Guide to Southern Sonoma County for LGBT Tourism

The brick facade of Central Market, one of the many superb eateries in historic downtown Petaluma

Andrew Collins

South of Monte Rio and Guerneville, the gay-popular heart of the Russian River features towns worth exploring: Sebastopol, surrounded by several excellent wineries, has some fine places to eat and is famous for its apple farms; and Occidental, tiny, historic, is known for its handful of very good restaurants and lush wooded setting

In the southern tip of Sonoma County, off U.S. 101, historic Petaluma is loaded with Victorian and turn-of-the-century homes. It has one of the highest such concentrations in the region. The downtown area is rife with cool little restaurants, mixed gay/straight bars and lounges, fun boutiques and galleries, and gay-friendly accommodations.

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What to Do is Sebastopol

Sebastopol, which is situated at the intersection of highways 12 and 116, is a town of about 8,000. It's blessed with a plethora of pick-your-own farms, plus several good restaurants. On weekends, carloads of folks, including more than a few gays and lesbians, come down here to browse through Midgley's Country Flea Market. There are several terrific places to dine in town, including the romantic French Garden Restaurant & Bistro, and the bustling brewpub Hopmonk Tavern. Some of the noted wineries in this part of Sonoma County include Dutton Estate, Iron Horse, and Merry Edwards - the Russian River Valley Winegrowers are an excellent resource for locating winery maps on the area.

Activities in Occidental

From Monte Rio, a trip along the meandering Bohemian Highway leads to tiny Occidental, an old redwood-logging village that's now a haven of turn-of-the-century homes as well as antique dealers, galleries, and two legendary, home-style Italian restaurants, the Union Hotel and Negri's. also worth the drive is the intimate French restaurant, Bistro des Copains. This small town also sponsors a fine chamber music and arts program, through the Redwood Arts Council.

Continue just a bit south on Bohemian Highway to tiny Freestone, and you'll find the wonderfully relaxing and very gay-welcoming Osmosis Day Spa as well as the first-rate winery, Joseph Phelps. From Freestone, you can also pick up Bodega Highway and follow this scenic road west to the Sonoma Coast, or east to back to Sebastopol.

Petaluma Attractions

Just a 45-minute drive north of San Francisco, Petaluma is a city of about 60,000, and home to hundreds of lovely Victorian and Arts and Crafts houses, a vibrant downtown, and a fertile surrounding agricultural region known for egg and poultry farms. Boating and kayaking are popular activities along downtown's Petaluma River, a testimony to this small city's early history as one of the state's major river ports. Walking through its Americana-infused streets you'll think you could be just about anywhere in the country: sure enough, the neighborhood scenes in American Graffiti, Cheaper by the Dozen, Mumford, Inventing the Abbotts, and Peggy Sue Got Married were filmed here.

Petaluma has several noteworthy attractions, like the Petaluma Seed Bank, the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum, the Petaluma Arts Center, and Shollenberger Wetlands Park, inside the historic Sonoma County Bank Building. The city has no shortage of sophisticated restaurants:

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