Exploring Southern Sonoma County, including Petaluma, Occidental, and Sebastopol:
A bit south of Monte Rio and Guerneville, in the gay-popular heart of the Russian River, are a couple of towns worth exploring, Sebastopol, which is surrounded by several excellent wineries, has some fine places to eat, and is famous for its apple farms; and tiny, historic Occidental, known for its handful of very good restaurants and lush wooded setting.
In the southern tip of the 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.
Resources on Sonoma County and the Russian River
Southern Sonoma County 2016-2017 Events and Festivals Calendar:
- Mid-Apr.: Sebastopol Apple Blossom Weekend.
- Late Apr.: Petaluma Butter & Eggs Parade.
- Mid-May: Petaluma's Salute to American Graffiti Weekend.
- Late May to early June: Art at the Source Open Studios Tour of Sebastopol.
- Mid-July: Fabulosa Fest (Queer Feminist Camping Music Festival in Petaluma).
- Mid-Aug.: Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol.
- Mid-Sept.: Chautauqua Revue at Occidental Arts & Ecology Center.
- Mid-Oct. Petaluma's Harvest Days.
What to see and do in Southern Sonoma County:
Sebastopol, which is situated at the intersection of Hwys. 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, head 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 West Sonoma County Wineries website and Russian River Valley Winegrowers association are excellent resources for locating winery maps on the area.
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 - you can read more about both here. 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.
In the southern tip of the county, off U.S. 101 (just a 45-minute drive north of San Francisco), historic Petaluma is 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, testimony to this small city's early history as one of the state's major river ports. Walking through it's 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, including Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company's California location (the Petaluma Seed Bank) inside the historic Sonoma County Bank Building, the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum, the Petaluma Arts Center, and Shollenberger Wetlands Park. The city has no shortage of sophisticated restaurants - be sure to check out Central Market for great wines and delicious farm-to-table cuisine, casual Wild Goat Bistro for some of the best pizza in town, McNear's Mystic Theatre for great live music and consistently good pub fare, the hip Speakeasy wine bar and tapas bistro for its globally inspired fare; and Acre Coffee for high-quality artisan espresso drinks.