Spring is speeding towards summer here in the Bay Area, which inspires us to start dreaming about how we might spend some of those lazy summer days … when we get a chance to be lazy!
Beaches along the Russian River officially open on Memorial Day weekend. We really don’t have much time left to wait, but on a cool, cloudy day like today (definitely chilly for May!), we do feel anxious for the return of those hot days last summer when we cooled off with a nice, leisurely kayak trip on the river.
Of course, springtime in the North Bay has its own beauty, too, that we wouldn’t want to wish away. So for now, we’ll happily revisit last summer in photos and enjoy the late spring blooms and the feeling of possibility in the air.
As one of the (blessedly) least developed regions in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma County remains, in some places, more than half-wild, with redwood-forested mountains, grassy valleys and open meadows. We’ve certainly seen plenty of local fauna around: fish in the river, beautiful birds soaring above, mischievous raccoons and coyotes prowling the neighborhood and so many lovely deer roaming the hillsides.
But one day, along the roadside, we spotted a truly unusual specimen that we know to be a one-of-a-kind local native: a giant bee that’s about the size of a small deer. This fun, friendly creature, perched along the highway in downtown Sebastopol greets passersby and visitors alike to the Ceres Project.
(The Ceres Project is a nonprofit providing healthy meals to people in need in an innovative way—an organization which offers another reason to love this area.)
Their upcycled “junk art” pops up in many spots around the area, offering glimpses of a whimsical world populated by angular, comically proportioned humans, fantastic creatures like mermaids, and all manner of animals.
One of the most obvious Amiot-Laurent landmarks—and another rare, native creature—is a teardrop camper transformed into a massive yellow duck that sits along the Gravenstein Highway. The oversized avian marks the spot of the artists’ sculpture garden, which you can visit. The quirky character of these artists’ joyful works, which pop up at local restaurants and in residential front gardens alike, strikes us as a perfect example of an only-in-Sonoma-County thing that just makes us love the area even more.
To enjoy more local art, check out this article, which includes links to a map of other Amiot-Laurent works around the area, as well as a link to a sculpture trail featuring outdoor works of art created by other local artists.
We love to go exploring all around the Russian River area, but sometimes we end up going farther afield. And sometimes it’s especially fun to just go somewhere on a whim. One weekend earlier this summer, we spent the morning in Sonoma visiting with relatives and then, on an impulse, decided to swing through Santa Rosa and wander around the downtown.
Even though it’s only a little more than half an hour away from Ananda—just about 20 miles—we don’t get to Santa Rosa very often, and this visit reminded us why we should head east more.
After meandering around the tree-lined streets of the cute older neighborhoods, we parked on the outskirts of Santa Rosa’s downtown and decided to do the rest of our self-guided tour (actually more of a self-guided wander) on foot.
In need of some mid-afternoon fuel to keep the energy going, first we dropped by Brew, an independent café serving some really great coffee—and also some really great-looking beer. And we’ll be honest, those taps were so tempting, but the rich aroma of the coffee won out. In addition to a bright, colorful interior with natural light streaming in from plenty of windows, Brew also offers a shaded front patio that looks like a good low-key beer garden to us, both right in the center of things, but also a little removed. So we’ll definitely be back.
From Brew, we wandered through a neighborhood full of beautiful Victorian houses, crossed under Highway 101 and into Railroad Square, which is probably the best known of Santa Rosa’s many historic districts. There’s an abundance of cool old brick or stone buildings in Railroad Square, including the train depot for which the area is named. A small park in front of the depot (it’s named “Depot Park,” go figure) features a variety of sculptures, including a bronze statue of Charlie Brown (Peanuts creator Charles Schulz lived in the North Bay, chiefly Santa Rosa, for many years.)
Restaurants, cafes and a hotel line the area around Depot Park. Since we had recently caffeinated, we didn’t visit either one of the coffee places that flank the train station, but on several occasions we’ve gotten beans roasted by one of these cafes—Flying Goat Coffee—and really liked them.
Cool vintage storefront in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square.
Delicious coffee and a cool-looking cafe, too.
Stone buildings like this hotel give Railroad Square an old-timey feel.
For about an hour, we walked around, looking at buildings, popping into shops and just taking in the atmosphere.
We wanted to grab dinner before we left Santa Rosa, and a friend had recommended Jackson’s Bar and Oven, on the edge of the Railroad Square neighborhood. So we dropped by for an early bite. The space is modern and spacious but still cozy thanks to dark, warm woods, indirect lighting and an interior that makes the most of the restaurant’s location in a vintage building: high windows along most of the space, with light filtering in from the larger windows at the corner storefront.
Jackson’s serves a thoughtful selection of local and regional beers, local wines and a small selection of artisan cocktails.
Because it was early still—and the family fed us a little too well earlier in the day—we wanted something light, so we split a salad of farro, pea shoots, fresh peas, arugula and toasted almonds. It was very fresh and just what we wanted (and about those fresh peas—we made this visit earlier this summer. Jackson’s menu does follow the seasons.)
We followed that wonderful farro and pea salad with a summer vegetable pizza, which we also split. Some might say it’s heresy to put so many vegetables on a dish more often used as a vehicle for pepperoni, but we loved the crisp, clean flavors of this white pizza. Delicate, creamy ricotta made a perfect base for zucchini, tomato and roasted corn, allowing them to truly complement each other. A light hand with the cilantro pesto (full disclosure: we love cilantro) meant that this love-it-or-hate-it herb helped round out the flavors, rather than dominating them.
We were a little too full from the day’s family gathering to get dessert, but we would definitely give it a try on a return visit to Jackson’s.
After dinner, we wanted to enjoy more of Santa Rosa’s downtown and took a little time to walk around before heading to the car. Crossing back under Highway 101, we did some more exploring.
An industrial building turned art gallery in Railroad Square.
And a lovely Victorian home in a quiet downtown neighborhood.
As we began to see more and more folks within just a few blocks carrying away their hoards of Pliny the Elder, we knew we were close to the Russian River Brewing Co. We dropped by but didn’t really expect to get in quickly, and sure enough: the line was long enough outside that we decided to save it for our next visit.
But for those who are making a beer pilgrimage, we know there’s enough to enjoy in downtown Santa Rosa even beyond the beloved Pliny that it’s well worth making a day of it.