Finding the center of a city is not so hard. It's usually a big place, marked by official buildings and a busy commercial district.
But in a small town, you have to know your way around. Often, there's no central town square or towering city hall. The true heart of town is in a less formal place.
In Sonoma County's smaller towns, the gathering spot might be a bar, a coffee shop, a store or a park.
In Glen Ellen, locals say, it's the U.S. Post Office. The Valley Ford Hotel and the Valley Ford Market are the focal point of their hometown.
What's the heart of your favorite little town? We'd like to know what you think, but first, here's what we've found out so far.
Penngrove Community Park, near the southern end of Main Street in Penngrove, plays host to barbecues, picnics and holiday celebrations. It's a shady spot, owned and operated by the Penngrove Social Firemen, founded by volunteer firemen more than half a century ago.
Locals who want to check in on what's happening in town often stop by one or both of two venerable downtown spots, Mack's Bar and Grill and the Penngrove Pub, both on Main Street.
"We get tons of locals," said Vicki Mack of Mack's. "People come by to see their friends."
If you want news on upcoming events, Mack simply nods toward her front window, where she puts up all the local posters.
In Freestone, folks gather at the Wild Flour Bakery, a haven for lovers of all fresh baked goods, but fans of big, gooey, sticky buns say it's a slice of heaven.
The original Union Hotel restaurant, which now has branches in Santa Rosa, and Negri's Italian Dinners form the heart of Occidental, and some say local guys gather at Occidental Hardware.
In Duncans Mills, people are drawn to the Blue Heron restaurant and nightclub, the Cape Fear Cafe and the Gold Coast Coffee and Bakery.
Graton has plans for a park on Graton Road at one end of its one-block downtown, at the former site of the town's fire station, and locals look forward to having that spot for town events.
Most days, you'll find the folks of Graton at the Willow Wood Market and Cafe, at the other end of the block. Opened 17 years ago by Matthew Greenbaum, it's the place for a cup of coffee and a local news update.
"This is pretty much the center of town," said Greenbaum, a Manhattan transplant who also owns the Underwood Bar and Bistro across the street.
"I love Graton, because it has a very diverse mix of people," Greenbaum said. "You can have a cowboy rancher sitting next to a high-end winemaker, a top-notch Internet producer and a hippie."
In Geyserville, local folks recommend the Mud Coffee and Pastries and Bosworth and Son General Merchandise, an old-fashioned general store.
On the Russian River, Guerneville residents tend to gather at the Coffee Bazaar, the Rainbow Cattle Company and the Creation Hair Salon. In Forestville, the places to go are Carr's Drive In for teenagers and the Forestville Club for adults.
In Bodega Bay, the docks are still the hub for local life, and home to popular restaurants, including The Tides and Lucas Wharf, both focal points for locals, who also mention Roadhouse Coffee as a place to check.
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