The Apple of Sonoma’s Eye and Artistic Spirit

But back in the day, the main commodity in Sebastopol was apples. In the late 1800s, it was known as the Gravenstein Capital of the World, named for its most prolific apple that renowned horticulturist Luther Burbank discovered. The town’s orchards eventually gave way to vineyards, and today, celebrations like the Apple Blossom Festival and Gravenstein Apple Fair pay homage to Sebastopol’s roots (tourists can even tour Burbank’s 1885 Goldridge Experiment Farm).

Sebastopol is at the heart of what Sonoma locals affectionately call “West County,” a special slice of wine country with a unique and artistic spirit. Tie-dye shirts and Birkenstocks are the standard garb here, so one doesn’t need to worry about dressing up — not even for brunch or wine tasting.

THE BARLOW

Sebastopol’s main event is The Barlow, a 12-acre industrial outdoor market set on the site of a former apple cannery. The Barlow is a one-of-a-kind collective of more than 30 local craftsmen and entrepreneurs showcasing the diverse bounty of Sonoma County.

EAT & DRINK

Take a trip to Nola via Blue Ridge Kitchen, where one can order up refreshing cocktails and Southern comfort specialties like drunken fried chicken, a wood-grilled portobello Po’Boy, shrimp and grits, and Mississippi Mud Pie for desserts. The seafood tower is perfect for sharing, and this is also one of the best spots for weekend brunch. Three words: Lobster Croque Madame. // brkitchen.com

Redefining the phrase “garden party,” Fern Bar is a whimsical, fern and plant-filled utopia from the owners of other Sebastopol staples, Handline and the beloved but defunct Lowell’s. Bar Manager Sam Levy, formerly of Meadowood, has a knack for crafting unique cocktails with playful names that are almost too pretty to sip, like the Long Thailand Ice Tea (mezcal, guava, aloe, ortolan aperitif, lemon, chia, hibiscus, jasmine, cinnamon). There’s also a handful of delightful spirit-free options, plus wine and beer. Open for dinner and weekend brunch, the quirky menu features a variety of dishes that range from a veggie rice bowl to a New York strip. // fernbar.com

WINE, BEER + SPIRITS

The Barlow is home to a few wine tasting rooms like Pax Wines and Kosta Brown, but one can sip their way through Sonoma County’s terroir in one place at Region, which opened in 2020. Bravely hand over a credit card upon entry and be given a tasting card, which offers access to samples of up to 50 local wines with the tap of a button from high-tech, self-serve wine stations.

Nearly all the producers featured are lesser-known boutique brands that don’t have their own tasting room, and each week, one winery partner pops up in-house to offer additional wine flights, library vintages, food pairings, and more. Food is available to order from Region’s neighbors, like Acre Pizza, Sushi Kosho, and The Farmer’s Wife, making this a two-for-one for those short on time. // drinkyourregion.co

Golden State Cider is the ultimate representation of Sebastopol’s history. Curate a flight from their 12 taps, sampling ciders like Save the Gravenstein (made from 100 percent Sebastopol Gravenstein apples), Gingergrass, and the lightly hopped Mellow Green. While sipping, snack on the Comet Corn made with “hippie dust,” maple, and celestial salt. // drinkgoldenstate.com

Named the 2020 Distillery of the Year by the American Distillery Institute, Spirit Works Distillery also has one of the few female-led distilling teams in the country. Using a grain to glass process, which means they mill, mash, ferment, and distill organic grains on-site, Spirit Works crafts an array of spirits, but it’s their Sloe Gin for which they are most famous.

They’re the only distillery in the U.S. producing the gin-based liquor that’s traditionally made in the U.K. — where co-founder Timo is from — with tart sloe berries, a relative of the plum. Swing by their tasting room for sample tastes and a cocktail flight. // spiritworksdistillery.com

SHOP

California Sister stands out among The Barlow’s boutiques and art galleries as a calming oasis covered wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-floor in plants and colorful, sweet smelling flowers. Stop in here to find ways to add some life and warmth to any home décor. They also sell artisanal perfumes, smudge wands, wellness products, and jewelry. // californiasister.com

On the second weekend of each month from April through December, the pedestrian only streets of The Barlow are invaded by Head West, an outdoor market featuring more than 50 local artisans selling art, jewelry, clothes and accessories, crystals, soaps, and even boom boxes made from vintage suitcases. // headwestmarketplace.com

BEYOND THE BARLOW

While The Barlow is Sebastopol’s biggest tourist draw, there’s plenty more to do in town beyond its borders. For instance, no Sebastopol trip is complete without a stroll down Florence Avenue, one of the most eclectic streets in America. Junk sculptors and Florence Ave. residents Patrick Amiot and his wife Brigitte Laurent have created life-size sculptures out of other people’s trash for nearly every single house on their street. There’s everything from mythical creatures to baseball legends to all kinds of animals on display, offering a window into the unique spirit of Sebastopol and the personalities of each homeowner.

At the edge of town, a stretch of road on Highway 116 between Cotati and Sebastopol is known as Antique Row, where several vintage and antique shops beckon visitors with the promise of used treasures. The Antique Society, set in a 20,000-square-foot 1930s building that once housed a furnace company, has more than 100 dealers on display. // antiquesociety.com

Arguably wine country’s best ramen shop and a destination in and of itself, Ramen Gaijin always hits the spot, even on a hot day. All noodles at this modern interpretation of a classic Japanese izakaya are made in-house, and their simmering bowls of ramen are the perfect complement to some sashimi and sake, or an original cocktail, like the Emerald Triangle, made with mezcal, ancho Verde, yellow chartreuse, lemon, bitters, and miso pickled Fresno peppers. They also just opened a new Thai restaurant in town, Khom Loi. // ramengaijin.com

And while The Barlow’s Two Dog Night Creamery churns up some great organic ice cream, Screamin’ Mimi’s wins hands down for best scoops in town. A Sebastopol landmark that’s been around since 1995, it’s worth the wait in the line that almost always forms at the order window. Fill a cup or cone with handmade flavors like Mimi’s Mud (espresso ice cream, cookies, fudge, and chocolate chips), Creme de Menthe (mint ice cream and chocolate chips), and White Tiger. We’ll let that last one be a surprise. // screaminmimisicecream.com

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Story By: Jess Lander // Photos By: Sarah Montano, Region, Spirit Works Distillery, Dawn Huemann & Martha Cromar