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Quirky Sonoma County

Sonoma County is known for spectacular wines, scrumptious farm-to-table cuisine, and amazing natural beauty. However, this world-class destination has a quirky side that begs to be explored.

Explore insect-eating plants, a gravity hill that freaks out drivers, the largest herd of giraffes in the U.S., and a get close up look at the solar system. Grab your sense of humor and check out some off-beat adventures.

California Carnivores
2833 Old Gravenstein Highway
Sebastopol, CA 95472
(707) 824-0433

It isn’t just science fiction: Hundreds of carnivorous plants have adapted and evolved into this interesting plant group that lures, traps, and then devours insects.

Carnivorous plants grow naturally in swampy areas around the world where the water that is constantly running over and below the ground washes the nutrients away in the soil. In order to get those missing nutrients, the plants have adapted to trap and consume insects.

Since 1989, California Carnivores have grown and sold the widest variety of carnivorous plants in the United States. Venus flytraps, American pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts, bladderworts, tropical pitcher plants and others – all commercially cultivated for either the curious beginner or the discriminating collector.

Operated by Peter D’Amato – author of the award-winning book “The Savage Garden: Cultivating Carnivorous Plants” – California Carnivores houses the largest collection of carnivorous plants in the world open to the public, and sells plants onsite at the nursery and through mail-order.

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery
Driving directions from U.S. 101
Exit at Steele Lane.
Travel east to Franklin Ave.
Turn right, then follow Franklin half left to cemetery.
Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

You know you’ve stumbled upon the epitome of quirky, when the header reads “Cemetery Events.” Walk at night through Santa Rosa’s oldest cemetery to see and hear all new dramatic portrayals of some of the town’s early settlers. Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a flashlight.

Be warned: These evening walks are very popular. Bookmark the URL and keep it handy to make sure you reserve your spot. Not that interested in a night tour? Meander your way through the cemetery during the daylight hours or volunteer to be part of a work crew.

Robert Ferguson Observatory
Sugarloaf State Historic Park
2605 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood
(707) 833-5712
Entrance Fee $6 per car; $5 for Seniors (62 years or older)

My Very Earnest Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles is a revered mnemonic device to name the order of the planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.

Now that Pluto is no longer designated a planet, we are left wondering “nine what?”

Americans’ irrational love of the little dwarf sparked into a frenzy in 2006 when the International Astronomical Union voted Pluto out of planet status.

If you long for the day when tiny, eccentric Pluto was in its rightful place in the sky and in our hearts take the Robert Ferguson Observatory’s PlanetWalk, a scale model of the solar system designed to fit within the boundaries of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

This “solar system” has been shrunk more than 2,360,000,000 times, small enough for the park to include the orbit of the most distant now non-planet, Pluto, and large enough that the smallest planets could still be seen. It’s a fascinating look, no matter what side of the debate you fall on.

The observatory also offers public viewing about once a month for solar observing – free admission – and night viewing – a nominal fee.

Safari West Wildlife Preserve & African Tent Camp
(Intersection of Porter Creek Road and Franz Valley Road)
3115 Porter Creek Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 579-2551

Nestled on 400 acres in the heart of California’s wine country, Safari West is home for more than 400 exotic mammals and birds. Not a zoo, not a drive-through park, it’s a wildlife preserve where the whole family can experience some of nature’s most beautiful animals in a natural habitat.

This is an extraordinary world where people have the rare opportunity to feel the spirit of Africa, right in the heart of northern California’s wine country.

Lodging is an African tent camp. It works differently than your normal hotel. The heavy lined canvas with thick plastic windows that form the walls is imported from Africa and the furniture is crafted almost entirely on site from local wood.

Need more convincing to visit? Safari West has the largest giraffe herd in the U.S.

Gravity Hill
Lichau Road
Penngrove, Calif.

A drive along a seemingly normal country road will make you wonder if you’ve entered the Twilight Zone.

Gravity Hill is located near Penngrove. The layout of the surrounding land produces an optical illusion that makes the road appear to be going uphill, when it really is going downhill.

From U.S. 101, go east on Rohnert Park Express Way. Turn right on Petaluma Hill Road. Turn left on Roberts Road, then turn right on Lichau Road. Keep going until you pass four cattle guards and look for a large iron gate that reads “Gracias San Antonio.”

You’ll be looking down a sloping grade that appears to run downhill. Follow the road to the end of the property’s white fence. Stop the car, put it in neutral and you’ll start rolling “up hill.” It’s trippy!

Florence Avenue
Sebastopol, Calif.

Giant, colorful sculptures guard the houses on Sebastopol’s Florence Avenue. Drive or stroll down this three-block-long neighborhood and be greeted by a rat at the wheel of a hot rod, a tea-sipping Mad Hatter, a sea captain and Batman, and roughly two dozen more sculptures displayed.

The sculptures are the work of local artists, and Florence Avenue residents, Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent, who moved to Sebastopol in the late 1990s from Quebec.

The art has really changed the spirit of Florence Avenue, from a regular small-town neighborhood to “that street with all the art.” Quite befitting to the environmentally conscious community that he lives in, Amiot’s sculptures are made entirely from reclaimed items, or to put it more succinctly – junk.

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