One Day’s Itinerary: Exploring Glen Ellen...
Discovering Jack London!
Glen Ellen is barely a 10 minutes' drive from here.
Take Warm Springs Road, (left out of driveway), 0.5 miles to Sonoma Highway. Turn right at the light onto Sonoma Highway and go 3.7 miles (4 minutes) to the very next traffic light, Arnold Drive. Turn Right onto Arnold Drive and follow to the middle of town where you’ll see a 3-story, yellow brick building with the name Joshua Chauvet. London Ranch Road is on the right, just before it. (Note, across the street on your left is the Glen Ellen Village Market for your picnic and grocery supplies while here). Travel up London Ranch Road for both Jack London State Park, and Benziger Winery. They are both well worth a visit and exemplify the hamlet of Glen Ellen.
Spend morning or early afternoon at the Benziger Winery. Take their tram tour. It’s really worthwhile, as it shows off their “biodiversity” and veritable "quilt" of vineyards and pastures in the hanging valley that comprises the ranch.
The tour costs $35.00 and takes 45 minutes. They drive you past the huge stainless-steel tanks and tell you how they process the grapes. In August and September, they’ll take you up to the crush pad. You will get to see the inside of their really cool cave. At the end of the tour, they’ll take you into a tasting room for a private wine tasting. If you just taste, and do not take the tram tour, it costs $20.00. So, if you are going to taste anyway, take the tour! It is spectacular and not to be missed. It really is one of the best vineyard tours here. As a bonus, their wines are delicious as well. Stroll around the wonderful old buildings and appreciate the plantings.
Eat a picnic lunch either at Benziger Winery or at Jack London State Park, your next stop. You can pick up great gourmet picnic fare at the Glen Ellen Village Market (13751 Arnold Drive) at the base of London Ranch Road before going up to the winery and/or park.
After Benziger Winery, turn right and continue up the hill a bit to the end of the road where you will run right into the entrance to Jack London State Park. The park fee is $10.00 per car. It includes 1400 acres of park, 20 miles of trails, the Cottage, the House of Happy Walls, and numerous ruins.
In 1905 London bought the first of several ranches on Sonoma Mountain in Glen Ellen, California. Using the proceeds from his prolific writing career, London acquired adjoining parcels over several years and expanded his ranch. By 1913 the Beauty Ranch comprised over 1400 acres on the slopes of Sonoma Mountain. By 1916 he employed nearly fifty workers who were building, farming and tending prize livestock. Self-taught, and innovative, Jack sought to improve farming methods using common sense, research, and concepts gleaned from travel. Today visitors can see examples of his ingenuity and foreshadowing of organic and biodynamic methods popular today.
“I am rebuilding worn-out hillside lands that were worked out and destroyed by our wasteful California pioneer farmers. I believe soil is our one indestructible asset, and by green manures, nitrogen-gathering cover crops, animal manure, rotation of crops, proper tillage and draining, I am getting results which the Chinese have demonstrated for forty centuries.” -Jack London 1915
(The park is divided into 2 parts, (1) the Ranch parking lot, to the right of the gate house, and (2) the House of Happy Walls parking lot, to the left of the gate house)
Ranch Parking Lot
After the gate house turn right into the parking lot. You will see a sign, with a path next to it. Walk up the path. At the top of a small rise, you will see Jack’s Beauty Ranch. Visible in the panoramic vista ahead are numerous old stone and masonry buildings and acres of green, verdant vineyards creeping up the east side of Sonoma Mountain. There are signs that explain some of the history associated with the buildings. The large old winery ruin is where Transcendence Theater Company performs in the summer months.
The Cottage was purchased along with the winery building in 1911. This is where Jack London wrote many of his later stories.
Tour of the Cottage where Jack and wife Charmian first lived. Wander through it and see the office where Jack London wrote. His typewriter is sitting there as if he just stepped out for a smoke. You’ll see their clothes and sleeping porches. These two buildings, the cottage and the stone kitchen building, capture Jack and Charmian’s bohemian lifestyle and close working relationship. It really feels like stepping back in time.
Next, you can hike a small distance and see Jack’s Pig Palace. There are signs which give you lots of information regarding Jack’s innovative style of pig farming.
And you can hike to Jack & Charmian’s Lake. Or even continue to the top of Sonoma Mountain, where you can see the bay and the ocean!
The House of Happy Walls
This structure was built from 1919-1935 by Charmian and Jack’s sister, Eliza Shepard, after Jack’s death. It was built both as a museum to house all the fascinating things Jack and Charmian had collected on their travels, as well as a new home for Charmian.
Charmian lived there from 1935 to 1945. In 1945, at the age of 74, Charmian fell from her horse and broke her hip. No longer being able to negotiate stairs, she moved back to the cottage for her remaining 10 years. Today, on weekends talented pianists play Charmian’s grand piano bringing the House of Happy Walls back to life!
Jack and Charmian married in 1905 and moved to Glen Ellen. They lived at Charmian’s aunt’s home, the “Wake Robin Lodge”, in Glen Ellen. In 1906 Jack built a 45 ft. yacht that he called “The Snark”. Leaving San Francisco harbor on August 23rd, 1907, bound for the South Pacific, they planned to be gone for seven years. There is a room in the House of Happy Walls that catalogs this 2-year voyage. With the use of text, great photos and artifacts this exhibit captures what it must have been like to visit cannibals, and what such a voyage in the South Seas, in the early 1900’s, was like to experience.
This is a particularly interesting place and the key to really wrapping your head around the lives of the London's. Here you can see Charmian’s closet of clothes. She was quite small and had many fine and exquisite ensembles that she wore during the entertaining and many parties she and Jack hosted together.
The Wolf House
A quick 0.7-mile walk will take you to the ruins of the “dream home” Jack and Charmian were building in 1911. One hot night in August of 1913, it is believed that, by spontaneous combustion, a fire started in the house. This is a wildly debated controversy (more likely the fire was arson). The walk
through the woods is as worthwhile as seeing this immense structure. There is a model of it in the House of Happy Walls and a video so you can imagine what it may have been like had it not burned.
After Jack’s death in 1916, Charmian spent her time promoting Jack’s writings in order to save the ranch. Eliza, Jack’s sister, ran the ranch. Charmian died on the ranch in 1955 at the age of 84. The London's great love affair is summed up quite well by the following paragraph that Charmin wrote many years after Jack’s death.
~ 1954 - Charmian typewritten note—Huntington files)
“My love for Jack is a sort of worship. Not a fetish sort of thing. It is a grand emotion—a high passion. I seem to love, as always, as in a beaming light of him. Whom better could one worship? I say it to a friend of his. He was so grand. His light is immortal to me—even if he is not. I think you recognize the feeling. It preludes despair or true loneliness. It HAS BEEN and the afterglow is and shall be forever. I know he would weep should I miss one thrill of living. Rather, would he rejoice in that he better fitted me for life and living.
If you have energy left after exploring the park, you may have time to stop in at a tasting room or two, in either Glen Ellen or Kenwood (we love most around here but especially enjoy BR Cohn, Imagery, Kunde & Chateau St. Jean,) but you can stop at any that strike your fancy. Most wineries close at 5:00pm. If you would rather just grab a drink, go to the Saloon at the Jack London Lodge, which you will see across the street from the market. Nothing fancy, but it is a good, old-time pub boasting really nice outdoor seating on the Sonoma Creek as well as an indoor traditional bar. You won't get any fancy drinks or food, but you can certainly grab a good draught and hamburger if you are in the mood.
Alternatively, if you don't want to taste wine, turn right at the bottom of London Ranch Road, continuing further along Arnold Drive, to the Jack London Village where there are a couple of restaurants on the creek (Yetti, Nepalese, and The Mill, American fare, along with a few shops. There is a big parking lot for Jack London Village. See the assuming old Gristmill in action. Go inside the historic buildings and enjoy a pictorial presentation of Jack London (free). It is a lovely place to sit outside and listen to the Creek. There are also public restrooms inside. If you are in need of a book for your relaxing time, there is a free community library located outside the building entrance. There is a paved public nature walk running behind the Village as well.
It is a neat old building offering a great "feeling" of the community of Glen Ellen.
There are a couple of restaurants in Glen Ellen proper we really like. First, the Fig Cafe, which is a casual version of the more famous Girl and the Fig, in the Sonoma Plaza. They have a nice French inspired menu, and their food is delicious. Second, there is also the Glen Ellen Star, which cooks almost everything in a brick oven and showcases seasonal local foods. You should make reservations at either of these restaurants as they can get very busy.
One Day’s Itinerary: Sonoma County Craft Beer Tasting
Beer, Beer & More Beer!
This region is not only known for great wine. Sonoma County is a world-wide craft beer tastingmecca as well. While beer will never gain an equal footing with the 400+ wineries in Sonoma County, craft breweries are attracting a following that is eager to explore and sample. Visitors are seeking out a wide variety of beers, and the small craft breweries are filling these needs. But, like wineries, there are more craft breweries than you will have time to visit. We have narrowed down two local areas with a wide range of brews to give you the most bang for your buck in a one-day itinerary.
Note that all the microbreweries, below, are open on different schedules so depending upon your days of interest, you may need to juggle the itinerary a bit.
That said, head for Santa Rosa! Note- you will absolutely need some food in your belly to start your vast beer tasting adventure so eat breakfast. The drive from here is about a half hour to the first brewpub. Turn left on Sonoma Highway from Warm Springs Road and follow to the intersection of Farmers Lane in Santa Rosa. Stay straight through this intersection and it becomes Fourth Street.
Aim to be at your first brewery no later than 11am, at opening (to avoid wait time). You will begin at the legendary, not-to-be-missed Russian River Brewing Company (725 4th St., Santa Rosa, 707-545-2337), which is famous for its Pliny the Younger release each year (which is a sight to be seen in itself as there are lines of international visitors stretching around the block hoping to get a chance to taste it). Brewmaster and owner Vinnie Cilurzo also offers up traditional but aggressively hopped California-style ales, Belgian-inspired ales, lagers, and barrel-aged beers. Just a few of the year-round specialties include Blind Pig, Damnation, Pliny the Elder, Beatification, and Consecration. There is a metered parking lot behind the brewery and metered street parking. This brewery has delicious thin-crust pizzas and salads. It is not a large seating area so you may need to wait for a table. Russian River Brewing also has a huge Windsor location (about 20 minutes north of this brewery,) which serves a more traditional, larger brewpub menu as well as offering an exciting tour of the large brewing facility and all the same beers on draft. We suggest grabbing lunch at this point.
After that, down the street find Shady Oak, that specializes in Sour and Funky Barrel-aged beers. If you like these types, it's not to be missed, but if you don't, move on to another brew pub.
After lunch, more beer tasting awaits... Make your way to Cooperage Brewing Company, a very small craft brewery with very big beers, (981 Airway Court, Suite G, Santa Rosa, 707-293-9787). Brewmaster-owner Tyler Smith specializes in Belgian sour and barrel-aged beers and also offers IPA's, pale ales and stouts. This is a very small boutique-style brewery. Parking is free. If time allows, we highly recommend a visit to Henhouse Brewing (322 Bellevue Ave, Santa Rosa, 707-528-2537) as they are making awesome beers in a friendly and fun tasting room and they offer many style choices.
If you are still thirsty...LOL, make a quick stop at Moonlight Brewing Company (3350 Coffey Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-528-2537). They are only open Wednesday through Sunday. Death & Taxes, a San Francisco-style black lager, drinks more like iced coffee than a porter or stout according to owner/ brewmaster, Brian Hunt, who’s not a big proponent of hoppy beers. Moonlight’s beer called Working for Tips uses the springtime tips of redwood branches instead of hops for flavor. The brewery sells to restaurants and bars but has opened this small taproom for visitors to taste its beers on site. It is very informal, and you get a good look at craft brewing, up close and personal. Parking is free, warehouse style.
If you have an extra day to take in a big brewery, or want an alternative itinerary, we suggest you check out Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma. This brewery often hold concerts and events and has lots of seating along with a pub menu. It has a gift shop and lots of parking, and there are regularly scheduled tours of the giant facility. The menu is simple but offers something for everyone. It is a nice place to eat outside and try beers, and often, there is a small band playing making for a really nice experience. As it is located in Petalu
ma, it is approximately a 40-minutes from here, but the experience is well worth the drive. There is another fun brewery in Petaluma called Crooked Goat. This is a smaller craft brewery with ever-changing taps. And, if you did not make it to Henhouse Brewing on the previous excursion, they have a second location in Petaluma, and you should make a stop here as it is well worth it! The beers are divine.
One Day’s Itinerary:
California Redwood Trees Up Close
We never tire of an excursion to the Petrified Forest in Calistoga (Napa County). This is about 45 minutes from Kenwood. We like to arrive in the cool of the morning as they open at 10:00. It is an unusual and very beautiful place! Here, you step back in time, over 3 million years, and follow the trail of majestic, petrified redwood giants arrayed before you in a fascinating grove in beautiful Napa wine country. We usually browse the gift shop on arrival as you have to go into it to buy the tickets ($12.00) for the walk. They must have a really good buyer, because they always have different really cool things for sale in all price ranges. From jewelry to mineral specimens, bowls, wall hangings…and most all of these things are made from rocks and minerals from around the world. Then we take the walk, then go back to the gift shop and shop!!
~ Next, venture back to Sonoma County towards the coast and you are off to Armstrong Redwood State Natural Preserve to see live redwoods. Drive to Guerneville from Calistoga. (The first light is 116 coming from Sebastopol.) Turn right at the second light which is Armstrong Woods Road.
~ Before visiting the redwoods, drive about a block and stop at the Coffee Bazaar. This place is a trip!! It’s a real “locals” hang out... so you will see what the locals look like in the Russian River area. They have GREAT high-end food, a sort of Sonoma County gourmet…and they sell books. Buy a picnic lunch.
~ Then, go next door, to the Real Estate office and look at the big aerial views of the Russian River. (Don’t buy anything!!)
~ And finally, drive to the end of the Armstrong Woods Road into the Redwood Park. The serene, majestic beauty of this Grove is a living reminder of the magnificent primeval redwood forest that covered much of this area before logging operations began during the 19th century. The park preserves stately and magnificent Sequoia sempervirens, commonly known as the coast redwood. You can hike around or drive to the end where there are picnic tables. It’s cool, smells like Christmas…and is so gorgeous. The ancient coastal redwood is the tallest living thing on our planet! These remarkable trees live to be 500-1,000 years old, grow to a diameter of 12-16 feet, and stand from 200-250 feet tall. Some trees survive to over 2,000 years and tower above 350 feet. The park is great, and you can walk as little or as much as you want and see these trees.
Late Afternoon to Evening:
~After a good walk and picnic, time and energy permitting, there is a nice river beach in Guerneville called Johnson’s Beach. Or, alternatively, drive down to the bridge at Monte Rio for beach access. Perhaps stay in this area for dinner too- there are several eclectic, casual restaurants in the area. Your drive back home will be approximately 45 minutes. If you are feeling adventurous, you can also continue driving towards the coast
One Day’s Itinerary:
Healdsburg & Alexander Valley Wine Tasting
Healdsburg, a 45-minute drive North of here, along Highway 101, has an historic square, much like our local Sonoma Square, but it is larger, with many more shops, tasting rooms, galleries, and restaurants. Parking is free. You can enjoy a leisurely stroll around the plaza in and out of multiple high-end boutiques. Choose one of several luxury wine country restaurants, all of which are excellent, as you make your way around the square for breakfast or lunch.
There is a fabulous art gallery just off the square, Paul Mahder Gallery, with a great wine tasting room, Grapeseed, inside, which offers small batch boutique wines and a knowledgeable and friendly staff. We suggest you check both out.
Take a leisurely drive through the Alexander Valley, California's largest AVA, to visit a few wineries. Cabernet Sauvignon reigns in Alexander Valley- some of America’s most beloved Cabernets are grown and made here. Merlot and other Bordeaux varietals are also grown in this AVA, particularly in mountain sites above the valley; Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc hold their own too, and some of the county’s finest old vine Zinfandel is grown here. Most wineries close at 5:00pm so plan your stops accordingly.
It would be tough to find a winery you "don't" like- so stop and sample as you wish. Favorites include Alexander Valley Vineyards, Soda Rock (which also offers a tasting room on the plaza), and Silver Oak. Note that since the Covid pandemic, many wineries change their policy often regarding reservations vs. drop ins. It is a good idea to call in advance. But you won't run out of choices if turned away at one with no reservations. A few wineries we really like which are on your way back home are Christopher Creek (a smaller family winery) and nearby Limerick Lane Cellars, also relatively small compared to many you will find, if you don't stay in Healdsburg for dinner.
The shops on the Healdsburg Plaza generally close about 6pm. So, take the opportunity before or after wine tasting to do a bit of browsing/shopping. Most shops offer shipping for your purchases. Also, there are a few tasting rooms along the square if you prefer not to drive between the vineyards, above. Tasting Rooms charge a fee for tasting, but there are not tours. They are more like a "bar" with winery-specific varietals. They are a good way to learn about some of the local wines in an expedient fashion.
As with lunch, there are numerous fine dining, boutique restaurants around the
Healdsburg square. It is hard to go wrong in choosing one. We like Willie's Wine & Raw Bar, a lot. They offer an eclectic selection of tapas, with an emphasis on fish. As the name implies, there are also many local wines available as well. Willie's has a few other restaurants in Sonoma County, and we love them all. It can be pricey but is an experience to remember!
Your drive home will be approximately 45 minutes.