How to make the most of warm-weather Wine Country.
COURTESY OF HIGH WATER STAND-UP PADDLE
In summer, we really should just call Wine Country “heaven.”
Mornings are cool with fog, and daytime sunshine brings warmth to evenings. It rarely rains. Gardens grow like crazy, providing us with a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables, and glorious farm-to-table food.
And of course, there’s the wine! Pair that with outstanding outdoor activities and experiences such as hiking, paddling, luxuriating, and more, and you have the very soul of Napa and Sonoma in summer.
Summit Mount St. Helena
You officially haven’t arrived in Wine Country until you’ve started a day by climbing to the top of Mount St. Helena, the 4,343-foot rise in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park at the north end of Napa Valley. The 10-mile, round-trip Stevenson Memorial Trail to the summit will burn your hamstrings and quicken your breathing as it switchbacks from the trailhead outside Calistoga on Highway 29. The views make it all worthwhile.
Local’s tip: At the top, open a bottle of rosé, and toast to the beginning of a great day. Parking lot is seven miles north of Calistoga on Highway 29. Daily dawn–dusk.
Afterward: Book a treatment at the recently renovated spa at Solage Calistoga, and soothe tired legs in the pools of natural mineral water. 755 Silverado Trail N., Calistoga, (707) 226-0850, solagecalistoga.com.
Stand-Up Paddle the Napa River
Hawaii meets Wine Country with High Water Stand-Up Paddle (SUP). Owner Heather Bailie offers lessons and group excursions on the Napa River in the heart of downtown Napa, and also rents out equipment. If you’ve never SUP-ped before, expect a challenging core workout: It might look easy, but one mistake could get you soaked.
Local’s tip: Go post–breakfast or brunch, before it gets too windy. Classes start at $65 per person; rentals are $25 for the first hour and $10 per hour after that. Launch from 100 Riverside Dr., Napa, (707) 666-3388, highwatersup.com. Sat.–Sun. 8:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Afterward: Back toward downtown, swing by the Alexis Baking Company and Cafe to try the gluten-free pancakes made with grapeseed flour and oil. 1517 Third St., Napa, (707) 258-1827, abcnapa.com.
Grind Grain Into Flour
The stone mill at Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park in St. Helena started grinding grains in 1846—four years before California became a state. Though the mill was dormant for about a century, it was restored in the 1980s, and today, visitors can swing by to watch three certified millers grind anew. The experience is great for families, as kids learn about water-powered milling techniques and state history.
Local’s tip: Be sure to get a bag of flour to use at home. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for kids six-17. 3369 Hwy. 128, St. Helena, (707) 963-2236, napavalleystateparks.org. Fri.–Sun. 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Afterward: Head south on 29/128 to Cairdean Estate. In addition to wine tasting, on-site attractions include a
restaurant, a bakery, and a boutique. 3111 St. Helena Hwy. N., St. Helena, (707) 968-5434, cairdeanestate.com.
Bike Angwin and Howell Mountain
The biggest challenge about biking Howell Mountain is summiting it. That’s why a new road-biking program at Ladera Vineyards is gaining so much momentum. Starting at the winery, pedal to Angwin, and ride a six-mile mixed-terrain course through downtown. The ride ends back at Ladera for a picnic lunch in the gardens, a tour of the winery, and a tasting of limited-production wines. Bikes, helmets, and a map are provided by St. Helena Cyclery.
Local’s tip: Be sure to ask your tour guide about Ladera’s history: Owner Pat Stotesbery says the restored and renovated stone winery dates to 1886. $125 per person. 150 White Cottage Rd. S., Angwin, (707) 965-2445, laderavineyards.com. Program available by appointment only.
Afterward: Continue the theme in St. Helena at Velo Vino Napa Valley, the tasting room for Clif Family Winery, and indulge in the new tasting experience that pairs wine with bruschetta. 709 Main St., St. Helena, (707) 968-0625, cliffamilywinery.com.
Luxuriate at the New Indian Springs
Indian Springs Resort and Spa, a 1950s-style oasis in the heart of Calistoga, underwent a $20 million transfor-mation and now is one of the biggest resorts in the valley. Book a spa treatment, and get access to the resort’s mineral water pools. Pool temperatures vary between 92 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit, so brace yourself for heat.
Local’s tip: If you need refreshment, waiter service is never more than a nod away. Pools are free Mon.–Fri. with spa treatment; $30 surcharge Sat.–Sun. 1712 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, (707) 942-4913, indianspringscalistoga.com.
Afterward: Sam’s Social Club, a restaurant-lounge that was part of the hotel’s transformation, is definitely worth a stop. (Hint: Try the octopus.) 1712 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, (707) 942-4913, samssocialclub.com.
Sip Wine and Skip Lines
The queues at Gott’s Roadside are almost as legendary as the burgers, fries, and milk shakes themselves. That’s why we love the new Burger Butler Experience at Merryvale Vineyards, conveniently located across the street. With advance reservations (and advance ordering, natch), Merry-vale’s butler will order your Gott’s, cut the line to pick it up, and bring it back to you for enjoyment on the winery’s Victorian veranda.
Local’s tip: The service also comes with four tastes of mostly Bordeaux-style wines, including two barrel samples that won’t be released until next year. $65 per person; two-person minimum. 1000 Main St., St. Helena, (707) 963-7777, merryvale.com. By reservation only.
Afterward: Sign up for an adults-only pottery class at Nimbus Arts, a pay-as-you-go art studio just south of Merryvale on Highway 29. 649 Main St., St. Helena,
(707) 963-5278, nimbusarts.org.
Kayak Lake Berryessa
Even with low water levels, there’s still plenty of drink in Lake Berryessa to support a day of kayaking near Markley Cove. Rent a boat from Lake Berryessa Boat and Jet Ski Rentals at the marina, and paddle along the shore to watch for egrets, herons, and other big birds. The manmade lake was born in 1957 and ranks among California’s largest, which means there are plenty of fish to go around.
Local’s tip: Get out on the water early to avoid buzz-killing party boat traffic. Kayaks start at $50 for four hours. 7521 California Hwy. 128, Napa, (707) 966-4204, lakeberryessaboats.com. Open daily by reservation only.
Afterward: Unwind back in St. Helena at V. Sattui Winery. On weekends, the outdoor barbecue serves mesquite-grilled prawns, tri-tip, salmon, and ribs. 1111 White Ln.,
St. Helena, (707) 963-7774, vsattui.com.
Party on the Plaza
Tuesday is the most happening night of the week in Healdsburg. During the summer months, locals and visitors descend upon Healdsburg Plaza to throw down a blanket and chairs, and get ready for two hours of public partying and live music. When it’s dinnertime, grab take-away from the local restaurants that set up booths on the north end of the plaza.
Local’s tip: If possible, arrive early: Regulars show up to snag a spot (and start drinking wine) as early as 4 p.m. Tues. late May to late August, 6–8 p.m.
Afterward: Leave room for a cone from Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar, an organic shop that scoops out black sesame coconut, lemon lavender, and more. 116 Matheson St., Healdsburg, (707) 395-4426, thenoblefolk.com.
Lounge Like a Movie Star
Hollywood meets Wine Country at this Geyserville hot spot. The pool complex at Francis Ford Coppola Winery boasts a giant pool overlooking the Alexander Valley, bocce courts, cabanas with showers, and a number of child-friendly amenities, including a library in a teepee. Families can opt to have food and wine delivered poolside from the pool cafe. There’s also frequest live music as well as a museum that showcases memorabilia from Francis Ford’s films.
Local’s tip: Go on a weekday, as weekends book up quickly and can be crowded. Pool passes are $35 for adults, $15 for kids. 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, (707) 857-1471, francisfordcoppolawinery.com.
Afterward: Venture into Geyserville for Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizza and house-cured salumi at Diavola Pizzeria and Salumeria. 21021 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, (707) 814-0111, diavolapizzeria.com.
Paddle the Mouth of the Russian River
Kayak trips in Jenner with WaterTreks EcoTours offer more than a standard paddle: They offer an education as well. Owner Suki Waters (yes, that’s really her name)—whose grandmother was Kashaya Pomo and Miwok and father was Blackfoot—imbues each of her excursions with local history and a biology lesson. Most tours include a jaunt to the river’s mouth, where groups can ogle
members of the resident colony of harbor seals.
Local’s tip: If you’re lucky, you might even see seal babies: The puny pinnipeds appear year-round. Tours are $30–$90. 10428 California Hwy. 1, Jenner, (707) 865-2249, watertreks.com. Open daily by reservation only.
Afterward: On the drive back, stop at Guerneville’s Boon Eat and Drink for organic salads and local wines. 16248 Main St., Guerneville, (707) 869-0780, eatatboon.com.
Tromp on Sonoma’s Newest Trails
Sonoma County’s two newest trails give hikers, bikers, and equestrians never-seen-before views from Sonoma Mountain. The 1.2-mile, shorter out-and-back East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail starts inside Jack London State Historic Park at Beauty Ranch (hike to it) and ends at a sweeping vista of San Pablo Bay. The longer five-mile North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail starts at North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve, climbs 1,000 feet, and ends on the north side of Jack London Park.
Local’s tip: Both trails connect to the growing Bay Area Ridge Trail, so if you’re feeling really adventuresome, you can stretch a day hike into a much more formidable tromp. $10 vehicle entry fee. 2400 London Ranch Rd., Glen Ellen, (707) 938-5216, jacklondonpark.com. Daily 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
Afterward: Refuel with a gourmet sandwich and cold-pressed juice from Glen Ellen Village Market. 13751 Arnold Dr., Glen Ellen, (707) 996-6728, sonoma-glenellenmkt.com.
Savor Beer and Live Tunes
Of all the cult beers in Sonoma County, Lagunitas Brewing Company ranks among the hippest. The acts that play at the LaguMiniAmphitheaterette during the brewery’s free summer concerts range from local favorites to nationally renowned artists: James McMurtry played there last fall, and The Wood Brothers played in the summer, to name a few. Free tours are available all week, and weekday tours include tastings.
Local’s tip: For a drink, head for the taproom. 1280 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma, (707) 284-1020, lagunitas.com. Amphitheaterette concerts: Mon. and Tues. at 3 p.m. Taproom: Wed.–Fri. 2-9 p.m., Sat. and Sun. 11:30 a.m.–8 p.m.
Afterward: Take a cab downtown, and pull up a chair at Speakeasy, which specializes in savory small plates, craft beer, and local wines. 139 Petaluma Blvd. N., Ste. B,
Petaluma, (707) 776-4631, speakeasypetaluma.com.
Hunt for Tidbits About the Environment
Think of the free “quest” at Santa Rosa’s Spring Lake Regional Park as a modern-day, family-friendly scavenger hunt. Visitors can pick up a pamphlet at the Environmental Discovery Center to find a number of interactive clues about flora and fauna, and to follow different paths through the 320-acre park. Along the way, contestants are expected to identify particular plants and animals, answer riddles, and learn about local culture.
Local’s tip: Pay close attention to warnings about poison oak; this season is predicted to be one of the worst in
recent memory. $8 vehicle entry fee. 393 Violetti Rd., Santa Rosa, (707) 539-2865, parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov. Wed.–Sun. noon–5 p.m.; closed June 1–16 and July 4.
Afterward: On weekends, bring the kids to Howarth Park, just to the west, where they can ride a steam train, spin on the carousel, or jump in a bouncy house. 630 Summerfield Rd., Santa Rosa, (707) 543-3425, howarthpark.com.
Zip and Climb Through Redwoods
Experience life as a flying squirrel on the zip lines at Sonoma Canopy Tours near Occidental. This outfitter offers zip trips through old-growth redwoods all summer long. Standard tours begin with a short safety tutorial; then groups fly across seven lines, including one that’s more than 800-feet long. Tours also require participants to climb a spiral staircase, traverse two rope bridges, and rappel 60 feet straight down the trunk of a tree.
Local’s tip: Have your friends snap video and pictures for you to post on Instagram. Adults are $99–$109, kids
are $69–$79. 6250 Bohemian Hwy., Occidental, (808) 494-7868, sonomacanopytours.com. Open daily by reservation only.
Afterward: Celebrate your flights with moules frites and a martini at the relaxed Underwood Bar and Bistro in Graton. 9113 Graton Rd., Graton, (707) 823-7023, underwoodgraton.com.