Off the Beaten Path Road Trip in Sonoma County
When people think Sonoma County, they likely think savoring wine, sampling farm-to-table food, and experiencing natural wonders like the rugged Northern California coastline. These are central to Sonoma County. However, venturing off the beaten path in Sonoma County also brings with it exceptional experiences you can’t just have anywhere.
It’s not just anywhere that you can picnic with farm-fresh foods under the cover of a redwood grove. Or, better yet, zipline through redwood forests. And it’s not just anywhere that you can go on a safari. All of this, and much more, is possible in Sonoma County.
Read on for a unique off-the-beaten path itinerary in Sonoma County.
Stretch your legs and your sense of adventure at Sonoma Canopy Tours in the uber-charming town of Occidental. Zipping through redwoods, you’ll get up close and personal with some of the tallest, and oldest, living things you’ll ever meet, such as Walter, the oldest tree on the grounds, which is believed to be more than 800 years old. Zipping from platform to platform amidst redwood trees, and all while just miles from both vineyards and the Pacific Ocean, is a uniquely Sonoma County adventure.
Before leaving Occidental, don't miss Wild Flour Bread, which has been well regarded for their bread for nearly 30 years in Sonoma County. Grab a coffee and a loaf of bread for snacking throughout your trip, or enjoy one of their many scones, which changes daily. From Occidental, drive the Sonoma County backroads through Forestville and into Guerneville, where you’ll want to pop into Big Bottom Market to grab all you’ll need for a picnic in the woods. Artisanal sandwiches (many named after redwood trees you will soon encounter), their famous biscuits, and organic freshly prepared salads are just a few of the headliners at Big Bottom Market.
Pack your lunch from Big Bottom Market for a stroll nearby at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, an awe-inspiring California state park filled with towering redwood trees. On the path to an ideal picnic spot, encounter a few trees that merit special recognition, including Colonel Armstrong, the oldest tree in the park, and others like Parson Jones, which are as tall as a football field is long. For your picnic, choose from the expansive picnic grounds at the floor of the forest or veer down the trail to the Redwood Forest Theater, where you’ll find bench seating.
Refreshed from breathing in the fresh air of the redwood forest, head back into the town of Guerneville to check into AutoCamp, your glamping retreat. Autocamp’s modern Airstream accommodations are equipped with the luxuries of a resort stay, such as spa bath amenities, walk-in showers, and plush Casper mattresses. Take a stroll through their property and enjoy amenities like communal lounge areas, indoor and outdoor fire pits (plus private fire pits at each camp suite), hammocks, bicycles, and a plethora of games and activities to choose from. Autocamp offers morning coffee and light breakfast pastries, while their canteen is full of snacks, local beer and wine, and items for grilling at your campsite.
If the Airstream glamping experience isn’t quite your style, check out nearby boon hotel + spa, a modern 14-room boutique hotel just minutes from Armstrong Redwoods. Boon’s zen-like woodland retreat is designed to transport you from reality to a little piece of paradise. Unique touches include an honor bar for mixing your own drink, a solar-heated saline pool to lounge by, lawn games to enjoy while sipping a glass of local wine, and an on-site spa to treat yourself at. Boon invites you to take a ride to town on one of their orange cruisers, or simply stay cuddled up in bed listening to vintage vinyl on your in-room turntable.
Once you’ve checked in and had a chance to explore your accommodations, take a short walk, bike ride or drive back into downtown Guerneville for dinner. Keep your dinner selection in the Boon family with your choice of boon eat + drink, El Barrio, or BROT. At boon eat + drink, you’ll find a modern California bistro with tasty small plates, salads, and fresh seasonal main dishes that feature the best of Sonoma County’s bounty, all paired with Russian River wines and local craft beer. El Barrio is characterized by a Mexican-inspired atmosphere that offers upscale bites, such as Queso Fundido and unique tamale creations, paired with artisanal mezcal and tequila. Rounding out the trio of restaurants, BROT specializes in authentic German dishes, to be accompanied with local and imported German beers in a rustic, Bavarian-style space.
Top off the evening with a sweet treat from Chile Pies Baking Co and Nimble and Finns, located in the Guerneville Bank Club, where you can see the inside workings of a bank vault as you explore the delectable menu of unique pie and ice cream creations. Made from scratch every day, Chile Pies' signature green chile apple pie is made with a sweet apple & green chile filling, cheddar cheese crust, and walnut streusel. Another delicious sweet treat is their take on the classic milkshake, with a piece of pie that they blend with ice cream and milk.
Return to your oasis in the Redwood River Valley and rest your body and mind in preparation for a second day of off-the-beaten path adventure in Sonoma County.
Start your morning with fresh-baked breads and goodies, plant-based options, and savory scones to take on the go at Baked on the River. Or, sit and indulge with hearty breakfast plates like the Early Bird with eggs, ham and cheese on a buttered sandwich or on a bed of greens.
Refueled and ready to take on the day, head out of Guerneville east cruising through redwoods, past vineyards, and along the Russian River toward Safari West. Yes, that’s a safari as in giraffes, zebras, and scores of other African wildlife. At Safari West, go on safari and explore the Sonoma Serengeti, nestled on 400 rolling acres in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains. Climb aboard one of the custom safari vehicles and journey out in search of herds of wildebeest, towering giraffes, ring-tailed lemurs, dazzling zebra, marvelous megafauna, and nearly 900 animals from more than 90 unique species. Your expert guide will track down the nimble impala, imposing cape buffalo and maybe even a few hulking rhinos.
Once you disembark your safari truck, explore on foot with a saunter through the Amani Oasis Aviary where demoiselle cranes preen along the path, scarlet ibis soar overhead, and you might come face-to-face with a black-and-white colobus monkey as you search out a cleverly camouflaged cheetah and watch the courtly parade of flamingos around their lagoon home.
While it’s hard to beat a safari, more Sonoma County off-the-beaten path experiences await. Making your way back west, do your own self-guided wine tour. Enjoy Woodenhead's newest releases while sitting on their tasting room deck overlooking the Russian River Valley. Continue west to Porter Creek Vineyards, a small, rustic family winery in the Russian River Valley. The theme of redwoods continues at Porter Creek, with their tasting room that was built with hand-cut redwood beams. Their warm staff will greet you with Chardonnay, before walking you through their flagship wines during a seated tasting. Just be sure to make an appointment ahead of time.
In downtown Guerneville, there’s Equality Vines, dubbed as the “first cause wine portfolio,” dedicated to equality for all people. Equality Vines presents limited-release, premium wines to benefit organizations that are working for equality. For those who are beer drinkers, or who may just want a break from wine, stop into Stumptown Brewery, which is located directly on the Russian River. Order one of their fresh brews at the bar, and then head out to their expansive deck that overlooks the river.
For dinner, stay nearby with local spots like Main Street Bistro. While a variety of dishes, including fresh seafood, pasta, and specialty pizzas characterize the menu, the headliner is live music. Jazz, blues, and folk music fills the casual dining room most nights, while weekends see Cabaret Dinner Shows.
Alternatively, before heading back to your Guerneville accommodations for the night, explore the culinary delights of nearby small towns like Forestville or Graton. At Backyard, in Forestville, experience California-inspired dishes that spotlight local ranchers and farmers, all in a rustic hacienda setting. This is California comfort food at its best, with items like several different types of barbecue and fried chicken dishes, all served with homemade biscuits. Similarly, enjoy new takes on comfort food at Willow Wood Market Cafe in Graton, with dishes like chicken pot pie, meatloaf, and Italian meatballs. Or, belly up to the bar across the street at classic Sonoma County restaurant, Underwood Bar & Bistro. Highlights include the pork osso bucco, flat iron steak frites, local oysters, and the grilled burger.
Looking for more accommodation options? Find details about Guerneville hotels and lodging.
Ready for your last day of adventure, wind your way to Healdsburg, stopping into the Dry Creek General Store, a Sonoma County establishment since 1881. Choose from house-baked pastries, bagels, breakfast burritos, and sandwiches. Take it for the road, or sit on the general store’s front porch, overlooking the sprawling Dry Creek Valley vineyards.
Dry Creek General Store is where you will meet up with your Getaway Adventures guide who will help you burn off breakfast with a leisurely bike ride through vineyards. Your Sip and Cycle guide will take you to three unique, off-the-beaten path wineries, plus keep you nourished with lunch from a local eatery. Along the journey, grab a bottle of two of wine to go.
For a little R&R before heading home, meander down Dry Creek Road to Lake Sonoma, taking in the beautiful views at Lake Sonoma Overlook or Lake Sonoma Bridge Viewpoint. If you’re still feeling adventurous, rent a kayak at the Lake Sonoma Marina, or, enjoy a short horse ride above the lake at The Ranch at Lake Sonoma.
As you drive back down Dry Creek Road, take the left on Canyon Road to the small, charming town of Geyserville. Peruse the western wear of Bosworth and Son General Mercantile, which dates back to the early 1900s, and pop into a couple of the tasting rooms like Mercury Wine. Mercury Wine, coming from Brad Grady, specializes in Bordeaux blends and unique small lot wines. For something particularly special, pick up a bottle of their Black Bubbles, which is a rare sparkling wine made from Petite Sirah. Top your trip off with lunch in the backyard of Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria. May we suggest any one of their wood-fired pizzas, or the gnocchi.
As you head out of Geyserville toward the 101, snap a few photos of the Geyserville Sculpture Trail.