The quasi-rural stretch of the Gravenstein Highway south of Sebastopol is more adventurous to roam than the one-block Berkeley that Sebastopol has become. Forever looking behind trees for the radical chicken ranchers that once hid out here, I find current equivalents as antiques and collectibles dealers, cheese makers and tenders of flea markets and nurseries along the seven-mile “Antique Row.”
Take the Rohnert Park-Sebastopol exit from 101 onto 116 West, which is the newer Gravenstein Highway. Many of the old blooming apple orchards morphed into “more profitable” vineyards, except when grapes glut the market.
Llano House Antiques at the corner of 116 and Llano Road is named for the Llano Flood Plain just eastward. Ernie Haskell and Hilary Burton bought the 1849 roadhouse in the 1980s and today use it to display their classic collections of Depression-era glass, American oak furniture and old kitchen utensils. Be sure to walk upstairs to see over 50 pressback chairs and great redwood beams that were uncovered by vandals when the historic building was deserted in the 1970s.
For a quick cheese fix, visit Jose (Joe) Matos Cheese Factory, a good mile out at 3669 Llano Road. Joe worked for decades making fireplace bricks in San Rafael, saving every penny so he could make cheese like his father and grandfather. The result: one white, full-flavored cheese made daily in one vat in one little building. On the right cows meditate, a calf hollers on entering the world in the garage, and on the left is the cheese room. Small and wonderful.
Back on 116, turn right to Pack Jack Bar B Que, a must stop for carnivores. A brick barbecue pit inside smokes meat with premium seasoned oak.
A native of Egypt, Texas, owner Donnie Harris said, “If you’re from Egypt and a boy, you call yourself a cowboy—that’s what you did.” Old rodeo posters, chaps, Harris’ grandpa’s shotgun and “even a plank from grandpa’s fence” adorn the walls.
Visitors pack away the succulent ribs, chicken, lamb, cole slaw and potato salad, with nothing over $10. This is no “Texas-style” barbecue, this is the real deal.
Next stop is School Bell Antiques, originally Mt. Vernon School, completed in 1903 and closed in 1957. The blackboards and chalk trays still function, you can pull the rope to ring the bell, and, ladies, don’t miss the sick pink girls bathroom just inside the door.
After being invited to run an antique collective, Darrell and Jane Parker bought the building and moved in their Lone Pine Antiques Shop. They now rent space to 20 dealers of high quality collectibles and antiques, including foreign political posters and old trademark signs.
Across the road is Lone Eagle’s Call of the Wild, a blend of American Indian traditions, leather clothes and mood-setting incense. Lone Eagle, aka Kerry Mitchell, draws on his Comanche heritage to make cedar flutes, peace pipes and medicine shields, and sells Panamanian palm leaf hats and Dakota buffalo skulls.
Mitchell designed for stars from Doris Day to Jon Bon Jovi. His leather outfits have adorned the bods of Cher (a few decades and tucks ago), Ann Margaret (ditto), Glen Campbell, Crystal Gayle and Tommy Smothers.
Headed north again toward Sebastopol, the Willow Tree Shops host 12 dealers. Among them is Jon Wobber of Shakespeare & Company, who has a loft of 4,000 quality used books. Willow Tree owner John Shoaf serves as auctioneer at the June 1 Antiques & Treasures Auction, at the Sebastopol Veterans Building, to benefit the Sonoma County Food AIDS Food Bank.
Across the back street is Antique Society, featuring 100 dealers’ collections and a tea room with chocolates and espresso. Behind Willow Tree is the Red Barn 2nd Hand Store, a great place for rummaging. A half-block down is a compulsory stop: California Carnivores and Vintage Gardens Antique Roses, considered a shrine by many lovers of old roses.
California Carnivores founder and grower Peter D’Amato talks to, nurtures and strokes sensual plants that eat animals, including a Venus Flytrap. Pretend spiders and skeletons dangle here and there, and when hearing the remark, “I love the sense of humor of this place,” Peter replied dourly, “What sense of humor?”
The Sebastopol Flea Market offers lots of Mexican clothes and food imports (closes at 3 p.m.). Several more antique and collectibles dealers lie ahead, including the huge Sebastopol Antique Mall in town.
Just beyond the flea market and on a dangerous curve, turn left carefully into the Sequoia Drive-in for the perfect hamburger Herb Caen sought and never found. One dines under corrugated green plastic with children’s plastic play equipment in the patio. Jerry and I joined two belly dancers from the nearby TribalFest dance contest, their Chihuahua, bikers, cyclists and farmworkers—the regular suburban Sebastopol crowd. Belly dancer Georgia Gilliam of Nipomo remarked, “Here we are in full regalia and all anyone says is ‘What a cute dog!’”
Kathleen Hill writes a series of six Hill Guides to the West Coast with her husband Gerald Hill, including “Sonoma Valley—The Secret Wine Country.” Globe-Pequot Press.