My Favorite Things: Anderson Valley

I have always wanted to put up a billboard alongside the freeway, just before the turnoff onto Highway 128, that reads "Anderson Valley: It's not that far, and it's SO worth it," with images of what I see everyday: gorgeous, wooded hills, traffic-free roads, and quiet tasting rooms with the proprietor behind the bar.

I grew up here, and so I have an unabashed love for the area, but I truly believe that Anderson Valley is one of the best wine country getaways in California. And I stress the word getaway, because once you pop out into this small valley, you'll feel like you're truly away from Monday through Friday and life as you know it. It's quiet, it's beautiful, and it's laid-back. Just perfect.

I'll admit, if you get carsick, some of our roads can be tough. However, roads like these exist in every wine region unless you don't stray off of Highway 29 in Napa. In reality, Anderson Valley is only two hours from San Francisco. Just enough to feel like you're on vacation. And just enough to enjoy the scenery through Marin, Sonoma, and up into the wilds of Mendocino County.

Every day in the tasting room I'm asked what my favorite Anderson Valley to-do's are. So, in no particular order (because it all depends upon what you're in the mood for), here are my recommendations:

1) Taste wine, of course! You can find a list of wineries with tasting rooms at You can't go wrong with the Pinot Noirs, crisp white wines and sparkling wines that Anderson Valley is known for.
2) Visit the farmer's market on Saturday morning at the Boonville Hotel, followed by a cappucino or dark chocolate mocha and pastry at Mosswood Market & Cafe, across the street. Try the goat cheese and bacon empanada. Yum!
3) Grab some supplies at either the Boonville General Store or Lemon's Market in Philo, pack a backpack, and hike the old-growth redwood grove at Hendy Woods State Park. Wrap up the afternoon with a picnic in the park.
4) After Hendy Woods, stop by the Philo Apple Farm to peruse the self-serve farm stand. Some of my favorite products are the apple cider syrup and balsamic syrup for to-die-for salad dressings with just a little olive oil and vinegar. The apples and ciders are amazing, too!
5) Gowan's Oak Tree, just down Highway 128, has amazing, home-made apple pies to take back to your cottage and have with one of the valley's amazing late-harvest Gewurztraminers or Rieslings. (Psst... Lemon's Philo Market has its own fishing boat. If you want to complete the meal, pick up some fresh crab or salmon there when in season.)
6) On your way to the coast on a hot day, park alongside the road at mile marker 3.66 and walk down to the river. This is one of the best swimming holes on the river -- the site of a former bridge, so it's nice and deep. A myriad of little trails criss-cross this area as visiting the river is a big locals activity.
7) Want to learn a little more about the native flora? Visit the Demonstration Forest in Navarro, next to the Masonite Boy Scout camp. Trees are identified as you walk through the forest. This is a good place to let your dogs run around and jump in the river as they're not allowed on every trail at Hendy Woods State Park.
8) Drive one of the mountain roads. If you don't mind twists and turns, take Mountain View or Greenwood Ridge Road over to the coast and enjoy the scenery. Or, if you have a sturdy car and an adventurous spirit, take Fish Rock Road. Just be prepared for several hours and a good, long patch of dirt road in the middle. More people live out these roads than you'd think, hours from anything, so watch out for fast-driving locals and logging trucks in the summer. It's all part of the experience. You'll see vineyards up here and old apple orchards, on ancient homesteads first settled more than 100 years ago.
9) Make a trek out to Machester State Beach - one of the most amazing and deserted beaches in the area. No dogs allowed, but an amazing place to pull up a driftwood seat and watch miles of crashing waves.
10) Kayak Big River and see otters, birds, and just a few other river travelers as you drift with the current, then paddle your way back out (or visa versa, of course, depending upon the tide). An amazing, peaceful voyage that is especially quiet in the shoulder seasons.
11) My favorite dinner spots for a casual meal? Libby's mexican food in Philo: you have to try the carnitas and a michelada beer. Also, Lauren's is a favorite spot for an amazing  burger with a fresh bun, lots of carmelized onions, and crazy good fries. Try it with a bottle of local sparkling or a Boonville Beer and you'll be in heaven.
12) Oysters and Roederer on the Boonville Hotel patio in the summer. Sunday, 4-7 p.m., but summers only.
13) Walk Boonville. The biggest town in the valley now has quite a few to-do's of its own. Tasting rooms within the town limits include Foursight, Londer and Zina Hyde Cunningham. There's the John Hanes art gallery and several cafes and shops, including the Mercantile for adorable kitchen and other wares. The ice cream shop is now owned by the Boonville Hotel and serves up organic ice cream and treats with just enough space outside to watch the passerbys, and Anderson Valley Brewing Co. is at the outer reaches. You can park downtown, put on your tennis shoes, and walk to and fro all day. If you like disc golf, cap it off with some beer on the course at the brewery.
14) The Mendocino County Fair, mid-September. The school bus here literally drops kids off at the fair after school on Friday. It's a quaint, country fair with lots of rides and games, animals, a wool and fiber show complete with spinning demonstrations, food, drink and a rodeo. A special treat: the sheepdog trials on Sunday morning.

If you want more recommendations for your Anderson Valley trip, I'm always happy to answer questions and give recommendations. kristy @


Victoria said…
This really makes me miss the valley. Growing up there I never understood why people from the Bay Area would vacation in Mendocino County. Now I do. It really is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. I imagine Heaven will look something like it :).
Keith said…
"if you have a sturdy car and an adventurous spirit, take Fish Rock Road. Just be prepared for several hours and a good, long patch of dirt road in the middle."
A few years back I accidentally took Fish Rock Road to Highway 1 (well - it was marked on a Best Western map, how was I to know?!) in a fragile Chevrolet Lumina minivan with my elderly parents and two tiny kids aboard. And it was getting dark.
We made it, but there were rather too many "adventurous" moments for my liking on the way!

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