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Published: October 7th 2013
Shrugging off the common concept of Northern California is a must if you are to take a road off the beaten path in the western part of Sonoma County. While most travelers in this part of the state content themselves with the tasting of the grape and the trappings that accompany, there exists a most different and unique experience….the Bohemian Highway.
With a pot of Dave’s kick-ass football chili already simmering on the stove we were free to head off on an adventure. We looked out the window at the unending blue skies, felt the cool crisp morning air, and appreciated the leaves as they began turning muted shades of yellow and brown. Fall is just around the corner --we decided the open road should become our friend for the day.
The Bohemian Highway is advertised as twists and turns through a “redwood forested corridor”. It sounded like what we were looking for so off we went. This is an actual name of a road that stretches a little over ten miles and starts just west of Sebastapol and ends just to the south of the coastal village of Jenner.
Here exists the rich beauty of the California
small family farms are best
countryside along with artisans who may or may not fit the image of old hippies who have found creative work that somehow pays the bills. Tie-dyed t-shirts and Birkenstock shoes are the wardrobe of the day. To get to the highway, you must first pass through the burgh of Sebastopol.
Over the past few months Sebastopol has become a town that we have frequented on several occasions. Sebastopol is quaint and charming. If you happen to find yourself with a few extra minutes, you may want to stop and explore a couple of their shops and restaurants. Another highly recommended stop for foodies is the French Garden restaurant—they have music on the weekends. But not today as we stopped at Bill’s Farm Basket and left with a box full of fresh organic produce. Heirloom tomatoes are at the ready, and we’re ready for them!
Our drive down the Bohemian Highway did not disappoint. This ten-mile roadway took us through the small villages of Freestone, Occidental and Monte Rio. Each eclectically different and offering the wanderer a taste of the natural, range free and anti-establishment experience, all under the guise of making a buck. Many of the natives put
up with the weekend travelers, all in search of a more laid-back off the beaten path type of day.
As we meandered past wineries, pastures of cows and a few apple orchards, we were taken by the fact that we had stepped back in time. The drive is calming and peaceful. These tall redwoods have attracted or created several communities of artists and nature lovers. We are told the area is flush with free thinkers and back to the land type of folk. From what we observed we might agree with that assessment. We saw plenty of organic farms and it seems the locals are living in harmony with nature. Chasing the zen experience it seems.
It is easy to get lost in the beauty of this drive but you need to be careful not to speed around the curves or you might end up running into one of the redwoods towering overhead or one of the ravines waiting to capture your automobile. The trees almost seem to share the road in places, so if you’re driving, don’t let your eyes wander too much or you’ll have a tree in your lap!
Both of us are sun
seekers and as we drove along we openly wondered what it would be like to live among the tall trees and the ferns, in the shade, in the shadows. It is a gorgeous drive but living in the dark….not our kind of life but we assume the people who like to hide out in the woods have adapted with the lack of light and must embrace the streaks of sunlight that jet through the tree tops at various times of the day. Many rooftops were lovingly covered with moss and we wondered if these homes are filled with mold. We hate going to the dark side but we are sun lovers and this lifestyle seems very foreign and unappealing to us.
Everything from an artisan cheese shop to a home-baked bread and coffee store can be found on this drive, along with curio shops and some restaurants. This is not a place that the auto club highlights in their brochures. People wandering around here are looking for a slower pace among the tree-lined roads. Perhaps they are looking to revisit their past, when mortgage payments and more adult responsibilities were not an everyday part of their lives. Or maybe
they want to wile away the day on the banks of the river, watching their dogs swim and taking in a warm day in early autumn.
The drive itself takes you through constantly changing terrain. Everything from redwood tree-lined roads to glades can be spotted. We stopped for a few snapshots, but found ourselves headed for the coast in no time. We are drawn to the water and find it almost irresistible at times.
Our first stop was in Freestone population 32. We were in pursuit of discovering what the locals did on a Saturday morning so we strolled through a fantastic antique store called Enduring Comforts that had an interesting group of collectables and jewelry. Next door was the Wild Flour Bread store that seems to be the focal point of the town on a Saturday morning. The parking lot was full and street parking at a minimum. The line inside moved swiftly as each person made his or her bread selection and moved on. The aromas were magic and we moved a mile down the road to the Freestone Artesian Cheese Shop where we were forced to endure a cheese tasting and olive oil sampling.
...and the tomatoes
We laughed as two scraggly looking guys in flip flops, dirty baggy shorts and a well worn t-shirt got out of a rather new looking Porsche. As we said, this area is diverse. We laughed because we guess those two scraggly looking guys could buy and sell us four times over. No pretenses in this area of the country. You can be who you are and dress any way you want.
When we are in small towns and airports we often play a game where we guess what people do for a living. Around here we assume the affluent locals are making money from the farming, cattle, the grape or other herbal sales.
Next stop was in Occidental. We also stopped in this town in the spring-time for a tasting of wine at Sonoma Fine Wines. They had some nice wines to offer. For some reason we expected this town to be larger. The village consists of one street, well ok, maybe one and a half streets but it is cute. We are told this was the hub of the hippie communes in the 60’s and 70’s. We’ve often wondered where all the hippies had gone.
we explored these quaint and funky towns and villages we saw a few old hippies and a few young, wish they’d been hippies. A few dread locks have been seen and admired. These villages had no shortage of stickers adorning vehicle bumpers and windows providing clear communication about political views or favorite musical groups.
It seems as if all small California towns have a famous person to claim and this Bohemian area claims Tom Waits, singer and song-writer as one of its residents.
A major bike ride/race made the drive more interesting as when we were in Occidental, we noticed the state highway patrol directing traffic and then several bike riders coming through the center of town. A few locals in lawn chairs and a few standing along side the road cheering on the cyclists. We strolled over to get more information about this and learned 7,000 cyclist were racing on three different tracks challenging the coastal and inland roads. The choices of joy and torture were 30 miles, 60 miles and 100 miles. What a great day to ride.
The drive proved a bit more challenging while navigating this route, but we caused no harm to
these thinly clad bikers. We enjoy a good bike ride, but this was way too much for our tastes. The weather was perfect. The cyclists seemed energized by the cheering crowds. We’ve attached the link for more information on the ride if you want to participate in the future.
We are always amazed by hard core riders. They must be fearless people. The fast speeds they reach going down these steep winding roads would frighten most and the unbelievable energy and muscle it must take to get back up. They have to ride next to cars, trucks and RV’s. As they whoosh past are we are in awe of their skill.
The last stop on our Bohemian drive was to the town of Monte Rio. They have a cute bridge that spans the Russian River. We stopped to watch a few canoes, kayakers and dogs enjoying the river. This town is where the Bohemian Highway ends.
It was early afternoon and we were hungry so we decided to head for the coast. We were less than twenty minutes away from the scenic California highway 1. Along this coast is another quaint
Gone to therapy
artist are so clever
little town that we enjoy called Jenner. Jenner is at the confluence of the Russian River and the Pacific Ocean and affords a sort of throw back type of community that is not known to most travelers. Many locals kayak on the river and many motorcyclists take advantage of the coastal roads for pleasure. It also has the River’s Edge, a place with a killer view and cuisine to match. We visited Jenner a couple of years ago for their annual Chili cook-off. In Jenner is a great waterfront restaurant called The River’s Edge. We sat in the bar so we could visit with people traveling the coast, enjoyed lunch and the view.
We stood outside The River’s Edge and talked to one of the cyclists, who was waiting for some friends. They were on the 100-mile race and decided to end their race at this restaurant as they were avoiding some steep grades along the coast highway. We stood and watch the race for a few minutes waving and cheering them on. We did take several photos of riders. They smiled, waved and nodding as they passed.A few faint smiles from the riders acknowledged their appreciation.
we’ve mentioned multiple times it was a beautiful blue-sky day and it got up to 80 degrees, a bit warmer than expected. The weather brought out couples in convertibles and motorcycles a plenty to share the roadways with the racers cycling around northern California. We laughed when one biker had AC DC blaring from his motorcycle. Some how it seemed just perfect.
No matter how many times we make the drive up the coastal highway we are always in awe of the amazing beauty of this dramatic landscape. The deep blue of the Pacific Ocean, cows grazing on the pin-hair curves, and the rocky cliffs. This is a beautiful country. This drive is reminiscent of drives we’ve had a little further south of San Francisco near Big Sur. Big Sur gets more publicity, but this drive matches up quite nicely, thank you.
Not wanting to walk away from one of the most beautiful days of the year we continued north up the coast to The Timber Cove Lodge to get a drink and enjoy the views. We’ve stayed in this lodge a couple of times and the views are spectacular. Today did not disappoint. One of the great
things about this drive is that when you’ve reached the half-way point, you turn around and enjoy it again as you meander back down the coast…..back to Santa Rosa….. Recommended stops:
Freestone- Enduring Comforts- antique and curio shop
Freestone- Artesian Cheese Shop
Freestone- Wild Flour Bread Shop
Occidental- Sonoma Fine Wines
Monte Rio- the bridge—or you could go canoeing
Sebastapol – Bill’s Farm Basket
Sebastapol – The French Garden
Jenner – The River’s Edge
Timber Cove- The Timber Cove Lodge
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