Guide to Cycling in Sonoma County
When it comes to cycling, Sonoma County is one of the best destinations on the planet.
Other places may possess challenging routes that twist high into scenic mountains, but they lack a gorgeous ocean beside which bikers can tour for miles and miles. Some spots offer bike treks through wildlife-filled wetlands, but they probably lack meadows filled with spring wildflowers, straw-colored summer hillsides dotted with oaks, or easy trails through ranchland and vineyards along old railroad routes.
And then you get to thinking about all the other things Sonoma County's bike routes offer, and its place at the top of the bicycle destination pyramid snaps securely into place. That's thanks to meandering back-country roads, quaint villages, farm stands groaning with just-picked produce, old wooden barns, stunning ocean views, world-famous wineries, and to-die-for eateries.
Not to mention off-road trails that bring bikers through the county's astonishingly beautiful and diverse landscape. Routes so challenging that major competitive biking events, such as the Amgen Tour of California, are held here - and routes so gentle that beginning bikers or families with kids have the time of their lives pedaling about.
Here's an overview of how you can explore and enjoy Sonoma County by bicycle.
Rent A Bike or Bring Your Own
If you don't want to cart along your own bike on a visit, don't worry: you'll find plenty of bike rental companies in Sonoma County. There's even a company, BikePartners.net, that rents Bike Friday folding bikes (pop 'em in your trunk and take off to a remote location)
For other options, search our listing of bike rentals in Sonoma County.
Self-guided or Guided Bike Tours
Some people love planning their own bike tours; for them, researching the route is a big part of the fun. Others prefer leaving the route and planning to a professional cycling company.
If you're the former, skip ahead to the 'route styles' section to get some tips about planning your biking adventure in Sonoma County.
If you prefer riding with a touring company, you're in luck: Sonoma County is home to a generous support system of guided bike touring companies.
Among them are Ace It Bike Tours, Adventures in Cycling, BikePartners.net, Getaway Adventures, Sonoma on a Bike, Sonoma Valley Bike Tours, and Wine Country Bikes. For other possibilities, search our listing of all bike touring companies in Sonoma County.
Annual Biking Events
Sonoma County is home each year to dozens of biking events that appeal to everyone from casual cyclists to international competitors. Most of these events wind up with a party at the finish line, including music, great food, wine and brew, and other goodies. Most events also donate their proceeds to local charitable organizations. Here are some of the most popular yearly events:
- Sonoma County Backroad Challenge (Spring): The fun-oriented Challenge consists of four rides, from Half Metric to Century, that appeal to cyclists ranging from beginners to experienced. The 2019 events take place May 18.
- Amgen Tour of California (Spring): For seven of the last 13 years, the Amgen Tour of California - a professional cycling stage race for the UCI America Tour and the USA Cycling Professional Tour, which lasts eight days and runs between 650-700 miles - has routed through Sonoma County. The 2019 race takes place May 12-18, but will not pass through Sonoma County this year.
- Giro Bello (Summer): Four beautiful cycling routes through the wine country and redwoods, all starting and finishing at the O'Reilly Media campus in Sebastopol. After your ride, enjoy a fun Expo with live bands, food vendors, trade booths, and, of course, Lagunitas beer! Limited to the first 1,000 riders. The 2019 race takes place June 22.
- Le Tour de Fuzz (Autumn): Known as Sonoma County's funniest ride, cops - sometimes known as 'the fuzz' - come from far away to ride with non-cops. Team cyclists are welcome, or come on your own (10 percent off registration for teams of eight or more). The 2019 race is set for Sept. 14.
- Levi's GrandFondo (Autumn): Now part of the multi-day Sonoma VITA celebration, this event offers 11 different routes, ranging in length and difficulty from the 8.8-mile Family route to the steep 114-mile Growler + Willow Creek. In 2019 the weekend-long Sonoma VITA will be held Oct. 4-6, with the Levi's GrandFondo ride on Oct. 5.
For dates of upcoming events, see the Sonoma County events calendar.
Sonoma County Route Styles
Bicycling in Sonoma County is divided into four categories-although there's plenty of room in-between to suit your particular style. The four basic route styles are Family/Beginner/Easy-Going, Intermediate/Casual Touring, Winery Touring, and Gonzo:
Biking for Families, Beginners or Just Taking it Easy. Many of the county's cities and towns have bike-friendly routes, paths and parks. For example, Santa Rosa has an extensive system of trails (download a map). The walking/biking path in the town of Sonoma runs past vineyards, 1800s mansions, parks, and a museum housed in an old railroad depot; it comes within a block of the historic town plaza, which is bordered by shops, galleries, and restaurants.
Most of Sonoma County's regional and state parks contain biking trails, and some are perfectly suited for families.
One lovely place for a flat and easy peddle: Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, where you'll be fascinated by the giant trees and love the tranquil setting. It's a great place for a picnic, too.
For something a bit more adventurous, try the West County Trail, which runs between the towns of Sebastopol and Forestville. Relatively flat (it has only a few gentle climbs), it's paved throughout and offers beautiful farm and agricultural views. Get the trail map.
If you'd prefer something shorter, the Joe Rodota Trail — a segment of the West County Trail — is for you. It's paved, runs from Santa Rosa to Sebastopol on a former railroad right-of-way, and is a great place for bird watching (and scenic to boot!). Get the trail map.
Intermediate & Casual Touring. If you ride regularly and want to explore Sonoma County by bicycle, you'll find many moderate trails ranging from 20 to 50 miles.
One example is a 26-mile ride through the historic Valley of the Moon (otherwise known as Sonoma Valley). The ride begins and ends at the market in the tiny northern Sonoma Valley town of Glen Ellen. Follow back roads out of town and around Sonoma Mountain, then circle through the nearby village of Kenwood. From here there's an optional out-and-back route up Adobe Canyon Road to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park (seven miles round trip), and then follow a different route back to Glen Ellen.
Another outstanding moderate loop begins and ends in Petaluma — the 30-mile Spring Hill-Chileno Valley route. It wends along quiet back roads and through the bucolic dairy lands between Sonoma and Marin Counties; it’s very scenic.
Bicycle Winery Touring. 'Sip and Cycle' rides are extremely popular in Sonoma County, allowing you to get some good exercise and, when you feel you've earned it, stop at a winery to relax over a glass of wine. You'll also find wonderful stops along the way to linger with a picnic of fresh wine country produce, breads, pasta, olive oil, fruit, cheese and chocolates.
One of the most famous wine country bike routes in the world is the 30-mile Dry Creek Valley & Alexander Valley loop that starts and ends in Healdsburg. The scenery is breathtaking, the wineries are superb, and you'll come away with memories to last a lifetime. Find complete details for this moderate ride.
If 30 miles seems a bit much, explore a portion of the route. Lovely and easy, West Dry Creek Road has only a few rolling hills to climb; it travels past vineyards along country roads, with many wineries along the way. Another great route: Alexander Valley's Red Winery Road, between Healdsburg and Geyserville. It's quiet and peaceful, flat, carries little traffic as you roll past beautiful oak-covered hills and miles of vineyards.
Gonzo Cycling. In a county that's home to steep mountains, there are plenty of challenging bicycle routes. One of the most popular starts off in the small seaside village of Jenner and winds into mountains for a 4,500-foot elevation gain. It's a glorious ride. Find complete details for this expert ride.
Another expert ride runs along the Russian River and Pacific Ocean in a 36-mile loop from Occidental, along Highway 116 to Highway 1, south to Bodega Bay, and returning to Occidental. Highway 1 can get busy, so this ride is best done early in the morning before the traffic picks up.
To find the best place to stay, search our listings of all hotels, bed & breakfasts, vacation rentals and campgrounds in Sonoma County. Here's a quick list of a few conveniently located hotels:
Fairfield Inn and Suites, Sebastopol: Moderately priced, nicely decorated, complimentary hot/cold breakfast buffet. 24-hour fitness facility, free wireless Internet access. (1101 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol, 707-829-6677)
Farmhouse Inn: This is in the special-treat category (expensive). Located in the Russian River Valley, winner of many awards (including TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice Award as one of the top 25 small hotels in the U.S. On the premises is the Inn's Michelin-starred restaurant. (7871 River Road, Forestville, 707-887-3300)
West Sonoma Inn & Spa: This stylish, newly renovated 32-room inn and spa is situated on six acres of relaxing, sun-splashed grounds that feature majestic redwoods, picnic and gazebo recreation areas, and vineyard views, all within walking distance of the Russian River. Family friendly, complimentary breakfast, fireplaces in rooms. (14100 Brookside Lane, Guerneville, 707-869-2874)
Hampton Inn & Suites - Windsor: Nestled between Healdsburg and Santa Rosa, this Hampton Inn & Suites provides a complimentary hot and hearty breakfast including make your own waffles. Relax by the outdoor pool or hot tub, or exercise in the fitness center. (8937 Brooks Road, Windsor, 707-837-9355)
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez