Vacation at Home
Summer Series - Sonoma county Backroads
Two Wheel Tours - Part 1... taking you on our favorite Motorcycle Rides in Sonoma County & Beyond - and yes - they're great on 4 wheels as well!
~ The Coastal Loop ~
By Alan Joseph
I just flew in from the coast and boy, are my arms tired. It's an old joke, but I just rode my motorcycle out to Bodega Bay and was struck by the beauty in our own back yard. I've been riding Sonoma County roads since 1974 and it's time to share what I love most about where we live.
Welcome to my unsolicited testimonial for local touring. Don't have time and money for a vacation? Well, "I'm a wanna tella you", the solution is just around the bend... along the back roads of Sonoma County. I know, I know, some of you don't ride a motorcycle. It's ok, just load yourself, your friends, families and pets into your favorite mode of transportation and enjoy the trip anyway.
I call this Two Wheel Tour - the Coast Loop, a 55-60 mile trip out to Bodega Bay, north to Jenner, inland along the Russian River and back to where you started. It can be done in 2 to 3 hours or you can spend all day, just depends on how you like to roll. The journey starts at the gas station at the corner of Hwy. 116 and Occidental Road, noted by a star on the conveniently provided map.
Before you get going, remember the drastic difference in temperature from the inland to the coast. It can be 90 degrees here and 50 degrees there... ..burrr. Be prepared: take layers.
So you've filled your gas tank, checked your supplies and cleared your head. It's time to head west on Occidental Road, across the Atascadero Valley. Did you know this is the location of an ancient lake? No wonder it's so green. You are heading to Occidental and the road is a slow meander through scrub oaks giving way to Redwoods as you climb the ridge. You'll find wonderful views as the road levels off and then swoops down into Occidental. Make your way to Main St. and go left into town.
This area was first settled back in 1848 and has a history of railroads and lumber mills. 160 years later, this destination has lots of restaurants and shops popular with tourists from near and far. Occidental was once known as Howard's Station, after William Howard, an early settler. That would explain Howard's Cafél, a very popular breakfast spot in a grand old gray and white Victorian at the west end of town. If that doesn't float your boat, then drift a bit to the west and find El Mariachi at the western edge of town. The ladies here do a great job preparing fresh Mexican food and I would personally suggest the ceviche tacos, which sound pretty good right now.
Leave Occidental heading west and you'll soon be rolling through wooded hills and along shaded creeks until you emerge into the Freestone Valley. Don't rush; it's only a few miles 'til the next little town. Dating back to 1853, Freestone got its name from its public sandstone quarry. Nowadays, the town is known for Wild Flour's brick oven breads and enormous cinnamon rolls. Take a moment at one of the picnic tables and enjoy the fresh air and the scenery. Oh, and check out the store next door, Enduring Comforts has friendly faces, hats and laces... .you did bring your sweetheart, didn't you?
Well, finish that cinnamon roll, we're headin' west! Turn right onto Bodega Highway and the land opens up into grass covered rolling hills; it's all about the cows. 5 miles of pastoral splendor and you'll pull into the town of Bodega. This is a favorite stop for motorcyclists, a regular stop on the annual Redwood Run and home of a West County classic. Yep, The Casino is a bar complete with pool tables, but don't be shy, these are friendly folks. It's a great place for a burger or maybe some BBQ oysters grilled up outside by Uncle Chango... .for real. Oh, at the far end of town, stop by the Landmark Studio. Of particular note are Lorenzo's white hair and his selection of Stephen McMillan etchings. Go in, say hello, be amazed.
A mile past Bodega, turn right at the stop sign. Now's the time you find out about the weather at the coast. If the eucalyptus trees are bending over, best to pull over and put on that extra layer you brought. You did bring it, right? There's 5 miles of gentle sweepers that will lead you into Bodega Bay. The town got its name from a Spanish sea captain in 1775, but give credit to the San Andreas Fault which created the Bay in the first place.
This little town has plenty of big name destinations like The Tides and Lucas Wharf. But don't overlook little places like Diekman's Store or The Dog House, off on a side street down by the post office. Here some local kids grill up great burgers and dogs with all the trimmings served with fresh cut Russet fries. Great place to watch the wind surfers on the bay, too. On the north end of town look for Road House Coffee... .tiny little place, good coffee, spicy chai and guitars on the wall for playing. You've figured out that I'm a fan of little roadside attractions, haven't you?
But speaking of attractions, head north out of town and your two wheeled heart will leap with joy. We are talking about Class A, Pacific Coast Highway wonderland. The smooth road follows the contour of the land, making the variety of banks and turns extremely entertaining. The ocean views go on forever with lots of places to stop to catch your breath. My favorite spot is Duncan's Cove, look for the picnic tables on the bluff.
While you are admiring the view, a sober note: motorcycle riders have been dying at an alarming rate in recent years, even on this very road. Motorcycles are dangerous enough, but the biggest threats are speed and alcohol, especially in combination. So please: ride sober, slow down and be careful out there. No roadside flowers in your honor, please.
That said, after a rollicking ride up Highway 1, you'll see the entrance to Goat Rock State Beach on your left. Wander out to the coast here and you'll end up sharing the beach with sea lions basking at the mouth of the river. Stay on Highway 1 and you'll snake down and cross the Russian River at Bridge Haven. This view is a West County classic, captured by countless painters and photographers, bring your camera? Cross the bridge, bear left and head for Jenner, named after James Jenner, an author who built the first house in 1868. 140 years later and the population has exploded to 125. As you come into town, you'll see Emma's Café on the left: nice place to sit and a pretty good clam chowder. Oh, and if you run low on gas when you least expect it, the pumps at the Jenner Store work all night with a credit card. Go ahead; ask why I know this...
Before you leave Jenner, imagine what treasures await north on Highway 1... .but that's another Two Wheel Tour. Ok, so double back and turn left onto Highway 116 that follows along the Russian River. Keep an eye out for egrets, herons, osprey and hawks; they all live here. And where do all the local birds hang out? Why in Duncans Mills, of course. In 1877 this little piece of heaven was comprised of a mill, post office, store and 100 people. In 2008 it's just about the same. I'm a particular fan of Gold Coast Coffee where they bake up fresh goods every day so you can sit on their back deck and consider your good fortune. Wander across the street, stroll about and contemplate calling Duncans Mills home. I have, many times.
Choices, choices, choices. I was going to lead you along the Russian River to Guerneville, but honestly, I would be inclined to turn around and go right back where I came from. I swear the roads and the views are just as good going backwards. But if that doesn't rev your motor, keep goin' east on 116. About 5 miles down the road you will enter Monte Rio, along the river, among the redwoods. Welcome to "The River", very picturesque, but definitely more main stream roads and traffic.
I would suggest goinganother 5 miles and find my favorite River burger joint, Bob 'n Boy on Main St. in Guerneville; food cooked to order, crunchy onion rings, nice folks. And just beyond downtown, turn right over the bridge and follow Hwy. 116 through Pocket Canyon. This road is a hoot! It twists through tight canyons with contours that hug the hills. Many times I've ridden "The Pocket" out to Guerneville only to turn around and go back the same way. I am your Two Wheel guru, and Swami says you'll be smiling big time when you exit Pocket Canyon and arrive in Forestville.
We are fast approaching the end of this Tour and you might be thinking about a stop before heading home. Towards the far end of Forestville, you might try a fresh baked scone at the Front Street Coffee Shop. Wait, here's another idea, two miles down 116 there's Mom's Apple Pie. Now my own dear mother prided herself on her apple pie. Then I took her to sample Mom's version... .she took a bite, looked me straight in the eye and said that she would never make another pie as long as she lived. The pie is that good and she didn't.
And I hope this little excursion has been good, too, because about 2 miles more on Highway 116 and you'll be back where you started. Hope you enjoyed the trip, please arrive home safe and sound. I love riding our West County roads and encourage you to go out and enjoy this wonderful place we call home.