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This former hippie town has serious wine and food credentials

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Once considered just a “hippie” town, Sebastopol is now arguably the arts and creative center of West Sonoma County. Its hotspot is The Barlow, a $23.8 million culinary, wine, and arts center that spans 12.5 beautifully landscaped acres. You can explore its wine tasting rooms, craft breweries, art galleries, and even innovative, garage-style restaurants. But Sebastopol still has its earnest hippie soul, so banish any thoughts of chains: All tenants must be locals, making their own products. It’s so producer-driven that even much of the landscaping is edible and used in the restaurants’ food and cocktails.

This is still a small town too, with a downtown area just a few blocks long and a scattering of outlying antique, ranch, and clothing stores where all the owners (and most of the customers) are straight from the neighborhood. Residents are fiercely proud of the offbeat nature of their intimate burg, evidenced by spots like Cali Kind Clothing Co. (known for elaborate tie-dyes) and the California Carnivores nursery, whose wondrous insect-eating plants add flair and function to any home.

Other things to do include taking a stroll down a three-block stretch of Florence Avenue, where you can check out various “trash art” sculptures made from random discarded items by a local team of creatives. Or learn about the history of western Sonoma County at the West County Museum, which is housed in a restored 1917 railway depot.

Otherwise, small-production wineries and vineyards sit amid the maritime-fog-enveloped hillsides here, like Kosta Browne, Iron Horse, Dutton Estate Winery, and Cirq. A day of tasting is like a celebrity tour, sampling the works of big-name but tiny-production vintners such as Paul Hobbs, Merry Edwards, and O’Connell (the latter the winner of the acclaimed 2016 Pinot Cup for its stellar Pinot Noir).

Sebastopol is also where you come for restaurants that offer inventive, handcrafted, and sustainable dining, like Ramen Gaijin and the French-meets-hyperlocal K&L Bistro, where most ingredients are from Sebastopol. Vegetarians and vegans, meanwhile, will love Slice of Life, where such specialties as the Cali Reuben with tempeh and their gluten-free pizza have earned it a faithful following.

On Sunday mornings, be sure to wander the downtown farmers market. The year-round affair held in the sun-dappled Sebastopol Plaza (see the market’s site for a map) is always jazzed up with live music and plenty of prepared foods for noshing. Some of the best growers and food producers set up shop, presenting beautiful fruits, vegetables, flowers, homemade pasta, and artisanal foods. Woodleaf Farm, one of the oldest organic farms in California, has heavenly peaches; and Middleton Farm's strawberries are so sweet, you'll swear they were dipped first in jam. Another item any visitor should keep an eye out for is Gravenstein apples. If you’re visiting during the summer, sample one of these red-speckled beauties while you can; they are much harder to find outside of Sonoma County because their thin skins make them difficult to ship without bruising.

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