Discover Amazing Art in Sonoma County: 3-Day Itinerary
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.
The sheer inspirational beauty, open space, and creative ambiance 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.
When you're ready to find a place to spend the night, 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.
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, a 220,000-square-foot cluinary and arts center where you can browse fascinating shops, admire the edible landscaping, and, of course, see art.
Gallery 300 (6780 McKinley St., #130, 707-332-1212) presents traditional, modern, and functional art by local painters, a milner, and other artisans in a casual setting that includes two on-premise studios. It's a space designed to see art, meet the makers, and feel comfortable.
If it’s time for a snack or a caffeine lift, possibilities at The Barlow include Taylor Lane Organic Coffee, the Village Bakery, or, for something different, try some yerba mate at the Guayaki Yerba Mate Café. For other options, read Get to Know The Barlow Culinary and Arts Center.
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.
Keep an eye out for statues of Peanuts comic strip characters, including a bronze sculpture of Charlie Brown and Snoopy (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., 707-579-1500) and the Art Museum of Sonoma County (505 B St., 707-579-1500). 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 Backstreet Studios Gallery (461 Sebastopol Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-303-5925) and Santa Rosa Arts Center (312 S. A St., 707-526-0135), as well as The Spinster Sisters restaurant (401 S. A St., 707-528-7100), which displays quality art as well as providing tasty food.
You can stay right in the SOFA neighborhood at The Astro Motel (323 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-200-4655), a recently remodeled 34-room retro lodge that caters to bicyclists and folks attracted to a hand-crafted, mid-century-modern, urban oasis.
Not too far away, you'll find the Vintners Inn (4350 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, 707-566-2604), a 44-room luxury hotel that includes the legendary John Ash & Co. restaurant, and the Hilton Garden Inn – Sonoma County Airport (417 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa, 707-545-0444), offering comfortable and spacious guestrooms, and its onsite restaurant serves casual, freshly-prepared American cuisine. For something a bit different, head north to Windsor and check into the Hampton Inn & Suites – Windsor (8937 Brooks Road, Windsor, 707-837-9355).
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 Pathway Sculpture 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. Start at Erickson Fine Art Gallery (324 Healdsburg Ave., 707-431-7073), which features 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 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.
This is just a quck list — for more options read Stroll From Art Gallery to Art Gallery in Healdsburg.
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 (204 N. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale, 707-894-4410) 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 (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