Thankfully, much of Lake County was spared during the recent horrific wildfires. All the more reason to visit this prolific region.
Lake County is home to Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake entirely in California. At lake level, the elevation is about 1,300 feet and rises to more than 2,000 feet around Mt. Konocti, a dormant volcano towering over the lake at 4,700 feet.
When you want to get away from crowds and back to nature, Lake County offers small towns, outdoor activities, open spaces, and delicious wine and food, all two hours north of San Francisco.
Ceàgo Vinegarden, nestled on the northeast shore of the lake, is reminiscent of the Mediterranean with its Spanish-influenced architecture. The casitas share the grounds with sheep, chickens, gardens, fig, and olive trees and an abundance of lavender.
The interiors feature brightly colored walls and fabrics, tiled floors, ceiling fans, fireplaces, kitchen areas (coffee and several treats provided). and high-tech amenities. French doors open to a private patio with views of the lake and mountains (707-274-1462, ceago.com).
Accommodations around Clear Lake vary tremendously — cottages to rent, a country hotel, a loft in Kelseyville — so research the options ahead of time.
PLAY & SHOP
December is a quieter month around the lake, so visit now and enjoy the pace, or plan your trip for the summer, when water activities are on the rise. Tasting wine is popular in the area, but Lake County offers many other things to do. If you are interested in largemouth bass fishing, take note: Clear Lake is the bass capital of the West and the site of major tournaments.
The lake’s warm waters make it nice for swimming, but because of its ecosystem, algae are natural. The algae content varies depending on the time of the year. You’ll quickly decide how it feels once you’re in the water.
Boat launches line the shore and many are free. In addition, you can water ski, Jet Ski, sail, paddleboard, kayak, and rent houseboats and pontoons.
Clear Lake State Park, a popular camping site, has a marina, beach, fishing pier, and hiking trails (707-279-2267, parks.ca.gov). Mt. Konocti County Park is part of the county’s regional trails. Maps guide hiking, navigating the water, and walking between area vineyards (707-263-2580, konoctitrails.com).
On a walking tour in historic Lakeport, explore the Pioneer and Indian Museum in the old brick courthouse. It showcases baskets made by the Pomo Indians, who once lived nearby. Lake County has numerous annual festivals, including Wine & Chocolate in February, Olive in April, Wine Adventures in May, and Pear in September.
Lake County is a rapidly growing wine region that features distinctive volcanic soils in its five AVAs. It’s an area of high-elevation farming (the Mayacama Mountains are to the west and the Vaca Range to the east) where vines are tended sustainably (707-357-5237, lakecountywineries.org).
Kelseyville, one of the small towns around the lake, has a number of wineries and tasting rooms. With several labels, Steele Winery offers a great selection of varietals. Enjoy the laid-back vibe in the tasting room and their selections from each of four labels, like the 2012 Steele Merlot, the 2014 Steele Stymie Syrah, the 2015 Shooting Star Pinot Noir, and the 2014 Writer’s Block Cabernet Sauvignon (707-279-9475, steelewines.com).
In downtown Kelseyville, park your car and stroll from one winery to another. In the tasting room at Rosa d’Oro Winery, sit at the carved walnut bar and try delicious Italian varietals like these 2014s: Primitivo, Varbera, and Refosco, all grown in the Kelsey Bench AVA. The tasting room is located in a historic bank building dating from 1910 and boasts the original bank vault, which now houses a gift shop (707-279-0483, rosadorovineyards.com/).
One street over is Chacewater Winery & Olive Mill. Citrus-infused flavors (think Blood Orange) join the other olive oil offerings such as the Sevillano Extra Virgin. Emilio, the mill master, has been managing the olive trees and making the oils for years.
Interesting red wines include the 2014 Highlander Blend (Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc) and the 2014 Nell Cabernet Sauvignon (Black Label). Find a selection of soaps and lotions in addition to their wines and olive oils (707-279-2995, chacewaterwine.com).
In Upper Lake, a stop at the Lake County Wine Studio is essential. In addition to a fun environment in which to taste and buy wine, discover hard-to-find bottles from more than 40 Lake County wineries. The studio also hosts monthly events featuring everything local, from works of art to wine and appetizers (707-275-8030,lakecountywinestudio.com/).
Each of the little towns (Upper Lake, Lakeport, and Kelseyville) has small shops. Wineries and tasting rooms hope you’ll buy their wine, olive oil, and other products.
Middleton is at the southern end of Lake County and suffered badly during the fires of 2015. When you’re there, stop at Hardester’s Markets for the best of all-natural, organic and fresh groceries. Family-run for three generations, it’s also a great place for delicious sandwiches. It also doubles as a hardware store. (707-987-2325, hardestersmarkets.com)
Lunch by the lake is terrific at Park Place in Lakeport. Owned for 30 years by the same dynamic duo, it’s a local favorite serving pastas and pizzas in addition to specialty salads (with their special poppy seed dressing) and sandwiches. Savor the lake view and a Lake County wine (like the 2015 Brassfield Pinot Gris) with your meal. (707-263-0444, parkplacelakeport.com).
The Blue Wing Saloon in Upper Lake is on the site of a former stage coach stop from the 1800s. Today, the restaurant has recycled wood throughout, creating the feel of the original building. The heated garden patio is a lure year-round.
The menu offers wings, salads, pastas, and more. The wine list is exclusively Lake County. Enjoy live music weekly (707-275-2233, bluewingsaloon.com).
A casual atmosphere, good food, and rotating exhibits of local artists make the Saw Shop Gallery Bistro in Kelseyville a local favorite. The menu changes regularly, so find choices like braised short ribs, salmon curry, and mac and cheese along with a variety of specialty cocktails. There’s always a sweet ending, like the flourless and gluten-free chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream or fresh fruit cobblers and a variety of cheesecakes (707-278-0129, sawshopbistro.com).
Lake County Tourism: lakecounty.com
Lake County Chamber of Commerce: lakecochamber.com