A Nostalgic, Motor Lodge Road Trip of Sonoma County
Summer calls for road trips, and there’s arguably no road trip more classic than a California road trip. It draws to mind nostalgic images of the Pacific Coast Highway, rugged bluffs and rolling hills, and motor lodges of yesteryear. That type of California road trip is uniquely Sonoma County, especially now, as old motels and motor lodges have been reborn as boutique hotels.
So this summer, as you hit the road for a Northern California getaway, make your way to beautiful Sonoma County, where you can experience a plethora of options, from award-winning wine to artisan beer to towering redwood forests and the invigorating Pacific Ocean. Read on for this nostalgic, motor lodge road trip itinerary of Sonoma County.
Start your road trip in the heart of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa at Historic Railroad Square, where you can visit the Santa Rosa Visitor Center/California Welcome Center. Here the staff can offer you a map and tips on must-sees and unique special events for the weekend. If you have a keen eye, you may have already noticed the whimsical Snoopy characters scattered throughout downtown Santa Rosa. Sonoma County honors its famous late cartoonist, Charles Schulz, who lived in Sonoma County for more than 40 years, with these 5-foot fiberglass statues all over the county. See how many you can spot!
Wake Up and Smell The Coffee
Next, stop by A’roma Roasters, a coffee shop beloved by locals and visitors for the largest selection of coffee and teas in the North Bay. It’s hard to resist the smell of coffee beans roasted on-site, and you’ll be tempted to take a few bags home after you enjoy a cup of joe. While you’re around Railroad Square, walk around the corner to Miracle Plum, a female-owned neighborhood market that curates an extraordinary selection of wine, craft beer, and specialty foods.
If you’re looking for a sit-down breakfast option, make your way to Spinster Sisters for their expertly-crafted breakfast menu. You’ll find local ingredients on the menu in dishes inspired by flavors around the world, such as breakfast tostadas, kimchi and bacon deviled eggs, and the classic American eggs benedict. Spinster Sisters is located in the SOFA (South of “A”) Arts District, which is evidenced in the dining room, where the walls are adorned with artwork that is changed out every couple months. After your meal, be sure to take a stroll around the neighborhood to see murals and art galleries from a coalition of artists in the community. Grab a latte to go at Café Frida, which often has live music on their outdoor stage during weekends.
See Santa Rosa By Bike And Brew
If you’re looking for physical activity after your meal, book a Santa Rosa Bike ‘n Brew Tour with Ace It Bike Tours. You'll experience Santa Rosa’s picturesque side roads while biking to great local breweries on this full-day tour. The tour includes your guide, a hybrid bike, helmet, insulated beer bike carrier, handlebar bag, gear rack, and craft beer, of course. If you prefer to go your own way, Santa Rosa has numerous local breweries. Get a flight from Russian River Brewery in downtown Santa Rosa (don't leave without at least a sample of their famous Pliny the Elder), check out what’s on tap at Fogbelt Brewery , or try local favorite Henhouse Brewing to enjoy their craft beer outside with bites from one of the rotating food trucks.
When you’re ready to check into your accommodations, head to downtown Santa Rosa to The Astro Motel. An urban motel with a retro feel, The Astro Motel is particularly great for bike enthusiasts with bike rentals and basic repairs available on-site. Each room at The Astro features mid-century modern pieces acquired from around the country, plus a curated selection of snacks and amenities from their favorite Sonoma County makers. Another Santa Rosa hotel option is the mid-century, eco-friendly Flamingo Resort and Spa. Highlights include an outdoor tiki bar and two Olympic-sized pools for guests to enjoy.
Wine and Dine
When you’re ready for dinner, Santa Rosa provides many options not far from your accommodations. Bird & the Bottle features delectable small plates including fried chicken sliders, crispy skin salmon wings, and Dungeness crab hush puppies. You don’t want to miss their tasty cocktail selection featuring flavors like coffee-infused sweet vermouth, clarified milk punch, and spiced pear. Alternatively, try dining on the patio at La Rosa Tequileria & Grille in downtown Santa Rosa. We recommend the fajitas, lomo saltado (Peruvian stir-fry), or the tequila and shrimp. La Rosa also boasts more than 160 tequilas in their restaurant, too. Be sure to ask the server about a tasting flight or try one of their rare tequilas.
After dinner, don’t miss dessert across the street at Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie. Unique flavors include Thai Tea ice cream, black sesame and coconut, and matcha.
After a good night’s rest, make your way on day two to the charming town of Guerneville, known for its cool rivers and towering redwoods. Be sure to stop by Big Bottom Market for a hearty breakfast where you don’t want to miss the biscuit that made Oprah’s Favorite Things list. Try it with a classic pairing of gravy or order The Sea Biscuit featuring smoked salmon, crème fraiche, and pickled onions. True foodies will want to buy a bag of their biscuit mix and Michael Volpatt’s cookbook before leaving to test their culinary skills at home.
Redwoods Are Calling
When you’re ready for some adventure, you can take a stroll through Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve and be whisked away under the canopy of towering trees. You’ll be in awe as you meander through one of the planet’s oldest living things, the California Redwoods. Take the self-guided tour and read the interpretive displays to learn more about the history of this magnificent forest. If you really want to get your heart pumping, try soaring through the Redwood trees with Sonoma Canopy Tours. Their expert guides will take you on a two and half hour tour, which is both educational and exhilarating. Featuring 7 ziplines, two sky bridges, a 45-foot rappel to the forest floor, epic views, and high speeds, Sonoma Canopy Tours will take your breath away.
By now you should have developed quite an appetite. For a casual setting with craft beer and pub eats, check out Stumptown Brewery. Order yourself a BBQ pulled pork sandwich with a “boat-load” of fries, select a beer from their ever-changing beers on tap, and take your food out to the patio by the Russian Rivver to enjoy. Elsewhere, try boon eat + drink for modern California cuisine featuring organic ingredients from their very own garden. You don’t want to miss their signature boon burger with truffle fries, flash-fried Brussels sprouts, or the polenta lasagna. The food is always seasonal and local, and they proudly serve only Russian River wines and brews. Other great nearby lunch spots include Rio Nido Roadhouse, Koala’s Fine Food, and La Bodeguita Mexican Restaurant.
In the afternoon, spend some time at the iconic Russian River and visit Johnson’s Beach. A favorite summertime spot for locals and visitors, you can rent lounge chairs, kayaks, and inner tubes to float on the river and soak up the sun. Alternatively, you can make your way over to Burke’s Canoe Trips and take the 10-mile self-guided canoe trip through the redwoods. See if you can spot herons, turtles, otters and other wildlife.
Sip and Savor
If an afternoon of wine tasting is more your speed, take a public tour (or reserve a private tour ahead of time) at Korbel Champagne Wine Cellars, where you’ll learn about the property’s history of Redwood logging and operations as the oldest champagne house in North America. Check out their delicatessen to pick up some cheese and be sure to ask one of their experts for the perfect sparkling wine to pair alongside it. For foodies, head over to Guerneville Bank Club, where you can grab a buttery slice of pie at Chile Pies Baking, a creamy scoop of ice cream at Nimble & Finn’s, or a glass of Italian varietals produced in Sonoma County from INIZI wines. Before you leave, don’t forget to enjoy the photograph exhibit created by the Russian River Historical Society and take a photo in the vault.
For dinner, follow your curiosity to Timberline Restaurant for what they describe as “Rustic Cabin Cuisine.” Timberline features comfort food with local Sonoma County flavors and a great view of the Redwood trees. The menu features simple and hearty selections such as chicken-fried chicken, meatloaf, and prime rib. For something a little different, check out BROT (Brot is German for “bread”). Celebrating the heritage of Chef Crista Luedtke, the restaurant boasts German classics such as spatzle, schnitzel, and wurst. Polish dinner off with mandelkuchen, a delicious almond cake dessert with caramelized apples.
Off The Beaten Path Accommodations Await
When you’re ready to turn in for your accommodations, check out the fun, boutique boon hotel + spa in Guerneville. Or, for a different kind of nostalgia, check into Autocamp Russian River, a unique outdoor lodging experience of modern Airstreams, and glamping tents, for luxury camping. During your stay, you can enjoy roomy accommodations, s’mores by the fire, and a beautiful night under the stars.
If you want an early start to the last part of the itinerary, make your way further west to Bodega Bay and stay at the Bodega Harbor Inn. You have the option of reserving one of the vacation houses or inn suites. Either way, you will overlook the beautiful Bodega Bay harbor and can relax on their spacious lawn with lounge chairs.
The Coast Calls
On your last day, make your way to the beautiful Sonoma County coastline and start with breakfast at Ginochio’s Kitchen. With its outside patio overlooking Bodega Bay, Ginochio’s Kitchen is idyllic for enjoying a large breakfast burrito or brisket and hash.
After breakfast, take a stroll anywhere along Sonoma County’s 55 miles of coastline. Make your way to Doran Regional Park to enjoy the two-mile stretch of beach where you can take in the sights of bird watching, colorful kites in the air, and your toes in the sand. Keep your eye on the ocean to see if you can catch migrating whales or harbor seals. Also, don’t forget to visit Bodega Head, the rocky headland that forms the entrance into Bodega Harbor. You’ll find fabulous views of the rugged coastline and trails that take you to hidden coves and wildlife.
No trip to the coast would be complete without enjoying fresh, local seafood. For a local favorite, try the classic combination of clam chowder and a Dungeness crab sandwich at Spud Point Crab Company. Enjoy your lunch on the picnic tables, right across from Spud Point Marina, while you watch the local fisherman dock their boats. Alternatively, try the popular Fishetarian Fish Market for their sustainable seafood offerings like fresh fish tacos, chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, or panko-crusted fish and chips.
After lunch, it’s time to enjoy the Pacific. Drive to Bodega Bay Kayaks to rent a kayak or stand-up paddle board for a few hours. Explore on your own or take one of the guided tours with a local expert. If you want to travel further out into the ocean, take the 3-hour sailing tour at Bodega Bay Sailing. During this trip, you might catch frolicking sea lions or dolphins in the distance while you feel the invigorating breeze of the ocean air. Before you leave, make sure you take a drive along the coast for one last look at the beautiful ocean. Don't miss a stop at Second Wind or Candy & Kites, which are fun local shops that come with a little taste of nostalgia. You can shop for colorful kites, beach souvenirs, or a wide selection of saltwater taffy to eat on the way home. It’s the perfect way to remember your relaxing experience at the coast until you’re able to visit again.