ROLLING ALONG THE RIVER

San Francisco Chronicle - - COVER STORY - Jill K. Robin­son is a free­lance writer. Email: [email protected] sfchron­i­cle.com

Fall and win­ter, when the sum­mer crowds are gone, is an ideal time to travel Sonoma County’s High­way 116 be­tween Se­bastopol and the coast — past har­vest-col­ored vine­yards and groves of red­woods. This route is known as the Gravenstein High­way (al­though names on sig­nage will change a num­ber of times) af­ter the Gravenstein ap­ple, once a main­stay of the lo­cal econ­omy.

Along the 26-mile drive, the rolling hills give way to forested river canyon and then re­turn to un­du­lat­ing ter­rain as you ap­proach the coast. Add in culi­nary and wine high­lights and you’ll see how easy it is to adopt a re­laxed river­side life­style.

Pack up for a leisurely week­end with­out wor­ry­ing about the traf­fic — so you can ex­tend your time in fa­vorite places on a whim.

“I love walk­ing into the win­ery this time of year and breath­ing in those heady, mag­i­cal smells of wine fer­ment­ing in new oak bar­rels — so promis­ing and full of life,” says Joy Ster­ling, CEO of Iron Horse Vine­yards. “Out­side, the vine­yards are golden and glow­ing, the air is clean and crisp, ap­ples cover the ground in the or­chard, and we have decked out the tast­ing area with pump­kins and gourds from my fa­ther’s gar­den.”

Here are nine es­sen­tial stops along Sonoma County’s High­way 116. — Jill K. Robin­son

1. Se­bastopol: Stretch­ing across four city blocks, the Bar­low is a maker cam­pus opened in 2013. For­mer ap­ple­sauce can­ning build­ings and mod­ern ad­di­tions owned by Bar­ney Aldridge serve as a food, art and wine cen­ter. Restau­rants, cafes, tast­ing rooms and shops are scat­tered across the cam­pus, invit­ing vis­i­tors to wan­der and dis­cover. Ar­rive in the morn­ing to see the place slowly awaken while you have break­fast and fuel up for the day. Of­fer­ings in­clude or­ganic cof­fee and small bites (Tay­lor Maid Farms), freshly baked breads and pas­tries (Vil­lage Bak­ery), or­ganic juices (the Nec­tary), crepes (Ul­tra Crepes) and yerba mate (Guayaki Yerba Mate Cafe). While you’re there, duck into the Com­mu­nity Mar­ket for lunch pro­vi­sions. The Bar­low, McKin­ley Street, Se­bastopol, (707) 824-5600. www. the­bar­low.net. Com­mu­nity Mar­ket, 6762 Se­bastopol Ave. Suite 100, Se­bastopol, (707)407-4020. www.sr­com­mu­ni­ty­mar­ket.com

2. Arm­strong Red­woods State Nat­u­ral Re­serve: Visit this ma­jes­tic grove of coast red­woods in the morn­ing, when mists linger among the tow­er­ing trees. It’s also the least crowded then, so you can wan­der along trails hear­ing bird­song, bub­bling creeks and deer ram­bling through the brush. The Dis­cov­ery Trail and Pi­o­neer Na­ture Trail, the eas­i­est and most level, me­an­der among the tallest and old­est trees in the grove — the Par­son Jones Tree and the Colonel Arm­strong Tree. Add to your ad­ven­ture in the for­est by con­tin­u­ing your time along the East Ridge Trail and Pool Ridge Trail. Arm­strong Red­woods State Nat­u­ral Re­serve, 17000 Arm­strong Woods Road, Guerneville. www.parks.ca.gov

3. Dun­cans Mills: Af­ter a respite among the red­woods, head to this tea­room in the tiny vil­lage of Dun­cans Mills (pop­u­la­tion about 175). Once a bur­geon­ing lum­ber mill town es­tab­lished by broth­ers Sa­muel and Alexan­der Dun­can (which is why the name Dun­cans is plu­ral, not pos­ses­sive), it’s now home to a few shops fea­tur­ing an­tiques, hand­crafted goods and re­fresh­ments. At Mr. Trombly’s Tea, there’s al­ways a warm cup of tea avail­able to sip as you pe­ruse the shop, stocked with teas that range in taste from bright to flow­ery to malty to veg­e­tal. Gen­maicha, Cold Chaser and Im­mu­nity Booster are ex­cel­lent fall choices. Mr. Trombly’s Tea, 25185 Main St., Dun­cans Mills, (707) 865-9979. www.mr tromblystea.com

4. Goat Rock Beach, Sonoma Coast

State Park: A short drive from Dun­cans Mills, as the Rus­sian River gorge widens to a val­ley dot­ted with farms, the salty smell of the coast fil­ters in through car win­dows. Sonoma Coast State Park’s sandy beaches and craggy coast­line make up one of Cal­i­for­nia’s most scenic at­trac­tions. Head to Goat Rock, near the mouth of the Rus­sian River, to en­joy the eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble sandy beach, or spy the colony of har­bor seals that make this spot their home. Goat Rock is also per­fect for pic­nics, so plan when you grab your break­fast at the Bar­low. Sonoma Coast State Park, 3095 Hwy. 1, Bodega Bay, (707) 875-3483, www.parks.ca.gov

5. So­phie’s Cel­lars: Back on High­way 116, ease your re­turn to civ­i­liza­tion with a stop at So­phie’s Cel­lars, a tast­ing room on the bor­ders of the Rus­sian River Val­ley and Sonoma Coast wine ap­pel­la­tions. The shop, owned by John Hag­gard, fea­tures lim­ited-pro­duc­tion wines from across Sonoma County, spe­cial­iz­ing in wines from the Rus­sian River Val­ley, Alexan­der Val­ley, Dry Creek Val­ley and Rock­pile. Re­lax in the out­door wine gar­den with a glass, bot­tle or flight paired with ar­ti­san cheese (avail­able on site), or choose an ale from Rus­sian River Brew­ing Co. for a dif­fer­ent bev­er­age di­rec­tion. So­phie’s Cel­lars, 25179 Hwy. 116, Dun­cans Mills, (707) 865-1122, www.so­phi­es­cel­lars.com. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thurs­day, Satur­day and Sun­day, un­til 7 p.m. Fri­day.

6. Guerneville: Fi­nally, cool your heels at the Ap­ple­wood Inn, set in a his­toric 1922 farm along the Rus­sian River. Each of the 19 rooms is well ap­pointed; how­ever, a fa­vorite is the old mas­ter bed­room in the main build­ing, which has a bal­cony un­der the red­woods. The on-site pool and hot tub are ideal places to re­lax, daily con­ti­nen­tal break­fast in­cludes eggs from the ho­tel’s chick­ens, and the newly ren­o­vated Re­vival restau­rant of­fers de­li­cious West County cui­sine from ri­cotta dumplings with shi­itake and lob­ster mush­rooms ($23) to the Five Dot Ranch flat­iron steak with spi­garello and sprouted grains ($30). Ap­ple­wood Inn, 18555 Hwy. 116, Guerneville, (707) 8699098, www.ap­ple­wood­inn.com. Rates from: $225. Restau­rant open for din­ner Thurs­day-Mon­day. 7. Kor­bel Win­ery: A day that be­gins with bub­bles can rarely go wrong, and Kor­bel Win­ery makes sure its guests have a rich ex­pe­ri­ence with a com­pli­men­tary, 50-minute tour (of­fered mul­ti­ple times per day) through its his­toric sparkling wine cel­lars and his­tory mu­seum, end­ing with a taste of some fa­vorite prod­ucts. The three Kor­bel broth­ers be­gan wine­mak­ing on their ranch in 1882, and shipped their first Cal­i­for­nia sparkling wines by the late 1890s. If you pre­fer to skip straight to the tast­ing, hosts in the Kor­bel tast­ing room will gladly of­fer free tastes of four wines. Grab a snack at the on-site del­i­catessen (with pre­made del­i­ca­cies, as well as freshly made items) be­fore you taste some more wine, down the road. Kor­bel Win­ery, 13250 River Road, Guerneville, (707) 824-7676, www.kor­bel.com. Open 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (Nov. 1-April 30), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. May 1-Oct. 31.

8. Iron Horse Vine­yards: For a dif­fer­ent view of wine­mak­ing in the re­gion, visit Iron Horse Vine­yards, in the Green Val­ley of Rus­sian River. The ap­prox­i­mately 160 acres un­der vine are planted with Chardon­nay and Pinot Noir, and from the win­ery, there’s a spec­tac­u­lar view across Sonoma County to Mount St. He­lena. Tast­ings of the es­tate-grown wines (in­clud­ing sparkling wine) are done in the out­door tast­ing room, and tours are also of­fered — to en­sure you get the time you want, book an on­line reser­va­tion. Iron Horse Vine­yards, 9786 Ross Sta­tion Road, Se­bastopol, (707) 887-1507. www.iron­hor­se­vine­yards.com Open 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily. Tast­ing fee: $25. 9. The Bar­low: It’s back to the Bar­low at the end of the week­end for a longer look around, when all the shops, restau­rants and tast­ing rooms are open. Pe­ruse clothes and ac­ces­sories at Tamarind Cloth­ing, house­wares at Se­bastopol Kitchen and Ta­ble, and art at the Ti­betan Gallery & Stu­dio. Or con­tinue tast­ing cheese (Wm. Cofield Cheese­mak­ers), pizza (Vi­gnette Pizze­ria), ice cream (Sub Zero Ice Cream), wine (La Fol­lette Wines, MacPhail Tast­ing Lounge, Mari­mar Es­tate, Wind Gap Wines), beer (Crooked Goat Brew­ing, Wood­four Brew­ing) and spir­its (Spirit Works Dis­tillery) and wrap up your week­end with a leisurely stroll around the cam­pus be­fore hit­ting the road home. The Bar­low, McKin­ley Street, Se­bastopol, (707) 824-5600, www. the­bar­low.net. Open 6 a.m.-12 a.m. daily. In­di­vid­ual shop hours vary.

Pho­tos by James Ten­suan / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Arm­strong Red­woods State Nat­u­ral Re­serve in Guerneville fea­tures trails of vary­ing dif­fi­cul­ties for hik­ers.

1 1 116 116 Steven Stankiewicz / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Peo­ple line up for cof­fee at Tay­lor Maid Farms at the Bar­low, an open-air ar­ti­san mar­ket­place of shops and restau­rants in Se­bastopol.

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