Springtime in the wine country of California is a beautiful thing. Sonoma and Napa counties are covered in yellow blossoms as the mustard fields awaken to this verdant time of year. The plum trees rain down blossoms in the gentle breeze, soft, glistening pink dots floating gently to cover the pavement below. The vineyards awaken, withered vines sending out green shoots as the cycle of wine growth begins anew.
A short trip to the area can be a high-end adventure. The town of Yountville, just outside of Napa, boasts the most Michelin stars per capita in North America. In this small town of 3,000 residents, two well-known Chef Thomas Keller restaurants require reservations made far in advance. However, you can find surprisingly good alternative dining options if you are adventurous. Sonoma and Napa are well-known as foodie havens, and even the food trucks on the street serve delightful gastronomic cuisine.
Nearly everyone goes to the wine country to partake in the beauty and elegance of the great wineries sprinkled throughout the area. Yet this area boasts the natural beauty of forests, the seaside, mountains, a lake, and a river. Off-the-beaten-path adventures are awaiting you. Here are several wonderful possibilities to replace or enhance your regular wine-tasting trip.
Sonoma county is famous for Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, home to California’s coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), the world’s tallest living organisms. Parson Jones, the tallest tree in the 800-acre grove, soars above at 310 feet. The reserve features self-guided nature trails, picnic facilities, and a visitor center. This serene environment promotes quiet reflection as the sun pierces the canopy with golden rays, illuminating the ferns below.
Forest bathing, the Japanese practice of being quiet and mindful in a forest has been proven to decrease stress and increase well-being and happiness. The objective is to be in the present moment as you immerse yourself in the beauty of the setting. Take time to walk through the grove, watching the light shifting as you move down the path. Notice how the scene shifts as clouds move, covering the sun. You can sit in the amphitheater and watch the trees gently sway in the breeze. This serene environment promotes quiet reflection as the sun pierces the canopy with golden rays, illuminating the ferns below.
To get to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, travel to Guerneville. From Hwy 101 in Santa Rosa, take the River Road exit. Travel west on River Road through the vineyards and into the forest until you reach Guerneville. Turn right at the second stoplight onto Armstrong Woods Road. Follow the road into the reserve parking lot.
High Adventure Over the Treetops
For those who seek high adventure, the wine country delivers. There is an adrenaline-spiking way to explore the coast redwoods of Occidental—a zipline adventure! The tour offers two unique courses, with the experience lasting over two hours. The Tree Tops Course boasts heights 250 feet above the forest floor, speeds up to 40 MPH, and a long zipline of over 1,500 feet. You will see the redwoods as you have never seen them before!
Even at a fast clip, soaring on a line above the redwood forest is awe-inspiring. You feel the freedom of the birds as you watch them fly through the trees. You may see a hawk soaring above the forest floor if you are lucky.
Stepping off the platform attached to a 150-foot Redwood tree is not for the faint of heart; it can be downright scary. But the fear is short-lived, and by the time you reach the second or third platform, you are immersed in the beauty of the experience.
To reach this area, take the Hwy 12 exit from 101 and travel west. Turn right onto Fulton Road and take the first left onto Occidental Road. After about seven miles, turn right on Green Hill Road, then left onto Graton Road. Travel nearly three miles, then turn right onto Bohemian Hwy.
Fun on the Sonoma Coast
With frigid cold water, the Sonoma Coast is not a swimmer’s paradise. However, a horseback ride along coastal trails is an excellent alternative if you are seeking a natural adventure. Guided horseback tours take you on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, where you can watch the crashing waves below. Or you can take a slow-paced ride through the wetlands near the coastline, traveling through lush green vegetation, smelling the wet loam coupled with the spice of wild fennel and the sweetness of local flowers, such as lupine. Or you can ride through the dunes toward the beach to get a breathtaking view.
Riding on or near the beach can be an exciting way to experience the beauty of the Sonoma Coast. The fragrance of sea and sand, the exhilaration of a gallop through the breathtaking scenery, the sound of the waves crashing. A horseback ride on the Sonoma Coast can fill up your senses.
Other well-known ways to explore the wine country include balloon rides, hiking, kayaking, and bicycling. A simple google search for outdoor activities in the Sonoma/Napa area will give you myriad options to choose from. The next time you visit the wine country, opt to experience some of the natural beauty by spending dedicated time outdoors.
- Wine County Paradise - March 10, 2023