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S.F. to Mendocino: Wine country underground

Serena Renner | April 23, 2013 | Story California Destinations

Napa may have postcard-worthy verandas, but on your next trip north, consider this: homely farmhouse wineries (many don’t charge tasting fees), a beer and cider brewing renaissance, and not a single bachelorette party in sight. Plus, the locals have been living the DIY lifestyle since before it was trendy. “People know how to can fruit from their backyard, slaughter their own meats, and brew beer. It’s just how it’s always been here,” says Boonville native Brooks Schmitt, the 24-year-old cofounder of Bite Hard Cider. And with the Boonville Beer and Anderson Valley Pinot Noir festivals both happening this month (May 4 and 18), now is prime time to get a taste of the region.

Start in the Old West–meets–New Age town of Hopland [from S.F., Mile Marker 100], off 101, at the new Hopland Ale House, where bold local brews and old photos pay tribute to the town’s early hop pioneers (hence the name, Hopland). Zigzag down Highway 253 as aging apple orchards give way to fruiting pinot noir vineyards. Lonely barns mark your descent into Anderson Valley, where you’ll reach Boonville [MM 129]. Sober up on the disc golf course at Anderson Valley Brewing Company, though you might want a pint of its newly released bourbon-barrel stout. Then catch a prelude to Schmitt’s Bite Hard cider house (opening this fall) with a refreshing glass of draught cider, pressed from local Gravenstein apples, at the Boonville Hotel.

Signs of a budding Boonville dining scene are cropping up, like Aquarelle (707-895-2767), a new restaurant that serves buttery sea bass simmered in Handley Cellars pinot noir. You’ll need a cushy bed to ward off the impending hangover, so retreat early to a Mediterranean-inspired room at The Madrones (rates start at $195) in Philo [MM 134]. Bonus: Four onsite tasting rooms, run by local wineries, mean no drawing straws for a designated driver.

Make time for a tour at Pennyroyal Farm, which churns goat and sheep milk into tasty wheels. A cheese-tasting room is in the works, but until then, pack a few wedges for the bocce courts at Balo Vineyards to go with its pinot gris. Still thirsty? Baxter Winery’s new tasting room offers flights that showcase the fruity, spicy, and earthy variations in Mendocino’s terroir.

An 11-mile tunnel of redwoods signals that you’re nearing the coast just before you reach Glendeven Inn in Little River [MM 165], where a herd of llamas roams the property. Opt for a room at the new sister lodge across the street, the Inn at Cobbler’s Walk (rates start at $180). In the evening, drop by Glendeven’s barn–cum–wine bar, which pours 50 small-lot Mendocino wines alongside local cheeses curated by Mission Cheese. Come morning, follow the short path to the beach. A breakfast of eggs from the resident hens and honey-coated fruit awaits your return.

Local intel: Leave your car behind for a dip in the chilly Navarro River. At the 3.65-mile marker on Highway 128, northwest of Philo, stroll down to the Iron Bridge swimming hole, surrounded by redwoods and, during summer, bongo-banging locals. Scan the trees for the elusive rope swing.

More Summer Get Aways:

S.F. to Santa Cruz: Highway 1 via two wheels
Three days (suggested time), 123 miles (one way), $$

S.F. to Borrego Springs: Desert funk
Five days, 769 miles, $$

S.F. to Truckee: Summer camp flashbacks
Two days, 200 miles, $$$

S.F. to Venice Beach: Paradise hopping
Four days, 448 miles, $$$$

S.F. to Humboldt: Oysters, hot tubs, martinis
Three days, 330 miles, $$

S.F. to Mendocino: Wine country underground
Three days, 165 miles (bring a designated driver), $$$

S.F. to Bear Valley: Sierra camping without the masses
Three days, 182 miles, $

Originally published in the May 2013 issue of San Francisco.

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