Highlights of the Rivers & Redwoods - West County Tour Itinerary
Western Sonoma County offers its visitors a delightful mix of rolling hills, vineyards, redwood trees, charming small-town main streets, fine wines, farm-to-table delights, and the slow and scenic Russian River.
For those who want to investigate this enchanting Redwoods & Rivers area, here are suggestions for a one-day itinerary, with options for a second or third day of exploration.
Unique Feature: The Russian River
Winding its way majestically through Sonoma County until it reaches the coastline at Jenner, the Russian River is a southward-flowing waterway that drains 1,485 square miles of Sonoma and Mendocino counties. It is the second largest river (after the Sacramento River) flowing through the nine-county Greater San Francisco Bay Area, and provides many opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, wading, swimming, fishing, hiking, bird watching or just soaking up sun on a sandy beach.
A vacation destination since the 1870s (when visitors came by train), this area is home to the Russian River Valley wine-growing region. In addition to other grape varietals, it produces world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines; its wineries vary in size from small boutiques to large commercial producers.
Begin the day wandering the historical town of Duncans Mills. Nestled among the redwoods and vineyards just four miles inland from the Pacific Coast, Duncans Mills was named for two brothers, Samuel and Alexander Duncan, who established a lumber mill there in the early 1870s. The brothers logged the redwoods into the 1890s, and the wood was sent by boat to San Francisco to build its wooden Victorian buildings. Today the town boasts a population of 175, and is a traveler's delight, with wine tasting, a bakery, restaurants, and unique shops featuring hand-crafted goods, antiques, art galleries, locally-grown flowers, and more.
From Duncan Mills, take Highway 116 east to River Road. Follow River Road to Korbel Champagne Cellars (13250 River Road, Guerneville, 707-824-7316).
Established in 1882, Korbel has been a part of America's greatest celebrations for more than 120 years. The champagne of choice during the Camelot years of the Kennedy administration, Korbel has been featured at presidential inaugurations since Reagan's second one in 1985. The winery's grounds include extensive gardens, with hundreds of bulbs blooming each spring, 250 varieties of antique roses, and more than 1,000 other types of flowers.
A gourmet deli offers sandwiches, salads, and box lunches to go, and is open daily (hours are seasonal). Winery tours are offered daily, and the wine shop, tasting room and deli are open daily (hours are seasonal). Garden tours are offered from 1 to 3 p.m., mid-April to October.
Next, continue east on River Road to Burke’s Canoe Trips and Campground (8600 River Road, Forestville, 707-887-1222). Rent a canoe or kayak at Burke's and spend the rest of the day paddling down the famous Russian River while checking out the local wildlife and beautiful scenery. Stop to enjoy a picnic on one of the many beaches. The best months for canoeing are May through October, and Burke's is open seven days a week during that time. They can accommodate groups of all sizes with advance arrangements.
Lodging Suggestion: The Sebastopol Inn
The Sebastopol Inn (6751 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol, 800-653-1082) offers ideal accommodations for a romantic Wine Country getaway, a family vacation, or groups traveling together. Tucked behind the historic Gravenstein train station in Sebastopol, the inn provides a central location to explore the Sonoma Wine Country. Courtyard, private balcony, and patio rooms offer affordable elegance and superior amenities. You get the feel of a B&B, but with the comfort and privacy of a boutique hotel.
Restaurant Suggestion: Underwood Bar & Bistro and Willow Wood Market Café
Located in the picturesque town of Graton, centered between Occidental, Santa Rosa, and Sebastopol, the Underwood Bar & Bistro (9113 Graton Road, Graton, 707-823-7023) offers French, Mediterranean, and wine country cuisine in a setting of relaxed sophistication.
Once considered a “rough little apple cannery town,” Graton now boasts a growing culinary reputation for both the Underwood Bar & Bistro and the Willow Wood Market Café (9020 Graton Road, Graton, 707-823-0233), which doubles as a general store and local gathering spot.
Wine Spectator has described Graton as the place where "New York's East Village meets the Wine Country in this hip gathering spot for local elite wine makers and wine travelers alike." Underwood is open for breakfast from 8-11:30 a.m. daily; lunch Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday brunch 9 a.m. to 3 p.m .; and dinner 5-9 p.m. daily (except Sundays). The bar offers drinks and light fare between lunch and dinner; and dinner and tapas are served Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Whether you're staying in the Sebastopol Inn or elsewhere, don't miss the opportunity to experience this diverse and dynamic community, where residents celebrate the fine arts, culture, the healing arts, fine dining, healthy dining, wine, farming, the environment, sustainable living, outdoor recreation, and more.
- Shop, taste, and dine at the 220,000-square-foot business park known as The Barlow (6780 Depot St., #110, Sebastopol, 707-824-5600), a premier artisan food, wine, and art center, located about a half mile northeast of downtown, across Highway 12 from the Sebastopol Inn.
- Drive or walk three blocks along Florence Avenue, and be greeted by giant, colorful sculptures made entirely from reclaimed junk. Florence Avenue residents and artists Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent created the more than two dozen sculptures that enliven this residential area.
- Stroll charming downtown Sebastopol, which offers many unique shops featuring crafts, health food, clothing, books, house wares, and toys, along with restaurants, pubs, New Age stores, and art galleries.
- Hike, bike, or horseback ride on the multi-use Laguna de Santa Rosa Trail in the 254-square-mile Laguna de Santa Rosa Wetlands Preserve, the county's largest freshwater wetlands complex.
- Explore Luther Burbank Experiment Farm (7777 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol, 707-829-6711), where the famed horticulturist developed more than 800 varieties of fruits, flowers, vegetables, and grains, beginning in the 1880s.
- Learn about the history of this area in the West County Museum (261 S. Main St., Sebastopol, 707-829-6711).
Visit local farms
Download a free map and guide from Sonoma County Farm Trails, then map out a route to experience life on the farm. Explore Sonoma County's rich agriculture heritage by visiting farms and ranches with sheep, llamas, honey bees, butterflies, birds, fresh fruits and vegetables, and more.
Use the map and guide to plan the farm experience that fits best with the current season – such as baby animals and fields of flowers in the spring; picking berries in the summer; apples, pumpkins and gourds in the fall; and Christmas trees in the winter.
Walk Under Towering Trees
Serene and majestic Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve (17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville, 707-869-2015) is a living reminder of the magnificent redwood forest that covered much of this area before logging operations began during the 19th century. These remarkable trees live to be 500-1,000 years old, grow to a diameter of 12-16 feet, and stand from 200 to 250 feet tall. Coast redwoods are classified as temperate rainforests and need a wet and mild climate to survive; the trees in Armstrong Grove are often shrouded in a mystical fog that provides the moisture they need. The park is open from 8 a.m. to one hour after sunset; admission is free to bicyclists and pedestrians (it's possible to park outside the reserve and walk in) or $8 per vehicle ($7 per vehicle for seniors).
Let Someone Else Drive
Taste your way through the Russian River Valley with the help of a knowledgeable guide. Companies like Pure Luxury Transportation, Beau Wine Tours, and Comfort Wine Tours can craft a guided adventure visiting your favorite wineries or craft an off-the-beaten-path itinerary to help you find new favorites. Relax, sit back, and enjoy as you are driven to the wine tasting venues of your choice.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez