West Sonoma County day trip

Great views and good food dot this Northern California landscape

West Sonoma County scenic view

A view from Coleman Valley Road in West Sonoma County.

David Fenton

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West Sonoma County wine
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West Sonoma County crayfish
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West Sonoma County paella
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  • West Sonoma County map

    Getting to West Sonoma County

    From Petaluma, take Bodega Ave. and then Valley Ford Rd. into Valley Ford. Freestone and Occidental are just to the northeast.

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.

Good neighbors

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.

Amy Wolf|From the August 2010 Issue

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