Napa Valley in northern California is justly famous for its wines. But neighboring Sonoma County is an equal delight for a visitor, and while it too has become “touristy,” it is less so than Napa.
On a recent visit, we stayed in the tiny town of Forestville, located about fifty miles north of San Francisco on Highway 116, halfway between the quaint little towns of Sebastopol and Guerneville. To the west is the Pacific Ocean; to the east is the town of Santa Rosa.
There’s not much to see in Forestville itself, but its location at the center of the Russian River and the River Road vineyards makes it a perfect jumping off spot for visiting the vineyards,farms and other delights of the region. Forestville also offers visitors two excellent restaurants and a charming Victorian bed and breakfast.
Case Ranch Inn (www.caseranchinn.com) has an inviting front porch overlooking a pretty garden. The Inn has three beautifully appointed guestrooms and a separate cottage. Each room has a private bath, is air conditioned, has high-speed WiFi, a comfortable bed and sitting area. Best of all are the sumptuous breakfasts prepared with produce from the garden. Apples are in season now, so fresh apple juice is a special breakfast treat.
Canneti’s Roadhouse (www.cannetiroadhouse.com) is a Tuscan-American restaurant. The young chef opened the restaurant about a year and a half ago, and his cooking is first rate. Dishes change seasonally. A cold ricotta soup and trout cooked in a tobacco leaf are specials. as are potato gnocchi.
Another fine restaurant in town is the Backyard (www.backyardforestville.com), which specializes in local produce and meats from local butchers. The menu is replete with vegetables, fruits, flatbreads and cheeses.
A few miles from the center of Forestville is the Hartford Family Winery on Martinelli Road. The family owned winery specializes in pinot noir, chardonnay and some fantastic old-vine zinfandel. The winery “chateau” is open to the public for tastings. (www.hartfordwines.com).
Two roads lead over the mountain from Forestville to Healdsburg, the Westside Road and the more direct Eastside Road. Both roads are dotted with wineries, and vineyards cover the hills and valleys of the verdant countryside. In Healdsburg, the Visitors’ Bureau can advise tourists on which wineries to visit, which offer free tastings and which require a fee.
Healdsburg’s origins go back to the gold rush days, but the Italian immigrants who settled in the region planted vineyards. Wine making ceased during prohibition when the region detoured into prune farming. But wine has returned and there are now almost two hundred wineries along the northern Sonoma wine road.
Only a few years ago, Healdsburg was a quiet farming town, but it has grown into a tourist attraction featuring dozens of restaurants, clothing and antique shops, art galleries and a weekly produce market on the town square. It also boasts the first and only museum in the United States dedicated to the hand fan (handfanmuseum.org).
For a change of pace, drive along River Road to Guerneville and the Russian River resorts for a dip into the cool water of the river, or follow the River Road west to the town of Jenner on the Pacific Ocean. There’s so much to see and do in this beautiful corner of California.