Graton: Best Place to Live in Sonoma County?

When I first bought property in Graton in the early 1970’s, primarily because it fit my budget, I had no idea how my life would unfold. But as its turned out, I could not have chosen a better place to match the twists and turns of a life filled with changes. Located near Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State University, various private educational facilities, and the county’s business and governmental core in Santa Rosa — Graton has made a perfect headquarters, readily accommodating a wide-ranging variety of lifestyle and livelihood pursuits. And I can travel to almost anywhere in the county without ever getting on a freeway!

Graton is also in an ideal central location for enjoying the diverse pleasures of Sonoma County living — a short drive to the redwoods, the ocean, and the seafood houses of Bodega Bay, it is surrounded by an abundance of world class wineries. First-rate live entertainment is a hop-skip away to the 6th Street Playhouse, the Wells Fargo Center, and the Summer Repertory Theater, all in Santa Rosa, or to the Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, with many established and some experimental community theaters and music venues scattered throughout the area. Graton is also not far from downtown Healdsburg’s fine dining and shopping, Santa Rosa’s multiple malls, the Petaluma outlet mall, and is close to the heart of the Russian River resort area in Guerneville — home of the annual Stump Town Parade, the Blues and Jazz Festival, and Sonoma County’s Gay Pride Parade.

Graton is a place for folks who love their privacy as well as community — rednecks, yuppies, good ol’ boys and sassy gals, political neophytes and aging 60’s activists, communal gardeners, solitary working artists, craftspeople and Makers, collaborators, housekeepers, day laborers, retirees and entrepreneurs — all live here in harmony. Graton has two Buddhist centers and a Christian elementary school.  Downtown Graton is home to several long standing businesses — two award winning dining establishments which attract customers from countywide and beyond (Willow Wood and Under Wood, owned by the same people and located directly across the street from each other — why not, if nothing succeeds like success!?), Mexico Lindo (love the chicken flautas), Mr Ryder’s (an antique store, named after a dog)  and the Graton Gallery, a top-quality local artists’ showplace.   A block south of main street is a unique art gallery, Funeria, open primarily by appointment, the first in the nation devoted entirely to funerary art.  It is housed in the Atelier One, a studio/office complex, home to a variety of designers and artists, created from a defunct cannery building.  A biking/walking/horse trail runs along the western side of town which you can take a few miles in one direction or the other to either Forestville or Sebastopol.

Housing is a hodgepodge assortment of about 500 homes within a mile radius of the ‘downtown core’ with about 1000 people living in them. Of these less than 40 homes have sold over the last 3 years — at a median price (if you leave out the two condos and the one 1.1 million dollar sale) of $497,599 .  Graton is not known for its  hip or folksy vintage architecture, though it has some of each. Most homes built prior to the 70’s are extremely modest and, except for a few built before the 1920’s, not particularly architecturally interesting. The majority of housing was built 1970 – 2000.

Local builder Orrin Thiessen and a few other forward-looking souls did an admirable job of renovating the block-and-a-half long downtown in the late 1990’s, recapturing some of the character of its early 1900’s origins’.  But people don’t move to Graton for the aesthetics of the built environment. Graton’s unique claim to fame is first and foremost, Place. As the old real estate adage tells us: long term value derives from ‘location, location, location’.

People love the live-and-let-live social environment and the absolutely fabulous weather. In my opinion Graton’s climate is the best in the county: not too wet and not too dry, not too windy, not too hot and not too cold. Sitting just west of the Laguna de Santa Rosa and just east of Atascadero Creek, on ancient Pomo and Miwok settlement grounds; to me it seems a sacred spot, an energy center rivaling Sedona in its ability to support an experience of well-being and peace.

What else can I say? It is a little piece of paradise.
It’s my intent for this to be the first of many opinion pieces on the delightful qualities of the many small communities scattered across the countryside and within the larger towns of Sonoma County. I welcome you to contribute yours.

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