About one-and-a-half hours drive west of Davis, Sonoma County is often overlooked by those from Davis seeking certain forms of adventure. This having been said, it is not the most exciting place on the face of the earth, but there is beauty in its surrounding tranquility. Sonoma County is one of the most incredible places in California and there are endless things you can do there. Many of the students at UC Davis transfered from the Santa Rosa Junior College.
Things to do in SoNoCo:
- Go to Bodega Bay and check out the beautiful (and freezing) beaches: Goat's Rock, Salmon Creek, etc. You could also check out the church where the Hitchcock film The Birds was filmed or visit the Bodega Marine Laboratory. Head up Highway 1 to Jenner and Salt Point for some true Northern Californian romance. Also, Fort Ross, the southernmost Russian Settlement in North America is a can't-miss. It is located between Jenner and Sea Ranch. The tours are impecable and they shoot cannons off at certain times of the day. The volunteers there often dress in period (early 1800's) clothing.
- Go wine tasting. Sonoma and Healdsburg are the most well known as tourist attractions, but near the coast are other smaller, more personal vineyards. Sonoma County wineries are known as being way more laid-back than those in Napa.
- Drive on 12 west through the Valley of the Moon and camp at the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.
- Sonoma County parks and hiking trails such as Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve or Jack London State Historic Park. For tree lovers, check out the huge redwoods at Armstrong Redwoods or the petrified forest.
- Take a canoe or kayak down the Russian River. River's Edge in Healdsburg has some nice trips. Play in the Russian River near Guerneville.
- Take a trip by balloon.
- Check out some of the world's best mountain biking at Annadel, or hike up there and swim in the lakes
- Take a boat out on Lake Sonoma
- Go shopping in Railroad Square, it's the east side of downtown. Just take the Davis St. exit from 101 southbound and you're there! Unfortunately, there are some pretty sketchy areas around Railroad Square itself, but as long as you stay there, it's lovely!
For more ideas about places to see and things to do, check out Sonoma County Points of Interest.
What not to do:
- See the Charles M. Schultz museum in Santa Rosa. It's cute, but the adjacent ice rink is way more fun for your buck. You might want to ask Derrick Bang for a second opinion on this.
- This depends, if you like Schultz then you'll love the museum, but it is right next to one of Santa Rosa's worst ghettos (West Steele Lane! Don't wear any bright colors!).
- Eat at McDonalds. Sonoma County has some of the best food in the country and it's (usually) reasonably priced.
- Go to 1) Downtown and Coddingtown Malls 2) Santa Rosa Avenue 3) Santa Rosa in general. There are definitely more beautiful places in the region. If you must venture into downtown Santa Rosa, though, note that the Davis St. exit (going south) and the Morgan St. exit (going North) are signed as "Downtown." You would not believe how many people get directions off of Google Maps and get messed up because the directions don't note this.
- Get lost on Hwy 12 - Hwy 12 snakes through Santa Rosa without very good signs, so coming from the East going towards the West on Hwy 12 you have to turn LEFT on Farmers Lane, then go a few minutes and there will be another Hwy 12 on-ramp on the right. Hwy 12 and Sonoma Hwy are the same thing. "Old Sonoma Highway" and "Old Sonoma Road" are NOT the same thing.
- Get captured by the Bohemian Grove, then get tortured and sacrificed to the diplomats
- Straight-forward? Are you kidding me? 80 to 37 to 101 is WAY better. 37 has even gone through construction so it's a nice smooth highway above town. Even as you cross one of the little bridges on 37, there's a sign that says "Sonoma County." 12 takes you through Napa, and unless you like the 12, 26, 121, 116 confusion, go for it. —MichelleAccurso
- The only time I took highway 12 from Somona County was when there was a HUGE backup on 37 at Sonoma. Expect to add 30 minutes to your trip taking that route. -KarlMogel
- Depends where in SoCo you are going, but I-80 to Hwy 12 IS the most straightfoward way to go, especially for out of towners. I have driven all these routes about 300 times, and unless one of these routes goes closer to your destination than the others, it really really really doesn't matter which one you take. Each one is just about as easy to screw up, so pay attention. And be careful of the bridge AND that big hill that you have to go over in Napa, cops are always on the other side!
- As a Sonoma County native, my suggestion is to take 80 to 37 to 101 if you're going to Petaluma, basically the southernmost city in Sonoma County. Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Healdsburg, or Cloverdale take 80 to 12, it's a little more dangerous (especially at night) but it will get you there about 30-45 minutes faster, especially if there is traffic on the Cotati Grade on 101. To get to Rohnert Park or Cotati, basically in between Petaluma and Santa Rosa, you can take either one- but if you have to drive at night I'd really recommend 37, some parts of 12 going through the unincorporated areas between Sonoma and Santa Rosa can be really iffy. —acparsons
Note: if you're going Sebastopol, stop by Screamin Mimi's ice cream parlor: it's the creamiest, sweetest ice cream EVER! Lavender is my personal favorite but all the flavors are good.