Stipulated: the perfect travel time for a three-day weekend getaway is four hours. More, and you waste your vacation. Less, and you’re still near home. Hence our new series, The 4hr. Rule, dedicated to revealing the best destinations that are far away, yet still close to home.
Sebastopol may not be top of mind when considering a Sonoma County getaway — which is fine with us, since we like our small-town sojourns free of the crowds that plague its better-known neighbors. But it does have one of the most epic incorporated appellations this side of Rancho Cucomonga, plays low-key hub to plenty of charming stores and restaurants, and offers easy access to some top wine country attractions.
Downtown Sebastopol is a picturesque slice of down-home Americana. Adults have their pick of antiques stores (our favorite is Retrospect, which has a terrific assortment of mid-century furniture), while kids will want to stand in line for a lavender sundae at Screamin’ Mimi’s, one of Food & Wine’s best American ice cream parlors. And Copperfield’s Books is the local shop everybody wants in their own hometown, regularly booking big names like Diana Nyad and Ruth Reichl for readings.
One thing Sebastopol doesn't have is a five-star hotel, which is why we stay in neighboring Forestville, at the Farmhouse Inn. It's Sonoma farmhouse living at its best: milk and cookies at turndown, chickens rumbling through the garden, and fire pits with s'mores come nightfall — as well as a Michelin-starred chef in its kitchen. Your plus-one may be even more delighted with the farm-to-massage table spa menu.
The inn partners with a dozen nearby wineries to offer guests "exclusive experiences and benefits." Go with nearby Iron Horse, a family vineyard whose owners, Audrey and Barry Sterling, decamped to Paris in 1967 and tried to a find a French site to produce estate-bottled wine before putting down literal roots in Sonoma, which in the mid-’70s was frowned upon for winemaking due to its cool climate. The Sterlings had seen the success of a similar climate in France, and so made this their home.