Explore the outdoors, history of Kenwood

Passersby can’t help but crane their necks as they travel through Kenwood, the picturesque village in northern Sonoma Valley that boasts everything from life-sized dinosaurs to a winery built as a Tuscan-style villa — and that’s just along Highway 12.|

. Passersby can’t help but crane their necks as they travel through Kenwood, the picturesque village in northern Sonoma Valley that boasts everything from life-sized dinosaurs to a winery built as a Tuscan-style villa — and that’s just along Highway 12.

Along the backroads, there’s an historic railroad depot and an American Gothic-style church, both dating to the 1880s. They’re two of the local landmarks that add to the beauty and charm of the unincorporated community between Sonoma and Santa Rosa.

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast

Travel further along winding, wooded Adobe Canyon Road, and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park welcomes visitors for camping, fishing, picnicking and hikes that range from easy to the more strenuous climb up 2,729-foot Bald Mountain, where summit views can stretch across the Valley of the Moon to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Sierra Nevada.

Sugarloaf visitors can even see the stars at the Robert Ferguson Observatory, where the Valley of the Moon Observatory Association provides docents, guest speakers, young astronomers programs and sky parties offering up-close experiences with the sun and the dark night sky.

“What makes Kenwood unique is that it’s not a single place. Kenwood is more spread out,” said Tim Zahner, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau. “The charms are spread out.”

Surrounded by the natural beauty of rolling hills, the Mayacamas Mountains and Santa Rosa’s nearby Hood Mountain Regional Park and Preserve and Trione-Annadel State Park, Kenwood is a perfect starting point for outdoors enthusiasts.

There are places to discover seemingly everywhere, whether visitors want to hike, taste wine, shop, dine or simply relax with a picnic lunch at a quiet park.

Keeping things comfy and quirky

For those who prefer an overnight adventure, there are numerous accommodations, from guest houses and bed-and-breakfast inns tucked among the vineyards to the Kenwood Inn & Spa, a luxury Mediterranean-style resort offering a wide range of amenities.

For day-trippers, though, a visit to Swede’s Feeds is a must. Located in a former gas station that once housed feed for area farm animals — and whose onetime owner was nicknamed Swede – the eye-catching destination has been evolving for the past 24 years under the ownership of Aspen Mayers and Michael Scheffer.

“It was just a little feed store and our dream was to make it what we did,” Mayers said.

With colorful yard art lining the entrance along Highway 12 (including a 16-foot-tall giraffe), Swede’s Feeds is hard to miss.

“One of the things I get all the time is, ‘We’ve been driving by for years and finally stopped in.’ That happens all the time,” Mayers said.

Shoppers can select from plants and planters, seasonal vegetable starts, wind chimes, garden supplies and soil, gift items including soaps, candles and puzzles, plus locally sourced foods like honey, popcorn and chocolates.

“We’re a little bit of everything,” Mayers said.

Swede’s Feeds still carries premium feed, though mostly for dogs, cats and other small pets. Two friendly ambassador cats – Junebug and Simon – live on the property and greet customers. There’s also a goldfish pond and 15 resident chickens.

One of the newest attractions in Kenwood is located outside St. Anne’s Crossing Winery on Highway 12. A 28-foot-tall, 15-ton steel bear sculpture, created by artist Bryan Tedrick at his studio in nearby Glen Ellen, was installed in January. Winery owner Ken Wilson commissioned the massive piece, reportedly one of the largest sculptures in Sonoma County.

The sculpture recognizes Sonoma’s Bear Flag Revolt of 1846 and the importance of the grizzly bear to local history, including its image on the California state flag.

Plenty of wine, food spots to pop into

St. Anne’s Crossing Winery is one of more than a dozen premium wineries and tasting rooms located in Kenwood. Among them, Kunde Family Winery is a fifth-generation 1,850-acre estate established in 1904. Visitors can sample wine in the tasting room or in various settings: a hike and tasting in the vineyards; an estate and dog hike that includes wine tasting and lunch; and a seasonal mountain top tour and tasting, including artisan cheese and charcuterie.

Other wineries in Kenwood include Chateau St. Jean, with its lush gardens and water features and iconic 1920s chateau, and Muscardini Cellars, located in the historic Los Guilicos School, a one-room schoolhouse that welcomed Kenwood youngsters more than 120 years ago.

Several wineries host special events, live music and outdoor movie nights, typically during the summer months. At Deerfield Ranch Winery, upcoming events include a murder-mystery dinner, stand-up comedy shows, a dance party and a chili cook-off.

Along with wine tasting, VJB Cellars features a La Cucina Italian deli plus wood-fired pizza, all within the setting of a Tuscan-style villa, complete with a piazza. There also are several restaurants in Kenwood to welcome hungry guests: Palooza Brewery and Gastropub, Salt & Stone and Tips Roadside among them.

Beautiful and historic structures

For those who prefer to picnic at a quiet locale, Kenwood Plaza Park provides an ideal setting. The 5-acre park at 200 Warm Springs Road features shaded lawns, a gazebo, picnic tables, a play structure, redwood trees and a footbridge.

“It’s gorgeous. It’s hiding right there,” Zahner said.

Longtime Kenwood resident and retired journalist Jay Gamel was part of a small group of community members who came together in 2000 to raise $250,000 “and leverage more money” for park improvements and landscaping.

“That park is beautiful,” he said.

The park is across the street from the white, steepled, New England-style Kenwood Community Church, built in 1888 and a local historic landmark. The congregation hosts an annual Fourth of July pancake breakfast that kicks off holiday festivities including a footrace, a patriotic parade and a barbecue in the park.

Nearby, the Kenwood Community Club maintains the Kenwood Depot, another historic landmark. Built in 1887 and an active train station into the 1930s, the stone building is a reminder of Kenwood’s role in Sonoma County railway history.

Today the nonprofit club fosters community and preserves and oversees the rural structure, a gathering place for meetings, events and celebrations.

There’s a hometown feel here

Gamel, who years ago transformed a local newsletter into a community newspaper, the Kenwood Press, serves on the board of the Kenwood Community Club. He considers Kenwood a “quiet town” that’s become “fairly upscale” since he moved there in the mid-1970s.

“If I’m arrogant enough to speak for this town, it’s a refuge for a lot of people,” he said. “People who live here enjoy their privacy.”

He encourages visitors to walk around the downtown village, located west of Highway 12 where a cluster of commercial buildings front the roadway. “The village is special,” he said. “(By walking) you get to see how special it is and how real it is.”

Kenwood, he said, has a rich history, one that’s chronicled in “Kenwood, Yesterday and Today” by Dallyce “Dee” Sand. Gamel hopes to update the book, first printed in 1972.

Kenwood native Ed Pedroncelli, 89, knows much about the old days of the village. He was born on Griswold Avenue in one of two hotels his family owned.

“It doesn’t look like Kenwood anymore,” he said. “Everything was slow back then, know what I mean?”

Part of a pioneer Kenwood family that owned several businesses and two ranches, Pedroncelli remembers proposing to his wife, Jo Ann, in 1958 at the Golden Bear Lodge on Adobe Canyon Road. The restaurant was a popular destination for nearly 50 years. Pedroncelli moved away long ago to El Verano in Sonoma Valley, but has warm memories of the bucolic village.

Back in the day, Kenwood “was just a little town,” he said.

Today’s visitors may never know the trains Pedroncelli fondly recalls seeing at the depot, but there’s still much to do and explore in historic Kenwood.

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