Sebastopol, The Apple of Sonoma's Eye and Artistic Spirit
by Jess Lander, Napa Valley Magazine
Situated just west of Santa Rosa and a quick, one-hour drive from Napa, the small town of Sebastopol is an easy day trip and a one-stop-shop for locally made artisanal products and goods, from wine, beer, and spirits, to clothes, home goods, art, and farm or sea-to-table meals.
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 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.
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.
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, ale, 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 Browne, but one can sip their way through Sonoma County's terroir in on 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.com
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 Graventein apples), Ginergrass, 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 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 traditional 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 a sample tastes and cocktail flight. // spiritworksdistillery.com
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 decor. 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