Lonely Planet – Road-tripping Sonoma County’s Bohemian Highway
Road-tripping Sonoma County’s Bohemian Highway
Sonoma County is like heaven on earth when it comes to food and wine. Locally focused, organic cuisine is part of everyday life. In 2014, Sonoma County set off on a mission to become the world’s first 100-percent sustainable wine region. All along this highway — which connects the picturesque hamlets of Freestone, Occidental and Monte Rio — you’ll find organic farms, wineries, shops and restaurants that boast an unbeatable artsy, hip Bohemian flair, making it one of the most scenic drives in the state.
Day One: Redwoods and Champagne
Begin your journey by mingling with the most majestic beauties in the state of California: Sequoia sempervirens. These incredible trees, commonly known as coast redwoods, can live for up to 2000 years, grow to a diameter of 12-16 feet, and stand up to 350 feet tall. The Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, located just to the north of the Bohemian Highway, features a visitor center, a variety of picnic facilities, and the Pioneer Nature Trail – a mile-and-a-half long round trip trail that offers a glimpse into the primeval redwood forest that covered much of this area, before logging operations began during the 19th century.
There’s no better way to celebrate Day One of your journey along the Bohemian Highway than with a champagne toast. Korbel Champagne Cellars is the oldest continually operating champagne house in North America, dating back to 1882; Bohemia-born brothers brothers Francis, Joseph and Anton founded the winery and dedicated themselves to making méthode champenoise California champagnes.
Set off on a tour of the cellars which begins, as every tour should, with a champagne toast, then go behind the scenes to see the step-by-step process behind bubbly. Save some time for strolling the old-world style, manicured gardens, preferably with a glass of champagne in hand. Enjoy lunch at the onsite delicatessen, which offers a variety of pastries and sandwiches, as well as outdoor balcony seating.
Settle in for the night at the eco-chic, boutique Boon Hotel + Spa, an intimate, eco-chic retreat located on the edge of the Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve. Treat yourself to a massage then head to sister restaurant Boon Eat + Drink for farm-to-table California cuisine. Cap off your evening by heading to the cantina next door, El Barrio, for the best margaritas in town.
Day 2: Beach vibes, canopy thrills and Pinot Noirs
The laid-back hamlet of Monte Rio flanks both sides of the wide Russian River, with a historic bridge connecting its two burgs. Tourists began flocking here in the 1870s, when train service began delivering vacationing San Franciscans direct to the town’s heart; you’ll know you’ve arrived when you spot the 1950s-style neon sign, “Welcome to Monte Rio, Vacation Wonderland.”
The town’s Monte Rio Community Beach offers a sun-splashed oasis along the calm waters of the wide Russian River. Rent a canoe, kayak or paddleboard onsite, take a dip, or just catch some rays at this unique, riverbank beach.
Adventurous travelers will want to head up 250 feet into treetops: Sonoma Canopy Tours offers an exhilarating, two-hour zip line experience through the coast redwood forest. You’ll whiz up to 40 miles per hour on seven zips and cross two sky bridges, giving you a glimpse of the stately redwoods like you’ve never seen them before.
Calm your ziplined nerves with a glass of velvety Pinot Noir at the appointment-only Square Peg Estate Vineyard. Located in one of the finest sections of the Russian River Valley, at an elevation of approximately 800 feet, the winery bottles up traditional, Burgundian style Pinot Noirs. Reserve a private seated tasting by calling ahead or booking online and you’ll sip from a flight of five Vineyard Designate and Estate Wines. The tasting fee is $25 and will be refunded with a minimum purchase of two or more bottles per person.
Spend the night at the highway’s midpoint, the tiny hamlet of Occidental, where a stroll-worthy, two-block long Main Street is lined with charming boutiques, art galleries, and tasting rooms. Walk-ins are welcome at quaint Boheme Wines Tasting Room, where Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines from the Sonoma Coast and Santa Lucia Highlands are just waiting to be sipped. The town has long been famous for its Italian cuisine: Negri’s Italian Dinners & Joe’s Bar, with its vintage trattoria ambience, has been serving up Italian classics, including house made pasta and pizza, since 1943. The Inn at Occidental offers a romantic, luxury inn experience; for a more rustic, budget-minded stay, Shanti, a working farm, hosts guest in onsite cottages, campsites, and even a yurt.
Day 3: Sip and spa
With its population of 32 residents, Freestone is the smallest of the hamlets on the highway, with a half-mile long Main Street.
Start your day at Wild Flour Bread, which opens daily at 8am with four types of breads only: sticky bun, cheese fougasse, goat flatbread and either The Bohemian (apricot, orange and pecan) or The Egyptian (pear, fig and candied ginger), all baked in a wood-fired oven. Arrive early; these loaves tend to sell out quickly. Take a loaf of bread to go and head over to Freestone Artisan Cheese for the largest selection of artisan cheese in the county, as well as nuts, honey, jams, olive oils and more locally produced gourmet bites.
Nothing pairs better with a loaf of crusty bread than a glass of wine, and the soulful wines of Freeman Vineyard and Winery have earned accolades for their grace and complexity. Join the winemaking team for a tour of the rolling vineyards then head to the winery’s cave for a one-on-one tasting of the best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay the Sonoma Coast has to offer. All visits are by appointment only, so call ahead or book online.
End your trip on a zen-filled note at the Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, where a secluded five acres of creekside property is home to five distinct Japanese garden areas. Treat yourself to an outdoor massage in a private pagoda. Float restfully in swinging cloud beds. Settle in for a tea ceremony in a blissful Japanese tea garden, then indulge in a cedar enzyme bath, a rejuvenating heat treatment from Japan that will immerse you in a soft and fragrant blend of finely ground evergreens and rice bran.