white building, wooing with chilaquiles, juicy meat, or roasted green chile and cheese tamales, savory pozole, and a morning cup of Blue Bottle Coffee.

When it’s time to start celebrating, the historic town of Sonoma has its own Americana-style festival, including a large fireworks display. Sonoma’s Old-Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration, a 53 year-old tradition, includes a large, smashing, and dashing Fourth of July parade at 10 a.m., plus food, beverage, and game booths from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the historic Sonoma Plaza.

After checking out the party, enjoy some wine tasting and shopping around the Plaza. There are dozens of great salons and stores, and one that is actually both. In a novel combination, The Corner Store/Highway 12 Vineyards & Winery shop (498 1st St. E., Sonoma, 707-938-8091) is a home accessories boutique, outfitted with a bar offering complimentary tastings and selling wines from Michael Sebastiani, of the well-known Sebastiani winemaking family.

With its location in a graceful brick building on the southeast edge of the historic Sonoma Plaza, this a one-stop destination for customers in search of everything from a pretty ceramic chicken, to a floral bedspread, to a nice bottle of Chardonnay Nueva from Carneros.

Of course, there aere are lots of other Fourth of July firework parties across Sonoma County, too, in case your travels take you to another town. 

But what could be more convenient than watching the town of Sonoma’s annual Fourth of July Fireworks Party at Depot Hotel Restaurant(241 1st St. W., Sonoma, 707-938-2980), right off the Sonoma Plaza?

The fireworks explode in the air directly above the garden of the iconic restaurant, and so each year the chef prepares a sumptuous Tuscan buffet dinner, including an oyster bar. A few typical tempting choices include porchetta, fried chicken with Tuscan herbs, baked orecchiette pasta with ricotta, and Bolognese ragu.

It’s a bit late to head home after the fireworks, so stay at the Sonoma Creek Inn, a darling, reasonably priced 16-room hideaway (239 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma, 707-939-9463). Many of the recently updated, colorfully decorated rooms have private outdoor patios or porches, and the hosts offer complimentary tasting passes at area wineries.

Or revel in luxury at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa (100 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma, 707-938-9000).

When all is done with this weekend of discovery, you’ll be refreshed, rejuvenated, and feeling full of your very own fireworks.

If you have time to extend your stay, and are looking for other activities in HealdsburgSanta Rosa, Petaluma or Rohnert Park, check our 4th of July Fireworks article and our things to do page.

Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet