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The Road Less Traveled | Sonoma County Road Trip

by Keith langston
Tree lined road in Sonoma Photo by Rolf52

He said it was “quintessential wine country,” the kind of town you see in magazines when people write about Sonoma and Napa.

Tree-lined Street in Sonoma County (photo: Rolf52)

Sonoma County is a wonderful place to explore the open road.

I drove up from San Francisco, and what a magnificent drive it was. The 78-mile journey took me through the city, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and past the beautiful north shore communities like Sausalito. 

From there, the palm trees and bayside views were exchanged for rolling hills and farmland. As I continued heading north, finally reaching Sonoma County, I began seeing the famous vineyards. In my mind, this is what Sonoma was. Vineyards, pastoral homesteads, and small farm stands selling pro duce and local wines. However, at a certain point, the directions stopped taking me north and had me take a left-hand turn, heading westward. 

The landscape once again began to change. The hills got bigger until they turned into mountains. The farmland and vineyards transitioned into redwoods, rocky cliffs, and winding roads that weaved their way beneath a canopy of trees. After about two hours of driving, I had reached my destination: Autocamp Russian River (www.autocamp.com).

Autocamp has a few locations around the country, all of which are stunning and have been designed to take glamping to new heights. Their Russian River location is conveniently located between the Pacific coast and the vineyards, marking the perfect spot for a well rounded trip with access to everything. At the Russian River camp site, visitors can stay in luxury tents, an Insta-perfect mini camper, or one of the many retrofitted Airstream trailers that line the perimeter of the campground. 

VWs at Autocamp Russian River | Photo by Keith Langston

VWs at Autocamp Russian River | Photo by Keith Langston

I arrived at Autocamp for a press event with Volkswagen (www.vw.com). They were showing off their new lineup of vehicles, with a focus on their SUVs. The fleet included their full size Atlas and popular crossovers like the Tiguan and Taos. I, however, had my eye on another vehicle. One that I was determined to get my hands on; their new, fully-electric ID.4. For the next two days, I, along with a group of other reporters, would be driving around Sonoma, taking in the beauty of the region, while experiencing the performance of VW’s newest fleet. 

I had briefly written about the ID.4 for a previous article, and since then, I had been wanting to experience it. They have a large touchscreen display, a panoramic glass roof, get 260 miles per-charge, and have all wheel drive. I love the concept of blending luxury with adventure and sustainability, and that seemed to be exactly what the ID.4 was offering. 

VW had set up a gorgeous dinner for everyone. Tables were placed underneath a grove of redwoods and illuminated by strands of lights, creating a storybook feel. By the time I arrived in Sonoma, it was already 6 P.M. and I had just enough time before dinner to quickly check out my Airstream and shower.

Airstream Bed | Photo by Keith Langston

Airstream Bed | Photo by Keith Langston

The entire camper was refurbished with modern amenities including new tile floors in the bathroom, a massive glass shower, and a full-sized bed in a private bedroom that was surrounded by a whopping six windows. I’ve literally had New York apartments that were smaller and darker than this Airstream. All the amenities were provided by Ursa Major, an upscale and eco-conscious brand based in Vermont. When I took my shower, I loved the invigorating scent of the body wash, which was a mix of lime and frankincense. The citrus and earthy scent perfectly fit the vibe of the campground. 

I was so lost in anticipation for the following day that most of the first night was a blur. I remember having a beet salad at dinner that blew my mind, sitting around a campfire afterward with the other journalists making s’mores, and then snuggling underneath the giant blanket in my bed as I looked at the night sky through the skylight. 

The next morning I awoke to the smell of campfire in the air. Auto camp had just started a fresh fire in the firepit to help keep every one warm at breakfast. After a big cup of tea, and a surprisingly delicious vegetarian breakfast burrito, I was ready to get driving.

Bridge over Russian River | Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism

Bridge over Russian River | Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism

The VW team gathered us around the fleet of cars we’d be driving and gave us a rundown on their features, mileage, and the inspiration behind them. My eyes were locked on the ID.4. I was ready to pounce the second they told us to pick our cars. The day’s plan was for everyone to head out as a group towards the coast where we’d spend some time at Goat Rock State Park, which is actually a beach on the Pacific Ocean. From there, we’d head down into some of Sonoma’s coastal towns like Bodega Bay, head back inland through quaint villages like Occidental, wind our way through the vineyards, then conclude in the surprisingly LGBTQ-centric town of Guerneville before heading back to Autocamp. 

It’s time to admit that electric cars have become sleek, awesome, and powerful. Let’s protect our future and the future of beautiful places like Sonoma. After all, what fun would travel be without nature? 

Foggy morning at Sonomas Pacific coastline | Photo by Gary Saxe

Foggy morning at Sonomas Pacific coastline | Photo by Gary Saxe

When it was time, I raced to one of the ID.4s. We were given pieces of paper with a QR code on them that would automatically chart the route into the map apps on our phones. However, it turned out that this QR code only worked for Google Maps. As an iPhone user, I’ve never had a problem with Apple Maps, so I’ve never needed to download Google Maps. As everyone  began pulling out of the campsite and onto the road, I sat wondering how to proceed. I tried downloading Google Maps, but reception isn’t the best when you’re sandwiched in a narrow valley between two mountains. 

I wondered if I should just suck it up, look like an idiot, and ask someone if I could follow them around all day. Before any more thoughts could come into my head, everyone was already gone. I have a pretty solid internal GPS and I rarely ever get lost. I also had a hand drawn map of our route that was given out earlier in the day, so I knew the journey was basically nothing more than a circle (granted, a very large one). Well, I said to myself, what the hell. Let’s do it. 

I started playing ‘I Drove All Night’ by Cyndi Lauper and hit the road. I knew that making a righthand turn out of the campsite would at least send me in the direction of the coast, so I turned right, turned the music up, and hoped for the best. And you know what, it was actually a phenomenal drive. Not being with the group and not knowing where I was going gave me an odd feeling of freedom. I could stop wherever I wanted, go down whatever road I wanted, and drive at the pace I want ed. I wasn’t lost, I simply didn’t know where I was, and there is a big difference between those two mindsets. 

As I got closer to the coast, I could feel the temperature drop and see the horizon begin to fill with fog. California gets a lot of “marine layer” which covers the coast in a dense fog for much of the morning and sometimes all day long. The sunny Californian sky disappeared in a matter of five minutes. Replacing it was a fog so thick you couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of you. Adding to the adventure were the roads, which were now weaving up, down, and around steep hills and cliffs. 

I kept driving, figuring that if all else failed, I could just turn around and head back. Miraculously, I spotted a sign for Goat Rock State Park (www.parks.ca.gov) that seemed to suddenly materialize in the fog. I turned onto a road so narrow I thought it might be someone’s driveway and made my way down to the beach. I eventually came across a giant lineup of other VW cars, so I knew that I had (somehow) found my way thanks to what I’m sure was simply blind luck. 

I can only describe the beach as “hauntingly beautiful.” The fog kept much of the ocean and surrounding cliffs out of sight, offering very little visibility, but you could still hear the crashing waves and the sounds of gulls flying somewhere overhead. The beach felt mysterious, yet it also provided a sense of serenity and calm. 

Everyone hopped back in their cars and headed for the next stop. After getting back into the ID.4, I took a moment to get acquainted with the car. Earlier in the day I had been so busy trying to get the map to work that I hadn’t even checked out any of the car’s features. First up, the giant panoramic glass roof. I pulled back the shade and light flooded into the car, giving it a distinctively futuristic and open feel. In fact, I ended up rolling down all the windows for the rest of the journey, because proper road trips require that wind-in-your-hair feeling, don’t they? The ID.4 also has a giant touchscreen dashboard that can connect to your phone via Bluetooth. I was able to scroll through my music library and even get Apple Maps up on the screen, but did I want to? I kind of enjoyed the adventure of not really knowing where I’d end up. Plus, I was currently next to the Pacific Ocean, so I knew I couldn’t get that lost. I obviously knew which way was west, making it easy to discern the other directions as well. 

So, I put on ‘Lose Myself’ by Lauryn Hill and headed down the coast. The rest of that day was simply phenomenal. Around noon the fog broke, and I suddenly found myself driving over rolling green hills under a blue sky. Sometimes the road would weave in-between the mountains and I’d once again be under a canopy of towering redwoods and pine trees as I drove alongside a leisurely river. 

The Birds School House | Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism

The Birds School House | Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism

The ID.4 gets 260 miles-per-charge, so I never felt worried about the battery. Going about 40 or 50 mph, I could drive for hours along the coastal roads and through small towns like Bodega Bay, which felt oddly familiar. The quaint seaside town has a rustic charm and I recommend everyone pay it a visit. But there was something else, something that made me feel like I knew the place. I later discovered why Bodega Bay looked so familiar. It was the setting and filming location for Hitchcock’s masterpiece, The Birds, as well as other horror classics like The Fog and I Know What You Did Last Summer. As a horror fan, I found this all very exciting, but even for those who don’t enjoy scary movies, the town’s beauty, locally-owned shops, and scrumptious eats, like Patrick’s of Bodega Bay (www.patricksofbodegabay) saltwater taffy, make it a must-stop on your journey. 

That night, we all met back up at Autocamp for a wonderful dinner of grilled chicken accompanied by roasted baby potatoes, and for dessert, s’mores around the campfire. While chatting around the fire, I discovered that much of the group ended up breaking off throughout the day and no two cars went the exact same route. It was fun to hear everyone share their stories of the small towns or gorgeous vineyards they discovered while out for a leisurely drive. 

In bed that night, I looked up at the stars through the Airstream’s windows. The trees outside were illuminated by the moonlight and I couldn’t take my eyes off the giant redwoods that towered above me. They must have been at least 200 feet tall, and, given their height, were likely at least 500 years old (redwoods have an unbelievably long lifespan and can live for 2,000 years). Think of the changes these forests have seen. It was a humbling and awe-inspiring thought to fall asleep to. 

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