We had family visiting from Spain for most of July and we wanted to show them as much of our amazing country as we could. After visiting Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and the southern Arizona desert, we thought a jaunt through Sonoma County would be a nice change of pace. Within Sonoma County’s borders there are so many different topographies, microclimates, elevations, and natural attractions that it can feel like different states or countries from one end to the other. One morning we hatched an ambitious plan to show our cousins the vast breadth of Sonoma – from rolling farmland to dense woods; from river to ocean; from sea level to towering cliffs; from chowder to coffee to beer. All in all, the total driving distance was less than 50 miles , but a driving mile in Sonoma – especially along the coastal and river routes we took – feels longer than a freeway mile.
Because it was close to our rental on the river, we started our busy day in the woods – Armstrong Woods to be exact. Just north of the town of Guerneville, Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve is one of California’s treasured state parks. At 805 total acres it is fairly modest in size but there is nothing modest about the majestic coast redwoods that tower over visitors and create a soaring canopy of branches high above.
Our cousins frequently remarked on the sheer scale of the United States, the sometimes outlandish sense of “bigness” to the places we visited. Certainly Las Vegas embodies this sense of bigness as does the stunning Grand Canyon. Armstrong Woods more than holds its own in terms of grandiosity: the coast redwood is the tallest living thing in the world. This is not a figure of speech or an exaggeration. Nothing on Earth is taller than a coast redwood, the tallest of which has been measured at nearly 380 feet. Nicknamed Hyperion, this giant is not at Armstrong Woods but can be found at Redwood National Forest in northern California. While not as large as Hyperion, the Parson Jones redwood at Armstrong Woods is still a magnificent specimen to behold.
As impressive as the size of the coast redwoods is their longevity, which in many cases extends well past 1,000 years.
There is plenty of space to roam around at Armstrong Woods with multiple trails winding their way through the redwoods and several leading to decent hikes in the hills. Not every tree is 300 feet tall or a millennium and a half old; there are plenty of newer trees as well as fallen trees, logs, and stumps to look at.
Along the way there are useful signs and explanations, including how to decode tree rings and what they tell us about the age of the tree. It was even interesting to see the roots of fallen trees.
Our stop at Armstrong Woods was a success and we all enjoyed the natural beauty as well as the serene atmosphere.
We jumped back in the car and headed west to Highway 1 which we took south to make our way to Bodega Bay. Somewhere between sunny Armstrong Woods and Bodega Head, the sun decided to play hide-and-seek behind layers of coastal fog. When we parked at Bodega Head, shorts and t-shirt weather had morphed into jeans and sweater weather. Nevertheless, the scenery was beautiful as always and we hiked our way along the coast trail overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
There are several walking trails visitors can take that start at the Bodega Head parking lot; this time out we chose to go to the left (South), a trail that wraps around into Bodega harbor and has some cool seal views.
After making our way back to the car we set out to our traditional post-Bodega Head activity: lunch at Spud Point Crab Co.
This little gem is located in Spud Point Marina in Bodega Harbor just down the hill from Bodega Head. There is always a line, the tables always look impossibly crowded …and we always stop there to eat. Somehow, the line always moves quickly and we always find a table no matter how large our party. Spud Point Crab Co. serves a variety of sandwiches but their specialty, hands down, is their New England-style clam chowder.
With our bellies full of chowder we headed back up the coast with another fantastic destination in mind: the town of Jenner, where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. Trips to Jenner are frequent for us and every time we go we have a mandatory first stop, Cafe Aquatica. This funky, laid-back and rustic coffee shop has a couple of things going for it. First, they make really good coffee. Second, it sits right on the Russian River as it travels the final few yards to the ocean.
We love to order our drinks and pastries and sit on the wooden chairs outside, lazily watching the river flow by and soaking in the sun. Occasionally a duck or kayaker will float by but otherwise it’s completely serene and calming.
Our second stop when we visit Jenner is a restaurant just up the road from Cafe Aquatica, the aptly named River’s End. We have dined there on multiple occasions and can attest to the quality of the food. Here’s a post from our most recent dinner there: River’s End Restaurant.
In addition to a cool beer and wine list and great food, River’s End has some killer views.
After enjoying the setting sun and a couple of adult beverages, we jumped on River Road and drove back to our rental house on the Russian River to settle in for a nice barbecue and, perhaps, a few more adult beverages. We think that our day is an ideal 1-day Sonoma County itinerary and we look forward to doing it again soon.
John & Irene Ingersoll
August 18, 2017