Welcome to a lesser known wine country that surrounds the largest natural freshwater lake in California. Clearlake, sometimes called the Bass Capital of the West, offers far more than incredible fishing. When life on the water -- boating, soaking, windsurfing, rock skipping -- calls for a break, step away and take in a horseback ride, vineyard tours and wine tasting, and, when the night comes soak in stargazing in this Northern California outdoor haven ... to get started.
Clearlake is 110 miles of scenic road northeast of San Francisco. If you're set on speed and destination, you can be there in 2 hours, 30 minutes. But this modest distance will take you through rare California beauty that's worth a pause or two along the way.
Cross the Golden Gate Bridget and cruise north on Highway 101. When you're done soaking in some of Santa Rosa, bending east to Calistoga and onward up Highway 29 to Clearlake. Or take a little more inland line, breaking off 101 to take Highway 37 to 121 and up through Sonoma. You'll connect with Highway 29 west of Calistoga and keep on truckin'.
More inland? More wine? Cross the Bay on Interstate 80 to Vallejo and turn north up through Napa Valley on Highway 29. Then, as you've probably guessed, it's smooth running with no road changes all the way to Clearlake.
But don't get too deep into any of these wine valley pit stops. Clearlake also puts you in the heart of Lake County wine country.
The Clear Lake Cottages & Marina is centrally located in the town and Lake County, on the east side of Clear Lake. As the name implies, the calm environment and beautiful view of the lake is right out your door. There is a seasonal outdoor swimming pool and a private beach. The cottages have the amenities you'd expect -- air conditioning, cable TV, etc. -- and a concierge service can set you up with the details of surrounding opportunities, like golfing and outdoor life on the water.
The Best Western El Grande Inn offers the comforts you're looking to have when away from home, including free WiFi, in-room microwave, refrigerator, coffee machine, and on-site fitness center. There also is an on-site bar and restaurant ... all within reach of the area's central monument to natural beauty: Clear Lake.
Lamplighter Motel in Clear Lake not only offers great location and value, it's got an outdoor swimming pool, and a private fishing dock on the shore of Clear Lake. It's only minutes from downtown shops and restaurants, and serves up lake views. Enjoy free WiFi and the amenities you expect for comforts away from home.
Main Street Bar & Grill in Clear Lake gets the nod for American bar and grill setting. Get a simple breakfast, lunch or dinner that keeps things easy but filling. The plates are full and the prices modest. Service gets high ratings for its friendly and accommodating staff.
The Cactus Grill serves of friendly attention, spicy salsa and seafood -- salmon tacos? -- like no other in Clearlake. There are vegan selections, a salsa bar and cold beer ready to go. Outdoor seating is the spot during season, but this is a crowd favorite whenever you're in town. Arrive early or relax with a cocktail and oak up the Cactus 'til it's your turn at the salsa bar.
It's always great to find a local donut spot, whether an old hand at getaways to Clearlake or a first-timer, Castle Donuts will be a regular pit stop when the sun rises and a day at the lake calls. While the variety of great tasting donuts gets top billing on the sign, you also can grab a sandwich to go with your cup of joe.
Clear Lake is the largest natural lake in California, and its the hub life of Lake County revolves around. There's hiking, fishing, boating, wine tasting, bicycling and other outdoor activities for relaxing or revving up the adventure.
There are a host of wineries in the large loop around Clear Lake. Try Brassfield Estate Winery and Cache Creek Vineyards in Clear Lake Oaks, on the east side of the lake. Ceago Estate Wines in Nice get great reviews for the friendly folks and beautiful scenery at the north end of the lake. Steele Winery and Laujor Estate Winery are in Kelseyville on the west side of the lake.
If you want to take a drive around Clear Lake, a fantastic, low-key break from days on the water or hiking, hit up the Running Creek Casino in Upper Lake. It's your respite from the outdoors, especially if you want a place to duck in from the heat of summer and try your hand at blackjack or the slots. Make it a lunch or dinner spot for good eats at moderate prices, and keep the good times rolling at the dice tables.
While cruising around Clear Lake or when touring wineries, Kelseyville is a key stop on the route and the Ely Stage Stop & Country Museum is the place to go for "Old West" history. It's home to the Lake County Historical Society, but plan your schedule for the 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. weekend windows its open, so not to be miss out.
Bring your hiking shoes, water bottles and a camera. Mt. Konocti, east of Kelseyville, is a central figure in the area's natural beauty, standing tall as a volcanic lava dome that reaches more than 4,300 feet in elevation. It's the second highest peak in the Clear Lake Volcanic Field, which is made of volcanic domes and cones that range from 10,000 to more than 2 million years old.