Living in the North Bay, it can sometimes be easy to forget what makes this place such an attraction to the world at large—great food and wine, beautiful scenery, myriad outdoor activities, fine art and spiritual enrichment. It's a feast for body and soul. We live here, so why not take advantage of all the North Bay has to offer, and be a tourist in your own backyard? No need to travel. As we savor the spring and anticipate the coming summer, we thought we'd survey the many ways to feed your mind and body in the North Bay, or more often than not, feed both at the same time. —Stett Holbrook
Go Climb a Rock
In the pantheon of outdoor enthusiasts, none are quite like the close-knit rock-climbing community. Perhaps it's the unique way they face and overcome real fear in their endeavors, perhaps it's the singular exhilaration of reaching a supposedly unreachable goal, most likely it's a combination of all of the above and more. No matter the reason, the one thing that's quite clear is that when someone falls in love with rock climbing, it's a lifelong affair.
Here in the North Bay especially, with no shortage of amazingly rugged natural terrain, rock climbers are everywhere, and anchoring this community is Vertex Climbing Center in Santa Rosa. Built in 1995, Vertex was one of the first climbing gyms in the Bay Area, and it's the place to learn anything and everything about the ever-expanding movement. The indoor climbing walls will test your mettle whether you're a beginner or an expert. The training also includes yoga and breathing classes to help with mental concentration.
Once you've got your training out of the way, it's time to take it outside, and Vertex leads the way and provides the gear for several outdoor climbing experiences around the North Bay. Try your skills either on the two-day-long Sonoma Coast Bouldering tour, the Anchors climb at the immense Goat Rock near Jenner and the Leading Edge climb at Mount St. Helena in Calistoga. Just don't look down. 3358 Coffey Lane, Santa Rosa. 707.573.1608.—C.S.
Take a Cooking Class
"Farm-to-table" is the overused phrase of the moment. It's supposed to connote a virtuous restaurant that sources its ingredients from local purveyors. But if you really want to revel in the cornucopia of local farms and ranches, don't leave it to a restaurant to do the cooking. Do it yourself.
Even though the North Bay is chock-full of great restaurants, time and budget require us to cook for ourselves most of the time. But it's easy to get caught in a cooking rut and make the same old thing. I know I do. Goat cheese soufflé and roast chicken became dinnertime staples of my repertoire, so much so that my family protested because I made it so often. So I had to reach for a few cookbooks to mix it up. What I really needed was inspiration. And I knew where to get it. Located just off the Sonoma Square, Ramekins offers a wide range of cooking classes each week.
This month there's an intro to Burmese cuisine and rustic Italian cooking. Next month, they've got classes on summer sushi, Lebanese barbecue and craft cocktails with chef David Bush and mixologist Jeremy Sommier from Oso restaurant. Ramekins even offers a tour of local carnicerias. Clearly this is no ordinary cooking school. Most classes are between $95 and $125. If you still lack for inspiration, you'll have no one but yourself to blame. 450 W. Spain St., Sonoma. 707.933.0450.—S.H.
Fly a Plane
We all love the scenic beauty of the North Bay to be sure, but even if you've traversed every inch of this area on foot or on bike, you haven't seen everything. Sometimes, to appreciate this area in full you have to get high—really high, like 10,000 feet high. That's where North Coast Air comes in. Located at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, this flight school and aircraft-rental business not only offers scenic and educational air tours that span the Golden Gate to Napa Valley, but North Coast can take you as far as you want to go with pilot training and schooling, so you can take to the skies on your own.
These two- and four-seat Cessna planes are a lot different than the bulky commercial flights you're thinking of, however. The rush of the engine and thrill of banking alongside a hilltop is a breathtaking experience. If you're not too sure about all this, an introductory flight is the best way to get off the ground. Meet an instructor, meet an airplane, get in the seat and see for yourself if flying is for you.
If you fall for flying small aircraft like so many others have, North Coast Air also helps with the FAA schooling and paperwork as well as the flight training, and within weeks you could be a certified airman (or woman). North Coast Air flies seven days a week, and you can book a tour by calling 707.542.8687. Find them at 5010 Flightline Drive, Santa Rosa.—C.S.