Sebastopol is a town in Sonoma County, California, United
States, approximately 52 miles north of San Francisco.
The population was 7,774 at the 2000 census, but its
businesses also serve surrounding rural portions of Sonoma County, totaling
about 50,000 people, per the town's website. It is about a 20 minute drive from
the Pacific Ocean, between Santa Rosa and Bodega Bay, and is known for its
progressive politics and small-town charm. It was once primarily a plum- and
apple-growing region; wine grapes are now predominant, and almost all
ex-orchards are now vineyards. World-famous horticulturist Luther Burbank had
gardens in this fertile region. The city hosts an annual Apple Blossom Festival
and Gravenstein Apple Fair.
Sebastopol is the home of publisher O'Reilly Media, which publishes books on
open-source software. Former Primus lead singer/bassist Les Claypool,
singer/songwriter Tom Waits, singer/songwriter Nick Gravenites and actor Peter
Krause currently reside in the area. Sebastopol is home to Analy High School,
Laguna High School, Brook Haven Middle School, Gravenstein Elementary School,
Hillcrest Middle School, Twin Hills Middle School, Pine Crest Elementary, Apple
Blossom Elementary, along with many other private and charter schools. It is
also the sister city of Chyhyryn, Ukraine, and Yamauchi-Machi, Japan.
The name of Sebastopol first came into use in the late 1850s as a result of a
prolonged and lively fist fight in the newly formed town, which was likened to
the long British siege of the Russian seaport of Sevastopol during the
then-raging Crimean War. At one time, four other California towns were also
named Sebastopol (specifically, one in Napa County renamed Yountville, and
others in Tulare, Sacramento and Nevada counties). There is some debate in the
rumour mill about how the name "Sebastopol" came into being. The town was
originally called Pinegrove, and how the name change occurred is rumored to have
something to do with a bar fight. The original name can be seen in the names of
two of the longer standing downtown businesses, Pinegrove consignment store, and
the Pinecone restaurant.
Sebastopol became known as the Gravenstein Apple Capital of the World. The apple
industry brought a steady rural prosperity to the town. In 1890 the Northwestern
Pacific Railroad opened a branch to Sebastopol. The town was incorporated in
1902 with schools, churches, hotels, canneries, mills, wineries, and an opera
house to its credit. The 1906 earthquake reduced most of these early buildings
to rubble, (Sebastopol is only seven miles from the city of Santa Rosa, the
worst hit town in the 1906 earthquake) but as elsewhere in the county, the town
In the second half of the Twentieth Century, the apple industry struggled to
compete with other apple producing regions and has gradually declined in
economic significance. With greater personal mobility and the rise of larger
shopping centers in other Sonoma County communities, many residents now often
commute to work and shop in the neighboring towns of Rohnert Park or Santa Rosa,
while Sebastopol maintains its small town charm.
It is often incorrectly stated that until the 1990s, Sebastopol was the last
remaining town in Northern California that still had working railroad trains
going down Main Street. The tracks were actually removed in the late 1980s.
Passenger service had ceased in the 1930s and regular freight service ended in
the late 1970s, which Analy High School students documented in the 1979 video,
Our Train Down Main: a History of the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad. The
canneries have disappeared from downtown, and the apple processing plant as
well, while vineyards and new housing developments have replaced some of the
apple orchards eliminating the need for a train service to town.
It is often also incorrectly stated that the tracks were removed in the 1990s
when the downtown area was redesigned with two one-way streets to enhance
traffic along Gravenstein Highway (Route 116). Main Street and Sebastopol Avenue
were actually designated one-way streets in 1985 in a perhaps misguided attempt
to deal with the town's perennial traffic problem.
Some famous residents of Sebastopol include: the horticulturist Luther Burbank
who established an 18-acre Gold Ridge Environmental Farm in the township in the
late 1800s; Willard Libby, inventor of carbon dating went to Analy High School;
the cartoonist Charles Schulz; and the musicians Les Claypool of Primus and both
Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead.
The city council consists of five members, each serving four year terms. City
council races are not partisan, so each member does not officially represent any
party, however since 2000 there has been a decent amount of attention given to
the individual party membership of city council members in Sebastopol. This
happened because in 2000, with the election of Craig Litwin and Sam Spooner to
the city council, the town had a Green Party majority. Or would have, if city
council races were partisan. This was only the second time this had ever
happened, the first being the town of Arcata, CA in 1996.
As this indicates, Sebastopol tends to support environmental policies. In 1986,
the citizens approved an initiative declaring Sebastopol a "Nuclear Free Zone",
The town does not use pesticides in city landscaping, and several years back,
when the police needed a new vehicle, the city council voted to purchase a
hybrid instead of a standard police car.
Current issues facing the city include a high cost of living and ongoing
difficulties with traffic (the town has two highways going through downtown).
Sebastopol, while small, has several points of interest.
Luther Burbank Gold Ridge Experiment Farm *
The historic Hogan Building, Petaluma Avenue. This was the Power House for the
Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad which was an eleCenteric railway. The first cars
were run over the line in 1904, and the later named Hogan Building, built of
stone from a local quarry, is one of the few in the area that made it through
the 1906 earthquake.
West County Museum operated by the Western Sonoma County Historical Society in
the former Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad passenger Depot on Main Street.
George A. Strout House, located on Florence Ave., home of sculptor Patrick Amiot
and many of his eclectic sculptures *
Ives Park, summer home of the Sonoma County Repertory Theater (aka The Rep)
Ragle Ranch Regional Park
Joe Rodota Trail
West County Trail
Laguna de Santa Rosa
*National Registry of Historic Places