Photograph by Michael Amsler
Best Way to Get Your Ass Centered
If you've been feeling like you keep forgetting to breathe, or forgetting you have a body connected to that brain, check out classes at Jane Golden's Qigong on Saturday mornings. The class is different every time, so I can't tell you what precisely will happen while you're there, but I can tell you what will happen when you leave: you will feel completely transformed, light as a feather but rooted down. The teacher, Jane Golden--a powerhouse of strength, grace and focus, barely five-feet tall and I could swear she's Chinese--has been teaching qigong and tai chi in Sonoma County since 1979, and has taught thousands of students. And when she moves, it's as if she's rooted to the ground and soaring like a bird at the same time. Qigong literally means "breathing exercise." Quite a lot of qi and breath will be moved around in the class; some fresh neural pathways perhaps forged. Nothing too strenuous, and you don't need any prior experience. Just follow Jane, she'll lead the way. Jane Golden's Qigong, Occidental Community Center, 3920 Bohemian Hwy., Occidental. Saturday mornings, 10am to 11:30am. email@example.com.--M.T.J.
Photograph by Matt Pamatmat
Best Place to Appreciate the Juxtaposition of Sonoma County's Pastoral Beauty with Hardcore Random Pornography While Riding Your Bike
There's nothing like getting some exercise, breathing fresh air, moving around on a pollution-free vehicle--and coming across scenic backroads unexpectedly littered with pages and pages of glossy heterosexual print pornography, empty DVD cases and a box that may or may not have housed a fake vagina. It knocks us out of our comfort zone, our routines, our expectations and makes us wonder what the hell is going on. Am I riding my bike or am I dreaming? How to tell the difference? Avid cyclist Chad Cheadle, who discovered the porn highway, even had a moment of absurdity and paranoia where he suspected that someone had planted the porn on a road the culprit knew Cheadle liked to frequent in order to mess with Cheadle's mind, given that one of the DVD cases was for a film called The Whore de France. Cycling-themed smut films? The more likely scenario is that a hubby was found out and dropped his load in the dead of night, including what must have been his beloved, synthetic, gynecological "Ruby Pussy." The pages of print porn were quickly disseminated by the wind, faded by the sun and ruined by the elements, but in their mysterious presence they created a moment in time of strange beauty and surprising humor. As Supertramp once sang, "Take the porn road home." Along Pepper Road, Walker Road, Roblar Road, Valley Ford Road, Bodega Highway and Tomales Road. Remember, littering carries a stiff fine, befouls our bucolic backroads, and screws with Chad Cheadle's head.--M.P.
Best Way to Paddle in the Moonglow
Lake Sonoma is a massive, 2,700-acre expanse of water surrounded by stunning scenery, all no more than a skip and a hoppity-hop from civilization (well, Cloverdale). The land portion is a camper's and hiker's paradise, and the miles of water have made it a popular spot for experienced and amateur kayakers alike, who enjoy paddling about under their own power along the shore or among the odd branches that sometimes stick up from below the surface, where trees are still rooted in place where they stood before the nearby Warm Springs Dam was built and the area was flooded. The only drawback to daytime paddle-crafting are the shore-dwelling wasps and yellow jackets that tend to settle en masse on any exposed picnic foods, and the speedboats that zip and whip across the southern portion of the lake as if they actually had somewhere to go in a hurry. One way to enjoy the place without such threats to life and limb is to take Napa Wine Tours' monthly full-moon kayak tour, an atmospheric excursion after the bugs have vanished and the drunken boaters are back in their docks. They bring the dinner, you bring the wine for this four-hour trip around the lake by moonlight. Minimum four people per tour; $101.95 per person. www.napawinetours.net.--D.T.
Best Place to Ponder the Treacherous Sex Lives of Fish
You think you have a hard time getting laid? Ponder all that a fish has to go through just to sow a few ichthyic oats, and you might consider yourself lucky--no matter how often you actually get lucky. Fish sex is a nightmare, requiring exhausting effort and risk of death just getting to place where the connections get made. Then, the actual sex part--well, it's not pretty. To find out more about all this, check out the visitors center at the Congressman Don Clausen Fish Hatchery, located at the entrance to the Lake Sonoma Recreation Area. Open year-round, the center is crammed with exhibits telling the sordid story of the fish of Warm Springs Dam, relating the natural history and, you know, the historical history of the Dry Creek Valley, with bunches of audio-visual and ranger-powered attractions. The hatchery itself, which, with its rumbling conveyors and whirring machinery and watery tanks and rows of gleaming stainless-steel, ironically resembles a large cannery. In season, fish voyeurs can watch the daily operation of the hatchery, and the place is operated by the California Department of Fish and Game, which offers tours for groups during the fishy-sexy-spawning season, January to April. Congressman Don Clausen Fish Hatchery, 3333 Skaggs Springs Road, Geyserville. 707.433.9483.--D.T.
Best Place to Have an Allergy Attack
Matanzas Creek Winery, with its famous lavender fields covering a full acre and producing more than 2 million stems a year, could easily win the award for Most Gorgeous Place to Suffer, Sniffle and Sneeze while at the same time picking up the prize for Most Beautiful Nonwild, Attractively Cultivated Spot in the North Bay. Founded 20-odd years ago, Matanzas Creek has developed some exceptional wines over the years. But it's those beautifully landscaped lavender fields, boasting more than 45,000 distinctively aromatic plants, that keep landing the winery on various wine tour Top 10 lists. There are guided tours through the grounds and a self-guided tour through the lavender fields, which bloom a couple of times a year right around mid-June and then again in September or so. But lavender and grapevines aren't the only attraction here. Matanzas has a total of six gardens, each with a different theme and focus, each one enhancing and highlighting different aspects of the Sonoma County environment in which it dwells. A visit to Matanzas is a banquet for the senses, offering opportunities to see, smell, touch and taste (that would take place in the tasting room, of course). Matanzas Creek Winery, 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. Tours, Monday-Saturday. 800.590.6464, ext. 19.--D.T.
Best Place to Get Back in Touch with the Mollusks and Echinoderms
If you head out to the beach from Pinnacle Gulch Trailhead in Bodega Bay and hike south, you'll eventually reach the Estero Americano. But the only time you can make it the whole way is at low tide. And to get to the Estero, you'll have to pass through a 10-foot-high rock passageway covered entirely on either side, top to bottom, with live mussels and orange and purple starfish. It's so narrow that you can't help brushing up against them as you pass through. And if you are too early or, ruh-roh, too late, the ebbing or flowing tide laps at your heels as you high-tail it through the live corridor, your whoops amplified by the colorful walls around you. It's a bit of a time commitment, but worth it for a glimpse of this funky, remarkable au natural aquarium exhibit. Pinnacle Gulch Trailhead on Mockingbird Road, Bodega Bay. Head south (left) once you reach the beach. It's a two- to three-hour round-trip walk, and you'll have to scramble up and down a lot of rocks to get to the Estero, so be sure to wear proper footgear.--M.T.J.
Best Place to Blow Off Steam
It may be the most down-home natural wonder in the state. Old Faithful Geyser of California is a privately owned geological wonder that has been spouting at regular intervals (every 15 to 30 minutes these days) for who knows how long. Erupting from a cluster of rocks in a small pond in a small meadow with scattered picnic tables and chairs for viewing, this Old Faithful is notably smaller and less dramatic than its namesake at Yellowstone. But with its modest petting zoo, low-key gift shop and all-around casual ambiance, the Calistoga geyser offers an unexpectedly restful opportunity to observe a genuinely rare natural phenomenon, close up and personal. Old Faithful Geyser of California, 1299 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga, 707.942.6463.--B.R.
Nearest Faraway Place with an Urban View
Camping on Angel Island offers the usual outdoor experience--natural surroundings, fresh air (here with the added zest of salt spray), indigenous critters close at hand and complete reliance on whatever you pack in to the campsite--but with two rare differences: you can get there on public transportation, and, if you've secured the proper campsite, you can enjoy one of the world's most familiar urban skylines through your tent flaps. Other choices among the four public camping areas (11 campsites altogether) offer vistas of the East Bay or Tiburon and Mt. Tam, though there's often a trade-off between the scope of the view and how much wind you're exposed to. Most are some distance for the arrival point in Ayala Cove, so be prepared for some serious walking, and remember that Angel Island is not flat; it's 780-odd feet to the top of Mt. Livingston, and most of the roads and trails curl around the shoulders of the peak. It's not exactly getting away from it all, but it's a close approximation. Make campsite reservations at Reserve America, 1.800.444.PARK (1.800.444.7275) or visit www.reserveamerican.com.--B.R
Best Excuse to Buy Yourself a Pair of Thigh-High Waders
Actually you don't need thigh-high waders, though they wouldn't hurt. With these following items, you, too, can dig your own clams (50 apiece) right on Tomales Bay. Who knew? Here's what you need: a fishing license from Big 5 or your local hardware store (1-day license for residents is $12; 1-year is $37), a 1-1/2" metal ring (tie the ring onto a bucket with a sturdy length of cord), a hand rake, cultivator or tined hoe. In the rocky sand of Tomales Bay, you'll mostly find steamers and a few Washingtons. You'll need to go at low tide, or better, ultra-minus tide, and get some sea water in your bucket. Find a spot that's not too wet and not too dry, from where the tide has recently receded. Then, here's what you do: Dig. You can't take any clams that are smaller than your 1-1/2" ring; as long as the clam does not fit through the ring, it's yours. Be sure to fill up your bucket of clams with clean seawater before you go. So you're digging and digging and meanwhile all around you are the wonders of Tomales Bay: huge flocks of low flying birds choreographically swooping across the water; pelicans hovering; snowy egrets fishing nearby in the shallow water; crabs scurrying about; the sun and wind alternately heating you up and cooling you down. And after this beautiful day on the bay, you go home, scrub up them clams and make up a big pot of linguine with clamsauce! I can't just give away my spot, but here's a clue: if you can find public parking along Highway 1 south of Tomales, dig there. Clams are occasionally affected by biotoxins; always call the California Department of Health Services biotoxin hotline before heading out (800.553.4133). For more info: California Department of Fish and Game, Bodega Bay office: 707.875.4261. --M.T.J.
Best of the North Bay 2007