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Discover Amazing Art in Sonoma County: 3-Day Itinerary

Bill Gittins paints during the annual Sonoma County Art Trails open studio tour.

Sonoma County has been a magnet for artists and art connoisseurs for many decades. During the 1950s artists from San Francisco began moving north lured by lower rents and more space, setting up studios in old barns and chicken coops.

In the 1960s, and even earlier, creative types from all over came for a freer lifestyle, establishing artist colonies and communes — some are still in existence today.

The sheer inspirational beauty, open space, and creative ambience continue to draw people here today. The artist census includes everyone from “weekend painters and potters,” to emerging artists, professional artists, and those with international recognition. From casual art lovers to sophisticated art collectors, Sonoma County has something for everyone.

With such an abundance of art and creativity and so many choices, where to begin? This broad-brushstroke plan for exploring the art scene in Sonoma County is just one of many possibilities. Check our Sonoma County calendar of events for upcoming or annual art events such as Art Trails or find a Guide to current art exhibits here.

Begin your artistic tour in the relaxed and artistic little town of Sebastopol, at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts (282 S. High St., 707-829-4797). Serving the greater Bay Area, this vibrant regional art center has been the hub of art activities of all types for over 25 years. 

Changing art exhibitions in three galleries feature work by local, regional, national, and international artists. The SCA also offers robust programs in performing, literary, and film arts, as well as classes for kids and adults, and they provide information about other art related activities in the area.

Then take a walking tour of Main Street to see murals, interesting shops (herbs, rocks, one-of-a-kind jewelry, art supplies, bookstores), and art galleries. The Sebastopol Gallery (150 N. Main St., 707-829-7200) features fine art and crafts by Sonoma County artists in a variety of media including paintings, prints, ceramics, woodwork, glass, metal, and photography.

Be sure to admire the Coyote and the Sonoma Coast mural at the corner of Main and  McKinley streets. If you’re hungry for lunch, grab a table at the East/West Café (128 N. Main St., 707-829-2822), where the art displayed on the walls could very well have been created by one of the locals sitting at a nearby table.

Now it’s time to get in your car to continue your art tour. Begin by driving west on Bodega Avenue (Highway 12), then turn right on Florence Avenue to see whimsical outdoor sculptures by Patrick Amiot and his wife, Brigitte Laurent. Their work can be seen throughout Sebastopol, but most profusely here on Florence Avenue, where numerous sculptures sprout in front yards up and down the street. Drive carefully, it is a neighborhood.

When you get to the end of Florence Avenue, turn left onto Highway 116. Go west about three miles and turn left at Graton Road where you will find the artists’ enclave of Graton.

Park in town and visit Graton Gallery (9048 Graton Road, 707-829-8912). Featuring work by member and guest artists, it was voted the 2013 Best Art Gallery in Sonoma County by the Press Democrat's readers’ poll. Then browse the antique stores and, if you're hungry, have a snack at Willow Wood Market Café (9020 Graton Road, 707-823-0233), which displays work by local artists.

Stop by Dutton-Goldfield Winery (3100 Gravenstein Highway N., 707-823-3887) for a bit of wine tasting and to view their current art exhibit. Then continue back toward Sebastopol and stop at RiskPress Gallery (7345 Healdsburg Ave., 707-829-1224) where you’re likely to find an inspiring art exhibition.

A good central choice for lodging is the Sebastopol  Inn (6751 Sebastopol Ave., 800-653-1082). Have dinner at one of the nearby restaurants. If you're up for some after-hours entertainment, check what's happening at the Sebastopol Community Center, Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Main Stage West, Hopmonk Tavern, or Rialto Cinemas.

From Sebastopol to Santa Rosa

In the morning, walk over to Coffee Catz (6761 Sebastopol Ave., 707-829-6600), a unique and colorful Bohemian café located in Gravenstein Station. The place is an artwork in itself.

After a light breakfast, walk across the street to The Barlow. This is the new up-and-coming food, wine, and art district, where you can browse fascinating shops, admire the edible landscaping, and of course, see art.

An excellent starting place is C14 Contemporary Arts (6780 Depot St., Suite 100, 707-827-3020). The gallery presents changing exhibitions of stimulating, thematic art shows in a variety of media and genres. The original work by Bay Area artists is carefully chosen for depth, excellence, and masterful craftsmanship.

Then stop in at the Tibetan Gallery & Studio (6770 McKinley St., Suite 130, 707-509-3777) which is run by Tibetan master artist, Tashi Dhargyal. Visitors can view Tashi working on a huge thangka (Buddhist scroll painting) using traditional Tibetan methods that include hand-ground mineral pigments, and 24k gold on a prepared canvas. The work-in-progress is two stories high and is expected to take nearly four years to complete.

For more art-in-the-making, peek in at Bronze Plus Art Foundry (6790 Depot St., 707-829-0716). This working foundry has been casting bronze sculpture since 1989, and if you’re lucky you may be able to catch a glimpse of the process.

If it’s time for a snack or a caffeine lift, possibilities at The Barlow include Taylor Made Farms, the Village Bakery, or, for something different, try some yerba mate at the Guayaki Mate Café.

Now it’s on to Santa Rosa, about a 15 minute drive east on Highway 12. Santa Rosa offers an eclectic mix of art experiences with museums, galleries, and outdoor sculptures. On the West side of town is the authentic and charming Historic Railroad Square. You can have lunch or stroll around the square, stopping in at boutiques, galleries, and antiques shops.

Keep an eye out for statues of Peanuts comic strip characters, including a bronze sculpture of Charlie Brown and Snoppy (see photo) in Depot Park near the California Welcome Center (9 Fourth St., 707-577-8674), which is located in the old train depot. The depot was used in the filming of Alfred Hitchcock’s, Shadow of a Doubt.

From there you can walk or drive to the History Museum of Sonoma County (425 7th St., 707-579-1400) and the Art Museum of Sonoma County (505 B St., 707-759-1500). Formerly combined and known as the Sonoma County Museum, the two expanded into separate quarters in April 2015. The history museum occupies the early-1900s Santa Rosa post office building, while the art museum is just steps away in a renovated warehouse space. Together the two museums celebrate and interpret the region's rich history, art, and culture with exhibitions of local, regional, and international subjects.

Then slightly north and west of downtown is the Charles M. Schulz Museum (2301 Hardies Lane, 707-579-4452). This museum and research center is dedicated to the life and work of the internationally famous artist, Charles M. Schulz, and is a highlight for Peanuts fans the world over. 

On the south side of downtown is the SOFA Arts District (see photo), a vibrant artist’s community at the intersection of Sebastopol Avenue and South A Street. You’ll find cafes, bakeries, live theater, artist’s studios, and galleries, including Gallery 300 (300 South A St., 707-332-1212) and Chroma Gallery (312 S. A St., 707-293-6051), as well as The Spinster Sisters restaurant (401 S. A St., 707-528-7100), which displays quality art as well as providing tasty food.

If time allows, take a drive to Paradise Ridge Winery (4545 Thomas Lake Harris Drive, 707-528-9463) for sunset views, wine tasting, and fabulous outdoor sculptures in a stunning natural setting of meadows and oak groves, in the historic Fountaingrove neighborhood in northwest Santa Rosa.

You'll find another stunning sculpture garden at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts (50 Mark West Springs Road, 707-527-7006). The garden opened to the public in June 2015 with a two-year exhibit of 16 massive wood sculptures made from salvaged old-growth redwood and metal by acclaimed sculptor Bruce Johnson. Art and nature lovers can walk through, touch, climb, sit on, or simple admire these stunning pieces, set in natural landscape carefully designed to enhance their beauty and impact.

The sculpture garden is just a starting point—the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts property is dotted with outdoor artwork by national and international artists; check the center’s website for descriptions and a  map of current exhibits. With advance reservations (707-800-7512), you can take a docent-led tour of all the center's artwork, including the redwood pieces in the new sculpture garden. 

Stay locally in Santa Rosa at the Fountaingrove Inn (101 Fountaingrove Parkway, 800-222-6101) or at Vintners Inn (4350 Barnes Road, 707-527-7687). Both have amazing onsite restaurants and promise a relaxing stay.

For something a bit different, head north to Windsor and check into the Hampton Inn & Suites – Windsor (8937 Brooks Road, 707-837-9355)

Healdsburg

After breakfast, head about 15 miles north on Highway 101 to the riverside town of Healdsburg. Or, if you want a bit of art with your breakfast goodies and can wait until you get to Healdsburg, Flying Goat Coffee (324 Center St., 707-433-9081) prepares great coffee and baked goods, with art on the walls.

Today your art tour begins with a walk along the Foss Creek PathwaySculpture Trail, west of the Plaza. Follow the easy trail near the railroad tracks to appreciate the 10 sculptures and seven art benches installed along the pathway.

Besides outstanding eateries, Healdsburg is home to a wealth of art galleries, many within walking distance of the Plaza. Pick up a copy of the Healdsburg Gallery Guide for a complete listing and a map, but here's a quick sampling.

Start near the Northwest corner of the Plaza at Christopher Hill Gallery (326 Healdsburg Ave., 707-395-4646) which features more than 40 world-renowned and award-winning artists working in various contemporary styles.

Next is Erickson Fine Art Gallery (324 Healdsburg Ave., 707-431-7073) showing paintings and sculpture by local and internationally known artists, with mobiles hanging from the two-story ceiling, and a sculpture garden.

Walk east along Plaza Street to peruse chic stores and galleries on your way to Healdsburg Center for the Arts (130 Plaza St., 707-431-1970), to connect to the Healdsburg art community, HCA hosts art exhibitions by local artists, classes for children and adults, and produces community arts events, including an annual Healdsburg Art Festival each fall..

On the east side of the Plaza is the Upstairs Art Gallery (306 Center St., 707-431-4214), owned and operated by local artists. Here you'll find an impressive variety of affordable, original artworks in all mediums.

From there it’s worth going two blocks South to the end of Center Street where Hammerfriar Gallery (132 Mill St., Suite 101, 707-473-9600) is located. The gallery is dedicated to exhibiting contemporary art with a vision, and features artwork by established and emerging Bay Area conceptual artists who work in various media including performance and installation art.

And in a unique World War II Quonset hut located a half block from the Plaza, you'll find the largest single-floor gallery in California, the 222 Paul Mahder Gallery (222 Healdsburg Ave., 707-473-9150). The 8,500-square-foot gallery represents contemporary artists from Northern California, throughout the United States, and worldwide.

The wonderful thing about taking an art tour in Sonoma County is that it easily combines with other interests, such as outdoor activities, gourmet dining, wine/beer tasting, and performing arts.

Check our

Check our Calendar of Events for current shows, special events, and seasonal festivals. And don’t forget that you can always come back and do the tour again because the art shows are always changing.

Extended stay:

If you have the time, be sure to explore the towns of Geyserville and Cloverdale, located about 10 to 15 minutes north of Healdsburg, and the joint Sculpture Trail found in each of them. This year-round outdoor exhibit features about 35 large-scale sculptures, and the displays change every 12 months. Trail maps are available in the chamber of commerce and several stores in each town, or you can download the maps online.

The Cloverdale Arts Alliance gallery (116 E. 1st St., Cloverdale, 707-894-4410) exhibits a wide variety of original artwork by the resident artists and invited guests, with shows changing every other month. The alliance also hosts concerts and classes, and is one of the sponsors of the Sculpture Trail.

While you're in Cloverdale, check out the Towers Gallery (240 N. Cloverdale Blvd., Suite 2, 707-894-4331) offering two- and three-dimensional fine art and antiques in a mid-Eighteenth Century Victorian, and the Gould-Shaw House Museum (215 N. Cloverdale Blvd., 707-894-2067), operated by the Cloverdale History Center and featuring Victorian rooms decorated as they would have been at the turn of the 20th century, as well as native Pomo art and artifacts, and displays of old farm equipment.

Sonoma County also boasts a number of monthly art walks organized by galleries and artists, and several more public sculpture gardens; for details see Walking to Art in Sonoma County.

Written by Sonoma Insider Satri Pencak