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January—Nature's Bounty: For roving bands of wild-mushroom foragers, winter’s downpours are a call to action as they descend upon the Sonoma coast hunting porcini, chanterelles, hedgehogs, candy caps, and more. Think of it as a treasure hunt, capped off with an umami feast at the end. Relish Culinary Adventures leads forays into the hills above Healdsburg, rewarding mushroom stalkers with a four-course spread that ranges from maitake mushroom pâté to beef short ribs topped with dried black trumpets. Foraging rule number one: Always go with an expert who can identify edibles and avoid poisonous death caps. A helpful starting point is the Sonoma County Mycological Association, which leads fungi fairs, camps, and excursions year-round. (John Burgess)
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February—Ultimate Romance: “When I think of February, I think of pulling in close and having things around you that give you comfort,” says Barndiva co-owner Jil Hales. This rustic Healdsburg celebration of all that grows and flourishes around us should be at the top of every Valentine’s Day bucket list. Culinary hibernation is the theme, measured in slow-cooked stews, cassoulets, and warm custards. Seasonal this time of year are wild onions and garlic, sorrel, miner’s lettuce, cabbages, wild dill, fiddlehead ferns, and a flurry of wild mustard for garnish. Any couple looking to remember how they fell in love might start with the always-popular cocktail Why Bears Do It, a sacred union of brown-butter bourbon and apple juice crushed from heirloom varieties that grow on the restaurant’s own farm in Philo. (Erik Castro)
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March—The Greenest Drive: It will happen one spring afternoon when you least expect it: After weeks of rain, a single ray of sunlight will peek through gray clouds to light up green rolling hills, evoking an Irish countryside. This, the Kodachrome gap between winter and spring, is your signal to go for a drive. One of the most challenging and rewarding day trips lies along Highway 1 south of Sea Ranch and Stewarts Point. Hugging the rugged coastline, the hills shoulder up against the ribbon of road, ready to leap off into the infinite Pacific to the west. Also try Coleman Valley Road heading west from Occidental, or Bodega Highway as it cuts through dairy pastures from Valley Ford to Bodega Bay, reminding us there are still open spaces that will never be developed. (Shutterstock)
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April—Redwood Wonders: A time of rebirth in Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, every spring comes to life with wildflowers and lush ferns blossoming beneath a canopy of giants. It’s a wonderful chance to witness the revitalizing phenomenon known as “fog drip,” which occurs as the mist settles atop redwoods, condenses, and drips down to the thirsty redwood seedlings, calypso orchids, sword and bracken ferns, newts, and salamanders that inhabit this thriving temperate rainforest north of Guerneville. Check tallest and oldest off your list with the towering Parson Jones Tree at 310 feet and the 1,400-year-old Colonel Armstrong Tree. And definitely make time to embrace the massive coastal redwood from the official tree-hugging platform along the Discovery Trail. (Christopher Chung)
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May—Blooming Fields: Bursting with enough silky petals to evoke a Gertrude Stein poem, the Russian River Rose Company is a flowering paradise in southwest Healdsburg, planted with more than 650 varieties of roses from around the world. Every May, owners Michael and Jan Tolmasoff open their fairy-tale home and 15-acre farm to share the lost art of extracting rose water and rose oil for perfume. If you’re lucky, you might even be tapped to help stuff fresh petals into the copper stills. The kicker? Sampling rose water sorbet on a blossoming late-spring afternoon. Ask the owners to share the story of how a stray rose cutting from the Mendocino coast launched the farm nearly 30 years ago.
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June—Hike Above the Clouds: Just in time for long summer days, Pole Mountain beckons as the highest peak along the coast at 2,204 feet. To get there (and back), you’ll need to navigate the 15-mile loop known as the Sea to Sky Trail in the 5,630-acre Jenner Headlands Preserve. This epic hike above the clouds is already the stuff of legend, separating weekend warriors from hardcore hikers and requiring an early morning start and plenty of water and provisions along the way. Pro tip: Score tasty (and lightweight) mushroom jerky for the trail at the only gas station in Jenner. Pass through redwood groves and cross a creek before reaching the top, where the reward is an endless view of the Pacific. On Sundays, one of the best ways to wind down after the hike is with crab rolls and live music at Jenner’s Café Aquatica.
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July—Star Spangled Parade: Gone are the days when rowdy pillow fight competitions followed the annual Kenwood Fourth of July parade. Today what remains is a super-family-friendly celebration of small-town Americana in its purest form. Neighboring Sonoma might have a larger parade, but Kenwood packs the charm of its tight-knit community. For most locals, it’s their favorite day of the year, starting at sunrise with a blazing 10K road race – one of the oldest in California – followed by the parade and a town picnic on the green. It seems half the town joins in forthe march, which has been known to include a goat or two along with plenty of dogs, wagons, and candy tossers. A few years back, one of the parade floats paid homage to the past with two pillow fighters and a mud pit. What once threatened to derail the party is now celebrated as a colorful chapter in its beloved history. (Christopher Chung)
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August—A Cherished Winery Reopens: The frenzy of harvest is always intoxicating: A flash of light from a picker’s headlamp in a dark vineyard. The sweet and earthy smell of fresh crushed grapes. Cool nights and hot days. Trucks headed down narrow Wine Country roads at all hours of the night. But this year’s grape harvest marks the return of a crucial missing player in all the action: Rising from the ashes of the 2017 Tubbs fire, Paradise Ridge Winery once again invites loyal followers to raise a toast to the annual bounty with one of the best vistas (and most Instagrammed art collections) in Sonoma County. Look for an expanded upper deck and a newly added private tasting room and catering kitchen at the rebuilt winery. The reopening also spells the return of one of summer’s best excuses for a midweek party: Wines and Sunsets stages live music, a family-friendly dance floor, and food trucks every Wednesday into September.
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September—Our Golden Coast: There are times when just sitting on the beach at Salmon Creek and watching the surfers try their luck feels like the best possible way to spend a sunny late-summer day. Sonoma’s coast beckons every September, when the fog has a way of burning off early or just taking a break for a spell. Start with a morning hike through Pinnacle Gulch (the trailhead is hidden in the Bodega Harbor golf community) down to a secluded beach. The perfect post-hike snack: A local cheese platter and wine flight at Sonoma Coast Vineyards to remind us we’re still in the thick of harvest. Then spend the afternoon making your way north, dropping in on tiny beaches, some hardly longer than a football field, before arriving at Goat Rock and the mouth of the Russian River, home to a colony of noisy harbor seals. For the final toast, gather for a sunset party at River’s End restaurant, perched along a cliff above Jenner. (John Burgess)
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October—Freshest Brews: In Germany, they make the most of Oktoberfest with lagers and pilsners. But in Sonoma County, Henhouse Brewing Co. created the inaugural Freshtival last October, touting it as “a celebration of freshness that we intend to make an annual must for all of Sonoma County.” Here’s the crucial Freshtival edict: Every beer poured can’t be any older than seven days. The thirst for fresh beer harkens back to the days when Sonoma was a hotbed for hop growers (welcome to Hopland). These days, the NorCal Hop Growers Alliance is trying to revive the tradition, holding an annual ag seminar every October with educators from UC Davis. It’s an excellent time to sample outstanding local wet-hopped ales, including Russian River’s Hoptime Harvest Ale. In other words, now you have every excuse in the world to not drink that squirrely-looking pumpkin ale — the choice is yours. (Alvin Jornada)
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November—Winterblast: Come for the sofas, stay for the art — that’s the holiday mantra at Winterblast, the annual block party that kicks off the season in Santa Rosa’s South of A Street art district (SOFA) every November. It’s Burning Man meets Open Studios, with a rolling parade of sofas, loveseats, and couches on wheels, all decked out with whimsical themes. This past year, a fiery Phoenix sofa scored the most applause, celebrating yet another resurrection from raging wildfires. The resilient feathery symbol could also apply to the once desolate district bordering Juilliard Park, now transformed by artists into a destination for art lovers and foodies eager to ogle the next Mario Uribe masterpiece or just tuck into a warm, hearty meal at The Spinster Sisters. (Alvin Jornada)
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December—Straight From the Dock: Enough already about farm-totable – how about sea-to-table? Straight off the boat and into your car. No middleman, no markup, no hassle. That is the magic of buying fresh at Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay. With a briny bite in the air and the inescapable swell of holiday lights reflected on water, a trip to the docks in December is a seasonal lark well worth taking. But let’s be honest, the opening of the local crab season is always a moving target, so first check to make sure the season is actually underway, and maybe drop by to see owners Tony and Carol Anello at Spud Point Crab Company and see how the catch is going so far. Paisano Brothers often hangs a makeshift sign by the docks along Westshore Road. It all depends on your timing and boat arrivals. Bring a cooler loaded with ice and a hunger for fresh crabs, then your only dilemma is – how to prepare them? (Alvin Jornada)