Love redwoods, the ocean and vineyards? Want to visit them all in the same weekend? Then head to the Bohemian Highway! Anchored by three towns (north to south: Freestone, Occidental and Monte Rio), the area is filled with great restaurants, art galleries and dive bars and is one of the most scenic drives in the state.
Distance from Sacramento = approx 118 miles.
One local explained that BH is for all the true hippies that got priced out of San Francisco. Not sure how accurate that is, but in typical California fashion, you’re apt to run into every prototype from yuppies and artists to 3-year-olds with dreads.
The area was pretty dog-friendly (my pup was even allowed in several of the bars), but as always, call/check ahead of time.
Our rental home had a grill so we cooked a lot, but here are the bars/restaurants I can vouch for:
- Sophie’s Cellars (20293 Hwy 116, Monte Rio) – Need reinforcements? Check out this adorable market featuring a multitude of charcuterie, olives, fresh breads, cheeses and local wines.
- Gold Coast Coffee – Bakery & Pizza (25377 Steelhead Dr., Duncans Mills) – Great coffee, smoothies, baked goods and brick oven pizza.
- Negri’s (3700 Bohemian Highway, Occidental) – Family-style Italian restaurant located right downtown. Full bar and laid-back/casual atmosphere.
- Barley & Hops Tavern (3688 Bohemian Hwy, Occidental) – Laidback bar/restaurant with a huge selection of beers/local wines and “fancy” burgers (example: last week’s special was a Niman Ranch beef burger topped with curry and shaved scallions. Served with house-made fries and pickle chips.). If you’re looking for live music, this place is your best bet (Thursday-Saturday).
- Pink Elephant (9895 Main Street, Monte Rio) – If you love dive bars, look no further – this place is one of the best in the entire state. Dog-friendly (bartender had his two bull dogs in there), quirky characters and cheap/stout drinks.
Want more options? Check here.
A Place to Lay Your Head
The area reminded me of Tahoe in that while there are a number of hotel/B&B options, your best bet is renting a house for the weekend. Be sure and check out Russian River Rentals – they have the best variety of sizes, prices and amenities throughout the various towns.
We rented the Willowhaven, which had an open layout, fireplace in the bedroom and hot tub built into the deck (surrounded by redwoods). It was cute, clean and completely affordable. Another good option is VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner). They have a smaller selection than RRR, but you can sometimes negotiate a better price since you’re dealing with the owners directly.
My perfect weekend at the BH consisted of the following…
FRIDAY NIGHT – Get settled into your house/hotel and then hit up Negri’s for dinner, followed by a pub crawl through Monte Rio (highest concentration of bars) ending your night at the Pink Elephant.
SATURDAY – Get up early and head to the vineyards (the drive itself is beautiful – be sure to make stops in all the BH towns along the way). While there are a number in the BH area, if you head approx 30 miles east, you’ll be in the heart of Sonoma. Full list here, but I haven’t met a vineyard yet that I didn’t like in Sonoma.
Personally, I find Sonoma way more charming than Napa – while Highway 29 is an efficient way to hit a ton of places in one day, it feels a little Epcot-ty to me. There also tends to be less crowds and tourists and more opportunities to meet the actual owner/winemaker and sample wines you can’t buy anywhere else but the vineyard (except for maybe a handful of restaurants in San Francisco).
Choose your stops based on your favorite varietal or area (handy guide here), or do what I do and wander about until you find a charming place.
And be sure to grab lunch at the Girl and Fig in downtown Sonoma. Ranked one of my top five all-time meals in Cali, they offer a seasonal menu, amazing cheese/charcuterie plates, local wines and fun cocktails (try the fig fashioned, you won’t be disappointed).
After a day of wine tasting, crawl on over to the Japanese-style Osmosis Day Spa (209 Bohemian Hwy, Freestone). While they offer a full menu of services, they’re the only place in the U.S. to offer a cedar enzyme bath, which was heavenly! First you start out in this little room – enjoying tea and the view/sounds of a Japanese tea garden. They then move you into another room, which has giant vats of steaming cedar pulp (smells delicious).
Plunk down, inhale deeply and relax as the hot, fermented cedar works it’s detoxifying magic. After you wash off, you can either take a nap to “metamusic” (supposedly helps relax and balance your brain waves) or receive a 75-minute massage or facial.
We reserved the evening for dinner on the grill and hot-tubbing at our rental house, but see the “Hungry, Thirsty” section for more options.
SUNDAY – After breakfast at Gold Coast Coffee, drive approx 30 minutes west to Bodega Bay and hike any number of trails. My favorite is Bodega Head, which has great views of cliffs/rocks, restrooms and free parking.
And if none of that sounds like your cup of tea, then check out the cycling options, Northwood Golf Club in Monte Rio (challenging course open to the public), hiking in the Armstrong Redwoods in Guerneville, or the community beach (with kayaking) in Monte Rio.
And as always, let me know what I missed – what’s your favorite place or activity in the BH? Leave a comment below!