Located amid western Sonoma County’s rolling hills — just slightly inland from the coast — the off-the-beaten-track village of Valley Ford blends country hospitality with culinary and artistic sophistication.
The surrounding land has long been home to farms and ranches, with sweeping vistas that include beautiful old barns and plenty of grazing cows.
Stay and Dine
Built in 1864, the historic Valley Ford Hotel features seven charming and pet-friendly guest rooms, as well as the popular Rocker Oysterfeller's restaurant, specializing in Southern-inspired food created with fresh Sonoma County ingredients. In the in-house saloon, locals and tourists hang out and listen to music.
Family-owned Valley Ford Market is a farmers' and ranchers' grocery that also caters to tourists — which means in addition to bread, produce, plumbing fixtures, and fishing tackle, it boasts an extensive inventory of local wines.
Enjoy the small-town friendly atmosphere and hearty fare at Dinucci's Italian Dinners. Or indulge in a tasty breakfast or lunch at Estero Café, featuring soul-warming favorites like Swedish pancakes with applesauce, chicken-fried steak, or homemade cakes and pies.
Revel in Art History
In 1976, one of the most controversial art installations in history, Christo and Jean-Claude's Running Fence, ran straight through Valley Ford. It dominated the landscape for miles around, and — for a few brief months — turned the tiny hamlet into the epicenter of the art world and the temporary home of international journalists, environmental protestors, passionate art-lovers, and curious gawkers.
Standing 18 feet high and constructed of more than 165,000 yards of white nylon hung from steel posts and cables, the Fence progressed boldly across the landscape for 24.5 miles, from US-101 in Cotati to its descent into the Pacific Ocean at Bodega Bay. The installation existed for only two weeks, but lives on in books, drawings, photographs, university and museum seminars, a 1978 cinema verité film by the famed Maysles brothers — and the memory of those lucky enough to have seen it.
You can pay a symbolic visit to the Fence at Sonoma County Historic Landmark #24, located at 14459 Valley Ford Road (next to the post office), where a bronze plaque commemorates the Fence. And slightly more than three miles north of Valley Ford on the Bodega Highway you’ll find the Christo & Jeanne-Claude Running Fence Park, a quarter-acre picnic area with displays giving details about the Running Fence.
Get a Taste of Real Ranch Life
If you’ve ever wanted to wake up to the sight of Longhorn Cattle grazing on the grassy hills, but then leave the responsibility for dealing with them to somebody else while you drive off to the beach or a hike through redwood trees or a wine tasting jaunt, book a stay at Valley Ford’s Twisted Horn Ranch. You can choose between a spacious two-person standalone guesthouse, and a two-bedroom “bunkhouse” that sleeps five people and has a full kitchen.
Paddle Peacefully to Bodega Bay
If you have your own kayak (or if you’re incredibly fit and own a standup paddle board), try the six-mile paddle from Valley Ford, westward along the Estero Americano estuary, to Bodega Bay. It’s one of the most beautiful and idyllic paddling excursions around, and you’ll be amazed by the diverse bird life along the way.
From Valley Ford, turn onto Valley Ford Estero Road. In about one mile, after crossing a bridge, turn left onto Marsh Road; pull off the road and park. Put your kayak in at the base of the bridge. It’s a short voyage, so most paddlers make the return trip as well (or arrange a two-car maneuver).
Bike the Back Roads
The bucolic landscape in and around Valley Ford is made for cycling. You could follow Highway 1 into Bodega Bay, spending time at Bodega Head with its glorious ocean views. Or you could simply pedal the smaller, meandering local roads that leave Valley Ford and edge the Estero Americano.
Put together a great picnic at the Valley Ford Market — maybe with cheeses made right in town by Valley Ford Cheese Company, Gypsy Cheese Company, or Two Rock Valley Cheese — and you’ll be all set for a bike ride you’ll always remember.
Not traveling with your own bikes? Rent folding bicycles from BikeParnters.net — they’ll fit in the trunk of your car.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.