The Road (Trip) Less Traveled — and the Souvenirs You'll Uncover
It's summertime in Sonoma County, which for many people means — road trip! But if you're concerned about rising gas prices, consider visiting these six lovely small towns where you can ditch your car for hours, days, or even your whole vacation.
Near the Russian River and the Mayacamas Mountains, Cloverdale is the northernmost town in Sonoma County. Aside from being surrounded by Alexander Valley vineyards, its mile-long business district feels like classic small-town America.
Every Friday evening throughout the summer, downtown Cloverdale hosts its free summer concert series, Friday Night Live at the Plaza. Stroll among food and crafts vendors, and enjoy live music, dancing, local tipples, and kids' activities.
While in town, sip the reds, roses, and whites at local tasting room Kelley & Young Wines at the Library, or sample IPAs, pale ales and more at Wolf House Brewing, which also features a full menu of comfort food. For a non-alcoholic refresher, stop for caffeine and a treat at Plank Coffee, and for a taste of nightlife, head to the friendly Railroad Station Bar & Grill.
For a town less than a mile long, Cloverdale has some great places to eat. Tuck into a burger and fries at the 1923 Pick's Drive-In, stay awhile at farm-to-table bistro Trading Post , or explore the cuisines of Asia at Tian Yuen.
For a sense of Cloverdale's past, explore the 1870s Gothic Revival cottage of the Gould-Shaw House Museum and the adjacent Cloverdale History Center, which displays old farm equipment, vintage Pomo baskets, and other items of yore.
Get your steps in along the whimsical Cloverdale Sculpture Trail, or east of downtown, take yourself for a flat, one-mile walk or bike ride through Cloverdale River Park, where you could also kayak or canoe. For more of a hike, hit the moderate, leafy 2.5-mile trail through Porterfield Creek Preserve.
Coverdale Souvenir: From the local Dahlia & Sage Community Market, a signature Dahlia & Sage scented candle from local candlemaker Jean Hager Home.
About 10 miles south of Cloverdale along the 101, the Wild West-style town of Geyserville was named for geothermal hot springs found in the 1880s in the Mayacamas. Its tiny downtown is only 60 yards long, but it hosts some of Sonoma County's most popular restaurants, boutiques, and winery tasting rooms.
An area standby, Catelli's is beloved for Italian delights like its housemade "Pasta of the Moment," and Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria is renowned for its Neapolitan-style pizza and salumi; both spots have gorgeous patios. For a taste of nightlife, enjoy creative bar bites and classic cocktails at the Geyserville Gun Club Bar & Lounge.
If you're thirsty for wine, you'll find a condensed version of the Alexander Valley here, with four winery tasting rooms mere steps from each other: Ramazzotti Wines and Mercury Geyserville, which share both a building and a patio; sleek and modern Peche Merle; and Locals Tasting Room, featuring wines from local micro-producers.
Burn off your indulgences with a quarter-mile stroll or bike ride to the Geyserville Sculpture Trail, where you'll find dozens of works of public art. Or wander the warren of antique/artisan vendor stalls at Gin'gilli's Vintage Home, as well as the Western-themed clothing and gifts, and local history museum at Bosworth & Son Store.
Geyserville Souvenir: A handmade Wine Country belt buckle from Bosworth & Son, featuring grapevines and barrels hewn from brass.
Once better known for its apples, modern-day Graton is now more of a hotspot for wine. With a block-long main street of 19th-century Western-style storefronts along Graton Road, this laid-back hamlet is home to artists, musicians, retirees, and two of Sonoma County's best restaurants.
Half Parisian bistro and half saloon, Underwood Bar and Bistro is known for its steak frites, oysters, cocktails, and nickel-topped bar, where you're likely to rub elbows with famous winemakers. Across the street, Willow Wood Market Cafe doubles as a general store and local gathering spot, providing delicious sandwiches (perfect for a wine-tasting break), comfort food, and warm hospitality.
If fresh Cali-Mex cuisine is more your jam, perch for awhile on the lovely back patio at family-owned Mexico Lindo. Then wander over to the Graton Gallery and its adjacent sculpture court to check out fine arts and crafts by California artists.
Reserve an appointment at the nine-acre Hallberg Butterfly Gardens, where dirt trails travel through open habitat for more than 40 species of butterflies. Open April-October, Wednesday-Saturday; donations are suggested, but admission is free.
Following an old railroad route between Sebastopol and Forestville, the 5.57-mile West County Regional Trail is a cyclist's dream. It wends its way past Green Valley AVA vineyards and Russian River-side bramble, as well as downtown Graton.
Right on Graton's main drag, there are two winery tasting rooms. Stylish Bowman Cellars has a big garden patio and retrofitted Airstream trailer, serving wines that include Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and bubbly. Comfy, saloon-style Paul Mathew Vineyards offers cushions and pillows by the bay windows for lounging as you taste single-vineyard Pinots, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Franc, and more.
Graton Souvenir: A bottle (or case) of Paul Mathew Vineyards wine, as their vintages can be ordered in the tasting room — but not online. Best to pick some up while you're here!
A half-hour west of Petaluma and 20 minutes east of Bodega Bay, Valley Ford is home to dairy farmers, ranchers, and cheese makers, offering a blend of country hospitality and culinary sophistication.
Indulge in a tasty breakfast or lunch at Estero Café, featuring soul-warming favorites like Swedish pancakes with applesauce and chicken-fried steak. In the evening, head to Rocker Oysterfeller’s for Southern-style dishes made with fresh local ingredients, then linger in the saloon to hear live music.
For picnic shopping, Valley Ford Market is a tourist-friendly farmers' grocery that sells everything from bread, produce, and local wines to plumbing fixtures and fishing tackle. And don't miss Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery, which offers fresh baked goods, wood-fired pizzas, charcuterie, and its own delicious cow's-milk cheeses.
Art fans will want to visit Sonoma County Historic Landmark #24 (14459 Valley Ford Road, next to the post office), where a bronze plaque commemorates an art installation called Running Fence. Erected in 1976 for only two weeks, the 18-foot-high, 24.5-mile long swath of white nylon conceived by the famed Christo and Jean-Claude briefly turned Valley Ford into the epicenter of the art world.
If you've brought your bike, pedal your way to happy along Valley Ford's meandering local roads, hugged by rolling, golden-green hills dotted with horses, sheep, and cows. Or take to Highway 1 for an hour's ride to the picturesque fishing village of Bodega Bay.
Valley Ford Souvenir: Any (or all) of the cheeses from Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery, which are made by Valley Ford locals with the milk of local cows who graze on local land.
At the start of the 20th century, Penngrove was one of Sonoma County's largest egg- and poultry-producing areas, second only to Petaluma, its southern neighbor. Penngrove's downtown — only a few blocks long — now boasts an eclectic array of local shops and restaurants in a delightful mix of historic buildings.
Housed in a sprawling 1870s space that has served as a railroad station, general store, post office, and hardware store, Penngrove Market offers local produce, prepared foods, and libations such as Penngrove-made Acre and Spade hard cider. A two-minute walk away, Full Circle Bakery makes some of Sonoma County's best bread. Put together the picnic of your dreams, then settle in at adjacent Penngrove Park.
A few minutes' bike ride or drive from downtown Penngrove, Twin Oaks Roadhouse offers a wide selection of beers and a small menu of delicious bites and full meals, including a fried chicken sandwich that'll knock your socks off. Belly up to the old-school bar, or enjoy your repast on the outdoor patio.
Right in town, the clapboard storefront and vertical neon sign outside Mack's Bar & Grill say "small-town neighborhood joint" all over; inside you'll find dark wood paneling, a full bar, and American pub-fare favorites. It rocks with live music on Saturday nights.
Penngrove Souvenir: A Vintage Sonoma County mug from Hello Penngrove, an adorable shop specializing in local and responsibly made housewares, gifts, and kids' clothes and toys.
The bucolic village of Glen Ellen in the Northern Sonoma Valley has less than 800 residents, but along and near lovely Arnold Drive (lined with century-old live oaks and eucalyptus) Glen Ellen is stacked with popular attractions.
The de facto center of town, picnic mecca Glen Ellen Village Market is surrounded by gems like Glen Ellen Star, which arguably makes the best wood-fired cuisine in Sonoma County; French patisserie Les Pascals; and the cozy tasting rooms for Talisman Wine and Laurel Glen Vineyard.
One-and-a-half steep, winding miles to the west, Jack London State Historic Park is the former ranch of author Jack London and his wife Charmian. There are more than 39 acres to explore here, including ruins of the couple's never-finished mansion. One mile from the park, biodynamic wine pioneer Benziger Family Winery offers tastings and tractor-led tram tours of its vineyards and gardens.
Roughly one-and-a-half miles east of the Village Market, the 25-acre Sonoma Botanical Garden (formerly Quarryhill) is home to one of the largest collections of Asian plants worldwide, including trees, bushes, and flowers. Just across Highway 12 is food-friendly Mayo Family Winery, and a mile-and-a-half south is Imagery Estate Winery, which houses a fascinating art collection.
Have fun on your summer road trip, exploring off the beaten path in Sonoma County!