Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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For a taste of Mediterranean summer and sun, I asked Lynn Millar, a Sonoma writer, about her favorite hikes along winery road trips in Sonoma. Lynn blogs at Walking in Sonoma County, a blog that details over 80 different short flat walks in the county as well as flat walks from San Diego to Yosemite to Redding, while Lynn goes on vacation with her husband Mike, the site photographer. While geared towards people who like short flat walks, the blog provides information for hikers, bicyclist and dog-walkers. Currently living in Santa Rosa, Lynn writes fact and fiction about the county and leads monthly nature walks for the Sonoma County Family Y.
There was so much to say about Sonoma County that Lynn and I decided to break her text in two parts. The first part published here tackles Sonoma Valley. The second part will cover the Russian River and Dry Creek Valley. Now here comes the discovery, in Lynn’s very own words.
1. Find Spanish and Mexican History in the City of Sonoma
When I first came to Sonoma, 25 years ago, I drove up wide Broadway St. A stunning city hall stood at the end of the road. Surrounding it was a large plaza with huge trees, duck pond, picnic areas and playground. Shops, galleries and restaurants lined all four streets around the plaza. Today on or near the square, sixteen tasting rooms give a hint of the 300 wineries in Sonoma County.
While little remains of the 12,000 years of native inhabitants, Sonoma does show its more recent history. The northern most of the California Missions, Mission San Francisco Solano established in 1823 sits across from the barracks of the Spanish military and then the Mexican government. Sonoma was under Mexican control until the short-lived Bear Flag Republic in 1846. By 1850, all of California became part of the United States.
The Sonoma City Hall, to appease all the businessmen, was designed in the early 1900s with the same face to all the merchants around the plaza. I’ve always thought it carried on the tradition of General Vallejo who ran things for the Mexican government and then was a state senator to California. Vallejo knew many people and got along with everyone. He also owned a lot of land.
Sonoma Bike/Walk Path
Behind the plaza are Depot Park (and Train Museum) and a paved trail heading west, one of the flattest walks in Sonoma County and a popular bike trail for locals to get from one part of town to another. A slight detour up a tree-lined road leads you to Vallejo’s winter home known as Lachryma Montis. His Gothic Victorian house is part of the Sonoma State Historic Park that includes access to the barracks, other historical buildings on the plaza and his summer home at the Petaluma Adobe.
City of Sonoma Wineries
In the city of Sonoma, check out Gundlach Bundschu or Bartholomew Park Winery (with a steep walk) southeast of town. Bartholomew Park Winery features a museum, the replica of Palladian Villa as well as beautifully landscaped gardens and picnic tables are strewn throughout the grounds making Bartholomew an ideal place for a cozy picnic.
2. Discover Jack London’s Legacy in Glen Ellen
When I drive north on Hwy 12, the sense of ‘vacation’ is strong with views of vineyards and mountains. Wineries abound in the middle of the Sonoma Valley.
One of my favorite parks is Jack London State Historic Park. London, author of the Call of the Wild, came to Glen Ellen, built a couple of houses, ran a ranch, worked/wrote hard (2,000 words a day) and played hard with his wife and visiting friends.
My favorite walk is by his cottage, past the vineyards, and through the woods to a lake. London had damned a creek and built a bathhouse. He and his friends road horses up the hill (others can today) and went for a swim. No swimming now in the lake, but funds are being raised for restoration. Miles of trails continue through the mountains.
Wolf House Trail
Too steep for me, but if I’m feeling energetic, I can go to another area of the park and walk to the park’s museum in the House of Happy Walls or to the Wolf House. It burned down in 1913 just before the Londons were to move in. House of not-so-happy walls.
Sonoma Valley Regional Park
Back on Hwy 12 heading to Santa Rosa, if I want a flat walk, I’ll stop at the Sonoma Valley Regional Park. In summer sunshine, the meadows can be filled with poppies and lupines and in the oak woodlands, I can cool myself in the shade. This paved trail makes an excellent bike/wheelchair accessible path.
Glen Ellen Wineries
In Glen Ellen, Benziger Family winery features a tram tour of the vineyards and a small playground next to tasting room. B.R. Cohn is a winery as well as an olive oil company and kids should enjoy the funky sculptures in the parking lot. Both have marvelous locations.
3. Go on a Cosmic Walk at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
Continuing north on Hwy 12 at Landmark Winery, Adobe Canyon Rd. leads to another park with a flat trail through the meadows and hill hikes to Sonoma Creek headwaters and views of the upper Sonoma Valley. Camping, stargazing and a planet walk are part of this park’s charm. The Ferguson Observatory hosts both solar and night sky sessions.
My favorite path is the Planet Walk, a proportional walk from our sun to the planets. Nifty to try to imagine that one foot is 450,000 miles, in 2,000 ft. I can arrive at Saturn only 900 million miles away. Back on earth, on this gravel road, I can cross Sonoma Creek and glory in the shade of bays, maples and alders.
If you’re here on a hot day, you might stop at the gardens of Chateau St. Jean. This winery has one of my favorite gardens in the county. Nestled at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains, this winery features a large lawn and picnic area that stretch out to the vineyards and courtyards hold charming eating spots. However the garden highlights are formal hedged gardens with fountains and bocce ball court as well as lush shaded sitting areas between the buildings that beckoned me to sit and relax.