Take the Perfect Scenic Drive on Sonoma’s Bohemian Highway
A 10-mile stretch of winding pavement openly mocks Gelette Burgess who wrote “there are no roads in all Bohemia!” The San Francisco author did rather hit the nail on the head with “one must choose and find one’s own path, be one’s own self, live one’s own life,” and so it’s deep in the heart of the Russian River Valley that we’ll find the truth of the unbothered, adventurous life chosen by many an artist, writer, and winemaker.
- Historic Charm and Culinary Delights
- Historic Railroad Town with a Taste of Italy
- Union Hotel and Restaurant
- Occidental Farmers Market (Seasonal)
- Charles Heintz Vineyards and Boheme Cellar
- Recommended Side Trip: Visit Dry Creek Valley on Horseback
- A Scenic Wonderland of Redwoods and Vineyards
- Monte Rio Public Beach
- Charming Inns and Accommodations
- Local Wineries
The Bohemian Highway in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley calls to those who seek release from convention. It has called to writers, journalists, and artists in San Francisco across the years. The winding stretch of highway weaves through redwoods and across the Russian River itself from Freestone through Occidental to Monte Rio. It’s a glorious reprieve from the everyday, just 20 minutes from the Sonoma Coast and the sort of meandering slow roll trip that takes you further than the distance you drive.
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The history here is deep, almost as deep as the woods. It was one of the first settled spots in the region thanks to the timber industry, and over the years the cloistered, remote reaches which kept both the marine fog and the inland heat away beckoned to a soulful community with an artistic lilt and love of the natural surrounds.
The History of the Bohemian Highway
Driving north from San Francisco, it takes about 90 minutes to arrive in the heart of Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. The river itself is a natural marvel, struggling up and east along the edge of the mountains along the Pacific Ocean. But we’ll wax being philosophical about geology and topography another day.
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For today’s adventure, it’s the forest we’re looking at, specifically the lumber industry. In the 1870s the timber industry took off, railways developed to transport the lumber, towns to support the industry, and then…quiet.
Through the Great Depression and into the 1970s, the Russian River Valley was a quiet hamlet and inexpensive retreat for San Franciscans looking for a reprieve from city life. In the 1970s, the river along which timber had once flowed now boasted river resorts. Among the river and redwoods, a natural splendor enchanted visitors then, much as it does now.
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From the 1800s through the 1960s, the wine industry in the Russian River Valley started and sputtered through the Phylloxera epidemic which killed off vines by the acre, Prohibition, and the Great Depression. However, in the era of bell bottoms, artistic freedom, and creative living the Russian River Valley became hearth and home to brilliant winegrowers who revived the region by planting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir… bringing forth some gloriously good wine to go with all that natural splendor.
Where Does the Bohemian Name Come From?
The Bohemian Highway is a secret even in the wilds of the RRV (Russian River Valley shorthand). The moniker is courtesy of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, a chapter of a national association of artists and writers who sought refuge in the less travelled paths of life. While a loose association to Bohemia exists, it’s a far more ephemeral than this particular writer is willing to tackle right now.
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In any case, the 10 mile stretch of what can loosely be considered highway we know as the Bohemian Highway runs for 10 glorious miles of wine, food, scenery, and experience that make it well worth the time for those determined to get off the beaten path and commune with their inner artist.
The Ideal Bohemian Highway Route
Plaid shirt? Check. Favorite sandals? Check. Artistic flair and a love of adventure? Double check. Bonus points if you still have a camera that takes film, but it’s not required. Let’s go, south to north, here’s what you can expect!
Historic Charm and Culinary Delights
Freestone, the original historic district of Sonoma County, marks the southern entrance to the Bohemian Highway. This quaint village is an ideal starting point for your road trip adventure.
Wild Flour Bread Bakery
Begin your day with a visit to Wild Flour Bread Bakery, a local favorite known for their delicious organic sourdough bread and pastries. You can enjoy a warm loaf of bread and indulge in their mouthwatering sticky buns, scones, and artisanal baked goods made from locally-sourced ingredients.
Freestone Artisan Cheese
A must-visit for cheese enthusiasts, Freestone Artisan Cheese offers a selection of handcrafted, local cheeses. Sample a variety of flavors, and take home some delectable cheeses to enjoy later in your journey.
Joseph Phelps Vineyards
Complete your Freestone experience with a stop at the Joseph Phelps Vineyards Guest Center. Here, you can taste sustainably-farmed wines that set the tone for the rest of your road trip. Enjoy a picturesque view of the vineyards, and learn about the winemaking process during a guided tour.
Historic Railroad Town with a Taste of Italy
The charming town of Occidental is a former stop along the Pacific Coast Railroad, with a delightful downtown that offers a serene atmosphere.
Union Hotel and Restaurant
Step back in time at the Union Hotel and Restaurant, which opened in 1879 as a railroad saloon. Today, it serves as an Italian culinary haven, offering traditional dishes made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Enjoy a delicious meal in the elegant dining room or on the outdoor patio.
Occidental Farmers Market (Seasonal)
If you’re visiting during the summer or early autumn, be sure to check out the Friday farmers market. Browse through the fresh produce, artisanal goods, and handmade crafts, and enjoy live music as you explore the market.
Charles Heintz Vineyards and Boheme Cellar
For wine lovers, visit the nearby Charles Heintz Vineyards and Boheme Cellar, where you can sample exquisite local wines and learn about the vineyards’ history.
A Scenic Wonderland of Redwoods and Vineyards
Monte Rio is a picturesque town surrounded by towering redwoods, offering visitors a sense of tranquility and natural beauty.
Monte Rio Public Beach
Relax and unwind at one of the Russian River’s largest public beaches, where you can sunbathe, swim, or rent a kayak to explore the scenic river. Don’t forget to snap a photo with the iconic neon sign that reads, “Welcome to Monte Rio Vacation Wonderland.”
Charming Inns and Accommodations
Choose from a variety of charming inns and lodges for your stay in Monte Rio. These cozy accommodations offer a warm, welcoming atmosphere, and many provide stunning views of the surrounding redwoods.
Monte Rio is home to several local wineries, including Porter Bass Winery, INIZI Wines, Rio Crest, Pebble Ridge Vineyards, and the historic Korbel Champagne Cellars. Stop by these wineries for a tasting, and discover the unique flavors of the region.