I'm fortunate to live in Marin County, just a short drive from the vines of Sonoma and Napa Valleys. While most people head to the wine country to visit the wineries (duh), I go to shop. There are so many great places to visit and I hope you'll enjoy this series of Sonoma Valley road trips.
This detour off of Highway 101N is one of my favorite drives, a farm trail route I always take when heading north to Sonoma County from the Bay Area. There are lotsa apple orchards along the way, hence the name Gravenstein Highway, and most sell fruit, homemade jams and pies at roadside stands during apple season. There are also honey farms, Christmas trees, and two fabulous antique collectives. And that farm offering free horse manure? Now that’s hospitality.
From Highway 101N, take the Highway 116 W exit at Cotati. You're now on the Gravenstein Highway, headed towards Sebastopol. Pick up a copy of Sonoma County Farm Trails Map & Guide at your first stop. It's free and has detailed maps with listings of farm stands, farmers' markets, and even recipes.
On the right, you'll quickly come to Llano House Antiques (4353 Gravenstein Hwy S, 707/829-9322), a little red antiques cottage specializing in American glassware including Depression Glass.
Further along this road, also on the right, pull into FFT Antiques (2701 Old Gravenstein Hwy S, 707/823-3101) This 3,000 square foot collective has well priced goods, mostly 20th century Americana. I found a beautiful oil painting by an unknown artist here for $50; an antique dealer from the east coast offered to buy it for $650. No thanks. I love it and it hangs on my bedroom wall. All sales from FFT benefit Food for Thought, Sonoma County AIDS Bank.
Next time you come over for a glass of wine, please check out the two matching antique French tables, which I bought for $20 each at Antique Society (2661 Old Gravenstein Highway, 707/829-1733), located across the street from FFT. This collective is larger than FFT and has European goods as well as American antiques.
After your antiques adventures, look for Bassignani Nursery (1841 Old Gravenstein Hwy S, 707/823-3984) and Beekind Honey Shop and Apiary (921 Old Gravenstein Highway S, 707 824/2905), both on the righthand side of the road. Bassignani is a one-stop shop for gardening gadgets and gifts and at Beekind, you'll find honey, lotions, and soaps alongside their award winning beeswax candles.
Take some time for local shopping in Sebastopol before taking to the road again. Sebastopol's Main Street is home to the kind of friendly merchants who are usually only found in small towns. The residents are welcoming, if a bit quirky; most could easily be at home in Berkeley and some still brag of attending the Woodstock festival in 1969. Power to the people.
Just west of Main Street, you'll find Florence Avenue, a three-block stretch of local landscape art. Most lawns feature sculpture by local artist, Patrick Amiot. Quirky and colorful, the pieces are made entirely from recycled goods, or as some say - junk! Mermaid scales are made from tin can lids and old clocks have become eyeballs. A waitress' tray holds pasta made from chain links and springs and an old wall heater doubles as a tractor. This is local color at its best.
Now it’s decision time. From Sebastopol, you can head east/north on hwy 12 toward Santa Rosa or continue on the Gravenstein Highway to Graton. I recommend the latter, as you'll pass several apple vendors including Mom's Apple Pies (4550 Gravenstein Hwy N, 707/823-2330) where, in season, you can choose from more than 15 varieties of apple pie and a dozen or so made from other fruits. Foxglove Farms (5280 Gravenstein Hwy N, 707/887-2759), is next, followed by my favorite stop - Kozlowski Farms (5566 Gravenstein Nwy N, 707/887-1587; www.kozlowskifarms.com). I shop Kozlowski for their homemade jams, jellies and fruit pies, which are available fresh or frozen.
Another must-stop is Andy's Market (1691 Gravenstein Hwy N, 707/823-8661), a huge roadside produce store. The goods are fresh-from-the-soil and prices are less than local outdoor markets.
Now, take it slow or you may miss your next stop. Graton, a tiny one street town with only about 700 households, is an enclave of artists, musicians, writers, teachers and other creative types. Some are new in town, some have been there for decades, but all support Graton's strong sense of community. A former air raid siren enthusiastically announces each day's noon arrival, courtesy of the fire department. Graton may be small in size, but its main street (with only two stop signs) is well worth a stop.
Now, from Graton, backtrack to Sebastopol, head east on hwy 12 toward Santa Rosa and on to the Sonoma Valley. After leaving Sebastopol, you'll pass Willie Bird Turkey (5350 Hwy 12, 707/545-2832; www.williebird.com) where you can buy picnic fare as well as holiday fowl including organic turkey, duck, and chicken. I once ate something called a turducken which is a New Orleans specialty. It has layers of turkey, duck and chicken rolled into a big roast and is one of the worst dishes I've ever tasted. But that's another story and another road trip.