As much as we loved San Francisco, our wallets couldn’t handle any longer so we headed north out to the countryside. Muir Woods National Monument provided a great place to stretch our legs and walk some trails underneath the massive giants that call this part of California home. Just as nice was a visit to Point Reyes National Seashore. A lingering coastal fog eventually pushed us further inland. It was time for some wine!
Within the Sonoma Valley, there are 100+ wineries located in castles, garden chateaus, and villas. With this many options, I recommend starting with a stop at Cornerstone Sonoma. Right off Highway 121 as you approach town, this little plaza contains the very helpful Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau. The friendly staff will load you up with 2-for-1 tastings, maps, and information and can point even the most novice winos, like Glenna and I, in the right direction. Cornerstone also has an incredible garden, several boutique shops, and of course a tasting room.
When you are ready, head down the street to Cline Cellars. Along with Jacuzzi Family Vineyards across the street, these wineries will literally whet your palette… they both offer 5 complimentary tastings! Cline had a nice outdoor setup, making for a great place to mingle with your fellow tasters. Jacuzzi had the most friendly staff. We chatted with a server for an hour, sharing stories of travel and learning more about the wine-making process. Next we stopped at the gorgeous grounds of Gloria Ferrer Vineyards. We ordered glasses of their California Champagne and walked around the grounds. Out on a beautiful patio, we sipped our wine and looked out on their manicured rows of Champagne grapes.
Sonoma Town Center
For lunch, head into the Sonoma town center. Sonoma was first established as a Mission in 1823, and upgrade to a pueblo several years later. As such, the center of the town is built in a Mexican style with an enormous plaza surrounded by the City Hall, the original Mission, and the Presidio of Sonoma. It is still a gathering place with many restaurants and shops lining the plaza. Grab some olives and some fresh made cheese and make a picnic in the square. In the afternoon, we headed to Gundlach Bundschu (cleverly pronounced Gun-Lock Bun-Shoe) Winery and Imagery Estate Winery for more tastings.
Located West of Santa Rosa along the scenic Russian River, I would highly recommend a visit to Korbel Champagne Cellars. The cellars are harbored in a brick warehouse covers in ivy and complete with a minaret on one side. Apparently, the minaret is identical to the jail cell in Czechoslovakia that one of the founders escaped from. The best part about Korbel is they offer a wonderful guided tour of their cellars, complete with historic artifacts and machinery. Of course, you are rewarded with three samples of their California Champagne. The stuff is so good, it has been served at every Presidential inauguration since 1985!
Drive-Thru Tree Park
What more do you need to know? For $5, you can enter this privately owned grove of Redwood trees and drive your car through the aptly named Chandelier Tree. The tree is 276 feet tall, though the sign claims 315, and was carved back in 1935. It makes for a fun experience and a neat photo. Conveniently located right of the 101, five minutes later and you’re back on the highway heading north to see more of the giant trees.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
If you want to see coastal redwoods, Humboldt is the place to go. Containing 100 of the 137 largest trees as well as the largest remaining old-growth forest, this state park is worth a stop. Hiking trails abound, weaving you through the eerie forest that rests under these 300-foot tall trees. Don’t miss the Founder’s Grove Nature Trail where you can walk alongside the fallen Dyerville Giant. If you can, pay the steep cost ($35/night was easily the most expensive site of the summer) and spend the night in one of the park’s several campgrounds. Set up your tent next to massive stumps that provide evidence of the logging industry that swept through the area in the late 1800’s. Out the stumps grew new trees and even these “young” redwoods still reach massive heights.
Redwoods National Park
For some more serious hiking and less crowds, head to Redwoods National Park. The park is broken up into several different sections crowded along a narrow stretch of coast. Perhaps the best area to visit is just east of the Kuchel Visitor Center in Orick. Be sure to get a permit at the Visitor Center to enter the Tall Trees Grove, the secret location of Hyperion, currently the tallest tree on the planet. We backpacked down to the grove and camped along the scenic Redwood Creek. In the morning, we had the space to ourselves to stare up in wonder at the skyscrapers of the natural world. It’s hard to express how truly magnificent these trees are.