group of friends drinking wine around fire pit at Farmhouse Inn in Sonoma County
Farmhouse Inn

Cruising the Back Roads of West Sonoma County

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Explore the back roads of western Sonoma County and uncover hidden gems, from Sebastopol in the south to Forestville in the north.

Also known as "West County," this area is a treasure trove of tiny towns, historic buildings, acclaimed restaurants, and enticing two-lane roadways that offer something new just around the bend.

This route will take you through three unique West County towns, and a variety of experiences others might miss while sticking to the main highways and attractions.

Unusual Outdoor Sculptures

A statue sits in the middle of the park surrounded by green grass in Cotati
La Plaza Park, Cotati

Start your adventure in Cotati (pop. 7,275), a small town in central Sonoma County with strong historic roots in agriculture and music. While Cotati offers delights of its own  among other events, it hosts an annual accordion festival and an annual music festival  for today it's the jumping-off point for your backroads adventure through West County.

From U.S. Route 101 in Cotati, follow Route 116W  for about nine miles, to the highly diverse town of Sebastopol (pop. 7,379). Its charming downtown is located along Route 116, and houses an eclectic collection of unique shops, restaurants, galleries, and more. About a half-mile northeast of downtown, you'll find more shops, tasting rooms, and eateries in the park-like 12.5-acre business center known as The Barlow (from Route 116W, turn right on McKinley Street).

sculpture by Patrick Amiot in Sonoma County
Florence Avenue

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Sebastopol is a unique display of artwork crafted from colorful metal pieces old cars, one-time cookware, discarded radiators and pipes, and aluminum trash cans. You'll find this unusual outdoor gallery on Florence Avenue, a small residential street. From The Barlow, head west on McKinley; left back onto Route 116; then right (west) on Bodega Avenue; and finally right onto Florence Avenue.

Here you'll find whimsical sculptures by artists and Florence Avenue residents Patrick Amiot and Brigitt Laurent on the lawns of tidy-looking homes along a three-block section of this street. Park your car and walk around; you can't miss these oversized pieces, such as those depicting a train, fire engine, an overworked waitress, a mermaid, and more.

When you're finished checking out the artwork, continue north on Florence Avenue and turn left onto Healdsburg Avenue, which puts you back on 116W.

From Wine to Butterflies, and More

Red flowers bloom in front of a hill of green vineyards in the summer in Sonoma County
Iron Horse Vineyards, Green Valley

Next stop is the village of Graton (pop. 1,707). Less than five miles away, it lies in the heart of Green Valley.

One of the smallest appellations in Sonoma County, the Green Valley wine region is home to excellent wineries open to the public, including DeLoach VineyardsDutton Estate, Iron Horse Vineyards, and Marimar Estate. For more ideas, check our Guide to Wine Tasting in Graton.

To find Graton's tiny business district, turn left from 116W onto Graton Road. You'll know you're there when you see a late 19th- and early 20th-century collection of handsome and historic wooden buildings that now hold art galleries, restaurants, and a wonderful combination general store and cafe, Willow Wood, that has managed to keep up with the times without losing its old-fashioned flair. For a tiny town, Graton has a number of highlights  the readers of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat voted the Graton Gallery as 2013's "Best Art Gallery in Sonoma County," and Food and Wine magazine cited Graton's Underwood Bar & Bistro as No. 4 of "America's 50 Most Amazing Wine Experiences."

A black bee clings on to a blooming pink flower in the garden in Sonoma County
Hallberg Butterfly Gardens

One of Graton's unique attractions is Hallberg Butterfly Gardens, a non-profit wildlife sanctuary offering nine acres of meadows, trees, flowers, and dense thickets, all of which provide habitat and food for more than 40 species of butterflies. Among the beauties seen here: Gray Hairstreak, Pipevine Swallowtail, Purplish Coppers, Painted Ladies, Uncas Skipper, and Monarchs.

Small-town Charms

Crs drive down the cute main street lined with American flags in Forestville, Sonoma County
Front Street, Forestville

Back on Highway 116 West, you'll travel less than four miles to the next stop: the three blocks of Forestville (pop. 3,293). It's an unpretentious, blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of place - but if you blink you'll miss out on some dandy discoveries in and around town.

Eateries, for example. Backyard features the best of local ingredients prepared in a rustic blend of California-meets-the-Med. Nightingale Breads specializes in European-style breads baked in a wood-fired oven. Twist Eatery dishes up superbly fresh, imaginative food in a small but exceedingly charming spot. And don't miss Tiny Town Cafe, a popular local coffee shop.

And just outside town, set amidst woods and vineyards, is the one-star Michelin restaurant at the Farmhouse Inn (which was also voted No. 9 among the Top Resort Hotels in California by Travel and Leisure readers).

Dining at Russian River Vineyards in Forestville in Sonoma County
Russian River Vineyards

Also outside town is Russian River Vineyards, open for tasting daily. The property has a rich history as a family farm and winery dating back to the 1890s. Sweeping vineyard views and a laid-back atmosphere relax and immerse you in the good life. In nice weather, which is most of the time, tasting is in the lushly-flowered garden. And of course, there's always the newly renovated tasting lounge. 

And, last but certainly not least on your back roads adventure, Forestville is where you'll find Steelhead Beach Regional Park. The beach has an intact ecosystem running beside the Russian River, giving you the chance to see unique riparian plants and river wildlife.

Transportation Options

A person rides a mountain bike on a paved path surrouned by trees in Sonoma County
West County Regional Trail

This wraps up your back-roads exploration of West County, but there is an alternative to bear in mind. The West County Regional Trail a flat and paved 5.57-mile walking/biking trail — runs between Forestville and Sebastopol (and vice versa). If you'd rather leave the car behind and get some exercise, you could take this tour on foot or on wheels, and enjoy great wildlife sightings and natural beauty as you go.