The adventure has to start somewhere.
For our debut, we've focused on our backyard, and our hometowns of Sonoma County. With great food and drink, long winding roads through redwoods and vineyards and the jagged edge of the Pacific Ocean, it's not a bad place to call home. The region feels like you’ve truly arrived in Northern California. Here’s our whirlwind tour.
The winding (and pot-holed) roads of Western Sonoma County—known to locals as West County—invite a lifetime of exploration, and there’s no better way to experience the area than on two wheels. Whether you’re an avid rider, a trail blazing expert, or a casual rider looking for a great experience, start at Trail House in Santa Rosa. Their staff is super knowledgeable, and they offer an incredible array of high quality bikes for sale, but don’t be intimidated— they’ll rent you some wheels just for the day too. The founders of Trail House specifically created this gem to share the experience with everyone, so if you’re not up for a ride, their cafe is still a choice local hangout offering freshly brewed coffee, tasty food items, and cold beer.
Take the exit for Route 12 West, and soon you’ll arrive in Sebastopol. Sebastopol offers up an eclectic mix of old and new. Modern boutiques, the best antique shops to scour for treasures, and a food scene fit for gourmands. If you’ve acquired a taste for good ramen (as many of us have these days) there’s no need to go all the way to Sebastopol’s sister city- Yamauchi-Takeo Japan. Right off the Sebastopol town square is Ramen Gaijin- and they've perfected the science. Their from-scratch recipes create the ultimate savory goodness- the perfect amount of fat to coat your lips and velvety noodles that just beg to be slurped. From the local seasonal ingredients to the temperature of the broth upon serving, it’s on par with the best consomme you’ve ever tasted. And FYI, the cocktails are just as good as the ramen. If you have room for another libation (or two..), do yourself a favor and make your way over to Spirit Works Distillery. The operation is impressive to say the least, and the massive hybrid copper still puts that coveted copper stock pot in your kitchen to shame. The second distillation goes through a 21 plate rectification column that is 26 feet tall. Holy gin! Their small, dedicated team is made up of mostly female producers— we dig that.If you don’t feel like ramen, (who are we kidding) or if you’re just looking to experience quintessential seasonal, sustainable, coastal california cuisine (now that’s a mouthful), you MUST visit Handline in Sebastopol. Fresh, local, and exquisite, from oysters to the sought after and (we’d even go as for as to say famous) Handline Soft Serve. It’s made with local Straus Creamery organic cream, and it’s absolutely to die for.
After all that eating, drinking, and merry making, maybe we should get outside and head for the coast. But before leaving town, it’s always a good idea to get your caffeine fix for the drive at ACRE Coffee. They source and roast every blend to perfection, and the cafes (Sebastopol, Santa Rosa, and Petaluma) mirror the time and attention they put into their craft. Beautiful decor, comfortable and inviting, yet precise and immaculate.
Head west from Sebastopol and you instantly feel a change in the air- the crisp salty scent is palpable, even from 15 miles away. The drive through West County (a region we affectionately call Left County™) features old fence posts weathered by the salty winds leaning sideways as cows graze roadside. Roadside dilapidated barns make you stop for that perfect rustic SoCo pic. The cruise towards the coast will eventually bring you through the tiny town of Bodega (population 220). You might notice an unsuspecting building on the left with weathered signs and neon lights.. Casino Bar & Grill is a must-stop. It’s an 80-year-old watering hole complete with deer trophies on the wall, Hamm’s beer signs and a well-loved pool table. It’s also the hideout of chef Mark Malicki. Mark and his chef friends create new menus daily drawn from whatever is fresh and local. Instead of beer nuts and pretzels look for dishes like scallop sashimi with Japanese mustard greens and grilled leg of lamb with black olives, figs and fried pistachios. That’s how it’s done in Left County™.
Continue through to Highway 1 and you’ll find the Bodega Bay harbor sheltering the coastal residences from the thundering Pacific Ocean. As soon as you see the pink and white striped shack, Patrick’s Salt Water Taffy you know you’ve arrived. Still hungry? Lucas Warf’s Fishetarian has a line out the door for its clam chowder and fish tacos, complete with a great local beer list and outdoor picnic tables . Before heading north, if you’re up for fine art, the Ren Brown Collection is spectacular, and it’s hard to leave without making a major purchase. Further up the highway Salmon Creek Beach is the go-to spot for the coast’s salty crew of cold-water-loving surfers. Try the southern entrance if picnics and sand castles are more your speed.
Keep driving north and you’ll land in Jenner proper. As if the views along the Pacific Coast Highway weren’t enough, tiny Cafe Aquatica appears like an oasis of great food and coffee on the edge of the Russian River as it empties into the sea. Cell service is spotty, but the clam chowder and fresh baked bread are spot-on as are the made-from-scratch pastries. There are a few tables inside, but outside in one of the weathered Adirondack chairs with views of Penny Island and the mouth of Russian River as kayaks go gliding by is where you want to be. If you’re making the trip on a weekend, you’ll likely find some great live music on the patio, or a show featuring one of the many talented local artists inside the cafe.
Before you head inland don’t miss the newly opened Jenner Headlands Preserve, 5,630 acres of coastal prairie, oaks and redwoods and a 15-mile trail that climbs to Pole Mountain, the highest point in Sonoma County with a 180-degree view of the ocean.Where to next?