Northern California offers the best of both worlds, according to Chris Turkovich, a winemaker in Yolo County. Consider the Cold Canyon hike near Lake Berryessa, he says, “where the valley meets the coastal hills and wine country. You look one direction on the lake, and in the other direction, you can see downtown Sacramento. We are definitely kind of under the radar, but we're also right in the middle of things.”
That mix of culture and outdoor bliss makes this part of the state a captivating getaway. In the latest episode of the California Now Podcast, Turkovich and two other Northern California locals tell host Soterios Johnson how their hometowns make excellent base camps for exploring the region’s wide-open spaces.
Ken Grossman offers a great place to start: the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., which he founded in Chico, about 90 minutes north of Sacramento. Grossman tells Johnson about the early days of both the brewery and the craft beer movement. “We chose a variety of hop called the Cascade, with pine and citrus character, and used it heavily in our pale ale back in 1980. It was the forerunner to what we now have as our India Pale Ales.” Back then, American beer drinkers weren’t used to that much bitterness—but they quickly caught on. “Our original business plan was to hopefully brew 2,500 barrels a year. We brew that much in a day today.”
Visiting the Butte County brewery these days can mean taking a behind-the-scenes Beer Geek Tour, or just enjoying a pint and lunch onsite. “A lot of the beers we serve at our restaurant and tasting bar are not available anywhere,” he says. “They're special beers, or beers in development for potential release.” Grossman also recommends some nearby spots for outdoor fun, such as the trails and wildlife sightings at Bidwell Park (“it's quite a jewel”), and the boiling mud pits at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Wine fans, meanwhile, will love Winters in Yolo County, about 90 minutes northeast of San Francisco. How small is Winters? “There was a big uproar about 10 years ago when we got our first stoplight,” says Turkovich, a third-generation farmer who now runs Turkovich Family Wines. “Downtown is real cute,” he tells Johnson. “It's a farming town at heart, but with a big food and winery scene and a few breweries.”
A peak time to visit is June, when local fields pop with sunflowers. But Turkovich says Winters offers a pleasant base year-round thanks to spots such as the boutique-style Hotel Winters and the Putah Creek Cafe, “a great hometown diner.” Winters is also the first stop on a “phenomenal” road trip along Highway 128 known as Wine to Waves. “You go from Winters to Napa, through Sonoma, up to Pinot country, and the redwoods on the Mendocino coast. It's the kind of wine country trip that people remember from 20 to 50 years ago.”
Farther north in Redding, coffee connoisseurs will swoon over the award-winning Theory Coffee Roasters, an artisanal outpost that consistently pleases patrons. Start your day with an espresso or a cold brew, plus one of their French pastries—like a lemon curd cruffin—before exploring Shasta County. “This area is really rich with natural resources,” says Theory founder Sam LaRobardiere. “You have Shasta Lake and Whiskeytown Lake—beautiful mountain lakes where you can go boating, or swim, and there's tons of hiking and mountain biking. And this is one of the premier fly-fishing spots in North America.”
He offers some tips on organizing your trip, from where to rent gear to don’t-miss spots such as Sundial Bridge, Canelo’s(“some of the best tacos al pastor I've ever had”), and the waterfall hikes near Whiskeytown. Any place you choose offers its own bliss, he says. “When we moved here, my stress levels dropped 1,000 percent. This is just the kind of place where you can have a really peaceful experience.”