Terri Hanson Mead
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Terri Hanson Mead

Adventures with George: HipCamping with a Dog in Sonoma County (Occidental, Sebastopol, Russian River, Forestville, Graton, Valley Ford, Tomales Bay)

This is George (full name Good Boy George) and he went on his first camping trip this past weekend in Sonoma County and he did splendidly. We are now fans of HipCamp.

Why stay in a campground when you can stay on a farm like we did in Occidental / Sebastopol, CA? More about Rainbow’s End Farm below.

Sebastopol is two hours (give or take) from Silicon Valley / Peninsula and is home to The Barlow, a “12-acre Bay Area outdoor market district in Sebastopol, California featuring local food, wine, beer, spirits and crafts made onsite by Sonoma County artisans.” And it’s super dog friendly.

One of my favorite spots is the Pax Wines tasting room where you can enjoy one of their pre-selected flights or build one of your own. I love that there are decent nibbles to go with the wine.

We discovered The Barlow and Pax Wines back in January when we first visited Sebastopol on a road trip to Santa Rosa and I learned to love Syrah at Pax.

Charlie, our knowledgable, unpretentious, and helpful server, provided us with dining suggestions in Occidental, Graton and Valley Ford since we only brought bagels and coffee for the mornings. Our plan to was to explore the area and dine out for lunch and dinner.

And yes I left with a few bottles of wine…some chenin blanc and syrah.

BTW, Charlie is from Atlanta and we couldn’t be happier to have him in California. He was really fantastic.

We stopped in Occidental for some cheese, crackers, veggies, hummus and a little shopping at Boho Bungalo before making our way to Rainbow’s End Farm, five minutes from downtown Occidental.

We set ourselves up in campsite #4 which included a tent for me, my husband and George and a separate tent for our 17 year old, Finn, who was really looking for a more rustic experience after spending three months on a NOLS Rockies trip in Utah and Wyoming.

I was just looking to survive camping with a puppy.

The spot, while small, was great. We were on the end and there was a short hiking trail through redwoods at the back of the site. George loved chewing on pinecones and jumping over logs.

At Rainbow’s End Farm, there are six camp spots, all sharing a single Honey Bucket outhouse and a water/dishwashing station. While we were advised to conserve water (drought), we were able to wash our hands using what smelled like rosemary soap provided by the farm and fill our water bottles.

The site next to us had multiple families and three large tents. They used the water station for dishwashing which looked really convenient.

The site across the parking lot from us had one gal and her dog, PJ. They pulled in late on Friday night and slept in her truck.

We helped ourselves to the blackberries growing alongside the road leading to the campsites. We later learned that there are also marion berries and logan berries growing on the property. George loved them all.

After settling into our campsite, we drove back to Occidental to enjoy the Friday night farmers’ market. Finn and my husband Zeke got some figs and apricots.

As with many farmers’ markets, no dogs were allowed so George and I strolled up and down the main street before joining Zeke and Finn for dinner at Hazel, one of Charlie’s (Pax) recommendations.

We sat outside under an umbrella where Finn couldn’t resist the figs and George snoozed under the bench.

The food at Hazel was good but the portions were huge. Finn had a vegetarian quinoa dish, Zeke had a pizza, and I had the pork schnitzel on braised cabbage and mashed potatoes (super yummy!). If you go, plan to share and only order more if you are still hungry. Service was great and the owner, Michelle, shared some of her favorite spots in Sonoma Couty as noted below.

George did pretty well the first night in the tent although it took him a while to settle as every small sound got his attention. He’s a naturally alert dog.

We brought the soft sided crate from my office for him to sleep in which helped, but I had to keep my hand on him throughout the night to keep him calm enough to sleep.

When we were hanging out at the site, we had George on a 20 foot lead attached to a tree so he could wander around and chew on as many sticks, logs, and pinecones as he could find. He was a super happy camper.

For an additional $20/person, we got a tour of the farm with Nan, the owner (with her husband) for over 45 years. This tour was priceless as her stories were fanstastic.

Nan (born in Germany) looks like she stepped straight out of Hansel and Gretel but was absolutely delightful. My mom would say she was a hoot! Since we were on the 9 AM tour, we had the option of joining her on her morning chores. We gladly accepted.

We started in the medicinal garden and ate plums off the ground as we learned about the history of the garden, including the plants with haluciongenic properties. Those we did not consume.

We moved on to the duck and goose enclosure where we helped usher a stray duck back into the coop.

After she watered and fed the ducks and geese, she crawled into the duck/goose house to retrieve eggs. I thought Zeke was going to lose it.

She said that the ducks and geese were typically free range but she’d recently introduced some baby ducks and wanted to get them acclimated to the group before setting them loose. The dog, Pricilla (not pictured here or anywhere in this post), normally sleeps with the ducks and geese.

After enjoying some marion berries and logan berries, we headed to her kitchen where she was making goat cheese including paneer. I stayed outside with George and Zeke kept bringing me tastes of things she was making. She sells the products, including nettles and other garden goodies, at the Sebastopol and Occidental farmers’ markets.

We met Angel the goat (she’s to the right of the shed) who was a little lonely after losing her sister recently and having her two baby goats go to a local gentleman building a goat herd. Nan said she was a great milk producer.

We continued on up to the chickens after meeting two of Nan’s grandsons who were enamored with George.

Finn helped feed and water the chickens as we listened to more of Nan’s stories. With all of the big trees on the property, you would never suspect that it was naked of trees back in the seventies when Nan and her husband bought the farm. Nan called it God’s work. I call it nature.

There were stories of grapa and defying the law during prohibition, cherry trees, and cattle.

The last stop on our tour was a visit to the two male goats, Cinnamon Sr and Cinnamon Jr who love to eat apples. Up until this point, George, who was on leash the entire time, had been quiet with the livestock. But the big goats scared him a little. Nan encouraged him to say hello to the Cinnamons at which point he was totally calm.

Later in the day, George met Mai Tai, the horse on the property. George was trying to poop and when Mai Tai neighed, George appeared to be scared shitless as he immediately stopped pooping.

The next morning, he met Mai Tai again and promptly pooped. So did Mai Tai then scare the shit out of him? Yes, I can laugh at my own silly jokes. George ended up being curious and calm around Mai Tai.

As for the guy in the hood with a baseball cap and his two year old approaching our campsite, George wasn’t having any of that.

After the farm tour, we hopped into the car and went back to Sebastopol to look for a lunch place. We tried the old downtown and ended up back at The Barlow where we dined at the Blue Ridge Kitchen. Lunch was good but the dessert was really good. Service was great.

Since George had been tied up or on leash since we’d left home the day before, we took him to Ragle Ranch dog park in Sebastopol to run wild and play with other dogs. There were plenty of dogs for George to choose from but he found a one year old husky that matched his energy level.

He collapsed in the car exhausted and happy.

After charging the Tesla and getting a few things at Target, we took George to the Russian River for his first river and swimming experience. Most of the river beach parking lots were full even though it was 4 PM. We ended up at Sunset Beach River Park (Forestville) and hiked down to the dog friendly (must be on leash), rocky beach.

We found a little spot along the river to plant our butts and try to get George into the water. He wasn’t a fan despite all the treats we gave him. We’ll try again another day. He’s part black lab after all. There’s got to be some water dog in there somewhere.

But he loved the sticks! Finn loved skipping rocks and the attempts to hit a pipe across the river with rocks while avoiding the rafters.

Across the street from the parking lot, there were some really interesting and brightly colored sculptures. We have no idea why.

Instead of dining in (we were dirty and tired), we opted for takeout at Underwood, another one of Charlie’s (Pax Wines) recommendations, this time in Graton. I’d never heard of Graton, population 1,889.

It’s a small, one road town, with a few cute restaurants and gorgeous tasting room across from the Underwood.

We got there too late to enjoy the space. As we waited for our order, I overheard a gal walking by say that she’d had her company event there recently.

We dined on Thai food (the Underwood menu was eclectic) with this view from our picnic table. The parking lot was about 50 feet away on the other side of the trees, next to the water tanks you can just see through them.

We made it an early night and this time George slept great which meant I slept better. I do love sleeping out of doors.

We missed not having a fire but either due to drought or complaining neighbors, the firepits that were normally at each of the sites, were unavailable to the campers. I’m not sure how the kids in the spot next to us enjoyed s’mores but I definitely heard talk of marshmallows from the little ones.

We got an early start the next morning after cold bagels with cream cheese, coffee for me and Zeke, and tea for Finn. Side note: before drinking all of the coffee, it’s best to make sure that you have enough stove fuel for a second pot for your wife. Just saying. I’m not bitter. Coffee is bitter but I didn’t have any on Saturday so I wouldn’t really know.

Finn picked ticks off Mai Tai and squished them to death before we left.

Zeke found a privately owned grove of redwoods called Landpaths Grove of Old Trees about 20 minutes from the farm (on Fitzpatrick Road). Dog friendly (must be on leash). The flat loop is about a mile. I’m not much of a hiker (unless I’m hiking toward food and drink) but I love these kinds of places.

We had the grove to ourselves and it was absolutely gorgeous. 100% recommend going. Yes, we hugged trees. We are Californians afterall.

Michelle (Hazel) recommended Valley Ford, specifically Rocker Oysterfellers. It didn’t look open which is unfortunate because the menu looks amazing and it was open for brunch. And it says it’s dog friendly for well-behaved dogs on leash. Instead, we went across the street to Valley Ford Creamery (another one of Michelle’s recommendations) which was great and it looks like it’s a woman-owned business!

We sat out back and enjoyed a delicious creamy mushroom soup with squash of all things accompanied by cheesy bread that was amazing. Finn and Zeke liked the blueberry focaccia but I wasn’t a fan…I like sweeter things. I’d go back here again as per my friend Jon, it’s a local favorite.

We left behind the redwoods and grapevines into cow fields and coastal hills as we drove toward Dillon Beach (another place we’d never heard of).

We also left behind the sunshine. We stopped to let George stretch his legs and for Finn and Zeke to get a closer look at a rock outcropping. Finn is obsessed with rock climbing and was pointing out all the ways they wanted to scale the rocks.

Dillon Beach was a bust so we headed down Highway 1 toward Tomales Bay in search of oysters and clam chowder. We ended up at the Hog Island Oyster Company. Without reservations we ended up standing at a small bar, fortunately underneath an overhang to protect from the sun.

It’s an active, working oyster company with forklifts moving pallets around. I wouldn’t go back here as it’s not a lovely experience. We paid $40 for a dozen oysters that weren’t great and I know we were paying for the name.

Tomales Bay Oyster Company is just down the road and there was another place before Hog Island. I love oysters but I wouldn’t recommend stopping at any of these places. Too expensive. Too touristy.

Per the Tomales Bay State Park website, dogs are allowed only at the Vista Point picnic area so it doesn’t look like Tomales Bay is a great place to explore with dogs.

We completed the loop back to Marin to charge the Tesla and get a sandwich (and let George poop, pee, and stretch his legs) before heading back through San Francisco to 280 down the Peninsula.

George had a great time and slept most of the following day.

Final Thoughts

— We will definitely check out other dog friendly HipCamp spots. I would even stay at Rainbow’s End again as I think there’s a lot more of Sonoma County to explore. At $80/night for three of us, this was definitely a less expensive overnight option right now and I can go a few days without a shower. Next time Finn won’t be with us so it will be even less expensive.

— We will find a way to spend less time around lots of people. We didn’t really feel like we were camping most of the time and we weren’t really prepared to do much more than sleep at the site.

— The farm is part of Farm Trails which may be worth exploring as well. This may lead to other camping / hiking / farm tour options.

— The 20 foot lead for George was great. We were hands free and he could walk around until we had to untangle him from the chair legs and the logs. Generally he was happy chewing on pinecones and branches.

— Having George carry his own water, collapsible water bowl, treats, and poop bags was great. 100% recommend. He’ll grow into the pack we have him in.

— Bringing George’s softsided crate and leaving it open in the tent was a stroke of brilliance. It was familiar and he was comfy in it. I also brought some of his blankets to make it more familiar but that didn’t seem to matter. Next time I will bring a dog sweater for him as he did get cold in the middle of the night.

Questions for You

What are some of your favorite dog friendly camping places? Restaurants? Places to explore in California? We are almost empty nesters looking for our next Adventure with George.

#adventureswithgeorge #travelingwithdogs #campingwithdogs #emptynestraveling #sonomacounty #sonomacoast #hipcamp #paxwines #thebarlowsebastopol #hazeloccidental #bohobungalowoccidental #russianriver #valleyford #underwoodgraton #tomalesbay #valleyfordcreamery #farmtrails #pilotingyourlife #midlifemadness #midlifeopportunities

About the Author

Terri Hanson Mead is the author of the award-winning book Piloting Your Life written to inspire women over the age of 40 to design and live a life of their own creation, to be the pilots in their own lives.

Terri lives with her husband of 26 years in Silicon Valley in their nearly empty nest with Good Boy George (the empty nester puppy) and their two cats. In her spare time, Terri loves to fly helicopters around the Bay Area, especially under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Look for more from Terri on YouTube and Instagram.

Sign up for her newsletter to read her latest thoughts on being an active and passionate midlife woman.

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Terri Mead

IT consultant, expert witness, YouTuber, helicopter pilot. Making the world a better place, especially for women. Award winning author of Piloting Your Life.