Surrounded by apple orchards and vineyards, and only 15 miles from both the Pacific Ocean and the Russian River, the western Sonoma County town of Sebastopol is chock-full of surprises.
Upon first encountering this small community, most people use words like charming, friendly, homey, old-fashioned. But as they walk around and explore, words such as unique, amazing, and wow tend to be added to the mix.
That’s just the way Sebastopol is. The more you spend time here, the more you realize the place holds a diversity of attractions that are rare in such a small community. You can dine on a delicious down-home burger or house-made Boudin Blanc sausages or grilled salmon that came off the boat an hour or two ago.
You can shop for cutting-edge art or rare antiques, or take in the unusual street art. Taste at local boutique wineries, where your pourer may be the winemaker. Pick your own apples or visit local farms. Take a cooking class or play a round of golf. Go hiking or biking. And above all: hunker down in a beautiful spot and unpack a sumptuous picnic put together from the farmers market, your favorite winery discovery, and local artisan food shops.
Or try one of these fun activities:
Tour Florence Avenue’s Trash Art: Some of the most imaginative sculpture you’ll ever see decorates the front yards of homes on Sebastopol’s three-block-long Florence Avenue.
These works are imaginative, colorful, made from recycled trash, and depict playful, oversized figures that would fit right into a zany 1950s cartoon. You’ll see a rat at the wheel of a hot rod, a tea-sipping Mad Hatter, a joy-riding skeleton on a chopper, giant birds, and many more.
The works were jointly created by Sebastopol couple Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent (he makes the sculptures; she bestows the bright-hued paint). It all started back in 2001, when Amiot placed a large sculptural piece that he’d made for fun — an outsize fisherman fashioned from an old water heater — on his front lawn.
Neighbors loved it and wanted their own, which is why nearly every Florence Avenue front yard now sports at least one sculpture by the couple. So do quite a few local businesses. Visit the Amiot/Laurent website to learn more.
Explore The Barlow: A 220,000-square-foot culinary and arts center, The Barlow features architecture that pays modernistic homage to the picturesque apple canneries that once resided here. The attractive buildings in this park-like setting house one-of-a-kind tenants.
You'll find tasting rooms (for Friedeman, MacPhail, and Pax wineries; Spirit Works Distillery; and Crooked Goat and Woodfour brewing companies); award-winning Zazu Kitchen + Farm and other eateries (Woodfour has a fab pub menu); arts destinations such as The Passdoor (functional products/artworks for the home); and a good many more homeware and clothing shops.
Get Outdoors at Laguna de Santa Rosa: Explore the nearby 254-square-mile Laguna de Santa Rosa. A tributary of the Russian River, and the county’s largest freshwater wetlands complex, it’s a beautiful mosaic of creeks, open water, perennial marshes, riparian forests, seasonal wetlands, oak woodlands, and grasslands.
A vitally important stopover destination for migrating birds, it’s also a permanent home to numerous mammal, fish, bird, and plant species. Hike or bike the 1.8-mile multi-use trail or try the 2-mile Laguna Wetlands Preserve trail, which is open to hikers and wheelchairs, but not bikes.
Visit the West County Museum. Housed in a beautifully restored 1917 railway depot designed by architect Brainerd Jones and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the West County Museum delves into the history of western Sonoma County. Exhibits change throughout the year, exploring such topics as movies filmed in the county, collections of historic toys, or historic Pomo Indian artifacts.
The museum also administers the nearby Luther Burbank's Experiment Farm, where the famed horticulturist developed many fruits, flowers, vegetables and grains still enjoyed today. Visit the farm and take a self-guided or docent-led tour. Three acres remain from the original 15-acre farm, which was purchased by Burbank in 1885; also remaining: the barn, caretaker’s cottage, and many living specimens of Burbank’s work. For more details, read "Visit Luther Burbank's Experiment Farm."
Pursue the Gravenstein Apple: Sebastopol is famous for its apples — particularly the Gravenstein. First planted here in 1811 by Russian explorers, the super-delicious, super-versatile Grav is perfect for apple pies, applesauce, baking, cooking, or just plain munching.
However, soft skin means it can’t be shipped great distances. So if you want to understand what’s so special about these apples, Sonoma County is the No. 1 place on the planet to find out.
In summer, from late July to approximately mid-August, you’ll find fresh Sebastopol Gravensteins at farmers markets and in grocery stores featuring local produce.
Many farm-to-table restaurants around that time put Grav items on the menu (whatever you do, don’t turn down a fresh slice of Gravenstein apple pie!). Also, it’s fun to travel back roads to a farm where you can pick your own Gravensteins, or any of the delectable varieties grown in Sonoma County; Sonoma County Farm Trails lists the many farms that are open to visitors. And in August, the annual Gravenstein Apple Fair is an absolute must.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.