Take a deep breath the next time you’re in Northern California’s Lake County. That’s some of the cleanest air in the nation, according to the American Lung Association. And you’ll find it just a couple hours north of San Francisco. You’ll also find more than 100 miles of shoreline ringing this watersport mecca—the largest natural freshwater lake wholly within California. Boat marinas abound, many offering rental watercraft of every sort, including manpowered kayaks, as well as fishing gear. This is the land of bass fishing, and it’s a great place to try your hand at nabbing one of the lake’s legendary big boys.
On land, explore a burgeoning wine region where Mediterranean microclimates and soil rich in volcanic ash produce impressive grape harvests. Bordering Napa and Sonoma counties, Lake County boasts nearly 40 wineries, which, coupled with the mild climate, add up to ample outdoor tasting opportunities. Cabernets and Sauvingnon Blancs are plentiful, but visitors can explore lesser known local varietals such as Mourverdre or Tempranillo as well. And many Lake County wineries are appealing to non-oenohiles as well; a few with more than wine to offer are Chacewater Winery (which has the added attraction of also being an olive mill where visitors can taste house olive oils), Cache Creek Vineyards, where turkeys and tule elk roam the grounds, and Laujor Estate Vineyard, where the tasting deck offers great views of the hollow volcano My. Konocti.
Come nightfall, that clear air makes for some remarkable starwatching, especially from campgrounds at Clear Lake State Park. The third Saturday of the month, get an even closer look, at Taylor Observatory, on the lake’s west side in Kelseyville.
The four campgrounds located in Clear Lake State Park offer wonderful views, swimming (Lower Bayview), and hike-and-bike sites (Cole Creek), but be aware none offer electrical or water hookups.
For a less rustic experience, consider the historic Tallman Hotel in downtown Upper Lake, 27 miles to the north. Established in the 19th century by settlers Rufus and Mary Tallman, the hotel served travelers along Clear Lake’s stagecoach lines for decades. In 2006, a meticulous period restoration was completed. Today the 17-room boutique hotel is well into its second life hosting travelers—but this time around, guests are able to indulge in geo-thermally heated soaking tubs and king-size beds with luxurious linens. Visit the next door Blue Wing Saloon for local wines and weekly concerts, and stop by The Upper Lake Mercantile, where local artists and craftspeople sell their wares.