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Sebastopol, Sonoma County

After the first time you drive through Sebastopol you will, more than likely, resolve to never do so again.

If the sign declaring a "Nuclear Free Zone" doesn't get to you, the collision of two major highways in the middle of town will.

Designed by a Gumby with a degree but no understanding of human instincts, the intersection of Route 116 and Bodega Highway (AKA Route 12 or Sebastopol Avenue) is a cacophony of corners, one-way streets and intersections intended to confuse even the most ardent of adventurers.

Route 116 coming south through town creates a traffic jam by turning one southbound lane into three. It's a miracle.

Coming north on 116 is even worse. This road splits into two, one-way streets about six blocks from downtown and the two lanes going north (Petaluma Avenue) create a snarl at Route 12.

Just when you've crossed Route 12 and think you're out of the worst of it, the two-lane, one-way road swerves left and past one of the busiest stores in town, Whole Foods.

Driving east to west or west to east on Route 12 through Sebastopol is no plum assignment either.

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Going West, you must stay in the right lane through town to avoid being trapped in the left turn lane at Route 116.

Traveling east is even more tricky. You must stay in the left lane at the first light to avoid having to make a right turn on Route 116 and then stay in the right lane at the second light to avoid having to turn left and parade around Whole Foods with the rest of the bewildered traffic.

Although there are excellent shops in the downtown area, most drivers are so startled by the navigation challenges they bolt out of Sebastopol at the earliest possible convenience.

A cure for this madness is simple. Turn 116 back into a two-lane road going both north and south and put a traffic circle at the intersections of Route 116 and Petaluma Avenue. Petaluma Avenue can be a pressure release for those on 116 who wish to travel east on Route 12.

Along the southbound, seven-block stretch of Route 116, change the horizontal parking to diagonal parking and scores of parking places will be created to accommodate shoppers.

In spite of the driving issues, Sebastopol feels like a Candyland kind of place for adults, where the cool can shop 'til they drop (out), and still maintain their under and over the radar hippie identity.

Everywhere you go to shop, eat, visit a dog park, hang out in the local head shop or get coffee, people are friendly. Sebastopolians, themselves, don't seem to notice their town is invaded along its horizontal and vertical axis by major highways.

If you are new to the town and want to take refuge in Whole Foods store be aware it is shoehorned into too small a space and may have everyone feeling prickly about having to shop elbow to elbow. However, the food is fresh and mostly local.

For those who crave really fresh and local, travel north on Route 116 for a couple of miles and shop at Andy's Market. Considered one of Northern California's top produce outlets, Andy's Market has the freshest and most extensive selection of local fruits and vegetables around.

Dining in Sebastopol can be an unexpected pleasure or a disappointing expense.

We recommend Henweigh Cafe and GTO's Seafood House but caution against the French Garden and P/30.

Sonoma Wineries