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California’s Highway 116

Encounter carnivorous plants and coastal cliffs on a drive along California’s Russian River.

  • Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve along California's Highway 116, image
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    Extraordinary trees—some older than 1,000 years—tower overhead at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Guerneville, Calif.
  • Carnivorous cobra plants seek tasty insects at California Carnivores along Highway 116, image
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    Carnivorous cobra plants, also called Darlingtonia, seek tasty insects at California Carnivores in Sebastopol, Calif.
  • Goat Rock State Beach along California's Highway 116, image
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    Goat Rock State Beach is known for its easily accessible sandy stretch as well as its colony of harbor seals.
  • Iron Horse Vineyards along California's Highway 116, image
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    Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol, Calif., specializes in sparkling vintages, pinot noirs, and chardonnays.
  • River's End, a restaurant in Jenner, California, along Highway 116, image
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    Enjoy fresh oysters at sunset at River’s End, a casual restaurant in the tiny town of Jenner, Calif.
  • The Willow Wood Market Café along California's Highway 116, image
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    When the weather’s nice, dine outside in the garden—or pull up a bench out front—at the Willow Wood Market Café in tiny Graton, Calif.

Showcasing natural wonders from apple blossoms to towering redwoods to coastal cliffs, Highway 116 is a study in pleasurable contrasts. Start from Cotati, where 116 leaves busy 101 to trace a winding 35-mile route to the mouth of the Russian River. Allow a day to explore. Area code is 707.

  • CALIFORNIA CARNIVORES South of Sebastopol on the Old Gravenstein Highway, a greenhouse containing hundreds of hungry insectivores—from venus flytraps to sundews to cobras—has signs saying please don't tease the plants. 824-0433,
  • GRATON Graton Road leads to this small town boasting refined antiques at Mr. Ryder and Company and delectable breakfasts at Willow Wood Market Café (try the challah French toast or the Market Plate: polenta, spinach, coppa, roasted tomato, soft-boiled egg, and cambozola toast). 823-0233,
  • IRON HORSE VINEYARDS AND WINERY A mile off Highway 116 on Ross Station Road, taste a batch of bubblies, a flight of whites, or reserve pinot noirs at this heated, open-air tasting room. 887-1507,
  • ARMSTRONG REDWOODS STATE NATURAL RESERVE Well-kept trails make this park, two miles north of Guerneville on Armstrong Woods Road, a good stop for a ramble. 869-2015,
  • GOAT ROCK STATE BEACH There could be no starker counterpoint to the shady redwoods than this wide, sandy beach by the Russian River's mouth. Look for the colony of harbor seals, but stand back: Marine mammals are protected species. 875-3483,
  • RIVER'S END Close the day by drinking in stunning coastline views while enjoying fresh Tomales Bay oysters from this relaxed restaurant-inn perched on a cliff in the tiny town of Jenner. 865-2484,

Additional reporting and all photography by Erin Klenow

This article was first published in May 2007 and updated in March 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.