A little Eden tempts with sinfully good apples, wine and restaurants.
There has never been a better time to visit the Sonoma County town of Sebastopol, Calif. Long known for its Gravenstein apples, Sebastopol still has the boisterous charm of an old-fashioned farming community where you'll find a roadside stop selling pie and antique stores with deals on 1930s quilts. But now you'll also discover choice local wines in a dozen tasting rooms and a growing number of tony restaurants. And then there's the variety of shops along the funky main street.
The centerpiece of any fall trip to Sebastopol is a tour of its apple country. The Gravenstein—a greenish yellow variety with red stripes—is tasty eaten out of hand, incomparable when baked. It was first planted in Sonoma County by Russian trappers in the early 1800s. Introduced as a commercial crop during the 1890s, the fruit flourished and the town soon became known as the Gravenstein Apple Capital of the World. Alas, the Gravenstein doesn't travel well and found itself edged out of the market by less fragile varieties. Beginning in the late 1960s many of the area's orchards were uprooted and replanted with grapes.
At the north end of town along the Gravenstein Highway, though, you'll see orchards of gnarled apple trees. The lovely 14-acre Gabriel Farm lets you pick your own organic apples. At Walker Apples they do the picking, but you can sample more than two dozen varieties grown on the ranch. To continue an apple-themed tour, drop by the Ace-inthe- Hole Pub for a pint of hard cider, then head to Mom's Apple Pie shop just up the road.
Of course, you'll see plenty of apples at the farmers' market, held in the town square just steps from Sebastopol's Main Street. Autumn's bounty also runs to Hachiya persimmons, Asian pears, and local goat cheeses. After visiting the market, stroll along the street. Highlights include the excellent Copperfield's Books and People's Music, where you can buy just about any exotic instrument you've never heard of, from a Chinese cello to a pentatonic marimba. A few steps away, Incredible Records offers '60s music memorabilia such as darkly comic doodles by Jim Morrison and an original Woodstock poster.
Be sure to make a detour to nearby Florence Avenue, where many front yards display the colorful work of sculptor Patrick Amiot. You'll spot his art elsewhere in town, but the quiet residential block where Amiot lives teems with his creations: athletes, action figures, opera singers, all crafted from castoff vacuum cleaner parts, discarded barbecues, and scrap metal.
If, like Amiot, you derive inspiration from old stuff, don't miss the salvage and antique stores scattered south of town. Ray's Trading Co. stocks vintage crystal doorknobs and washboards; Trader Buck's is the place for lead soldiers and dining room sets. The biggest selection is at Antique Society, where you'll find both kitsch and bona fide treasures.
If apples and antiques reflect Sebastopol's past, wine appears to be its future. Graton Ridge Cellars north of town, which produces fewer than 1,000 cases a year, has free tastings. At the more formal Lynmar Estate you can pay $10 for four tastes or shell out $45 for the food pairing that allows you to try a Lynmar pinot noir matched to, say, a risotto made with squash grown in the winery's sprawling exhibition garden.
An emerging wine country town needs stylish restaurants, and Sebastopol has several. At K&L Bistro, winner of a coveted Michelin Guide star for 2008, you can savor house-made boudin blanc sausages. And no trip to Sebastopol is complete without a stop for ice cream at Screamin' Mimi's. Seasonal flavors include Crane melon and, of course, Gravenstein apple sorbet.
At Beekind's honey bar, you can sample 45 varieties of sweetness, from a mild alfalfa to a lusty blackberry. Also check out the beeswax candles and get a copy of Beekeeping for Dummies. 921 Gravenstein Ave., (707) 824-2905, beekind.com.
Try K&L Bistro's yellowfin tuna tartare with avocado salad and a wonton crisp. 119 S. Main St., (707) 823-6614.
Photography by Sean Arbabi
This article was first published in September 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.