Fly to - Vancouver
Travel date -
I began my trip to Northern California by meeting representatives from British Airways and the California Tourist Board.
We checked in, pleased to learn that we would be flying to San Francisco in Club Class. It was great to experience this level of service and I was able to catch up on plenty of films whilst being served excellent food and wine.
After a great flight we arrived in San Francisco, collected our luggage and waited for our transport to arrive. We then had the opportunity to see the major sights of San Francisco before heading into 'Northern California'. We passed by Fishermans Wharf, Ghiradelli Square and Pacific Heights before a photo stop at the Golden Gate Bridge, overlooking Alcatraz and the city.
Back on the road and we travelled north into 'wine country', arriving in Santa Rosa which is in the wine area of Sonoma. Sonoma is less well known than its more famous neighbour the Napa Valley, but the wines are of a high quality and the region is certainly worth a visit.
We arrived at our hotel, the Hyatt Regency which was very comfortable, however as Santa Rosa is relatively large town, it did not feel like we were in the heart of wine country and other properties in this region may provide a more authentic experience.
We were then treated to a fantastic meal, accompanied by local wine courtesy of the hotel and our hosts in Sonoma. However we never did get to know what the stipulated dress code of 'Sonoma County casual' was though!
Up at 07.00 for breakfast, where freshly made muffins made up for the early start!
Our first destination was Safari West Preserve and African Tent Camp which as the name suggests is a safari park located in the California hills. We then took a guided 4X4 game drive through the reserve viewing zebra, eland, kudu, buffalo and giraffe. It was a great experience if a little surreal as we all felt we were in Africa rather than California.
Our next stop was the Kendall Jackson Wine Center where I was able to pick up a bottle of wine sampled the night before. We were then treated to a food and wine pairing, tasting 8 different wines with food created to match. We were able to try caviar, Kobe beef and the best popcorn ever to accompany their dessert wine. It's certainly an experience I would recommend as it provided a unique way to learn about the different wines produced in the region.
After all that food it was time for lunch and we headed to a quaint little town called Windsor where we dined at The Green Grocer which provided a great selection of fresh local foods.
We continued our journey north and into Mendocino County. The warm weather was making us thirsty, so the stop at Anderson Valley Brew Pub was a welcome one. After a quick tour of the brewery it was time to sample their various products. It's hard work but someone has to do it!
Next on the agenda was a stop at another winery, Handley Cellars where we given a tour, followed by a few samples. A sleepy drive then followed, before arriving into Fort Bragg where we were to spend the night. Time for a quick freshen up at our hotel, the Harbor Lite lodge before dinner at the Cliff House.
After homemade waffles for breakfast we set off to explore Mendocino. First stop was the Mendocino Botanical Gardens which boasts beautiful gardens and stunning coastal views. We then headed into Mendocino itself a pretty little town full of art galleries and interesting shops and should be familiar to fans of Murder She Wrote as the programme was filmed there.
We then headed back into Fort Bragg for lunch at Silver's at the Wharf. We were shown to our table, overlooking the harbour in the warm California sunshine and were intrigued to find 5 glasses in front of each place setting. The mystery was solved when we were each poured a glass of 5 local beers to sample whilst we ate. The area is well known for its micro breweries so it was only polite to sample to the efforts of the local people!
Whilst we stayed in Fort Bragg, the town itself is not the most scenic of locations and I would recommend staying at one of the many B&B properties in Mendocino itself for an ideal way to enjoy this area.
We then continued our journey north and headed into Humboldt County. We had time for a quick visit to a winery in Humboldt before heading to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This is a great place to experience the awesome size of the Giant Redwood trees, although a stiff neck may result from spending time looking skywards towards the treetops.
Back on the road for the short drive to the town of Eureka, where our nights accommodation was the Best Western Bayshore Inn, a pleasant hotel located close to the town centre. Dinner tonight is at the Samoa Cookhouse, a restaurant which used to be the cookhouse for the lumberjacks and they now cook the same food for tourists as they did for the lumberjacks which made for a unique experience.
There was time in morning for a quick walking tour of the old town of Eureka before continuing north to Redwood National Park. 2 hours later we arrived at Redwood National Park taking the opportunity to experience one of the many hiking trails in the Park whist walking amongst the world's tallest trees.
After a picnic in woods, keeping an eye out for hungry bears who may be interested in my sandwich, it was then time to head to the town of Redding, a 4 hour drive away. The journey took us through spectacular mountain scenery although the winding roads provide a challenge to those who may suffer from travel sickness!
Redding is a small town and provides an excellent base for exploring the surrounding area which includes the Mount Shasta National Forest and Mount Lassen National Park. Our accommodation was the Best Western Hilltop Inn, a perfectly good hotel although visitors to the region may prefer to stay closer to the National Parks in lodge style properties which would provide a more authentic experience.
The morning was spent exploring the attractions of Redding, with our first stop being the Turtle Bay Exploration Park and Museum. The museum included exhibits on the local area and provided an insight in the history of the region.
Next on the agenda was a Segway tour of the park. After being put through our paces by our rather intense instructor Bruce, we were let loose to explore the park on a Segway which was great fun.
We then left Redding for the short journey to Mount Lassen Volcanic National Park. Another picnic lunch today, taken on the way to Mount Lassen, this time by a beautiful river in the middle of the forest. There was time to enjoy the sunshine and have a paddle in the river before visiting Subway Cave, a volcanic lava tube which we walked through with the aid of torchlight.
We then headed further into Lassen Volcanic Park climbing through the mountains reaching an altitude of over 3000m. The scenery was spectacular with lakes and snow capped mountains offering dramatic views. We then hiked through the mountains, overcoming the thin mountain air and visiting Bumpass Hell, a volcanic area with bubbling mud and steaming vents located with the backdrop of huge mountains it was an awesome sight.
Our final stop of the day, as the sun was going down was a wild horse sanctuary. We had time to see the wild horses before spending time with the cowboys on the deck enjoying a beer watching the sunset. We were then treated to a BBQ cooked by the cowboys. After enjoying some cowboy poetry it was time to leave much to the disappointment of the girls in the group! It was a memorable experience and provided a true taste of how real American cowboys live their lives.
Time to leave Redding and continue our journey south, travelling today to the state capital of California, Sacramento.
After visiting a couple of hotels in the Sacramento area we headed for Sacramento Old Town. The Old Town has been recently renovated after floods destroyed a previously derelict area and now hosts authentic Western saloon bars and old fashioned shops along with the excellent Railroad Museum. Cruise along the Sacramento River can also be taken from the Old Town area.
There are several hotel options in Sacramento and the Citizen Hotel would be my recommendation as it offers a high standard of accommodation located in the centre of Sacramento. For those wanting something different you could choose to spend the night on the river itself in a hotel converted from a former paddle wheel steamer.
Dinner tonight was at Zocalo Restaurant, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Sacramento where the fantastic food was great and helped by the steady flow of margaritas.
It was time to leave Northern California after a great time exploring the National Parks and state capital, departing for San Francisco, saying goodbye to this varied region of natural beauty and wine!