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Six Sonoma Day Trips That Bring Paradise to the North Bay

Where to go and what to do.


Ranch at Lake Sonoma

Photo: Courtesy of Ranch at Lake Sonoma

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The Naked Pig

Photo: Philip Pavliger

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Bump City Bakery

Photo: E&B Photography

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Photo: Erin Feinblatt

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Fort Ross Vineyard

Photo: Courtesy of Fort Ross Vineyard

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Photo: Eric Wolfinger

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Read more of the New Sonoma Crush here.


Just one exit north of chichi Healdsburg, dusty old Geyserville is undergoing a modern culinary awakening to rival any of its Sonoma neighbors’.

Exhibit A is the new Geyserville Gun Club Bar and Lounge, named for the firearm range once housed in the basement, which now slings some of Sonoma’s best cocktails. The decor is mid-century kitsch—taxidermy, retro movie posters—but it’s offset by the upscale bar bites. Just a mile north, at Werowocomoco, Francis Ford Coppola’s Native American–inspired menu can touch a culinary-appropriation nerve, but the result is an interesting bison-focused menu.

One of the best ways to take in Geyserville is on horseback at the Ranch at Lake Sonoma, which offers several rides, including the Wine Country Horseback Adventure trek up the Sonoma Overlook Trail. If you have little ones in tow, they can hop on a burro for a 10-minute ride. For those with slightly more refined tastes, there’s the Geyserville Sculpture Trail, 27 art installations sprinkled along Geyserville Avenue, and the new Dallas A. Saunders Artisan Textiles showroom and art gallery, a MoMA-like glass-and-steel structure amid a sea of saloon-style storefronts.


Santa Rosa
Not long ago, Santa Rosa might well have been voted Sonoma’s least-cool town. That was then. Now, with its angled roofline and mid-century light fixtures, the Astro Motel, reopened in September, could easily pass for a Palm Springs hideaway.

Or take the town’s newest hipster neighborhood, SOFA (South of A Street), inhabited by a contingent of artists and makers. Start at the Naked Pig, a Greyhound bus station turned organic restaurant, for field-to-table lunches that lean heavily on locally harvested and foraged ingredients. (Its sister restaurant is the Asian street food–inspired Flower & Bone, ideal for dinner.) Making your way up Sebastopol Avenue through Art Alley, you’ll stumble upon countless murals and guerrilla art installations.

The South A Street Art District building features nearly 40 artists’ studios and storefronts, while the Atlas Coffee Company serves as a local café, art gallery, and late-night punk-inspired music hub. For breakfast, try City Garden Doughnuts & Coffee, where they serve made-from-scratch brioche doughnuts (including one glazed with lemon-pistachio icing) alongside lavender-honey and bee-pollen lattes.


Things began to change in Petaluma a few years ago with the arrivals of Acre Coffee and the organic snout-to-tail butchery and deli Thistle Meats. But the latest harbinger of change here is just over the river, where an empty parking lot in the former feed mill district has been refashioned into the Block, a family-friendly food truck market and beer garden replete with fire pits, live music, and an Italian soda bar.

Back in the historic downtown, the times are changing, too. The Oyster Girls—a roving oyster-shucking operation run by two charismatic sisters—has finally settled into its first brick-and-mortar, a New Orleans–inspired oyster bar called the Shuckery, which offers not just Kumamotos but also savory seafood beignets and house-cured steelhead with potato galette.

The Shuckery is housed inside the Hotel Petaluma, which is being remade into a mod boutique inn. In the lobby, you’ll find vintage suitcases for decor and Barber Cellars pouring Sonoma Coast wines at a white marble bar with iron light fixtures.

But perhaps no place better exemplifies Petaluma’s split personality—earthy yet spirited—than Bump City Bakery. There you can get a vegan, gluten-free cupcake, chock-full of booze. For our money, the best of the bunch is the Old Fashioned: spongy orange spice cake, Bulleit bourbon, and brown sugar frosting, topped with candied orange and an Amarena cherry.


This quirky river town has long been known for its unique townie-hippie-gay vibe. But recently it’s become a culinary outpost, too: Look no further than the Guerneville Bank Club, reborn in 2015 as an art, wine, and sweets collective featuring Nimble and Finn’s small-batch ice cream, the Jam Jar boutique, and the Bank Club Wine Collective.

Or take a quick jaunt down Main Street and grab a happy hour drink on El Barrio’s sunny back shoe-box patio. For dinner, there are several new options: the teal-splashed Seaside Metal for chilled oysters, Dick Blomster’s Korean Diner for fried chicken, or Pinoli Cucina Rustica, where chef Christian Darcoli serves his grandmother’s handmade cannelloni in contemporary farmhouse-style quarters. Ditch the nightcap for fireside wine back at Autocamp, an Airstream hotel in the redwoods —a reminder that no matter how many phases the town goes through, the universal draw is the nature.


Jenner and the coast
There’s the storybook seaside town of Jenner, with its shingled cottages and saltwater kayaking, and then there’s the side of Jenner that most people overlook. Historically, the stretch of Highway 1 about 14 miles north of town has been best known for flannel-clad-lumberjack lodges and passé motels. But last year, the Timber Cove Resort transformed the area after its new owners revealed a dramatic makeover of the antiquated hotel. Now it’s a destination inn, with updated mid-century architecture channeling its Sea Ranch neighbor.

Jenner is a place where the best activities are often hidden in plain sight. Up the road, Salt Point State Park has six miles of rocky coastline and beach caves to scramble along in search of sand dollars and seashells, and Fort Ross State Historic Park boasts a decidedly kitschy and photogenic Russian-era fortress.

Before reintegrating into city life, make a stop at nearby Fort Ross Vineyard, the only tasting room in Sonoma’s new coastal wine region, Fort Ross–Seaview. At 1,700 feet above sea level, the farmhouse-style building is perched above the fogbank and framed by redwoods, providing you with epic views as you drink cool coastal pinots.


Wine tasting in this quaint hamlet is best done on foot. While you can spend a whole afternoon talking terroir in any of the new tasting rooms, like G&C Lurton and La Folette, an off-the-beaten-track option offers a more experiential option. One block west of Healdsburg Avenue, at Seghesio Family Vineyards, chef Peter Janiak reverses the usual food-first pairing philosophy by starting with the wine, then planting ingredients in the backyard garden to create his Italian-Californian dishes.

The Shed is a design-forward marketplace that hosts everything from gardening classes to fermentation and canning workshops. For those willing to splurge, own town Healdsburg has been called the Yountville of Sonoma for its roster of increasingly big-ticket restaurants. The newest—and most outlandish—is SingleThread, a restaurant first and hotel second, serving an 11-course dinner on par with the French Laundry’s. The ingredients are grown at SingleThread’s neighboring farm according to Japanese culinary culture’s 72 microseasons, then cooked over an open-flame hearth. Not up for shelling out close to $300 for a meal? Newcomer the Brass Rabbit also serves thoughtful open-flame cuisine with ingredients from its farm for a more vacation-friendly price.


Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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