Been-there-done that with popular wine regions like Napa, Sonoma, and Healdsburg? Meet West County, Wine Country's best kept secret.
Like the stepchild of Sonoma County, West County is a locally coined nickname for a collection of small towns along the Russian River—including Sebastopol, Guerneville, Forestville, Graton, and Occidental—which if you look at a map, are not actually all that west.
The term instead affectionately refers to the local flavor. Adjectives like quirky, funky, and off-beat are often thrown around to describe these lovable communities, whose only crime is that they take Wine Country living less seriously and at a slower pace than their neighbors. Where do we sign up?
Eat & Drink
(Courtesy of El Barrio Bar)
Open Friday-Monday, Backyard is a casual eatery that takes food seriously, making everything down to their hot sauce in-house and sourcing ingredients from their own organic farm, plus other local operations. Start with the bucket of donuts and a pickle board, an epic and colorful assortment of fermented and pickled veggies (think, pickled radish, fennel, and heirloom carrots). If you go for weekend brunch, arrive early and ask about the fried chicken benedict. It's a not-so-secret menu item that always goes quickly. // 6566 Front St. (Forestville), backyardforestville.com
Willow Wood Market
This roadside eatery is nothing fancy, yet full of charm and old-fashioned hospitality (notice the old school soda machine when you walk in). While they're open for all meals, breakfast and brunch are where it's at; Willow Wood serves up classic, comfort dishes like challah french toast, steak and eggs, and their signature "piping hot creamy polenta." You won't leave hungry, but should still peruse the general store section of the building and stock up on provisions for when you're out floating on the Russian River. // 9020 Graton Rd. (Graton), willowwoodgraton.com
Everything on the menu at Lowell's is local, organic, sustainably-grown, and downright delicious. The selection changes often, but Italian-inspired, farm-fresh dishes are usually stacked with ingredients like rabbit, fava beans, root veggies, quinoa, and lots of greens. The wine, too, is stellar highlighting unusual bottles made locally and abroad. A Sebastopol staple for more than 10 years, locals flock to Lowell's on the weekends (you'll want to make a reservation), and don't be surprised if you find Lowell himself busily busing tables, greeting customers, serving food, or acting as a somm and suggesting wine pairings. // 7385 Healdsburg Ave. (Sebastopol), lowellssebastopol.com
Casual and coastal is the name of the game at Handline, Lowell's newer, sister restaurant, which is funkily housed in an old Foster's Freeze; they've even got soft serve at a tribute to their roots. Fill up on raw and grilled oysters, beer-battered rockfish tacos, and two types of ceviche, all served counter-style. // 935 Gravenstein Hwy South (Sebastopol), handline.com
El Barrio Bar
Dubbed a modern Mexican cocktail lounge, El Barrio might be a bit too cool for a dressed-down town like Guerneville—it's got the sort of swank you'd sooner expect to see out of a town like Healdsburg—but we're certainly not complaining. The bar's lineup of craft cocktails focuses on mezcal, tequila, and bourbon and can be sipped alongside small plates, like chips with salsa, guac, or queso, tacos, and a bowl of the house posole. Try the El Jardin, made with Vida Mezcal, Cointreau, cucumber, celery, cilantro, lime, jalapeño, agave, and served with a chili-salt rim. // 16230 Main St. (Guerneville), elbarriobar.com
The Farmhouse Inn Restaurant
Even if you're not splurging for a stay at the celebrity-favorite Farmhouse Inn, you can still get a Michelin Star meal at their restaurant, housed in a restored, 1873 farmhouse. Choose from a three, four, or five-course menu of seasonal, locally-sourced dishes like the Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit (featuring three different cuts of rabbit) and grilled octopus (edamame, mint puree, chermoula, grilled Japanese leek, and arugula). // 7871 River Rd. (Forestville), farmhouseinn.com