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Place Oddities

Quirky North Bay adventures to satisfy your inner resident tourist

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TAKE A TRAM TO A WINERY

Winetasting is a pretty standard affair in wine country, sure—but a ride up a mountain on a tram that leads to the winery? Now, that's a weekend upgrade. For $30, Sterling Vineyards offers exactly that, and then some: a thrilling ride on a tram while you rub elbows with real live tourists, enjoy killer views of the valley and a tour of the whole place, glass of wine in hand. Not your average wine experience, and the tram ride alone is pure gold. 1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga. sterlingvineyards.com.

FIND YOURSELF IN AGUA CALIENTE

The eastbound ride on Highway 12 toward Sonoma is classic California: luxury homes, rolling hills, wineries and restaurants aplenty. Suddenly, the view changes dramatically and you find yourself in Mexico. Welcome to Agua Caliente, an expected little town, population 4,500, half of which is Latino. Signs in Spanish, storefronts displaying quinceañera dresses, taco joints and a general sense of another country are all around—no plane ticket needed. Agua Caliente, Highway 12.

DISCONNECT AT THE BOTANICAL GARDEN

Botanical gardens are often urban oases ideal for disconnecting from the surrounding city. The Quarryhill Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen is the perfect spot, and it hosts one of the world's largest collections of wild-collected Asian plants, from Chinese roses to Japanese stewartia trees. Picturesque and serene, the garden is great for soul-searching, pondering and other activities that we often save for solo trips. 12841 Sonoma Hwy., Glen Ellen. 707.996.3166. quarryhillbg.org.

DIVE INTO HISTORY

When traveling, monumental buildings and grand spaces play an important role in atmospheric build-up. The San Francisco Theological Seminary serves this purpose very well, surrounding the visitor with a historical and spiritual atmosphere. Located on a hill overlooking Mount Tamalpais, the Presbyterian facility looks like it's been cut out of a children's book, in the best possible way. The seminary consists of numerous Victorian buildings, gardens and a castle, all built in 1892. The 14-acre property is big enough for a lengthy stroll, and feels unlike anything else in Marin County. 105 Seminary Road, San Anselmo. 415.451.2836. sfts.edu.

DRINK BEER IN BAVARIA

Everyone loves hiking Mount Tamalpais, but have you ever been to the Nature Friends Tourist Club, settled in a Bavarian lodge on its slope? The adventure starts with a hike and ends with an ornamental alpine lodge, home of the Vienna-originated club. Although members-only, the nature-appreciation club does sell beer to visitors, and its website announces annual festivals and events, which make the location feel even more European. The biggest of them, Maifest, is coming up on May 15—German food, traditional costume and cheery dancing await. 30 Ridge Ave., Mill Valley. 415.388.9987. touristclubsf.org.

ALTER ALTAR Step into Forestville’s Lucky Mojo and pick up candles and talismans for a shrine all your own.
  • ALTER ALTAR Step into Forestville‚Äôs Lucky Mojo and pick up candles and talismans for a shrine all your own.

POSE WITH A LIGHTHOUSE

There's something about lighthouses that instantly screams "vacation!" Unlike the Point Reyes Lighthouse, Sausalito's Point Bonita is less famous, less toured and, therefore, way more romantic and charming. The third lighthouse ever built on the West Coast is accessible by a dramatic tunnel followed by a bridge over a rock. Once at the lighthouse, visitors enjoy familiar California views of endless blue water. But it's the journey to this point that matters. Fort Barry, Building 948, Sausalito. nps.gov.

BUY SALMON FROM A STRANGER

What could be more touristy than trusting street food? In Jenner, this becomes especially tempting thanks to the Salmon Man, a local staple named Greg Brummett, who smokes his own salmon and makes excellent fish jerky. On weekends, Brummett can be found on Highway 1 between Jenner and Bodega Bay, selling his salty snack out of a colorful minivan. Every package of jerky is accompanied by lively stories and a dose of Brummett's personality, making this a local must-stop. Highway One between Jenner and Bodega Bay.

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