Petaluma featured in new book on must-do activities in Sonoma County
What does an award-winning freelance travel-writer do when a worldwide pandemic shuts down nearly all travel for the better part of a year? In the case of Sonoma County’s Yvonne Michie Horn, whose travel writing has taken her around the country and across the globe numerous times, she stays home for and writes “100 Things to do in Sonoma County Before You Die.”
The book, published by Reedy Press on April 1 — part of a popular series covering scores of cities and counties around the U.S. — proved to be the perfect project for a grounded writer-photographer stuck at home during a pandemic.
“Let me tell you, having this book to write was a lifesaver,” said Horn, reached on the phone at her home in Oakmont, in Santa Rosa. “For a while there, I was just at loose ends. When the pandemic started at the beginning of 2020, one by one, all of the travel assignments I had lined up started dropping off my calendar. Cancel, cancel, cancel. For months I had nothing to do. So this book was just a godsend. It gave me a sense of focus, and at one point I actually began to wish I was writing it slower.”
She’s not joking. Horn signed the contract in June 28, of 2020, with a Nov. 1 deadline for delivering the manuscript.
“I gave myself a self-imposed deadline of the end of September,” she said, reporting that she successfully stayed on task, enjoying the work so much that she met her deadline easily, and then quickly regretted it. ”Had I not written so fast, and aimed for November,“ she said with a laugh, ”it would have given me something to do for the rest of 2020.“
Horn will be discussing the book on Thursday, April 29, at 7 p.m., in a virtual author’s talk hosted by Copperfield’s Books. She also hopes to do some socially distanced book signings at Sonoma County farmer’s markets later in the summer.
A third-generation Sonoma County resident, Horn was born in Santa Rosa. Her writing has appeared in magazines from “Bon Appetit” and “Golf Digest” to “Quarterly Review of Wines,” and in numerous newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. Along the way, Horn has won two Lowell Thomas Awards, thought of as the “Oscar of travel writing” by journalists, but has dabbled in other sorts of journalism as well, with a particular passion for writing about gardens. In 1979, she penned the book “Sing For Your Supper: Earning Your Living as a Singer.” A longtime member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Bay Area Travel Writers and Garden Communicators International, Horn also maintains two websites: WineryWeddingGuide.com and TheTravelingGardener.com.
Of her well-timed invitation to contribute to the “100 Things to Do” series, Horn explains that the opportunity was more than just well timed. For someone who grew up in Sonoma County — and who has a well-stocked file of notes and stories about the area’s many hidden treasures and famous landmarks— the assignment was actually fun.
“Oh, it was a pleasure, and it was a very interesting process,” said Horn. “This is a very popular guidebook series, and they look for writers who actually live in the area they will be writing about. All of the books follow the same format, so I didn’t have to think up the various categories. That gave me an easy structure to follow, and I think it works really well. The book is very easy to use, from a readers’ point of few. And for me, it really was a great deal of fun.”
Horn said the only challenge was limiting herself to just 100 things in a place with as much to offer as Sonoma County.
“With Petaluma, that was hard, because I think Petaluma is wonderful,” she said. “I could have added a lot more about Petaluma, but I felt I needed to really spread things around.”
The book is broken into mini-essays of 140 words each, all arranged into a number of categories such as “Food and Drink,” “Music and Entertainment,” “Sports and Recreation” and the like, with each essay accompanied by a catchy headline. Among Horn’s Petaluma/Penngrove-centric passages are, “Tap the Beat in Your Cowboy Boots at Twin Oaks Roadhouse,“ “Grab Your Binoculars and Hit the Trail at Shollenberger Park,” “Enter the World of ’Star Wars’ at Rancho Obi-Wan,” and “Tour the Downtown of the ’Egg Capitol of the World’ and Be Amazed.”
For Horn, that last one was more than just playful hyperbole.
“The historic district of Petaluma is remarkable,” she said. “There’s so much to see if you just walk around and look.”
Writing a local guidebook during COVID-19, of course, with so many businesses and restaurants shutting down permanently, one of Horn’s concerns was that she’d include something that no longer existed by the time the book hit the stores.
“That was a big worry, of course,” she said. “I kept thinking, ’Are any of these places still going to be around when the book comes out?’ Especially when it came to restaurants.”
That worry was born out with the closure of downtown Santa Rosa’s City Garden Doughnuts & Coffee on April 18, though another popular Bay Area fried-dough purveyor - the much salivated-for Johnny’s Doughnuts - has announced it will take over the City Garden location. The only other change, so far, is that since submitting her manuscript, the former Quarryhill Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen is now Sonoma Botannical Garden.
Scattered throughout the book are well-denoted “tips,” highlighting the best ways to appreciate a particular location or activity, or suggestions of nearby attractions to consider. For instance, adjacent to the piece of Shollenberger Park is a reminder to pick up an interpretive guide and bird list at the park’s entrance.
“There was one section of the book that I really enjoyed, and that was ’Culture and History,’” Horn pointed out. “Golly, what a rich place we live in, you know? I could have had a lot more in that section. I could have gone on forever.”
Asked if there’s any Petaluma activity or location that she left out and wishes she hadn’t, Horn laughed again.
“Well, I really like your water treatment plant,” she said, referring to Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility, the next door neighbor of Shollenberger Park. “What a surprise of a place that is, totally unexpected, with it’s ponds and trails and all the birds.” She paused to laugh again. “As I talk about it, now I do wish I had included it. Well, at least I know that people who visit Shollenberger will have a chance to discover Ellis Creek by accident. Accidents are always a big part of discovering the joys of a place, whether its somewhere you already live or somewhere you are just visiting.”