Discover Amazing Art in Sonoma County: 3-Day Itinerary
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.
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. Look for upcoming or annual art events in our Sonoma County Calendar of Events.
Begin your artistic tour in the relaxed and artistic little town of Sebastopol, at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. 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 center 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 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, 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. 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, which displays work by local artists.
When you're ready to find a place to spend the night, a good central choice for lodging is the Sebastopol Inn. Have dinner at one of the nearby restaurants. If you're up for some after-hours entertainment, check what's happening at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Main Stage West, Hopmonk Tavern, or Rialto Cinemas.
In the morning, walk over to Coffee Catz, 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, a 220,000-square-foot culinary and arts center where you can browse fascinating shops, admire the edible landscaping, and, of course, see art.
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 antique shops.
From there you can walk or drive to the Museum of Sonoma County, which celebrates and interprets the region’s rich history, art, and culture with exhibitions of local, regional, and international subjects. The history displays are housed in a historic 1910 post office, the contemporary art exhibits are next door in a renovated warehouse space, and the garden next to the history department houses a sculpture garden.
Then slightly north and west of downtown is the Charles M. Schulz Museum. 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.
You can stay right in the SOFA neighborhood at The Astro Motel, a recently remodeled 34-room retro lodge that caters to bicyclists and folks attracted to a hand-crafted, mid-century-modern, urban oasis.
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 prepares great coffee and baked goods, with art on the walls.
Besides outstanding eateries, Healdsburg is home to a wealth of art galleries, many within walking distance of the Plaza. Start at Erickson Fine Art Gallery, which features paintings and sculpture by local and internationally known artists, with mobiles hanging from the two-story ceiling, and a sculpture garden.
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 Calendar of Events and our Guide to Current Art Exhibits and Events in Sonoma County 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.
For an 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 sculpture trails found in each of them. For more details, read Following the Sculpture Trail in Northern Sonoma County.
The Cloverdale Arts Alliance gallery exhibits a variety of original artwork by the resident artists and invited guests, with shows changing every other month. The alliance also hosts concerts and classes.
While you're in Cloverdale, check out the Gould-Shaw House Museum, 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 Art Walks in Sonoma County.
Written by Sonoma Insider Satri Pencak.