One Day’s Itinerary: Exploring Glen Ellen
Take Warm Springs Road, (left out of our driveway on Mound Avenue), 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 $25.00 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 $15.00. 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.
Lunchtime…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- our favorite store in the area!) at the base of London Ranch Road before going up to the winery and/or park.
After Benziger Winery, turn right and go up the hill a bit to the end of the road. 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 live stock. 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 Parking Lot
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. She 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 undoubtedly wore during the entertaining and many parties they 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 after-glow 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 in either Glen Ellen or Kenwood. Most close between 5-5:30pm. Or, turn right off London Ranch Road, continuing further along Arnold Drive, to the Jack London Village where there are a couple of restaurants and shops. See the old Gristmill. Go inside the historic building and enjoy a pictorial presentation of Jack London (free). 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. Then come back to One Mound, take a little rest, and back out for dinner!
One Day’s Itinerary: Sonoma County Beer Tasting- Santa Rosa Area
Our region is not only known for great wine. Sonoma County is a world-wide craft beer tasting mecca 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, including world-famous Pliny the Elder, an Irish stout that has won prestigious awards, a variety of famous barrel-aged beers, and even a beer brewed with the tips of branches from local redwoods. But, like wineries, there are more craft breweries than you will have time to visit. We have narrowed down just one local area with a wide range of craft beers to give you the most bang for your buck in a one-day itinerary.
That said, head for Santa Rosa! Either eat breakfast at first at One Mound or stop at a Hank's Creekside Cafe (2800 4th St, Santa Rosa) on the way to Santa Rosa- you will absolutely need some food in your belly to start your vast beer tasting adventure. The drive is about a half hour from here 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.
Down the street, and a good place for an extensive pub menu, is craft brewpub, Third Street Aleworks (610 3rd St., Santa Rosa, 707-523-3060). Brewmaster Tyler Laverty runs the brewing operation. Tyler began his professional life as a young chemist in the wine industry – an experience that’s given him a unique perspective in the beer world. They always offer a full chalkboard of beers on tap and at least one cask conditioned offering. This pub is walkable from Russian River or you may choose to drive and re-park closer to save time.
After a hearty lunch, more beer tasting awaits... Make your way to Steele & Hops Public House (1901 Mendocino Avenue, Santa Rosa, 707-523-2201) which has a great local revolving beer menu. Find a sampler that tickles your fancy and pair with some homemade pickles. Then, head 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.
From there, we recommend a quick final stop at Moonlight Brewing Company (3350 Coffey Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-528-2537). 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.
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, 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 are sometimes disparagingly referred to as “River Rats”!) 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.
~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.
One Day’s Itinerary: Healdsburg
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 will enjoy a leisurely stroll around the plaza in and out of multiple high end boutiques. Have a casual lunch on the square at Bear Republic Brewing Company and taste excellent local brews or choose one of several luxury wine country restaurants, all of which are excellent around the square.
We definitely suggest a drive through the Alexander Valley to visit a few wineries (if you are going, let us know, and we can set you up with a tasting at White Oak Winery, where Dave is one of the owners). 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. While in the area, we also enjoy stop at the Jim Town Store as it is kind of fun and funky. You can actually get a picnic lunch there if you prefer this to a Healdsburg restaurant. Most wineries close at 5:00pm so plan your stops accordingly.
We really like to eat at Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar so if you are ready for an early dinner after wine tasting, this is an excellent place to stop, but do call ahead for reservations.