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The Russian River Has All the Fall Feels That San Francisco’s Missing

From changing leaves to apple picking, this nook of Sonoma County ticks all your heartwarming boxes.

MacRostie Winery and Vineyards.


Nestled in the heart of Sonoma County, the Russian River Valley has long been a haven for summertime weekenders looking to hole up in a woodsy cabin or tube, beer in hand, down the slow-moving river. But it’s also a pretty Insta-worthy fall destination, too, for those in search of All-American red-and-gold splendor. Sure, it gets a little rainy and chilly up north after summer—but if you want to embrace the hygge you need it to be brisk out. Here, we’ve crafted a perfect color-changing Russian River itinerary.


Come fall, Sonoma County takes on an orange tinge thanks to all the pumpkin patches popping up on every bare plot of land. (A particularly beloved and reviled one in Petaluma even causes regular traffic slowdowns). Start the morning with breakfast at Shed Café in downtown Healdsburg before sizing up your gourd. Grab a house-made pastry or breakfast tartine to go from the coffee bar, or sit down for the seasonal weekend brunch menu. From there, hit the family-run Grandma’s Pumpkin Patch, just north of downtown Healdsburg along Highway 101. If you have little ones in tow, set them loose on the corn maze, the tower of climbable hay bales, or the farm animal petting area.


By now it should be noon, or some other acceptable time to start imbibing. So take a break at MacRostie Winery and Vineyards. Located on Westside Road just out of downtown Healdsburg, the winery gets a little bit of road noise but its hilltop view of grapevines and oak trees stretching to Mount Saint Helena in the distance makes it well worth a visit. Take in the colors of the grapevines’ changing leaves from a table on the patio, with a glass of the vineyard’s Wildcat Mountain chardonnay or Thale’s Vineyard pinot noir in hand. Tastings start at $25, with reservations required on weekends.

For your next stop, continue up Westside Road into the foothills. There among towering redwoods you’ll find the recently renovated Gary Farrell Winery.  As at MacRostie, tastings are by appointment only, keeping the relaxed and intimate space from being thronged by endless bachelorette buses. Take a tour and learn about the winemaking process or relax in the tasting room, which feels just like a midcentury-modern living room.

If you find yourself in the Russian River Valley on a Friday or Sunday, round out the afternoon with a visit to Apple-a-Day Ratzlaff Ranch. The family-run orchard in Sebastopol—the county’s apple-growing heart—offers apple picking five days a week (not Thursdays or Saturdays) from September through early December. For $2 per pound, you can cart home as many Gravenstein, Rome, or Golden Delicious apples as you can pull off the trees.


End your day at Canneti Roadhouse Italiana. Cozy up to the bar or the fire pit on the wisteria-covered back patio and dig into some Italian comfort food. Chef-owner Francesco Torre hails from Tuscany, and his menu blends Tuscan staples with California sensibilities: for instance, asparagus and shallot soup with whole-milk ricotta and mint quenelle or chickpea-flour tagliatelle with summer squash, basil pesto, and grilled octopus. On Sundays, Torre rolls out a menu of family-style trattoria dishes, rich but simple offerings made for savoring over a leisurely dinner and a glass of Russian River pinot. 


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