California Wine Country: Still Open for Business
It’s now been almost two months since the outbreak of the fires that wrought havoc in Sonoma and Napa counties – and, especially, in Santa Rosa. Plenty of ink has been spilled on articles and photos documenting the destruction. If you, the reader, are not from this area and would like an overview of what happened, you might want to look at this eyewitness account and before-and-after photos. You can find plenty of additional information on the web.
But I won’t go any further over that well-trodden ground. I’d rather help get the word out that, despite the damage, Wine Country is still open for business – and that (1) if you live outside this area, we’d love to have you, your family and friends come for a visit and (2) if you’re a local resident, we hope you’ll spend more of your hard-earned cash locally – eating out, visiting some of those favorite local haunts you haven’t been to in a while, and buying holiday presents in local shops and farmers’ markets rather than online.
As I recently heard one wag put it, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos doesn’t need your money, but the thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the vibrancy of our joined-at-the-hip wine and tourism industries certainly do. These are the people who work in restaurants, hotels, wineries, vineyards and shops plus the countless employees of everyday businesses the visitor and wine industries rely on – from appliance repairmen and architects to tree trimmers and wedding photographers.
So, if you’ve never been to Sonoma County or if it’s been way too long since your last visit, here are just a handful of the delights we have in store for you:
- Towering redwoods. You’ll find more than you can shake a stick at (a redwood stick, of course) in Armstrong Woods, just up the road from Guerneville. Take a leisurely walk through this soaring natural cathedral. In my view, this is Sonoma County’s most magnificent attraction.
- Rivaling the redwoods in magnificence are over 55 miles of rugged coastline grandeur, featuring cliffs, enormous wave-battered rocks, broad expanses of pristine sand, and an entertaining cast of characters that includes sea otters, harbor seals, elephant seals, sea lions, pelicans (“whose beaks can hold more than their belly can,” wrote Ogden Nash) and myriad other sea- and shorebirds – plus, in season, migrating whales.
Hop Kiln Winery
- Wineries: We’ve got over 400 of them in five distinct wine-growing regions: Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Guerneville Area, Healdsburg, Russian River Valley. If you’d like to check them all out, even at a rate of four a day, it’ll take you over three months and give you a fuzzy tongue. We’ve got a better idea – come back again, and again … and again. Our hospitality is boundless!
- You like suds? At last count, we’ve got 48 craft breweries to which – and at which – you can raise a glass.
- Is farm-to-table dining your thing? Sonoma offers a cornucopia of places sure to delight your eyes, nose and palate.
- If you enjoy the peace of a green, leafy oasis surrounded by tasteful shops and eateries, the plazas of Healdsburg and Sonoma town and the Windsor Green are great places to spend a few hours. You’ll also have a great time exploring the varied charms of downtown Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Sebastopol (don’t worry, no ill-disguised Russian soldiers have made it this far, but, just in case, the good people of this town have declared it a nuclear-free zone).
Relaxing at Bodega Bay
- You like exploring rustic townlets? We have a few of those too – for example, Bodega Bay (where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds), Cazadero, Glen Ellen, Guerneville, Geyserville and Occidental (if your name is Howard and you order a scrumptious breakfast at Howard’s Station Cafe there, it won’t get you a discount – I know, I asked – but the experience is worth every nickel).
- Love plants and flowers? Beguiled by botany? Then don’t miss the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in the heart of Santa Rosa. And near the northernmost reaches of the Sonoma County coast, check out the Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve, especially in May when it’s in full bloom. It’s also alive with redwoods, Douglas fir and tan bark oak.
- Luther Burbank was not Santa Rosa’s only “favorite son.” Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts, made his home here too. If you love Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy and the gang – whimsical statues of whom can be found all over town – you’ll certainly want to spend a little time at the Schulz Museum. Writer Jack London spent his last years near Glen Ellen and is buried on his former ranch there.
Cannons and Russian Orthodox church at Fort Ross
- History buffs will enjoy Fort Ross, Czarist Russia’s southernmost outpost on the West Coast. Established as a place to grow food for the fur hunters and trappers of Alaska, this beautifully restored early-19th-century anomaly in Mexican California brings a touch of old Russia to life. Don’t be surprised if you run into a family or two of Russian-speaking visitors – as I have – who’ve driven up from San Francisco to experience this remote, rough-hewn expression of their mother country’s heritage.
Whatever your preferences, you’ll find lots to do and enjoy in Sonoma County. So come help us keep the lifeblood of our economy pumping. If you’re driving, Santa Rosa is just an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and if you’re coming from farther afield, you can fly nonstop to Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport from Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.
Don’t wait. Come now – and come again next spring and summer when you can canoe or kayak down the gently flowing Russian River.
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