A fabulous day trip for folks who want to visit the area north of San Francisco.

This circle day trip includes the Armstrong Grove Redwoods State Park as well as a short trip along the Sonoma Coast and a drive through some of the wine country.  There are also suggestions for adding destinations.  At the end of the article the mileage between points on the basic  trip is listed

Cross the Golden Gate Bridge and drive to Petaluma on Hwy 101, less than an hour. Take the East Washington St. exit, drive through town and stay on course. This puts you on the Bodega Highway through some pretty pastoral countryside and to Bodega Bay, a small fishing village. Part of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" was filmed here. Stop and poke around the fish market at Lucas Wharf and the gift shop. There is also a restaurant here.  This is 26 miles from Petaluma.

Ask for directions to Bodega Head. A short drive out there will reward you with some nice views of the ocean. While you are there look for a large depression in the area.  In the 1960's a nuclear power plant was planned for this area and the digging began in earnest.  A very large public outcry ensued.  You see, the site is on a major earthquake fault.   Duh.  The locals call this site "The Hole in the Head".

Now drive north on Hwy 1. You will pass several State beaches, all easily accessible. Not for swimming though, the water is COLD. They are nice to walk on. One favorite is just north of Bodega Bay, called Salmon Creek. When the tide is low, a shallow lagoon forms here where the creek cannot enter the ocean and the water can be warmed by the sun enough to wade in.

The last of these State Beaches is Goat Rock State Beach. Watch for the sign. If you drive down there you can watch the Russian River enter the Pacific and if the tides and wind are right it can be quite dramatic. 

Back up on Hwy 1 the road shortly crosses the Russian River.

You have now come 10 miles from Bodega Bay.

After the bridge, leave Hwy 1 and turn right on Hwy 116. You will be following the Russian River. In just a few miles you will be in Guerneville. Stop and ask directions for Armstrong Grove. http://www.redwoodhikes.com/Armstrong...

Depending upon the time of day you are here you might have picked up some picnic supplies in Guerneville. There is a large Safeway there with a deli.

After you have explored the park, stay on 116 going in the same direction until you get to Sebastopol. This is a lovely drive through the woods..yes, redwoods, but second growth.  Then pick up Hwy 12 going east toward Santa Rosa and stay on it across Hwy 101. This is 22 miles.

Hwy 12 will take you through the Sonoma Valley, past many vineyards and wineries. You can stop and taste and tour if you like. One of the favorites is a slight detour to the village of Glen Ellen and the Benziger Winery which has interesting tram tours of its biodynamic vineyards.

 Not far from the winery, just up the road is Jack London State Park, which is 800 acres of his "Beauty Ranch", with the house he and his wife, Charmian,  lived, filled with mementos of their travels in the South Seas,  and the barns and acreage.  There are hiking trails here, one which goes all the way to the top of the mountain,  with great views of the Sonoma Valley.


Continuing on Hwy 12 you will come to the historic town of Sonoma, built during the Mexican occupation days of the early 1800's around an 11-acre Plaza, surrounded by historic adobe buildings, now housing a couple of hotels, lots of boutiques and restaurants and wine tasting venues, besides the historic remains of the barracks and the General Vallejo compound. It is only 20 miles from Santa Rosa to Sonoma, so you have time to explore on the way.

If you find yourself here in good time you can actually park around the Plaza and walk to Sebastiani Winery. Just walk east on Spain Street through a residential area, about four blocks, and you are at the edge of town and at the winery.

You will pass by a neighborhood which used to be the "company town" for the workers at Sebastiani....a group of 1930's identical bungalows, which, of course, have been very gentrified over the years.  You would not recognize them in their former state.

Another winery close to town is Buena Vista Winery on Old Winery Road. It was here that the Hungarian, Agostin Haraszthy brought the first wine grape cuttings from Europe to California, thus starting the whole California wine industry. The winery is a small and charming stone building in a pretty setting under oak trees.

There, are, of course, more fashionable and famous wineries in the vicinity of the town and certainly in the valley which you will traverse to get here. You can get information on these in the Sonoma Forum.

The town of Sonoma is known for its restaurants and is less than an hour from the Golden Gate Bridge, so if you want to have dinner before returning to San Francisco, it would be a reasonable thing to do.

Recommended are The El Dorado Kitchen in the historic El Dorado Hotel on the Plaza on the corner of Spain Street and First Street West. Do not be put off by its name, it is not a "kitchen", but a classy restaurant. Across Spain Street, in the also historic Sonoma Hotel, is The Girl and the Fig which is smaller and has more of a bistro menu. A few doors up from that is the Swiss Hotel, also historic, and which has a traditional Italian restaurant. Some like Cafe La Haye, Some say it is too small and crowded.  Across from Cafe La Haye is Della Santini's.  Take a look at the restaurant reviews.

There is is a neat casual lunch and dinner place on First Street West called The Red Grape Pizzeria. It is a pizzeria with a larger menu and a classy decor, for a "pizzeria". Also has a patio.

The first three of these restaurants also have patio seating as a choice.

To get back to the city, which is probably less than an hour, go south on Hwy 12.....It is called Broadway in town and begins at the courthouse.  When you get to the intersection of Hwy 121 turn right...then follow to the intersection of Hwy 37.  This will lead you into Hwy 101 and back to the city.


This trip can be extended to more than one day.  One suggestion is to drive further north on the coast to experience a very scenic section which rivals Big Sur.  The road goes high on the cliffs and down into the coves with fantastic views.  This would be a 26 mile round trip detour.  After you cross the Russian River, turn left on Hwy 116, through Jenner and then north.  The scenic section of road is between here and Fort Ross State Park, which is worth a visit.  It is a Russian outpust from the early 1800's.  It was used for trading otter fur pelts and for keeping Russian influence in the New World.   http://www.dreamstime.com/photos-imag...

Three miles north of this there is a fabulous Inn, built in the 1960's on the bluffs above the rocky headlands, which is worth a visit if only for a coffee and the views.  http://www.timbercoveinn.com/

To get back to Jenner to continue the trip, take Timber Cove Road, which is across Hwy 1 from the Inn, up to the ridge and turn right.  This is Seaview Road.  After Fort Ross Road crosses it, it becomes Meyers Grade Road.  This is a pretty drive with some glimpses of the ocean far below.  It joins Highway 1 north of Jenner.  When you get to Jenner it is 12 miles to Guerneville on Hwy 116.

Another suggestion is to combine a visit to the Sonoma Valley with one to the Napa Valley.  The towns of Sonoma and Napa anchor their respective valleys at the south end of each.  The towns are ony 14 miles apart, so you could travel from Sonoma to Napa and visit wineries and see the scenery ot the Napa Valley for its 29 mile length.

Note: People might suggest that you visit Muir Woods as a "redwood experience". This is closer to San Francisco and you can do it in a few hours, but it isn't for everyone. It has been "loved to death" and is full of tour buses and people; parking is almost impossible.

 Have a wonderful trip


Mileage Information 

  • Hwy 101 - SF to Petaluma 33
  • Bodega Hwy - Petaluma to Bodega Bay 26
  • Hwy 1 - Bodega Bay to the Russian River crossing 10
  • Hwy 116 to Guerneville 12
  • Hwy 116 to Sebastopol 15
  • Hwy 12 to Hwy 101 intersection 7
  • Hwy 12 to the town of Sonoma 22
  • Sonoma to SF 39

 Total mileage, from San Francisco, without detours, is 164 miles round trip. The time, of course, will depend upon how long you stay at each location and if you decide to make some of the detours.

 You can also use this as a launching trip to other destinations in California, such as Tahoe and Yosemite, for example.