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Getting It in Gear
Gentle giants: The lofty sequoias at Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve are sentinels of one of the most popular places for a hike or a picnic.
Photo by Eric Reed
'Best of' local recreation--the lowdown on things to do when you're feelin' motivated
Sonoma County recreation, especially the outdoor variety, gets a bad rap, and unfairly so. OK, so Marin has a better trail system, local beaches often have winds fierce enough to sandblast the U.S.S. Nimitz down to its primer coat, and our best Redwood forest is the exclusive domain of evil, cross-dressing billionaires. But there's still a heck of a lot to do for fun in Sonoma County, from the obvious (dropping a fishing line into the Russian River) to the downright adventurous (climbing the walls on an indoor cliff). With an embarrassment of natural wonders dotting the region and a population large enough to support more civilized diversions, recreational opportunities abound. So chins up, Sonoma County residents! While our region may play sweet, soft-spoken Betty to the gaudy Veronicas up and down the coast, we know how to cut loose and have fun with the best of them.
Best Place to Test Your Antihistamine
Sonoma County has often been called the Hay Fever Capital of the World. If you suffer the sniffles and sneezes of outrageous summer, we suggest you at least suffer in a beautiful spot. Matanzas Creek Winery (6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa) has become famous in recent years for more than just its wines. Take a self-guided walk through Matanzas' beautifully landscaped, drop-dead gorgeous lavender fields, over two acres of plants, 45,000 plants in all, which produce more than 2 million stems a year. The aromatic crop, which blooms about mid-June and then again around September, is maintained by a crack team of gardeners. With additional Victorian gardens and the magnificent vineyards surrounding it, there is no lovelier (or nicer-smelling) environs, in all the county, in which to sneeze.--D.T.
Best Place to Slide Down Sand Dunes
Salmon Creek Beach, on Highway 1 just north of Bodega Bay, contains many enjoyable features, including a sheltered lagoon teeming with seabirds and wildlife. Chief among them, however, is a marked abundance of . . . sand. Lotsa sand. Dunes you won't believe till you've run all the way down one of them on your way to skip about in the surf with your dogs, your children, your lover, or the scamperer of your choice. Never the same two days in a row, the dunes at Salmon Creek are a major weekend draw when the golden sun is high, and a favorite sunset strolling place most anytime. Don't forget the sun block, but leave your shoes in the car (be forewarned: parking is limited and parking tickets are pricey).--D.T.
Best Geological Oddity
Goat Rock itself is bizarre enough, but there is another good reason to visit Goat Rock Beach, on Highway 1, where the Russian River meets the sea, and it's not the tourists. It's Abraham Lincoln. Just past the massive stone edifice that gives the beach its name, there is a series of "sea stacks"--steep-sided, rocky projections that stick up above the waves. The largest of these, and the one farthest out, shows a massive hole, carved into the rock by the persistent pounding of the surf. Standing on the beach, just to the left of the stack, the hole takes on a shape identical to the profile of President Abraham Lincoln. That's without his hat. This unexplained geological oddity makes Goat Rock the perfect spot for a Presidents' Day picnic at the beach. Ignore the strident few who claim that the hole more closely resembles author Salman Rushdie; these people are clearly wackos.--D.T.
Best Back Road
There are one heck of a lot of roads snaking and undulating up and down and around this sprawling county. Literally thousands of back roads, long and short, offer to take casual drivers and sightseers (locals as well as tourists) past bucolic wonders and up the gravel driveway to some unexpected surprise. Here's one such road: After lunch or breakfast in downtown Healdsburg, drive up Healdsburg Avenue till you come to the beautiful Simi Valley Winery, where you may want to stop for a taste and a tour. Next, hang a right at Alexander Valley Road and head out into the country, aiming toward rustic Jimtown (not much more than a store, but it's a neat little store). Some people like to take the West Soda Rock Road (a few miles before Jimtown) as it winds along the Russian River. There are some excellent play-in-the-river-and-have-a-picnic spots here, and there's even a pretty good campground at the end of Soda Rock Road. --D.T.
Best Place to Take Out-of-State Visitors
Hey, everybody, let's go see some big old trees!" Somehow that doesn't quite do justice to the towering redwoods of Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve (17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville; open every day from 8 a.m. until an hour after sunset). Whether you park outside the entrance and enter on foot or cycle (free!) or drive in ($5 per car) to the rustic picnic areas at the back of the park, the core experience is getting out among the massive trunks of these ancient evergreens. There's even a special interpretive walk for the blind or disabled. With acres of foliage overhead to filter out noise along with direct sunlight, the duff-covered grounds are soft, quiet, and--at the right times of year--home to a remarkable variety of colorful fungus. Watch for the semi-rare redwood orchid, too. Wild banana slugs are the most visible fauna, however, if you don't count the strings of horses ready to carry riders up the hillside at the back of the park to the magnificent expanses of the Austin Creek Recreation Area. But that's another outing.--B.R.
Best Place to Contemplate
Nature sans Hot Drugs
We're talking coffee here, for God's sake--or rather, the lack of it. We're talking the best place to catch the sunrise without any medicinal beans applied to the bloodstream. Don't get cranky--we know that most of you think that the best place to view the sunrise is from your own damn bed as you reach up to pull the shade down a little farther so that none of that cheery damn sunlight seeps in and gets you up before it's noon. OK, 8 a.m. But hey, remember being a teenager and how cool the sunrise was, and how, like, spiritual you felt, and how you promised yourself that you would see it more often and that next time you would actually go to bed first? Well, here's your chance, and there's nothing that we like better than dragging ourselves and the little loves out of warm, comfortable beds on Easter morn to witness the miracle of renewal. Remind the children that the Easter bunny doesn't have those big ears for nothing. He's listening, and if they don't hush up and enjoy the pinky orange glow of a slowing arising sun, there will be no fake grass or hollow chocolates. Sugarloaf Ridge in Ken-wood (Adobe Road; 833-5712) is a county favorite for sky watching, and if things are particularly tense with your early-morning clan, well, there's always wine-tasting after.--G.G.
Best Place for the Kids to Climb the Walls
Darwinism notwithstanding, there is something innate in kids that wants to climb. So if your yard lacks suitable trees or jungle gyms and you fear for your bookcases, kitchen cupboards, and health and liability insurance premiums, you can turn the tykes loose at the Vertex Climbing Center instead. The recently opened indoor "rock" climbing center features a wall designed just for kids, and includes safety ropes and trained personnel in the admission price ($15 for two hours or less with a membership). It's an equal-opportunity outing for boys and girls; 4 years is about the minimum age to be able to reach the holds. Vertex (Pinecreek Business Park, 3358A Coffey Lane, Santa Rosa) offers a program specifically for kids on weekends, and has also tapped into a pent-up demand for birthday party alternatives. "We just have them run around and climb," laughs co-owner Janet Wells. Summer camps for kids ages 7-14 are also on the schedule in the months ahead.--B.R.
Best Place to Pitch a Tent
Remember how much fun camping was when you were a kid? The car would pull into the campground and you and your siblings would decamp to romp in the poison oak and lose the dog while Mom and Dad fumbled with tent poles and set up that cumbersome lean-to of a camp kitchen that required twice the work of the one at home and produced entrées flavored with dust and fallen eucalyptus leaves. Now that you're the grownup, the experience hasn't lost its luster, but why drive for three hot hours to get there when Sonoma County has some marvelous camping spots? Our favorite local campsites, 120 acres of them, are found at Doran Regional Park in Bodega Bay (Doran Park Road, off Highway 1; 875-3540). This campground offers spectacular oceanside views, campsites nestled below the dunes or among the trees, and all of that lovely water just there for the swimming and wading. Sites are accorded on a first-come, first-served basis year round, and the $14-a-night tab is an out-of-the way price that you simply can't beat.--G.G.
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From the March 28-April 3, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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