Napa and Sonoma are world reknown for their wines, but the terroir of these counties is more than just ideal for growing grapes. Rolling hills graduate into mountains. Hidden hot springs, twisting rivers, magnificent redwoods and coastal cliffs are invitations to explore, but retain a certain tranquil romanticsm that pairs well with a bottle of wine. Take a break from the 700 plus Winery Taste Challenge and really get to know the true nature of Napa and Sonoma.
North of Healdsburg, (1)Sonoma Lake is a picturesque spot for boating and hiking. An observation deck provides picturesque view over forests, the lake and small vineyards. On your way up stop, by (2)Dry Creek Grocery on Dry Creek Road to pick up ham, cheese, nuts, pressed sandwiches and wine for a picnic, or enjoy a lunch outside overlooking Dry Creek Vineyards.
(3)Visit “Old Faithful” outside of Calistoga and marvel in its beauty and power. The famous Fainting Goats are here, but as much as we stared at them, we couldn’t make them faint. Four horned sheep and a llama keep the little ones entertained. The geyser “faithfully” goes off on the average about every 30-40 minutes with a lot of “splits” or burping 5 minutes before shooting 60 feet into the air with Mount St. Helena and the Palisades Mountains as a backdrop. If an earthquake is about to happen, the geyser intervals will be longer. (4)Calistoga is also home to many spas and resorts with their own hot springs.
The coastal redwood forests of Sonoma County can be peacefully enjoyed at (5)Armstrong Woods State Nature Reserve. Standing 250 feet tall, redwoods are the tallest living things on Earth. Some of the redwoods at Armstrong Woods are over 1000 years old with a base diameter of 16 feet. Long ago, Indians living in this area respected the trees for their longevity. They would not cut down a tree, but if a tree had fallen, they would use that wood for their houses, furniture and canoes because of its naturl resistance to insects and fungi. The serene trails are accessible for every skill level. A drive through the park will cost $8, but parking and walking the nature trails are free. Horseback riding through an outside company is also offered as a way to see these magnificent trees.
(6)Follow the Russian River out to the coast and witness the pounding, unrelenting surf as unforgiving as it is beautiful, even on foggy days. Follow the road through Sonoma State Beach Park out to the end of Goat Rock. It’s a perfect place for shutterbugs to practice their landscape photography with the ragged coastline, steep cliffs, eroded rocks, and famous wildlife.
(7)Hot air balloon rides are a fantastic way to see the rolling hillside vineyards. Kayaking is a fun way to explore the Russian River as it winds its way through Sonoma County and empties into the Pacific Ocean by Jenner. (8)Bicycle tours through the countryside and to the wineries is another great way to experience “the good travel life” and local flavor of Napa and Sonoma.
Tour and recreation operators can be found on the website www.sonomauncorked.com