Discover Amazing Art in Sonoma County: 3-Day Itinerary

Nishi Marcus artwork

Sonoma County has been a magnet for artists and art connoisseurs for many decades. During the 1950s, San Francisco artists 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 of which are still in existence today. 

Terry Hankings Art Trails in Sonoma County
Terry Hankins throwing a vase

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 talents, seasoned professionals, 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. Look for upcoming or annual art events in our Sonoma County Calendar of Events.

Sebastopol

A bicycle shop downtown has a sculpture of a man on a bike in Sonoma County
Downtown Sebastopol

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 since its founding in 1988. 

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 Mediterranean-inspired East/West CafĂ©, where the art displayed on the walls could very well have been created by one of the locals sitting at a nearby table.

Patrick Amiot Sculpture in Sonoma County
Sculpture by Patrick Amiot

Now it’s time to jump 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 husband-and-wife team Patrick Amiot and 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, as this is a residential 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.

Graton

A sidewalk in Graton in front of the gallery is lined with flowers in Sonoma County
Graton Gallery

Park in town and visit Graton Gallery, which features work by member and guest artists, all from California. Then browse the antique stores here, and if you’re hungry, have a snack at Willow Wood Market CafĂ©, which displays work by local artists. 

For a bit of wine tasting, stop by the adjacent Bowman Cellars, where the tasting room lighting and decor is largely hand-crafted by the winemaker’s father, and the nearby Dutton-Goldfield Winery, which always features an art exhibit. 

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, and 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.

Sebastopol

Signs for stores at the shopping center hang over the street in Sonoma County
The Barlow

In the morning, walk over to Coffee Catz, a unique and colorful Bohemian cafĂ© 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. 

Gallery 300 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. Lori Austin Gallery features works by Bay Area and national artists, as well as a premier collection of contemporary Shona sculpture from Zimbabwe.

If it’s time for a snack or a caffeine lift, possibilities at The Barlow include Taylor Lane Coffee. For many other options, read Get to Know The Barlow Culinary and Arts Center.

Santa Rosa

A sculpture of a Peanuts character on the corner of a street in Sonoma County
Railroad Square

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 Santa Rosa Visitor Center/California Welcome Center, 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 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. 

A sign for the SOFA district outside of a gallery in Sonoma County
SOFA Arts District

On the south side of downtown is the SOFA Arts District, 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 the Santa Rosa Arts Center, as well as The Spinster Sisters restaurant, which displays quality art as well as preparing deliciously tasty food.

You can stay right in the SOFA neighborhood at The Astro Motel, a 34-room retro-restyled motor lodge that caters both to bicyclists and folks seeking a cheerful, Midcentury modern, and urban oasis. 

A few miles north, you’ll find the Vintners Resort, a luxury hotel that includes the legendary John Ash & Co. restaurant; and the Hilton Garden Inn – Sonoma County Airport, which offers comfortable and spacious guestrooms, and an onsite restaurant serving casual, freshly-prepared American cuisine. For something a bit different, head just a bit father north to Windsor and check into the Hampton Inn & Suites – Windsor

Healdsburg

The gazebo in the plaza is surrounded by trees
Healdsburg Plaza

After breakfast, head to the riverside town of Healdsburg, roughly 15 miles north of Santa Rosa on Highway 101. Today your art tour begins with a walk west of the historic Healdsburg Plaza (which dates to 1857), along the Foss Creek Pathway Sculpture Trail. Follow this easy trail beside former 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, which features paintings and sculpture by local and internationally known artists, with mobiles hanging from the two-story ceiling, and a sculpture garden.

conversation between three people at Healdsburg Center for the Arts in Sonoma County
Healdsburg Center for the Arts

Walk east along Plaza Street to peruse chic stores and galleries on your way to Healdsburg Center for the Arts, 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, 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 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. 

Paintings in Paul Mahder Gallery in Sonoma County
Paul Mahder Gallery

And a half block from the Plaza, in a genuine World War II Quonset hut, you’ll find the largest single-floor gallery in California. The 8,500-square-foot Paul Mahder Gallery represents contemporary artists from Northern California, throughout the United States, and worldwide.

This is just a quick 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:

A metal sculpture of a sphere in Geyserville
Geyserville Sculpture Trail

If you have the time, be sure to explore the towns of Geyserville and Cloverdale, located about 10 to 15 minutes north of Healdsburg respectively, 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

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