Chapter I: Recreation

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WRITERS PICKS: RECREATION

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Best Solitary Day Trip

Sometimes, you need a little alone time, and although it's relatively easy to get lost in the North Bay, doing it in style is quite the challenge. Enter the Headlands Center for the Arts—wonderfully empty, full of light, and, hey, there's art too! The drive to the destination is part of the fun—cut through a one-way tunnel, and then it's nothing but the stunning Marin Headlands. The center itself is located in a pristine historical building. It gets especially lonely off-season between artist residencies and events. The white walls and the natural surroundings guarantee soft sunlight, and the atmosphere—serene yet welcoming—is tailored for a solitary experience. While there, #whitepeopledoingyoga, part of an exhibition by Chiraag Bhakta previously shown at the Asian Museum in San Francisco, is a good moment to pause and reflect on Western culture, spirituality and humor—it's a huge collage of 1960s–'90s memorabilia and media bits of, well, white people doing yoga. 944 Fort Barry, Sausalito. 415.331.2787. www.headlands.org. — Flora Tsapovsky

Best Literary Park

Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen offers beauty and mystery galore. There's the museum at the House of Happy Walls that Charmian London built after her husband died in 1916 at the age of 40. Then there's the cottage that they called home while he was alive, plus the ruins of Wolf House, the mansion that burned to the ground in 1913 and turned Jack's life into a nightmare. Still, the stone walls at Wolf House—where London aimed to live the American dream—can be alluring. Recently, designer Ralph Lauren used Wolf House as a backdrop for a fashion shoot with glamorous models. Tourists from Russia arrive almost every week, make a beeline for Jack's grave not far from the ruins, get out their smart phones, take a zillion photos and send them to comrades in Moscow. There's live music in the park almost all year round and book groups that meet to discuss The Call of the Wild and other works by the author who fled from Oakland in 1905, bought land hand-over-fist, called it "Beauty Ranch," farmed organically and invited friends to join an unending party that anticipated the Jazz Age revelry of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Miles of newly cleared trails take backpackers to hidden vistas and secluded spots. Walking tours led by savvy docents illuminate the life and times of London the man and the myth. Longtime London readers are often surprised to discover that he raised pigs and horses, trekked the forests of Sonoma Mountain, and that he and Charmian never had the children they wanted. The House of Happy Walls offers stunning artifacts and photos and an excellent selection of London's novels, including Martin Eden, that might hold the clues to solve the mysteries. 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen. 707.938.5216. &mdashJonah Raskin

Best Before-Work Sweat Fest

Setting new routines can be hard, but one that will undoubtedly jump-start your day is an early-morning yoga class. Tone yoga, Pilates and dance studio offers a before-work class scheduled from 6:45am to 8am, and is located in the heart of downtown Santa Rosa. Yoga is as good for the mind as it is for the body, and this Tuesday and Thursday class can keep you centered all day long. For those who are less inclined to wake up early, cruise on over to Tone for a little lunch-hour yoga on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, or a Pilates or Zumba class with a variety of start times. A lengthy list of classes all day and into the evening makes it possible to fit in a class whatever your schedule. 545 Ross St., Santa Rosa. 707.526.3100.—Jessie Janssen

Best Place to Rub Your Mammoth

You know when you see a dark, shiny smudge about one foot above the floor, that was some dog's favorite spot to curl up against the wall not too long ago. Going back further in time, some porch railings on local farmhouses bear the teeth marks of compulsively cribbing, 19th-century horses. And if you want to see where 14-foot mammoths left their mark more than 12,000 years ago, just take a walk on the Sonoma Coast. Since 2001, archaeologists have identified several ancient rock formations along the Kortum Trail south of Jenner as potential "Rancholabrean rubbing rocks." Similar to the way present-day African elephants use landmark rocks to scrape parasites off their hides, researchers say large Pleistocene animals such as Columbian mammoths likely enjoyed a nice rub on these rocks, polishing areas to a glassy sheen over thousands of years. Today, the rocks are popular with climbers, who enjoy a great view of the ocean from atop them. But the view through the surface of the rocks takes you so much further. www.parks.ca.gov.—James Knight

Best River Beach Kept Tidy by Your Mom

While the debate about the best Russian River beach is a toughie, one beach stands above all—that is, if you consider cleanliness, natural beauty, privacy and shade as important criteria. Beautiful as it is, the Russian River is hit-or-miss—some beaches have difficult access or disappoint with rocky grounds, too much highway in sight or zero greenery to take refuge under. Mother Beach, sometimes called Mom Beach, has it all. Just off River Road in Forestville, it welcomes visitors with ample parking and an easy trail down. A note sometimes welcomes the crowd—handwritten by the "mom," the beach caretaker—and a big trash can awaits recycling when you leave. The beach is crescent-shaped, long and roomy, lined by trees in the back and fronted by just-the-perfect-depth river with some more trees in the background. It's frequented by groups of city folks and locals who have good taste in beaches. No one is ever too invasive or too obnoxious to ruin your tanning session. The best way to go: duck your head in the shade, let the sun stroke your limbs and look up to a sky framed by branches. It might be just perfect. 10584 River Drive (off River Road), Forestville.—Flora Tsapovsky

Best Opportunity to Bathe in a Forest

Ages ago, Japanese culture brought us sake and sushi, and forever changed our habits of drinking and eating. The next new Japanese thing might be shinrin-yoku, which translates as "forest bathing." No, you don't take off your clothes and wade in a babbling brook or pool, though you might sit alongside a stream and watch icy water flow downhill. The idea behind the practice is that walking slowly through the woods can be emotionally and psychologically healing. One might call it "ecotherapy." In fact, in Japan doctors prescribe forest bathing for patients with depression and anxiety. North Bay advocates, such as M. Amos Clifford, hope that it will catch on here and that it will become as popular as Zen, sake and tuna rolls. Clifford and others lead small groups through parks in Sonoma County. Participants follow one another single-file over hill and dale. They sit on the ground, curl up with ancient oak trees and drink hot tea brewed from foraged ingredients. They also get in touch with their own inner selves, or so they say, and realize the value of moving slowly through the wilds without rushing to scale a mountain or cross a tangled valley. Shinrin-yoku encourages mindfulness and appreciation of the natural world. On a two- to three-hour walk, participants might travel less than a mile and yet feel that they've been on an epic quest. It's clearly not meant for ironmen or -women. Shinrin-yoku seems to work for those who want to take it slow. A seductive website (www.shinrin-yoku.org) might whet the appetite.—Jonah Raskin

Best Frisbee Golf Course with a View

Enjoy a panoramic view of Santa Rosa at Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve. About five minutes drive from 101, the park features four miles of dirt trails over two different routes leading up the mountain. For those inclined to try their skills, there is also an 18-hole disc golf course with lots of obstacles. Both the trails and the course are open from 8am to sunset, and during this time it's common to see cows, as the park doubles as a grazing area. The rolling green hills are the perfect place to explore without driving too far, and a great look-out point for a picnic. It's also an especially popular place to walk your dog, unlike a lot of the other trails in the Santa Rosa area. parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov.—Jessie Janssen

Best Way to Shake Away the Pounds

Mock it or love it, Zumba is a damn good way to burn it off. No one really expects you to be a salsa pro, so loosening up and having fun is key, and no one has as much fun as Lucibel Nunez, the very fierce instructor at Fierce Fitness. Classes are held daily in a huge, no-frills facility in the Santa Rosa industrial zone; a punch card costs $50 for 11 visits, or 5 bucks for a single visit—a good deal. What you get for the small fee, however, is priceless. Nunez exudes energy and knows how to pick just the right songs and choreography to make you dance like there's no tomorrow, and she always has a funky reagaetton or authentic salsa song up her sleeve. Add in unapologetic, fun-loving attendees and a strong sense of community. Every class begins with a request to keep the space welcoming and respectful. 3501 Industrial Drive, Santa Rosa. 707.365.8486.—F.T.

Best Way to Dry Out Your Wolf

Making conversation on an easy hike up Old Railroad Grade to Mount Tam one day, I ask my friend, so, did I ever tell you about the dry wolf? No, he says, tell me about the dry wolf. Well, I say, here's the thing: after an evening of one tipple too many, I planned to rally myself next day with a strenuous ascent up the Dipsea Steps. Scores of confident, chattering groups passed me on the way up. As I finally trudged to the top, a trio of young people bounced downhill past me, playing hacky-sack all the while. And I swear that one of them called out these words: "Dry wolf!" Must be some kind of a game, I concluded in my fog of exertion—the first one to identify a "lone wolf" who's hiking to "dry out" is the winner! Makes sense to me. The Dipsea Steps, a 680-some step stairway that's part of the famed Dipsea Trail, is best tackled after a good night's sleep and a healthful breakfast. Old Mill Park, Mill Valley.—James Knight

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