As you approach Sebastopol on State 116 west, an hour's drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge, look for the Fosters Freeze to your right: Perched on the roof is a scarlet convertible driven by a guy accompanied by his red-haired wife and a yapping dog. The car is the work of local artist Patrick Amiot, a French Canadian who creates "urban folk art" from discarded junk. His sculptures, from a dynamic 12-foot Batman to a 1930s pickup truck with a cow in its bed, have become Sebastopol's most intriguing attractions.
Known during much of the past century for its apple orchards, Sebastopol has become a haven for independent thinkers and artists, and its downtown shops reflect that alternative spirit. Rosemary's Garden (closed Sun; 132 N. Main St.; 707/829-2539) sells loose herbs, tea, and body-care products. Many Rivers Books & Tea (130 S. Main; 707/829-8871), a bookstore and teahouse, specializes in spiritual writing from the likes of the Dalai Lama, not to mention Dr. Seuss.
Sebastopol's down-to-earth flavor extends to its eateries. Try the ricotta pancakes served during Sunday brunch at Lucy's Restaurant, Bar & Bakery ($$; 6948 Sebastopol Ave.; 707/829-9713). A local favorite for dinner is Alice's Restaurant at 101 Main ($$; closed Sun; 101 S. Main; 707/829-3212), with comfort food like herb-marinated steak. Screamin' Mimi's (6902 Sebastopol Ave.; 707/823-5902) serves natural sorbets and ice creams, such as Mimi's Mud ― coffee with chunks of cookies and fudge.
But Amiot's fanciful sculptures are what make visitors stop in their tracks. From Main, walk two blocks west on Bodega Avenue and turn right on Florence Avenue. You may pass a skeleton riding a motorcycle, a hula dancer whose grass skirt sways in the breeze, or a giant jukebox with Elvis inside.
If you leave town heading east on State 12, you'll see a massive metal cow towering over dozens of real Holsteins. At dusk, the live bovines gather around the mother of all cows and use the sculpture as a scratching post, says Amiot, who fears they might tip it over. A giant cow-tipping with fellow cud-chewers as suspects ― only in Sebastopol.
WHERE: From San Francisco, take U.S. 101 north 40 miles to State 116 west.
CONTACT: www.sebastopol.org or (707) 823-3032.