Western Sonoma County, California

Western Sonoma County, California is one of my favorite places. This coastal region about an hour north of San Francisco is filled with majestic natural beauty, lovely places to stay and friendly people.

I like to start my journey at Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, just outside Guerneville on State Highway 116. This 500-acre redwood forest is named for Colonel James Armstrong, who saved the grove from lumbering.

You can explore the reserve on foot, by car or on horseback, and it's wheelchair accessible. Wildlife abounds here and in the adjacent Austin Creek State Recreation Area.

Then there's the Russian River, which flows through Guerneville. It's a true slice of God's country. The river is known for its fishing, but the peaceful beauty is what brings me back.

Maybe that's one reason the Creekside Inn is one of my favorite places to spend a night. This delightful inn is on Neeley Road, right along the banks of the river, just 5 minutes from Armstrong Reserve. It offers bed-and-breakfast lodging as well as private cabins amid the redwoods. Rates start at $60 per night, and handicapped- accessible rooms are available.

History Lesson

From Guerneville, I follow the rolling hills along the Russian River to Duncans Mills. (If you're watching your trip odometer, it's about 8 miles southwest of Guerneville on Highway 116.)

This quaint settlement of 41 people includes restored buildings from the late 1800s, along with several refurbished railroad cars. The mills for which the town was named provided the lumber for most of San Francisco before 1900.

Next, I take Highway 116 west to State Highway 1 and head south along the bluffs, enjoying spectacular views of the rocky coastline. After nearly 11 miles, I stop at the old fishing village of Bodega Bay.

The bay is a haven for bird-watchers. From 75 to 100 migratory species stop here between September and November on their way to southern wintering grounds. Ironically, Alfred Hitchcock's classic film The Birds was shot in this area!

Marine Life Abounds

Fishing is important to Bodega Bay. Crabbing season runs from November to June, and you can ply the waters for salmon, herring and abalone. A popular local event is Free Fishing Day, when anyone can fish without a license. This year it's Sept. 23.

Other attractions include whale watching, charter fishing and guided horseback rides along the beach or atop the canyon hills. Rental cabins and bed-and-breakfasts are plentiful, and there's a wonderful restaurant called The Tides on the bay. (For more information, call the Bodega Bay Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-707-875-3866.)

From Bodega Bay, I follow Highway 1 south for 5 miles, then turn left onto the Bodega Highway and follow it east to the Bohemian Highway. This takes me north to Occidental, a former logging community sitting snugly amid towering redwoods. Many of Occidental's early settlers were Italians who found a wooded, mountainous landscape that reminded them of Tuscany.

You can still get an authentic Italian meal at the Union Hotel, run by the Gonnella family for three generations. The hotel itself has welcomed travelers since 1879. Occidental also has many unusual shops to explore.

From Occidental, I return to Guerneville by way of the Bohemian Highway, which runs into Highway 116–a drive of about 11 miles. All told, this tour I've described covers only 50 miles! It can easily be driven in a day, but I prefer to spend a much longer time along this route, absorbing God's beauty and enjoying the fellowship of those who share it.

If You Visit

To learn more about lodging and attractions in western Sonoma County, call the Russian River Chamber of Commerce at 1-877- 644-9001 or the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau at 1-707-996-1090.

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