Stopping in Forestville and 7 Other Small Towns Worthy of a Weekend Visit

Big state, tiny places.

Idyllwild, Crescent City, Kernville … these California towns may have populations under 10,000 but they offer plenty of charms and attractions worthy of a visit. San Francisco Chronicle recently profiled eight of these small gems, from north to south, with some tips on what to experience when you arrive. Here’s what they had to say about Forestville (population 3,293).

“Many people drive right through Forestville along Highway 116 in Sonoma and never stop. That’s because the town is on the way from Sebastopol to Guerneville (and then the coast), because the main drag is no more than three blocks long and because the unincorporated hamlet is usually more of an afterthought than a destination. But take the time to stop and explore the circa-1830 town, and you’ll find a bohemian paradise that’s a hotbed of culinary prowess, winemaking wizardry and outdoor recreation a short drive (or bike ride or walk) from the Russian River.

Not your average breads

“A wood-fired oven is the centerpiece of Nightingale Breads, which sells handmade organic loaves out of a former real estate office Wednesday through Sunday. In addition to traditional offerings such as sourdough, multigrain and baguettes, owner Jessie Frost bakes up a different special each day: rye, cinnamon raisin or challah. Time your visit right and you might spot seasonal treats such as cornbread and chocolate canelés, too.

6665 Front St., Forestville, 707-887-8887,

Wine and butterflies

“Local tasting rooms such as Ryme and Joseph Jewell get love from critics, but Russian River Vineyards is on the upswing. The main winery building is designed like an old hop kiln — a nod to the site’s origin as a family farm in the 1890s. Today the place is all about organic wine. Co-owner and winemaker Gio Balestreri makes bold pinot noirs along with a host of other varieties, and, new this summer, the winery has developed a garden with milkweed and other plants to attract monarch butterflies. Grab a glass of wine and go for a stroll.

5700 Highway 116 N., Forestville, 707-887-3344,

Farm-to-table hot spot

“Everyone is family at Backyard, a rustic, hacienda-style restaurant that anchors Forestville’s petite downtown. The approach from owners/chefs Daniel Kedan and Marianna Gardenhire exemplifies farm-to-table cuisine, with most dishes incorporating produce from the house farm and other operations nearby. Favorites include the buttermilk fried chicken, available with sides that change daily, and an appetizer platter of veggies pickled in-house. On sunny days, ask for a table under the old oak tree on the front patio.

6566 Front St., Forestville, 707-820-8445,

Booze, music, billiards

“Even if the Forestville Club weren’t the only bar in Forestville, it’d still be worth the visit. On weekend nights the place transforms into a rollicking roadhouse with live music, dancing, drinking and other related indulgences. The club had to shut down for a while last year when county inspectors deemed its 100-year-old building unsafe. After necessary repairs, thank goodness it’s open again.

6250 Front St., Forestville, 707-887-2594.

Path to enlightenment

“The 5.5-mile West County Regional Trail links small towns such as Sebastopol, Graton and Forestville on a paved route perfect for strolling or bicycling. The trail, which winds alongside vineyards and idyllic open spaces, is accessible from downtown Forestville via an unpaved spur that begins beyond the picnic tables in the downtown park. On the opposite end it connects with the paved Joe Rodota Trail, which follows Highway 12 into Santa Rosa.

Detour: Graton

“Another hidden hamlet closer to Sebastopol (and, therefore, Highway 101) is Graton. This former agricultural hub has transformed into an upscale strip with restaurants such as Underwood, a bistro that has become a reliable spot for celebrity-winemaker sightings (Merry Edwards is a regular). The Graton Gallery brings together original artwork from artists and artisans from all over west Sonoma County, and there are also a handful of wineries and tasting rooms in and around the area. On a hot summer day, nothing quenches thirst like a rosé from Red Car Wine Co.”

Check out all eight weekend-worthy trips here.

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