Vacation at Home
Summer Series - Sonoma county Backroads
Two Wheel Tours - Part 2...
~ "The Bakery Run" ~
By Alan Joseph
Mark Twain said, "Always obey your parents, when they are present." So when mine went away for the weekend, I naturally "borrowed" my Dad's car and lit out for some place called the Sonoma Coast. "Blackberries grow by the side of the road, my God, this must be heaven!" I was an instant convert and vowed to make this place my home. That was back in 1966, and I made good on that promise; so come with me now to the head waters of my love affair with this place we call home.
Welcome to the "The Bakery Run", a 50 mile trip to Tomales and Valley Ford. It should take 2 to 3 hours and starts in the middle of our overly busy lives at the corner of Fulton and Guerneville Roads. Take advantage of the gas stations, the McDonald's and the Starbucks because we are going to the country and stepping back in time. Please refer to the conveniently provided map, return your seat to the upright position and prepare for take off.
Today's ride heads south on Fulton Road, crosses Hwy 12 and continues straight as Fulton turns into Wright Road. Just up ahead on the left, behind those tall dry weeds, is the old Naval Air Station. Back in 1942, the Navy built this place to train young pilots before flying off into the perils of World War II. Made up of barracks, hangers and two 7,000 foot runways, the airfield now lays abandoned and mostly forgotten, just a bit of local history.
Continue down Wright Road, turn left at Ludwig Ave, ride two miles and take a right on Stony Point. I credit that quick escape route to the Old Coots on Scoots, a motorcycle club that dates back almost as far as that airfield. Riding south on Stony Point, you'll soon cross Hwy 116, another mile and a time warp will appear on the corner of Roblar Road.
That big red, two story place sitting on a solid stone foundation is The Washoe House, built back in 1859. This Sonoma County institution is a long time bastion of tall tales and local lore and the perfect place for California Cuisine, "How 'bout you, Hon, how you want y'er steak done?" Ask how the Washoe House brought the Civil War to a halt... for one afternoon....and make sure to visit the bar to ponder if there is a ceiling underneath all those cards and dollar bills.
Another 1/4 mile and swing right onto Mecham Road; the Sonoma County Landfill is a mile or so up ahead. Keep an eye out for slow moving dump trucks and both eyes out for the CHP who use the downhill slope as a testing ground for their radar equipment....you've been warned. So as you SLOWLY crest the hill, the earth will spread its arms, wrap around your soul and transport you out of the 21st century. This place is special to me, especially when I don't get a speeding ticket.
At the bottom of the hill, proceed right on Pepper Road; there is an unexpected treasure a mile ahead. It looks like just another big white barn, but Graham's Country Crafts has been teaching classes and selling supplies since 1971. If you're a hard bitten biker, just decline the offer. But if you have kids in the car, or your Aunt Mabel is along for the trip, you have got to stop. This is the mother lode of Country Crafts: quilting supplies, stitchery kits, plaster statues and figurines, party and wedding inspirations galore. THIS is the real deal.
Another mile and you'll come to Bodega Ave, the main road out of Petaluma. Proceed right and you'll see a cluster of buildings and a church up ahead, it's the town of Two Rock. You know the old line about "Don't blink, you might miss it", well, this is the place. But don't think there's nothing going on out here. Back in these hills are countless family farms and ranches; I was lucky enough to live on one just down the road. Here's a thought, take your family to the Sonoma County Fair and visit the Junior Livestock Auction. Take a seat in the arena and watch this area's 4H families parade out their best and brightest; downright impressive.
Just beyond Two Rock the road curves right, but you'll want to lean to the left onto Petaluma-Tomales Road. You'll see the Coast Guard Training Station up ahead, the last modern outpost on your way out to Tomales. The next 10 miles of open rolling hills is the perfect time to sit back and enjoy the ride. Go ahead, take your time, I'll wait. Pretty nice, huh?
There's a long stand of trees lining the road as you approach Hwy 1, also known as Shoreline Highway; Tomales is just to the right. The town dates back to the 1850s when Warren Dutton built a settlement to supply grain, potatoes, eggs and dairy to the Gold Rush boom times in San Francisco. Once a bustling town of 2000, Tomales has been repeatedly downsized by fire, and the 1906 earthquake didn't help either. Nowadays, about 200 people call this home, complete with charming Victorian cottages and The Tomales Bakery, the inspiration for this tour.
Located in a converted corner gas station, The Bakery attracts motorcycle and bicycle riders from near and far. Thursday through Sunday, 7:30 'til its gone, these ladies have got it going on. If I close my eyes, I can see the lemon bars, the honeyed pecan clusters and the sun dried tomato pizzas. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, take a seat out front and strike up a conversation, there's plenty to go around. If you want a full lunch, try the homemade fare next door at The Deli, or cross the street to the William Tell House, Marin County's oldest saloon. Dating back to 1877, it's a favorite hitching post for Harley riders.
Ok, so which way do we go?
Option #1: Riding out to Dillon Beach offers some amazing views. Across the street from The Bakery, journey west on Dillon Beach Road for 3 miles to the intersection at Franklin School Road. Lean left and ride downhill 2 miles and you'll find the Dillon Beach Café on your clutch side as you enter town. The Café offers a great overlook when the sun is shining and shelter when the fog is hanging around. The beach is straight ahead. Back up the hill, just past the big boulders, hook a left on Franklin School Road and ride 6 miles into Valley Ford. A word of caution: travel trailers make wide turns out here, stay off the center line.
Option #2: If you're short on time, head north on Hwy 1. On your left you'll pass Mostly Natives Nursery, specializing in native plants, shrubs and ground covers. These folks grow just about everything themselves, worth remembering for your next gardening project. Travel 5 miles north and you'll come to Valley Ford Road, make a left and Valley Ford is about 2 miles ahead.
This very rural community was first called Fowlerville after Stephen and James Fowler built their home here in 1849. Soon, the town added a lumber mill, black smith and carpentry shops and a grist mill for local grains. Originally the flour grinding stones were pulled by a team of 12 horses, later by a steam engine. The Valley Ford Hotel was built in 1864, soon followed by a post office and both are still around today.
The beautifully restored hotel is the home to Rocker Oysterfeller's, serving up great food with local appeal. And yes, the oysters are delicious. Across the street you'll find the post office, now dressed up as Gabby Girl, a gift store run by Janet and her dog, Gabby. Go in and say hello, there's lots of options to help smooth your explaining why you left your sweetheart home today. Don't know what to get? Ask Gabby, she has great taste.
Just around the corner is the Route 1 Diner, run by the Quiroz family. Dad is at the grill, Mom is at the counter and their two kids work the main room. Take a seat and enjoy everything from pancakes to milkshakes, overwhelming omelets to great big bulging burgers, all made fresh to order. Small town, small family, it works for me.
Just north of town you'll see Valley Ford-Freestone Road on your right. It's a shortcut to Bodega Ave, but the bumpy road rattles my cage. So I would suggest you point to the left where the road rolls up and down the hills like nature's roller coaster. You should be smiling big time when you reach the turnoff into the town of Bodega. While I'm here, let me correct a mistake I made in last month's Two Wheel Tour. In my writing about The Casino, I misspelled the name of their grill master. Please accept my apologies, Chencho, at least I know how to spell "great oysters."
So it's pretty much time to wrap this up and head back. Meander west out of Bodega, past Freestone, up and over the hill to Sebastopol and Highway 12. You'll run into Fulton Road in about 4 miles, just about where we started. I love riding these roads and appreciate the chance to share what makes them special. I hope you've enjoyed the trip and look forward to seeing you out there exploring this place we call home.