Oftentimes in travel, as in life, it is the “getting there” that is the best part of the experience. In our fast paced lives we are easily tempted to take the fastest route, the quickest mode of transportation, and just not stop until we get there. Time is always of the essence and in the process we not only miss wonderful people and places but we cheat ourselves of a chance to slow down, open our eyes, and broaden our minds to experience the unexpected. It is in deference to the spirit of a true traveler that I start this recurring segment in my blog: The Road Less Traveled.

Petaluma to Marshall

One of the things that I love most about living in Petaluma is the vast countryside that circumscribes our city; we are isolated on all sides by space. It provides ample opportunities for exploring back roads on a whim. One day last year we drove out Western Avenue and turned left on Chileno Valley Road; in an instant we had left behind the city streets and were careening down a country road on an unknown route to an uncertain destination. Our impulsive journey took us to the coastal enclave of Marshall. It was a spectacular drive that remains a favorite diversion for my family. We recently made that drive and reveled in the beauty that has been brought by a change of seasons; experiencing the journey anew on this road less traveled.


Chileno Valley Road leaves Western Avenue as a shady tree-lined passageway that opens up near the main entrance to Helen Putnam Park. From there the road curves west and heads towards the coastal hills, passing a couple of small family-run wineries bearing the brand of “Petaluma Gap”- Corda Winery and Armagh Vineyard. The soft rolling valley is lush and green from the abundant winter rain, punctuated by tufts of trees, farm houses, and a string of telephone poles; only a few miles from Petaluma but a mental leap from the finite constructs of suburban life.

Continuing straight onto Wilson Hill Road we cross the San Antonio Creek into Marin. The road climbs gradually into the coastal hills, passing Stubbs Vineyard and hurdling a small pass at El Dolcini Ranch before meeting up with the Marshall-Petaluma Road. Looking back from the approach to the pass the city Petaluma is hidden; lost in the gap between the low-lying hills and the Sonoma Mountains. A couple of barns in the foreground and scattered fences are the only evidence of nearby civilization. As I take photos from the side of the road a few cyclists whiz past me; cars are few and far between.


The Marshall-Petaluma Road follows a narrow valley west, past grazing cattle, working farms, and Marin’s Walker Creek Ranch (outdoor school, retreat, and conference center). The road undulates and curves up and around to the final ridge where a view of Tomales Bay begins to peek over the edge. As we come over the hill a long stretch of narrow bay emerges in the distance. The landscape is serene and seemingly untouched; the only sound is the wind in my ears. As we make the final descent to Marshall the charming little red St. Helen Church (circa 1915) bids us farewell before we are deposited onto Highway One.

Our drive to Marshall took us about twenty minutes longer than a more direct route but the rewards were in the journey; the leisurely pace, quiet isolation, beautiful views, and the unexpected finds. The next time you are at a crossroads embrace the spirit of a true traveler; make a turn down the road less traveled.

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