When we last left off, we had completed a loop of northeastern Sonoma, leaving a lot of unexplored country out there! Today’s trip will lead us out of Santa Rosa heading to the west, right smack dab through the famous Russian River Valley!
Any visit to Sonoma wouldn’t be complete without a look at some of the truly iconic regions, and the Russian River Valley certainly qualifies. This rather large region was -- not surprisingly -- settled by Russian immigrants, who brought us the eponymous river and towns such as Sebastopol, home to many a fine winery.
Photo of vineyards above Christopher Creek Winery off Limerick Lane
The Russian River was dominated by lofty redwoods until the second half of the 19th century, when railroads sliced their way through the primeval forests, allowing for the easy transport of lumber, and facilitating the transformation of the region from woodlands to orchards.
The region was originally thought to be too cold for grapevines destined for wine production; the vestiges of the original orchards and vegetable farms still dot the Russian River Valley. Over the past 4 decades, however, the region has gained recognition for its myriad prime vineyard sites.
Heading west out of Santa Rosa on the Luther Burbank Memorial Highway, aka SR 12, leads us right into Sebastapol. Hang a right on Main St. (aka 116) and head north, you'll see the name change to Healdsburg Ave before turning into Gravenstein Highway North, a testament to the influence of the region's apple-farming roots!
Warren was a pioneer in the region, first planting wine grapes in the mid 1960’s and slowly expanding to over a thousand acres of vineyards through the Russian River Valley. With assets like that it’s no surprise that Steve took the plunge, joining forces with UC Davis-trained, Robert Mondavi and Schramsberg-alum Dan Goldfield.
Together the duo has established Dutton Goldfield as a leading producer of cool climate Russian River Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
When leaving Dutton Goldfield, take Route 116 north and leave the wine-lands behind for a while. There is so much natural beauty to see in this region that it’s worth taking a detour to enjoy it! A stop in Guerneville for lunch is convenient. Pizza and great sandwiches can be had at the Main Street Station or if you’re good at planning, have the Applewood Inn prepare a picnic basket for your lunch and take it with you to either of the stunning parks further west! If you have the time, spend the night and enjoy dinner here, it’s really worth it.
While in the Russian River Valley one should really take the time to visit the Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve and adjacent Austin Creek State Recreation Area. It's a glorious reminder of pristine wilderness that serves to remind us all what this region once was like, and how difficult the transition to today’s landscape must have been.
Heading further west you eventually come to the coast, a wonderfully rugged and unchanged expanse of Pacific coastline awaits you at the Sonoma Coast State Beach Park. A great place to enjoy that picnic lunch!
After lunch head up north on world famous California Highway 1 and soak in the fabulous coastal scenery until you come to the small town of Stewarts Points, home to a good ol’fashioned General Store!