When it comes to things to do in California there really is no shortage of fun.
When Matthew and I decided to move back to the Bay Area for a bit before setting off to travel around the world (you can read more about that here) other than getting to spend more time with family I was really excited to explore my home with a new set of eyes. As a kid I didn’t understand why anyone would want to come visit Sonoma County. Now that I’ve returned I TOTALLY get the appeal.
One of my favorite things about Sonoma County is all of it’s cute, tiny lesser known towns. Places like Petaluma, and Sonoma get loads of press because of their large population and history. But there are lots of cute little towns like Penngrove, Cotati and Sebastopol that don’t get as much attention and are, in my opinion, the best kept secrets of the region.
So I thought I would do a series on “Secret Cities” where I explore lesser known cities in popular regions and highlight some of my favorite businesses. My hope is that these posts will bring increased interest and tourism to these lovely little towns! Because lets be honest, one of the best parts of traveling is finding those hidden gems that are off the beaten path!
But first… Coffee:
Like many great journeys our adventure in Sebastopol begins with a cup of coffee and a bagel. For those of you who didn’t know coffee and bagels are an integral part of Judaism. If Jesus had been from Brooklyn the Catholic communion would probably be coffee and bagels… but I digress.
The best place for coffee and a bagel in Sebastopol (if you’re asking me) is Retrograde Coffee Roasters. Retrograde offers a wide selection of coffee and espresso drinks and some of the best damn Gluten Free (and glutenful) breakfast/ lunch options in the bay. Literally guys, I may have had the best bagel of my life here this week. And If you know me, you know this is high praise. Run by an engaged couple Retrograde is a community focussed business that puts emphasis on fair trade products and small batch roasting. It’s clear that Retrograde wants to make every person that walks through their doors feel comfortable and welcome while delivering high quality coffee and food at accessible prices. Retrograde is doing coffee and business the right way, with serving people well at every level of the production process being paramount.
For the tea drinkers:
On our way into Retrograde we walked past a window full of colorful tea pots that caught my eye. So before going back to our car we decided to check it out and I am so glad we did! Many Rivers Books and Tea is a must stop on your visit to Sebastopol. For those of you who are from Portland you will feel so at home here! It reminds me a lot of the Jasmine Pearl which I talk a bit about in my 10 under $10 blog.
We met one of the owners Jim, who told us a bit about the shop. Turns out this place is run by friends and I think that is part of what makes it so warm and inviting. The spirit of friendship and love is so present here. The shop was opened more than 15 years ago and has been successfully running ever since, even through the 07-08 economic crash. The reason for this is I think the people, but also the classes they offer weekly! Everywhere you look in this place makes you smile. From the colorful window display of tea pots that drew me in, to the bowls of local Jewelry, to the shelves of books and tea blends this place is just in the business of happiness. I got an oz. of Egyptology tea that I am currently obsessed with! It’s got notes of lemongrass and lavender and all the goodness of life. **sigh, inhale** (Presently drinking a cup!)
After leaving the tea shop we bopped around the downtown area a bit more. Some other shops of note are Screaming Mimi’s ice cream, Milk and Honey, which is a spirituality shop that has lots of cute chatchki’s and would make a good souvenir stop. And our favorite restaurant there so far is Ramen Gaijin. An Izakaya bar which also has fabulous drinks and is really reasonably priced.
You could absolutely walk or bike the entire downtown area in an hour or spend the whole day. I recommend taking your time and doing the later.
After wrapping up downtown we hopped over to The Barlow. The Barlow is the newest development in Sebastopol. It wasn’t finished when Matthew and I move to Portland 5 years ago but it sure is now!
“The Barlow is a 12-acre Bay Area outdoor market district in Sebastopol, California featuring local food, wine, beer, spirits and crafts made onsite by Sonoma County artisans. Stroll our industrial-chic, dog-friendly campus and savor the organic edible landscaping — a nod to the rich agricultural history of The Barlow. Our community is open and ready to greet you.“
There is literally SO much to do in The Barlow I could literally not fit it all into one blog post. If y’all like what you see here and want more info drop a comment below and maybe we will go back and do a post solely on this amazing little shopping area. Our favorite places in the Barlow so far are Elsie Green, Taylor Lane Coffee, and California Sister.
Elsie Green is like walking into a Parisian country house in the middle of California. It’s so instagrammable I CAN’T EVEN! The owners go to France regularly to collect and curate this very California meets Paris country home wears shop. I just want to furnish an entire house with it. Many of the items in the shop are one of a kind, little pots from French gardens worn with a patina that only time can give. Hand woven baskets that just cry out to be filled with blankets and placed casually next to a fireplace. Hand dipped candles and antique mirrors grace the walls, you’re not sure where you would put them, but you are sure you need them in your home. If I was furnishing a house in the Bay Area I would be here EVERY SINGLE DAY buying stuff.
After all that shopping at Elsie Green you’re going to need to refuel.
Taylor Lane Coffee:
Taylor Lane used to be just a little single origin specialty coffee shop that has exploded in recent years. But it keeps it’s down home vibe. Originally called Taylor Maid Coffee the shop is under new ownership and it’s clear they’re taking it to the next level. Their shop in the Barlow is multi leveled with a loft vibe and FULL of beautiful light from it’s many windows. They also have a covered outdoor space for seating and free WiFi. It’s definitely got a more commercial vibe than Retrograde, but that’s not a bad thing. They focus on coffee, and offer some pastries and treats as well, but their coffee is just exquisite! If you have a coffee lover in your life buy them a can from Taylor Lane and they will love you forever. Also- if you’re like me and cannot work at home because you will focus on cleaning your room, or kitchen or reorganizing the spices in the cupboard Taylor Lane is a great place to have a nice sit with your laptop and a tasty latte and go to town writing.
And it’s right by my favorite place in Sebastopol …California Sister.
Fun fact guys, I love flowers. I feel like this is probably not a revelation for anyone but I don’t think you understand how much I love flowers and gardening in general. I grew up on a small farm and spent lots of my days as a kid in the garden. So when I see a shop with plants/ flowers displayed in the window it immediately draws me in. The outside of the shop is so enticing. There’s all the gorgeous succulents and plants out there just beckoning you inside.
California Sister takes floral arrangements to the next level. Their shop is just full of beautiful things. If you are an artist you will love this shop. If you are a designer, you will love this shop…If you like things that are natural, and pretty and quirky and beautiful you will love this shop.
I would describe their vibe as down to earth and local with just the right amount of whimsy. I ended up meeting one of the owners (Nicole) who told me about their business. She started the shop with a friend back in 2016. Named after the California Sister Butterfly the owners wanted to create a shop full of beautiful, locally sourced goods. Everything in California Sister is from right here in the Bay. From the flowers they use for their arrangements to the jewelry and cosmetics they sell, everything is made locally. Nicole and her partner believe in supporting local artists and creators and sustainable business and it just shows in everything they do. I took like a billion pictures here. Everywhere you look it’s just another gorgeous thing! I bought these really cute reusable beeswax wraps that work like seran wrap that you can wash and re-use. …. but if Matthew would have let me I probably would have bought at least one of everything in the store.
In addition to these gems the Barlow has Bars and restaurants that I could go on and on about. They have a local Market that seems to be the heart of the town and local art galleries and souvenir shops galore. There is a very exciting looking cheese shop that I need to go to but have not yet explored as well… (and now I am craving cheese, dangit!)
If you’re someone who loves to support local businesses, and enjoys exploring unique one of a kind shops Sebastopol is for you. This community is so welcoming, and warm and full of quirky, kindhearted people who genuinely care about their impact on those around them.
If you come to Sonoma County make sure you don’t skip seeing Sebastopol. You’ll be glad you did.
What is your favorite shop in the Bay Area? Drop a comment below and tell me about it!