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Duncan Mills-A Day Trip to the Coast
— Napa, Sonoma, & Marin


If you are looking for a day trip destination that’s a bit off the beaten path, consider historic Duncans Mills, a former sawmill established in 1874. An excursion to the Pacific Ocean by way of Highway 116 takes you straight through this charming village.

Duncan Mills-A Day Trip to the Coast

If you are looking for a day trip destination that’s a bit off the beaten path, consider historic Duncans Mills, a former sawmill established in 1874. An excursion to the Pacific Ocean by way of Highway 116 takes you straight through this charming village.

The route there follows the course of the Russian River, as it winds its way to the ocean, guaranteeing spectacular scenery of pastoral meadows, rolling hills and magnificent stands of redwoods. Just three miles from the Pacific Ocean, it’s a great place to stop for lunch or provisions before heading on to a hiking trail or picnic spot along the Sonoma Coast.

Duncans Mills is also worthy of a visit in its own right: its wonderfully restored historic buildings, now house a variety of delightful specialty shops and restaurants. Set among lush flowering gardens of roses, rhododendrons, geraniums and agapanthus, this small community is a fun and beautiful destination.

Christopher Queen Galleries, which faces the fountain in John Orr’s Gardens, specializes in Early California and contemporary art. Art collectors and historians will find the artworks rival those seen in museums around the state. The second-floor gallery houses an astonishing collection of Early California paintings (1860s to the 1940s). Here, you can view — and purchase — works by artists, many of whom are represented in the collections of San Francisco’s prestigious de Young Museum, the Oakland Museum of California, the Gallery of California Art and San Francisco’s Crocker Art Museum. Christopher Queen Galleries’ extensive collection of California landscapes contains some of the finest examples of plain air painting. Other Early California artworks depict historic scenes and period pieces.

The downstairs gallery features contemporary artists’ works in a salon-style floor-to-ceiling display. This representational art encompasses California landscapes, still lifes, and figural and genre-based subject matter. Established in 1976, the gallery is in its fifth decade of connecting people with fine art. Owner Nancy Ferreira hosts frequent exhibitions, so there is always something remarkable on display. This gallery is a must-see on any trip to the Sonoma Coast.

The petite and sweet Studio Nouveau brings sophisticated style to coastal Sonoma. Owner Andrea Record’s has an eye for quality and beauty, and the inventory of her eclectic boutique reflects it. A jewel box of a store, it offers items for the home, including Moroccan garden lanterns, Edison lights, hammered copper, barware and even the ironwork gazebo out front, amid a riot of blooms. This beautiful structure would elevate the look of any garden. Studio Nouveau has unparalleled gift items too. Stunning pocket knives and corkscrews from Santa Fe Stone Works are inlaid with stone, mother-of-pearl and bone, and they have Damascus steel blades. The shop features unique artisan jewelry, iconic clothing brands and colorful Zapotec handbags, some designed by Record herself. Channeling boho chic 2000, Studio Nouveau is the definitive destination for exceptional “objects of beauty.” (Fittingly, that’s also the name of Record’s retail website.)

Combine intriguing antiques with specialty plants and flowers, and you have the fascinating little shop known as Antiquarian & Florabunda. Proprietor Lisa Wallen works magic and whimsy into her floral designs, sometimes incorporating antique vases or vessels. Her signature flower is protea, a species native to South African but which is grown locally for her. Her fanciful artistry is much sought after for weddings and other special events. Out front, browse the seasonal garden flowers, displayed in vignettes with wagons and garden carts. Also available are out.of-the-ordinary plant specimens and a variety of succulents that punctuate the outdoor garden. Inside this quaint shop are fine antique pieces, antiquarian books, beautiful jewelry from past eras, vintage vases, chandeliers and curios of every kind. The jewelry case, chock full of with one-of-a-kind vintage pins, necklaces, and earrings, deserves careful attention.

Mr. Trombly’s Tea is a purveyor of all things tea. Peruse the selection of fine loose teas of every sort — black, green, white, oolong, rooibos, herbal and fruit — and the nearly 200 blends. While you browse, sip a free sample the tea-of-the-day. On the self-serve tea counter, there are charming bags for bulk tea: they’re pale chartreuse and sport the image of the Mr. Trombly’s mascot, a bespectacled, well-dressed rabbit serving tea.

It’s easy to lose track of time wandering around Mr. Trombly’s, as you browse the tea cups and saucers, the miniature tea sets for the younger set, and the colorful array of teapots from Japan and England. Take home some choice loose tea and a single-serve tea pot in a serene bisque finish and with the strainer built in, and you’ll never want to use a commercial tea bag again.

Jim and Willie’s Antiques and Collectibles is tucked away in a corner of the Country Stores Courtyard near the gazebo. Crossing the threshold of this pint-sized English-inspired shop is like going through a time warp. At first glance you may wonder whether more than two people can browse here at one time. But as you settle in to look, this is where the fun begins: it’s packed floor to ceiling with a multitude of unique items, antiques, vintage finds, curiosities and collectibles. Jim Raidl, owner and raconteur.extraordinaire, can recount the provenance and backstory of any item of interest in the shop. Favorite find: a pair of bronze lion bookends. (Pro tip on good finds: don’t wait to return later, especially with one.of-a-kinds.) Raidl keeps shop with an adorable Bichon Frisé, Davy Jones, successor to store namesake, Willie, Raidl’s longtime canine companion.

Indulge your senses at Cetonia Bath & Body, located just a few steps from Antiquarian & Floribunda’s glorious front yard of. Inhale deeply as you step across the threshold. In this calming, relaxing setting, you’ll discover wonderful bath and body products, handmade on-site. Scented soaps, bath salts and lotions exude lush aromas, such as wisteria, lilac, lemon grass and sandalwood. They offer bath fizzies made with shea butter and grapeseed oil that will nourish and revitalize your skin as you soak. The lovely owner and resident soap maker handcrafts these products in small batches, using premium plant-based ingredients. Cetonia also stocks a wide array of bath accessories: natural sponges, brushes and scrubs, and pure essential oils. Pamper yourself with these luxurious products.

If a small pick-me-up is in order, stop in at Sophie’s Cellars for a flight, glass or bottle of superbly curated limited production Sonoma County wines. This combination tasting-room-and- retail-shop specializes in wines from the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Rockpile, hand-selected by proprietor John Haggard. Sophie’s also stocks Russian River Brewing Company ales. Small plates and local artisan cheeses are available for pairing. Sit outside on the beautiful garden patio, sip, relax and take in the moment. The Friday night “locals’ happy hour” will welcome you whether you’re local or not.

Worldly Goods is another charming shop chock-full of handmade artisan goods from around the globe. It focuses on fair trade items made in accordance with sustainable production practices. The store is housed in an 1877 building that was once John Orr’s Saloon. Check out every nook and cranny! There is so much here that will enthrall you: clothing, textiles, hammocks, artworks, unique jewelry, adorable children’s toys and gifts, tote bags and handbags, natural soaps, and baskets made by artists and craftsmen from far-flung places. A recent favorite find was an intricately carved wooden frog that makes realistic frog call noises when played with a wooden stylus. Enjoy shopping in the global marketplace in this little corner of the world.

Mason James is a welcome and welcoming recent addition to Duncans Mills. Affectionately named after the owner’s two brothers, Mason James is a lifestyle boutique offering men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, home goods and gifts. Owner Marissa Martinez-Adams has selected every item with the Sonoma community in mind. From retro and organic cotton tees, dresses and beachwear to flannel shirts, sweaters and sweats for those chilly nights at the beach, the items are trendy, but affordable. Favorite find: Pendleton picnic blankets. Martinez-Adams is on a mission to deliver distinctive fashion, style and convenience to west Sonoma county.

Established in 1977 and located in the one of the oldest restored buildings, Pig Alley is one of the oldest retail stores in Duncans Mills. According to town lore, the Country Stores building was constructed in 1876 by Christopher Queen as a hotel and livery stable. Queen is said to have been a former Pony Express rider who came to Duncans Mills in the 1870s. Pig Alley, thought to be named for the historic use of the throughway, is a shop that seems bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. It features an extensive selection of watches, handcrafted handbags and jewelry, including pieces by well-known California jewelry designers such as Holly Yashi, whose stylish, colorful, lightweight metal earrings are instantly recognizable.

Cape Fear Cafe is a family-friendly, full-service restaurant that’s open all day. Touted as California cuisine with a Southern flair, this popular eatery serves comfort food in a cozy setting and offers a selection of wines to complement the meal. For breakfast or brunch, try the local smoked salmon omelet or one of the creative eggs Benedict combinations. Or try its award-winning clam chowder with bacon. Savor a cup of Almond Cookies tea, a sencha tea with freshly grated coconut and almonds that’s also available at Twombley’s. Top off the meal with a mimosa as a prelude to a great day of shopping. Dining at Cape Fear is great beginning, middle or finale to your excursion.

Duncans Mills General Store, carrying on the tradition begun over a century ago by the historic DeCarly’s General Store, is situated in the south end of this same preserved building, which dates back to 1888. Even if you are just passing through town with no time to linger, make a quick stop in at the General Store for picnic supplies and libations. The delicious deli sandwiches big enough to share; beef jerky and smoked salmon are also favorites, and there is a good wine and beer selection. Word has it they have Pliny the Elder, Russian River Brewing Company’s much celebrated double IPA. It has such a cult following, though, that only three bottles per customer is allowed.

On the other end of the DeCarly’s building is Twice as Nice, an eclectic consignment shop with memorabilia, antiques, art, furniture, vinyl, vintage clothing, curios, statement pieces and American artifacts. This store is all about the thrill of the hunt, and it exudes a hidden-treasures vibe that makes that makes pickers’ hearts patter!

Across the road is Gold Coast Coffee and Bakery, where friendly baristas serve specialty coffee drinks made from organic beans roasted on-site. Breakfast and lunch offerings include bear claws, cinnamon rolls and fresh-fruit scones. On the savory side, they offer tantalizing pizza from their wood-fired oven and croissants with turkey, pesto and pepper jack cheese, just a few of the perfect indulgences to choose from as you take in the day on the beautiful, shady back deck. There is an outside bar, and they present world-class live music every weekend.

The rustic yet restored beautifully Blue Heron Restaurant and Tavern is another excellent choice for outside dining. The oldest tavern on the Russian River, it’s known for fresh seafood and a welcoming atmosphere. Kick back and enjoy elevated pub food and one of the great local beers on tap (including Pliny the Elder!), or order from the full bar. On summer Sundays, enjoy live music and barbecued oysters on the patio. On Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, great local musicians play inside the tavern.

Next door to the post office is an old English “sweet shoppe,” Treats & Toys. In February 2015, longtime Sonoma County residents Michael and Gail Trayes. leased a vacated candy store space. They painted it colorfully and re-stocked it with jars of old-fashioned penny candy. Later they added locally made organic ice cream, artisan-made chocolates and their very own cupcakes. Today, along with delectable edibles, they offer kites, banners, wind-driven garden decorations, non-plastic toys, fairy figurines and other whimsical items. There’s something to delight visitors of all ages. Adults will feel a ripple of nostalgia, and youngsters unbridled glee.

Belying its size, Duncans Mills has a lot going on! Near both the Russian River and the beautiful Sonoma Coast, it’s perfectly situated to become a favorite stretch stop or a place to begin or end your day-trip travels. Or better yet, make Duncans Mills your destination and make a great day of it!

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