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Backroads, Big Trees & Wild Beaches
April, 2024 - Issue #229

What do you do when it's pouring rain while you're camping? Drive.
This was our first visit to the Sonoma Coast area, so we thought we might spend the day exploring anyway. The steady patter of rain on the van roof when we awoke Saturday morning turned that vague idea into a concrete plan.
But first, breakfast.
We ducked into The Altamont General Store in the little town of Occidental, about a mile from our campsite. With its clapboard store fronts, covered walkways and white steepled church, the town looks like a Hallmark movie setting.
"On one side of the sandy spit, the river is wide and calm. On the other, the ANGRY SURF charges up the beach, reaching for those who would dare to walk too close to the water."
Serving breakfast, lunch and baked goods, The Altamont is a great choice for fresh, creative dishes. April and I split the delightful jammy egg plate with bacon - soft boiled eggs, veggies, pickles, chimichurri, black garlic aioli, crispy smashed potato and arugula.
Fortified for the adventure ahead, we hit the road, winding among the redwoods along Bohemian Highway, and then west on Highway 116 toward the ocean. We drove slow, admiring views of the Russian River, and then the rugged coastline.
At Bodega Bay, we followed Doran Beach Road to the end of the spit that borders the south side of the bay. A break in the rain allowed us to stretch our legs with a walk on the beach. One kite surfer made the most of the wind, plying the gray water offshore.
From there, we headed inland for wine tasting, ending up at Furthermore in Sebastopol. Their small side room with cozy couches was the perfect setting to sample pinot noirs and watch the rain fall.
We ended the day back at our campsite, which we booked through hipcamp.com. (Think airbnb for private campsites.). Our spot featured a hot tub underneath the redwoods.
The next day featured sunshine, so we made the most of it. We explored around Goat Rock at Sonoma Coast State Park. You can't climb the rock, but you can walk out to the base of its steep face and watch waves roll past you on to the beach.
Walking north from Goat Rock brings you to the mouth of the Russian River. On one side of the sandy spit, the river is wide and calm. On the other, the angry surf charges up the beach, reaching for those who would dare to walk too close to the water.
Back in the van, we followed Pacific Coast Highway north to Fort Ross. The road hugs the steep cliffsides, providing amazing views. The fort was established as a Russian fur trading post in 1812 on a bluff overlooking a small bay.
After a brief look through the visitor center, we headed outside to explore the grounds. An unmarked trail led to an overlook above a small cove, where speckled sea lions lounged on rocks. They stretched from nose to flippers, pointing both in the sky in yoga-like poses.
We ended our day back in Occidental, stopping at Main Street's Hazel to see if they could squeeze us in without a reservation. They obliged and we were seated at a raised counter that doubled as a front row seat to the kitchen.
While waiting for dinner we sipped our drinks and watched transfixed as the chef moved seamlessly from dish to dish while his assistant cooked pizza to perfection in a wood-fired oven.
Our pizza soon arrived - Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese, caramelized onions, marcona almonds, mozzarella and arugula. We paired it with a side of fried brussels sprouts that were dressed with applewood bacon, lemon and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Our two days of driving took us along backroads to big trees and wild beaches. But as much as we saw, we realized there is still much more to see on Sonoma's coast.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic.

Make The Trip
Altamont General Store altamontgeneralstore.com
Furthermore Wines furthermorewines.com
Fort Ross fortross.org
Hazel restaurant hazel.com
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