Your average Sebastopudlian, as I will choose to call the residents of this jewel of west county Sonoma, might not be what you think.
For some, Sebastopol is a hippy enclave; for others, a hick ag-town; and for still others, the hipster epicenter of 21st century Sonoma County.
Yes, the answer is yes, all these things are true. Which makes Sebastopol as equally compelling for a stop off on a weekend drive as for a week-long destination holiday.
In my interviews, I got the sense that Sebastolpudlians are a prideful people, not boastful, but confident in their contribution to the collective good. The recommendations I got from talking to everyone from elected officials to the literal man on the street always started with something that was truly local, available to all, and fun.
Famed local real estate agent and long time personal friend Amee Sas recommended Wildflour Bread in Freestone, calling it “a must.”
“That’s 10 minutes from here,” I said over tea at Taylor Lane in The Barlow. “Is that Sebastopol though?”
“Yeah, certainly people from Sebastopol pop over there. It really is just like outer Sebastopol, you know what I mean?” said Sas, all respect to the 300 or so Freestoners. “And if you’re coming out to Sebastopol on a weekend, you absolutely must go to the Wildflour Bakery. You absolutely must.”
There you will find unique savory and sweet breads well worth the drive. Kids can stretch their legs in the large patron’s garden. Easy going hiking trails are nearby.
Both women recommended the Ives Pool, “serving the community since 1941,” according to its website. Located in Ives Park, the recreational pool offers a place to do laps, have family swim times, participate in swim team and take lessons.
“Ives Pool is so lovingly stewarded by the board of directors and the swim team folks,” said Hopkins. “A lot of people really come together to keep [the pool] open and functioning.”
“It’s a lot of fun to head over there, especially on a hot day,” she said. “[Swimming] is such a great form of exercise.”
Sas enthused about the generous activities of the local Rotary, which uses the pool as the site for a city-wide school district program called Learn to Swim. “Every public school in Sebastopol has this free swimming program that all second graders go to,” said Sas. How great is that, all funded through Rotary efforts? “Like, you’ll save a life, you know?”
Of course Sebastopol is famous for its annual event, the Gravenstein Apple Fair, a festival where attendees learn about animal husbandry, dying wool and “how to make your own apple cider,“ enthused Sas.
While the Gravenstein Apple Fair happened last month, Sebastopol has plenty of outdoor events in summer and fall, especially music oriented.
“If you ever get a chance to go to one of the Love Choir concerts, it will hit you in your soul bone to like go to that thing, you know?” preached Sas, speaking about the standout west county ensemble.
On Wednesdays during the summer, the Peacetown Summer Concert Series plays at The Barlow, downtown Sebastopol’s friendly rival next door, a well landscaped walking, shopping and eating center mixed-in with commercial business space.
You still have time to catch the last performance of the year, if you read this fast enough. On Sept. 8, the Whiskey Family Band will play—“Poor Man’s Whiskey lite,” according to the Peacetown website. The concert series displays that range of cultures that makes Sebastopol so interesting. While it may be country revival this week, earlier this summer reggae came through for the hippies, and afro-funk for the hipsters. And I will bet you a dollar that a broad swath of the Sebastopol cultural tapestry is there for all the shows.
At The Barlow, “there’s also art browsing, nature walks, Family Village at McKinley Street Community Stage, and lots of great food and drink at area restaurants,” according to The Barlow’s website.
Pro-tip: Pop into the lovely Community Market at the edge of The Barlow along Highway 12 for fresh, local products.
The charming HEAD WEST, a regional, outdoor retail marketplace, happens on the second weekend of the month right there on McKinley Street, the main street of The Barlow.
A market of makers, merchants, crafters, designers and artists, it gives preference to handmade, locally sourced, small batch, eco-friendly, conscious offerings and products. The market also provides “community booths,” featuring no-cost space for BIPOC, AAPI, LGBTQIA+ or non-profit vendors.
Across the street from The Barlow is the, as its name suggests, wonderful and unique Chimera Arts & Maker Space.
“Chimera Arts provides access to tools, classes and one-on-one training to Sonoma County and beyond. Beginners to skilled craftspeople use our facility to bring their creative projects to life.
“In the past year, we’ve also launched our youth program, designed to help kids experience the joy of hands-on making,” said Joe Szuecs, Chimera’s president, via email.
Chimera hosts First Fridays, an open house spread across the ample grounds of the Makerspace, with live music, hot dogs for sale and demos of works in progress. All are welcome.
Another insider tip from Sas: “You have to go to the Slow Food Russian River chapter to find the community-run apple press that’s free to use. You can press 100 pounds of your own apples to make your own apple juice there, just totally free.”
As you can imagine, there are endless options to eat around town. Here are a few local favorites that have a broad appeal for any visitor.One that is a personal favorite in my family, and which we will drive 30 minutes from Petaluma especially for, is Handline, a fast-casual masterpiece of seafood that takes on classic fast food—but classier than I made it sound.
“There is an homage to the old Foster Freeze [that was there for years],” said Sas, talking about the swirl cones on sale at Handline. “It is organic, and I enjoy it,” she laughed.
Asking people around downtown what was good to eat, Ramen Gaijin came up more than any other. In case you are out of the market, and think this is just another good ramen joint, this purely Sebastopudlian farm fresh ramen exemplifies that magic ratio of authentic to wholly original. Dope, trippy superhero art on the walls is another plus. Book ahead of time.
While you wait for your table, pull out that preroll you purchased at everybody’s favorite dispensary, Solful, just outside downtown. Light up in the square like everybody else does, and lean back in appreciation of the high quality cannabis that was carefully recommended to your preferences by the friendly and singularly attentive Solful team.
In the few minutes before Ramen Gaijin staff call your name, you will admire the mix of Priuses and big trucks, the lovingly displayed American and Pride flags, the long haired hippy and the big-bearded mechanic walking past.
“Another thing that I really enjoy and love about Sebastopol,” said Sas, “is that on Fridays you’ll often see on one street corner in town, women in black protesting and on the other corner, you’ll see like veterans holding American flags with pictures like, ‘My son served in the Navy.’ And this is a town where those kinds of discussions are still being had in a public forum.”
“Certainly Sebastopol is a place where in the 1960s people came from San Francisco to go live back on the land, and we still have those communes here in Sebastopol,” said Sas.
“And we also still have a healthy dose of farming community that still lives here,” she said, “and the combination of the two is what makes us great. I really believe that.”