In summer: Outsmart August’s thick fog by stopping your car just short of the coast.
Game plan: While the crowds head to the beaches of Bodega Bay, you’ll get the last laugh with green rolling hills and quaint main streets.
Destination? Valley Ford, Freestone, and Occidental — three tiny towns in a tight cluster near State 1.
What’s changed: At last, there’s more than just pretty scenery out here.
Pick up inspiration for your next remodel: At West County Design (14390 State 1, Valley Ford; 707/876-1963), where local artists show handcrafted wooden furniture and smooth-as-marble concrete counters.
If you can’t resist the shore: Head to sleepy Dillon Beach ($7 per vehicle; end of Dillon Beach Rd.), off Valley Ford Franklin School Road, a roller coaster of a route that passes by giant boulders and fertile farmland.
Twist up a scenic backroad
Coleman Valley Road starts innocuously, branching off the Bohemian Highway in Occidental and climbing through a forested landscape. But bear with it, and—bam—sudden vistas of meadows and fog-shrouded ocean stretch into eternity. The drive to the coast is about 10 miles and takes about 45 minutes, but you’ll reach a pullout with views after just 5 miles.
Those in the know drive all the way to Freestone just for the breads at Wild Flour Bread (707/874-2938). The payoff for the wait in line is the Eden-like garden, where sunflowers rise above rows of raspberries you’re welcome to pick. Two doors down, Freestone Vineyards ($10 tasting; 707/874-1010) makes a perfect follow-up. Sit down for a relaxed tasting in the farmhouse-style winery or grab a bottle of Fogdog Chard or Pinot to take home.
Snag a souvenir
Betcha no one you know has a key chain like these, made of old traffic signs. Get them and more at Renga Arts (3605 Main St., Occidental; 707/874-9407), where funky, functional art and jewelry made of salvaged and recycled materials are sold in a cottagey store.
Paella by the foot
If you can slip away on a Friday, check out the Occidental Bohemian Farmers Market to see what’s being grown in these hills. The centerpiece? A scoop of Gerard’s Paella ($10), cooked on the spot in a 5-foot-wide pan. 4 p.m. to dusk Fri.
Gourmet on the go
Valley Ford’s historic Dairyman’s Bank now doles out crayfish and corn instead of cash. Stop by the new Sonoma Coast Fish Bank and Picnic ($; 14435 State 1; 707/876-3474) for a basket of barbecued oysters and lemonade served in jars.
Make it a weekend
Energetic owners have given the 1864 roadside Valley Ford Hotel (from $165, including breakfast; 2-night minimum; 707/876-1983) a major makeover. Now the bar at the hotel’s restaurant, Rocker Oysterfeller’s Kitchen & Saloon ($$), is the place to hang out on weekend nights, and the rooms upstairs are a rare combination of country charm and salvage style.