SONOMA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA If you find yourself in San Francisco on an unseasonably cold day, make a break for it. On a recent foggy morning, my friends and I sped north like homing pigeons. At the first crack in the fog just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, we belted out “Here Comes The Sun.”
But would the sun stay with us the entire day?
In Petaluma a half-hour later, the counter lady at Della Fattoria handed us a sack of buttery chocolate croissants with a knowing smile. By our pallor, she pinned us as escapees from the city. True, sunshine on the Pacific coast can be a fickle mistress. But a day that begins sunny, she assured us, tends to stay that way. She was wearing a fuchsia-print sundress.
Bodega: Got Birds?
Other than the destination (west Sonoma County), the day was unscripted. Bodega highway wound past orchards of cherry, plum and apple, then out into wide farmland, 20 miles of picture-perfect scenery. Slowing down, we caught sight of a roadside novelty in front of the Bodega Country Store: Alfred Hitchcock, hands clasped behind his back looking as supercilious as the real article.
Hitchcock filmed the bird attacks across the street at the church and the schoolhouse. The store is an ode to Alfred, chockfull of movie posters, and photos of film sets and celebrities. “The Birds” played on a 1960’s TV set in a corner, the same era as the film. A stack of bumper stickers read Got Birds?
People come from all corners of the globe, said owner Michael Fahmie, to gawk at his memorabilia and hear the gossip.
Alfred & Tippi: double trouble if you followed the tabloids. On the porch, the Tippi Hedren mannequin wears an acid-green suit with a black crow pinned in her wig. By the end of filming, Hedren wanted to peck out the director’s eyes.
Because she rebuffed the film director’s advances, he retaliated, subjecting her to traumatic experiences during filming. After two films with him, she never acted in another movie. (She couldn’t work elsewhere because of an exclusive contract with Hitchcock.)
Birds fly off with pieces of Alfred’s head in a Dali-esque mural on the outside wall. After planting a kiss on Tippi’s hand, we were off again, eager to see what lay around the next bend.
Bodega Bay: binoculars and a bottle of wine
As if on cue, rocky bluffs, crashing surf and a crescent of white sand popped into view. Children splashed in the gentle waves at Doran Beach. Camped on a rocky bluff, whale watchers scanned the waves with high-powered binoculars and telephoto lenses. They stocked their camp chairs with enough beverages and snacks to last the day. A watcher spotted a V-shaped blow of a California gray whale more than a mile away.
After the excitement dies down, they pack up their camp chairs and retire to Gourmet Au Bay’s waterfront porch. The owners, Bob and Sissy Blanchard, bustled in and out with wine flights on wooden surfboard trays. Nothing to do but watch the seagulls and appreciate the mysterious richness of Pahlmeyer Chardonnay, produced from the Fort Ross/Seaview vineyards located nearby.
Sebastopol: vineyards in a garden setting
Mid-afternoon, we happened upon another sunshine-filled vista at Lynmar Estate. The vines held up their broad leaves to the golden light. Pinot Noir has evocative descriptors and it takes skill to sense strawberry, mocha and wilted rose petals.
Outside the tasting room, we wandered the garden walkways, snapping pictures left and right at the profusion of yellow alstroemeria, red dahlias, and orange zinnias.
Gardener Christa Gallo planted zinnias with her bare hands “to make sure the soil has the right texture and moisture.” By a century-old barn, the head gardener Eytan Navah, rested against a 1940s Dodge pickup and observed our progress with a smile. A rooster also trumpeted his approval, parading a plume of sable feathers as if to say, “Fine day for a stroll in the sunshine.”
As the sun descended, we drove back to the city thinking how well west Sonoma played its part in our escapade. My advice for cruising in the golden zone? Keep an eye out for roadside novelties and talk to the locals.
—Donna Peck. text and photography