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Deep Culture Travel:

Delights of Sonoma County

by Karen Misuraca, published in Horizon Air

To celebrate his 67th birthday this spring, the movie director, Francis Ford Coppola, invited 2,000-plus of his Sonoma County neighbors to his new wine estate in the rolling hills just north of Santa Rosa. Francis Coppola Winery is the newest of the over 250 premium wineries that make this county world famous.

"I'm a movie director, so I have to have a theme," Coppola said at the party. "The theme for our Sonoma property is life. I want to create a happy Italian family feeling."

As in Italy, the mild, semi-Mediterranean climate here is perfect for grape-growing and for fruit orchards and vegetables. More than one hundred farms on the quiet country roads of the Sonoma County Farm Trails are open for pick-your-own produce, and such hands-on fun as trout fishing, olive oil pressing, carriage rides, petting llamas and learning to make artisan cheese.

Fresh Dungeness crab and salmon are worth the drive, too, from Santa Rosa through the Russian River Valley to the village of Bodega Bay, where sea lions, sailboats and windsurfers share the harbor with the fishing fleet. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the promontory of Bodega Head is a prime whale-watching and hiking site. From Bodega Bay north is the Sonoma Coast State Beach, actually a string of sandy strips and rocky coves, accessible from Highway 1 along a rugged coastline dotted with spectacular sea stacks and natural arches.

Along the Russian River are small vacation towns, sandy beaches, fishing holes, vineyards and wineries. Near the riverside town of Guerneville, walking trails in Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve meander below some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world. On warm summer days and nights, Guerneville hosts the annual Russian River Blues Festival, and Jazz on the River.

On the north end of the river lies the Victorian-era town of Healdsburg in the winery-dotted Dry Creek Valley. In the Sonoma Valley, the town of Sonoma is anchored by an historic plaza surrounded by 19th century adobe and Victorian houses, and an original California mission church. Nearby Sonoma, tens of thousands of fans flock to Infineon Raceway for NASCAR, IndyCar and superbike races.

In the heart of Sonoma County, the city of Santa Rosa is headquarters for hotels and inns, restaurants and shopping. A long-time city resident, the late Charles M. Schultz was the creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip. His life and his characters--Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Woodstock and the gang--are celebrated at the Charles M. Schulz Museum, where visitors can see original cartoons and Schulz's studio, watch movies and learn to draw cartoons.

Bronze statues of Charlie Brown and Woodstock stand in Depot Park in the city's Historic Railroad Square, which is surrounded by early 20th century stone and brick buildings housing antiques shops, cafes and nightspots. The Santa Rosa Visitors' Center is here in the 1904 landmark Northwestern Pacific Railroad Depot.

The city named Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport for their favorite son. Starting March 20, 2007, Horizon Air will provide nonstop service from the regional airport to Los Angeles and Seattle. In the meantime, Horizon and Alaska Airlines offer wine country vacation packages to Sonoma County with flights into the San Francisco Bay Area.

At the airport, on view are antique planes and military aircraft at the Pacific Coast Air Museum. The museum hosts the annual "Wings Over Wine Country" air show in August, when military flybys and skydiving thrill the crowds, who also get a chance to climb onboard jet fighters and other historic flying machines.

In the fall of 2007, the bronze figures of Charlie Brown and Linus will be unveiled as permanent greeters of airport arrivals.
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