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A Wine Free Trip to the Wine Country - The Next Year
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Road Trip, Napa Valley,
Santa Rosa - Sonoma - Napa - Calistoga

A Wine Free Trip to the Wine Country - The Next Year


Original Article and Photographs by Kenneth A. Larson © 2005 - 2017

Day One, Saturday.

It was Memorial Day weekend, 2005. A year earlier, the top priority for a trip to Sonoma was to photograph the Mission. The moment I saw that the Mission was being reroofed, I began planning this return trip. Only after making all the arrangements did I learn of the First Annual Sonoma Jazz Festival that same weekend. Assured that most of the activities and visitors would be later in the day, we went forward with the trip. We caught an early flight from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank to Oakland arriving about 10:00. I had to meet with a client on the way, so we went the slightly longer way crossing the Richmond - San Rafael Bridge and stopping in San Rafael. I had seen Mission San Rafael twice recently so we skipped it this trip. By the time we were heading north along 101, so was everyone else and it took a bit longer than we had hoped to reach Santa Rosa. This was a pleasant drive, aside from the cars, and I enjoyed the scenery.

A year earlier, we had stayed two nights in Santa Rosa and visited the surrounding area. We hadn't had time for a few things, so we were determined to squeeze them into this one afternoon. Our first stop was Luther Burbank (no relation to the town we flew out of) Home and Garden. We hadn't had time for this last year and it was our first stop this trip. We had an informative docent lead tour of the house and garden. The greenhouse was under renovation, so we need to plan another trip. There were the white black berries and other hybrids that Burbank is famous for developing. This was Burbank's home, the Burbank Test Gardens are actually in Petaluma, a few miles south. This we will try to do next time.

At the entrance to the site was a large fiberglass Charlie Brown in Hawaiian costume. This turned out to be one of about eighty different Charlie Brown sculptures around town. Last year, we had walked the streets looking at the many Street Art displays. This summer, it was the Charlie Browns. Santa Rosa was the home of Charles Shultz and is home to the Charles M. Shultz Museum and Research Center which we visited last year. The town holds a special place in its collective heart for these two civic treasures. We walked several blocks spotting and photographing several of the sculptures. I had wanted to see the Sonoma County Museum which closed soon, so we headed off to find it.

The Sonoma County Museum (425 7th Street, Santa Rosa) is a modest size but contained several exhibits on local history as well as contemporary art. The building itself is a classical design with beautiful woodwork within. Between the building and the parking lot was a display to redwood trees and there was another Charlie Brown sculpture. Because the museum was about to close, I waited until we were leaving to photograph this sculpture. As we came out of the museum, we discovered the artist repairing the sculpture. This Charlie Brown was covered with real peanuts and people had tried to pry off a souvenir. The attempt to grab a souvenir didn't work as the peanuts disintegrated, but did damage the sculpture. Even tough the exhibit hadn't officially opened, this was not the first time the artist had come back to repair his work. He told us of other vandalism to some of the other sculptures. One sculpture had a flag removed, another a surf board. It seems we didn't leave vandalism behind in Los Angeles. We complemented the artist and wished him luck and drove the few blocks back to the main part of down town and had dinner and found more sculptures. We found the Charlie Brown with a graduation theme, the diploma had been torn off. Still, these various street art displays help make Santa Rosa a nice place to visit or live.

I had one more stop on the way out of town. Records are sketchy, but some believe that an asistencia, or a extension or sub-mission, was established in Santa Rosa. In time, this might have been a full mission, further north than San Francisco Salano in Sonoma, but it was not to be. The most probable site is now occupied, more or less by coincidence, by a Catholic church, named Cathedral of St. Eugene, built in 1950.

We weren't staying in Santa Rosa this time, so we needed to get to Napa before dark. Somehow, I had left my Napa map home so we had a bit of trouble finding our motel, but with the help of a wine store saleswoman (the only open store I could find and it was about to close), we found it.

Day Two, Sunday.

As we went about starting our day, my wife noticed the hot air balloons overhead. It is her hope to ride one next time. It is my hope to take her photo from the ground as she lifts off. There are several hot air balloon companies in the Santa Rosa to Napa area offering rides to those braver than I. (Note, this is the same wife who would not go into the lava tube with me).

Our first objective for today was to visit Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park which we had missed last year. This large adobe structure was once the main residence for Rancho Petaluma, a 66,000-acre rancho owned by General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, one of the most powerful men in the California from 1834 to 1846. The house and surrounding has artifacts and displays of what it was like to live on a rancho of the period. The U-shaped two-story building has a wrap-around balcony on the second floor. It was quiet and peaceful the day we visited and few were there to experience the oak tree covered site. Your admission receipt to Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park is also valid at Sonoma State Historic Park, and the same for the Somona receipt at Petaluma. Somoma State Historic Park was our next objective.

As mentioned in the first paragraph, I was disappointed last year when the Mission was in the middle of getting a new roof. This year, the roof was finished and I got my photos of Mission San Fracisco Salano in Sonoma, the last mission in the chain of California Missions, both geographically and by founding date. The Mission at Sonoma is actually the only mission founded by Mexico, a few yars after Mexican independence from Spain. It is also the only mission founded without church approval. The young country of Mexico needed to strengthen its clam to this part of California and founding a mission was the best way. Only a few years later in 1834, the church was stripped of all its missions. The mission at Somoma was only a few years old when it became just a collection of buildings. Now restored as a State Historic Park, it is claiming its place in history.

We wandered Sonoma a few hours and had lunch and a nice little diner, then walked the short distance to the Depot Park Museum. The Depot Park Museum building is only open on the weekends and last year we visited on a Monday. The Depot is the home of the Sonoma Valley Historical Society and houses many fine artifacts of Sonoma history. The Depot was once a block closer to town, but the Northwestern Pacific Railroad tracks and depot were moved to this location long ago.

A few blocks west of the Depot is the General M. G. Vallejo Home which is part of Sonoma State Historic Park (and included with that receipt from Petaluma). The same General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo who owned the adobe in Petaluma lived here. The home is named "Lachryma Montis" (Tears of the Mountain), after springs on the site. The home was built in 1850. General Vallejo was born at Monterey on July 7, 1808. He was commander of the northern Mexican frontier, founder of the Pueblo of Sonoma, and a member of the first Constitutional Convention of California. This house is not classic Mission style architecture. The barn looks like it was lifted out of the Alps and the house looks more like something from the American east coast. The General was well educated and traveled and his home was cosmopolitan in design.

It was now getting late and a State Park security officer had told us they would start enforcing the parking restriction for the Jazz Festival at 4:00, so we needed to get back to Napa. As we walked back to our car, we observed the huge, gigantic, white tent nestled among the trees where this evening's Jazz concert would be performed. The Jazz festival crowds were now coming toward us and we felt like salmon swimming upstream. Although I don't drink, I visited two wineries on the return to Napa. Just a few blocks east of the Mission is Sebastiani Historic Mission Vineyard established in 1825. The winery includes a large tasting room and shop for selling merchandise. A few minutes later, I saw a sign for Buena Vista Winery, established 1857. This was a cool shaded, quiet experience. A spacious yard area contained exhibits and picnic tables. My wife was tired and waited in the car for both of these winery stops.

Sonoma is only about 20 minutes from Napa and we got back in time to explore the town. Last year we didn't get close to Napa but this year, we were exploring Napa. The old section of town, near the river, is being revitalized. There were many shops and restaurants, many closed this late on a Sunday. We found the departure place for the Napa Valley Wine Train, but we didn't have time this trip for this adventure. The Wine Train is a moving train which features a dinner theater and other programs while passengers ride up and down the rails. We returned to our room and started planning our last day in Napa Valley.

Day Three

We checked out early and headed north along Highway 128 / 29 We made a quick stop at Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park which we had a full visit to last year. Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park is a few miles south of the historic town of Calistoga. We drove through, will return for lunch. Another site we had to skip last year was Calistoga's Old Faithful Geyser. This is a big tourist attraction in the area. The geyser has a small eruption every few minutes, but you have to wait a half hour or so for a full eruption. We stayed for two full eruptions. As I understand, it is not a natural geyser as in Yellowstone, but began when someone tried to sink a well into a hot spring and it has been erupting ever since. Although maybe not of natural origin, it is a natural process that keeps it going and there are only two other places in the world that do this. We enjoyed it and hope to return another time.

Then I made a mistake. I wanted to see the Robert Luis Stevenson Park a few miles north, but it is undeveloped other than hiking trails and we didn't have time for a hike. We regretted this detour when we ran out of time later in the day. We turned around and returned to Calistoga. Calistoga is filled with tourists on the weekend. Shops, boutiques, restaurants around the city center. The Sharpsteen Museum, which we visited the year before, offers many displays of Calistoga's rich history We enjoyed lunch at Nicola's, the same deli we ate at last year. We spent more time in Calistoga last year, but now we were running out of time and hurried of to our last destination.

By the time we reached Jack London State Historic Park, we only had a bit over an hour left to explore this 1413-acre park. Jack London lived here from 1905 until his death in 1916 and called it his "Beauty Ranch." We parked in the upper parking lot and walked to the cottage and farm building including the ruins of the winery. The "pig palace," which is of an unusual design, was off to one side a few hundred feet but would have to wait until next time. The cottage was not open when we visited but the gardens were restful. Vineyards surrounded the area. We went on to the "The House of Happy Walls" which is now the Visitor Center and Museum which was informative. It was now past the time I had set to leave for the airport, so we again had to skip the ruins of Jack London's Wolf House which tragically burned to the ground shortly after completion in 1913. This would have required about an hour. Next time, we will start with Jack London State Historic Park. To get to Jack London State Historic Park, you pass through the lovely small town of Glen Ellen where we hope to spend more time next time.

It was now a mad dash to the airport, complicated by road construction and a missed turn, but we were in time and the flight home was uneventful. As we traveled home, we began planning our next rip in a year or two. We will start with Jack London, revisit the Calistoga Geyser, and see more of Petaluma. Of course, we will see what new Street Art exhibit is in Santa Rosa.

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This page last updated: Friday, 28-Apr-2017 12:54:20 EDT

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