02 March 2010


We recently had a great getaway in West Sonoma County, and on our first day's transition to a slower pace, we made a couple of stops along the way:

A winery, a general store, day spa, and Wild Flour Bread make up the entire town of Freestone, but it's worth a detour just for the bakery: all of the baked goods that come out of their wood-fired, brick oven are incredible--we stocked up on savory breads and sweet rolls that we enjoyed our whole trip--and the staff is so warm, they have a beautiful organic garden to tour, and the place is a treat for all your senses.

The old railroad town of Occidental isn't much larger, but it is at one end of my favorite country drive in California--Coleman Valley Road--and home to two, competing, old-fashioned, family-run, Italian-American, red-sauce eateries of the kind that have disappeared from San Francisco's North Beach. They're both good, fun, and historic, but my vote goes to Negri's: it's not fancy or specifically organic, but it's incredibly good, generous, and everything's served with open arms and smiles, original 50's decor and music--and it's the kind of honest, homemade food I remember feasting on as a kid on visits to New York's Little Italy. Full dinners are served family-style with (a tureen of) minestrone, salads, antipasti, salami, ravioli, and zucchini fritters, all included and brought to the table to share. And it's reasonable and they work hard to accommodate any dietary needs.

Patrick Amiot is a Sebastopol artist who works with found objects, and his larger pieces can be seen all over town and West Sonoma. A great treat is to stop at Screamin' Mimi's for some all-natural ice cream cones and walk down four-block long Florence Avenue, where Patrick lives and works, and where he creates smaller-scaled sculptures for his neighbors' front lawns. Neighbors bring him parts, and many of the sculptures reflect his neighbors' vocations or avocations.

At the south end of the street are the Florence Lofts, a well-designed, small live-work development that nicely separates and integrates retail, offices, and homes; public and private space, parking and walkability, and storm and graywater remediation. The aesthetics aren't mine, but the design and scale are great, with a larger building with retail facing busier Bodega Avenue, and the office/residential along Florence, with good land-, hard-, and waterscape details throughout.


  1. It's amazing all the details my boyfriend remembers, from our trips. We had a really nice time.

  2. This is really cool. I *love* Occidental. Have you guys ever been to the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center? If you ever do, make sure you somehow eat a meal there: their salad mix is out of this world.

  3. only for workshops--didn't even realize they served food--thanks!


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