There's nothing quite like discovering a high spot with a clear view, where everything seems to stretch out before you. That happens a lot in Sonoma County, where miles of rolling vineyards, wild forestlands, and rugged Pacific coastline compete for the most amazing vista.
It's hard to know whether to grab a camera and try to capture the incredible images, or just relax and drink it all in. However you react, here's just a short list of a few of the overwhelmingly scenic opportunities in Sonoma County.
Austin Creek State Recreation Area
Enter ($8 per vehicle, $7 seniors) and drive through the spectacular Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve (17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville, 707-869-2015). From the picnic area at the rear of Armstrong, drive up the steep, winding road or hike the trail to Bullfrog Pond Campground. Before you get to the campground, discover panoramic wilderness views looking west into Austin Creek State Recreation Area. (Be advised that the road into Austin Creek and Bullfrog Pond is a steep, narrow, winding, two-and-a-half-mile-long mountain road; no vehicle more than 20 feet long is allowed on this road.)
Part of the 17-mile-long Sonoma Coast State Park, Bodega Head is the rocky headland that forms the commanding entrance into Bodega Harbor. The harbor side of the headland provides a popular crabbing area along the jetty, and the many hiking trails on the ocean side allow access to small, sandy coves, and spectacular bluff-top views. The high cliffs offer excellent vantage points for observing migrating gray whales.
Coleman Valley Road
Coleman Valley Road is one of the most picturesque drives around, with stunning views of Sonoma County's rugged coastline. From Occidental, head west on Coleman Valley Road towards Highway 1. The road climbs steeply out of town, descends into a picturesque valley, then climbs up and runs along the ridgeline with spectacular views of the coast. There are pullouts along the road where you can stop and take photos. At its highest point you can see both the Pacific Ocean to the west and the forested valleys to the east. Beware of the wandering livestock.
Created in 1983 by the construction of Warm Springs Dam, beautiful Lake Sonoma is spread over rolling coastal foothills, surrounded by both forestlands and gorgeous Sonoma County vineyards. Get an amazing overview in the picnic area at the South Lake Trailhead overlook on Stewarts Point Skaggs Springs Road. If you have the time, continue on Stewarts Point road to the coast, and stop at Annapolis Winery (26055 Soda Springs Road, Annapolis, 707-886-5460) on the way. Lake Sonoma Marina (100 Marina Drive, Lake Sonoma, 707-433-2200) rents patio, ski, sail, and fishing boats, and offers a barbecue area, a deli, and a swimming beach. Get details about the park and learn about the natural history of the area at the Lake Sonoma Visitors Center & Fish Hatchery (3333 Skaggs Springs Road, Geyserville, 707-431-4533).
Paradise Ridge Winery
Known for having “the most beautiful view in Sonoma County,” from mid-May to October each year Paradise Ridge Winery (4545 Thomas Lake Harris Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-528-9463) hosts its popular “Wines & Sunsets in Paradise,” 6 p.m. until dusk on Wednesdays. The public is invited to bring a picnic and enjoy Paradise Ridge wines while watching spectacular sunsets from the winery’s expansive veranda and beautiful poetry terrace. Admission tickets, which often sell out, are $10 (or $5 for wine club members).
River Rock Casino
Whether you prefer sunrise or sunset, enjoy spectacular views of the Alexander Valley countryside from the outdoor patio at the Quail Run Buffet at River Rock Casino (3250 Highway 128, Geyserville, 707-857-2777).
River’s End Restaurant & Inn
Perched on a bluff, River’s End (11048 Coast Highway 1, Jenner,707-865-2484) truly offers a one-of-a-kind location, overlooking the mouth of the Russian River as it enters the Pacific Ocean. Sunsets are typically spectacular.
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
It's a hike to the top, but on a clear day, the views from the Bald Mountain summit are magnificent. Often you can see the Sierra to the east, San Francisco Bay and Mount Diablo to the south, Mount Tamalpais to the southwest, the coastal range and the Pacific to the west, and Mount Saint Helena to the north. In addition to its 25 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park (2605 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood, 707-833-5712) includes 47 campsites and a 40-inch telescope at the Robert Ferguson Observatory.