March 11, 2015
The drive down California Highway 1, along the Mendocino and Sonoma County coast, was a bit of a bust. It started to rain as I arrived at Point Arena and Fort Ross was closed, it turned out, on weekdays, so I drove on to Bodega Bay, had a mediocre fish lunch, then turned inland toward wine country and the day’s ultimate destination, Sonoma.
The weather improved as I left the coast, along with my mood, the road through Sebastopol was one I’d never driven, rural and beautiful, fruit trees in bloom. Highway 12 continued past Santa Rosa and into the Sonoma Valley, much changed since the last time I’d been there. Driving through vineyards, the closer I got to Sonoma, the more it appeared that the open space was filling in with businesses until I hardly recognized it, inevitable, I suppose. Still, I was surprised that, despite the development, it retained a country feel and I was glad for that.
Mission San Francisco Solano
I checked into my motel, the Sonoma Creek Inn, grateful it was every bit as nice as the pictures on the website. Several blocks off the main road in a quiet residential neighborhood, and just 2 blocks from the posh Sonoma Mission Inn in Boyes Hot Springs, it must be the best deal for many miles around, clean and well decorated, $87, tax included. A score.
I enjoy a bit of wine tasting on occasion, but not necessarily on my own, or when I must drive. So the next most obvious way to enjoy Sonoma was to explore places I hadn't when I’d been wine tasting. I drove the 2 miles into town, turned left onto First Street East, into Sonoma’s historic plaza and had my choice of free parking spots, good for 3 hours. Perfect.
Above, in the barracks yard, Mission San Francisco Solano beyond.
Below, Blue Wing Inn with reflection of the mission, across the street.
I’d walked past the mission on previous visits but never gone in. Mission San Francisco Solano was the last built in California, the northernmost, and is now part of a group of sites that comprise Sonoma State Historic Park. Across the side street is the Sonoma Barracks, where Mexican troops were housed after General Vallejo moved them from the San Francisco Presidio. Facing the mission is the Blue Wing Inn, Gold Rush era saloon and hotel, created when earlier barracks were combined and additions made. Ulysses S. Grant was a visitor during his career as an army officer. The park also includes General Vallejo’s home, several blocks off the plaza.
After visiting the barracks, mission and inn, I continued along the northern side of the plaza, past the Cheese Factory, a long-time visitor favorite. I was sorry to see that my favorite antiquarian bookshop was gone, not surprising somehow. I strolled past the shops on the west side before crossing to the shady park that occupies the center of the one block square and where Sonoma City Hall is located and the visitor center, once the town's Carnegie library.
A Walk Around the Plaza
I had a list of recommended restaurants but, walking down the passageway alongside the Basque Cafe, discovered a small Nepalese place, Taste of the Himalayas, with tables on the sunny patio. I went no farther. The menu looked great, I sat down and ordered a favorite, chicken tikka masala, which made up for the poor lunch I’d had watching the drizzle on Bodega Bay. Sun can make all the difference.
Past episodes of 'Road Trip' here,
and next week, on to San Francisco.
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