By Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Beginning March 20, longer daylight hours and Mother Nature combine to embrace the moment known as the spring equinox. In Northern California, for winemakers, the start of spring means that bud break cannot be far away. For the rest of us, it’s a good time for planning spring getaways within about three hours’ drive to the north, south and east of San Francisco.
Paso Robles, CA
Begin in historic downtown at Taste in the Alley, a cozy, brick-walled room where the friendly owners use the latest technology to pour glasses or flights from their large collection. Don’t miss Studios on the Park, an airy retro-feel renovated auto showroom where local artists are painting and displaying. Get into the rolling hills of vineyards and olive groves to see first hand why this destination has been called “Tuscany with cowboy boots.” Stay for a night or two: the newest and flashiest hotel for miles around is the deluxe Allegretto Resort; the historic choice is Paso Robles Inn, and the only place with an in-house s’mores butler is the boutique Hotel Cheval.
A short drive north of San Francisco, Sonoma gets even better when it hosts the 19th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival on March 30 to April 3, 2016. The 90 hand-picked independent films, documentaries, shorts and features are screened over five days in intimate venues all within a short walk from the historic downtown plaza. Gently sprinkled with celebrities, held in esteem by filmmakers and beloved by fans of the cinema, there’s nothing like mixing local Sonoma Valley wines with live entertainment, great food and cinematic treats. Visit SonomaFilmFest.org for programs, tickets and lodging partners.
Capturing the 2015 “Wine Region of the Year” award from Wine Enthusiast and scores of medals at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, this home of 120-year-old Zinfandel vines is crushing it. Pick up some local knowledge at the visitor center that’s also a tasting room before exploring a personalized wine trail. Browse antique shops in old downtown; grab a photo of the historic Mission Arch, and enjoy some good vibes at Jeremy’s Wine Tasting room. Only 100 miles east of San Francisco, Lodi is an easy drive for an event like Zinfest, held every May at Lodi Lake Park. For an award-winning spa, fine restaurant and lounge, live music, monthly cooking classes, an outdoor pool and a couple of resident parrots, you’ll want to book a stay at Wine & Roses, where 66 guest rooms are spread over seven acres of lovely gardens.
Sierra Foothills, CA
Get off-the-beaten path for something new. April is California’s Down to Earth Month, so eco-friendly wineries all over the state will be hosting special events and activities, including the Sierra Foothills, home to some of the state’s highest elevation wineries. On the way, check out some of the region’s family-owned ranches and farms with stands, tours and tastings. Explore the Gold Rush theme in California Historical Landmark towns like Placerville, El Dorado and Sutter Creek. El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras counties have several dozen tasting rooms in historic gold rush towns such as Jackson, in a region bordered by giant sequoia trees made famous by Twain’s story, “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
Lake County, CA
Clear Lake is a popular destination for water skiing, bass fishing and kayaking. Discover a dozen wineries in and near the volcanic hillsides of the Red Hills AVA, along with spectacular views of Mt. Konocti, a towering dormant volcano. Some excellent olive oils are showcased at the Kelseyville Olive Festival on April 24, 2016. Another great time to visit Lake County is during the Lake County Wine Adventure on May 20–22, 2016 when a two-day passport combines 25-plus wineries with tastings, food pairings, music and fun.