How To Drive Sonoma’s Bohemian Highway in CA This Year

By | Winemaker & Educator
Last Updated: April 29, 2023
Bohemian Highway Sonoma Drive through Scenic Wine Country - The Perfect Sonoma Road Trip Itinerary |

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.

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

Bohemian Highway near Sonoma California
Nope, that’s not Tuscany. That’s Sonoma not far from the Bohemian Highway during summer. A drive you literally can’t go wrong with.

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.

Sonoma Scenic Drive through the Woods on the Bohemian HIghway |
Photo credit: Maisie Lyman

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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

Bohemian Highway Wine Route in Sonoma's Russian River Valley |
Photo credit: Maisie Lyman

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.

Recommended Side Trip: Visit Dry Creek Valley on Horseback

Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma) is approximately 20 miles east of the Bohemian Highway, depending on your starting point along the scenic road. The driving distance from Occidental, one of the towns on the Bohemian Highway, to the heart of Dry Creek Valley is about 16 miles and takes around 30 minutes by car. The route typically involves taking the Bohemian Highway to the town of Sebastopol, then heading east on Highway 116, followed by a northward turn onto Highway 101 before taking the exit for Dry Creek Road, which leads into the valley.

If you’re willing to extend your trip or would prefer to do something a bit more outdoorsy from the above recommendations, take a leisurely-paced horseback ride through the back country of Sonoma. You’ll have the chance to admire the vineyards of Dry Creek Valley and the waters of Lake Sonoma as you traverse the rolling wilderness on horseback.

Monte Rio

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.

Local Wineries

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.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Bohemian Highway

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