There is so much to see and do when you visit Sonoma County…a lot of it has nothing to do with wine. (WHAT?!?!) Hiking though cathedrals of ancient Redwoods, kayaking down the Russian River, sipping in the Pacific ocean, shopping in funky little towns and of course touring historic wineries that helped shape the United States wine industry.
An easy route to sip all this in is exploring what’s been deemed the “West County Loop” or “Russian River Valley, Redwoods, Coastal Loop”. It’s actually a great itinerary if you’re traveling with kids and/or non-drinkers since there’s only one winery visit which offers an amazing history lesson. You can definitely add more wineries to the route (see the map for suggested sips) but for the purpose of this itinerary I wanted to keep the sips simple. (You can uncork even more in our Russian River Valley Wine Travel Guide.)
We begin in Santa Rose where we head west to our first stop, the historic Korbel Winery. Plan to arrive for the first tour at 10am so you have time to hit all the stops on the itinerary.
Did you know Korbel is one of the few US wineries that can legally use the term Champagne on its sparkling wines? The historic Korbel Winery offers a tour and tasting of some of the nation’s bestselling sparkling wine. When I was there I felt like a visit to Korbel was more of a destination than a simple wine tasting. It has a restaurant onsite and fabulous tour that not only gives background on the winery but National Prohibition and the early days of winemaking in the US.
I suggest you purchase sandwiches – and wine – at the Korbel Winery Deli for a picnic at your next stop. If you’d prefer you can also grab a picnic table at Korbel and lunch onsite. Or, jump back in the car and head towards Guerneville where you’ll find Rio Nido Roadhouse, a family-friendly spot that often has live music, simple yummy food and a pool in summer.
Continue on to the town of Guerneville. In warmer months, you can rent kayaks and take a self-guided canoe trip through the Redwoods. Burke’s Canoe Trips will get you set up with a rental. You can picnic here, swim, sunbath and maybe catch sight of an otter, Great Blue Heron, osprey, turtle, or egret.
No matter the time of year a visit to the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is a must. Hiking – or strolling – through the cathedral of ancient trees is both astounding and humbling. Grab a trail map at the visitor center and give yourself a few hours to explore. Hiking options vary, anything from a flat <1 mile loop or steeper, more substantial terrain. (You may not have time to do both the kayaking tour and hiking in one day so watch the time, plan a short stroll through the park or just pick one to do. Make sure to check that the state park is open. Depending on current or past wildfires it may be closed.)
Once you’ve had your fill of the Redwoods, keep heading west, winding along the Russian River on Highway 116 to Jenner where you’ll dump into Hwy 1 and incredibly scenic coastal views. River’s End Restaurant in Jenner is an excellent spot for catching the sunset or simply sipping in views where the Russian River and the Pacific Ocean meet. You can also split your trip up and stay for the night as River’s End offers cozy cottages and guest rooms.
The return trip to Santa Rosa heads east via the fun, funky towns like Duncan Mills and Occidental. You can easily get to Sebastopol or Graton for more of a taste of West Sonoma County.
We’ve added Bodega Bay and the town of Bodega to this map to give you more scenic coastline and beaches along your route PLUS you’ll get to see where Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was filmed. If you’re into that…
Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.