Magazine article Sunset

Hello Winter, Good-By Holiday Bustle; Here Are San Francisco Bay Area Escapes into the Countryside

Magazine article Sunset

Hello Winter, Good-By Holiday Bustle; Here Are San Francisco Bay Area Escapes into the Countryside

Article excerpt

Hello winter, goody-by holiday bustle

Winter in the Bay Area? It can come and go so fast we hardly know it's here. It's that brief time between the last leaves on the sycamores and the first yellow blossoms on the acacia. It coincides with and is lost in the holiday rush.

We've compiled four outings that reveal the subtle winterdormant landscape. You might try one as a family respite from the Christmas bustle--or as a welcome day away for holiday visitors interested in a sightseeing trip.

Our trips include a drive in the Russian River area, a walk through the Berkeley campus of the world's largest university, a tour of the deep redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and a visit to the mission town of San Juan Bautista.

December can be a showery month, but remember that Bay Area rainfall varies widely: the Santa Cruz Mountains get about 50 inches a year, Berkeley about 20, Sebastopol 41, San Juan Bautista perhaps 14. Along the Russian River, winter mornings can bring low-lying tule fog, covering pastures so you may see just the heads of cows rising eerily from the mist. The San Juan Bautista area generally offers windy, clear days to put your wool sweaters to the test.

1. Harvest bounty north of the Golden Gate: Russian River loop

A drive through Russian River country can take you into rolling green hills, past tidy farms and wineries, and out along the placid river, which is often dotted with wispy fog and wader-clad fishermen.

We've outlined a 125-mile loop starting in Sebastopol, about 90 minutes north of San Francisco (take the Gravenstein Highway--State 116--exit off U.S. 101 at Cotati or the State 12 exit in Santa Rosa). A good resource is the free Sonoma County Farm Trails map; for a copy, call (707) 544-5575.

Known for its Gravenstein apples, Sebastopol also boasts dozens of "U-cut' Christmas tree farms. You can choose from Douglas fir, white fir, and bishop, Monterey, or Scotch pine, even redwood at a few. For a free Christmas tree farms map, call (707) 823-0176.

Heading northwest on the Gravenstein Highway, you'll pass lots of farms and dried-fruit stands. Just before Forestville, Kozlowski Farms (open daily 9 to 5) has local products such as wine jellies, vinegars, and mustards. Russian River Vineyards has an interesting Greek and European restaurant called Topolos (open 11 to 5 Wednesdays through Sundays). Other wineries open for tasting or touring include Caswell, Dehlinger, Domaine Laurier, Iron Horse, Mark West.

State 116 crosses the Russian River at Guerneville, which boasts a dozen restaurants and more shops. Santa is scheduled to stroll the streets December weekends. About 2 miles east on River Road, you'll find historic Korbel Champagne Cellars, the brick buildings decked out in swags and redwood wreaths. You can try sparkling wines in the tasting room (open 9 to 4:30 daily) and picnic at tables outside.

From Guerneville, follow the river 4 1/4 miles west to the Bohemian Highway. Head south past hills dotted with dairy cattle and white barns to Occidental, where two Italian family-style restaurants serve expansive but inexpensive meals (hours generally are noon to 9 daily).

Just before you reach the Bodega Highway, you'll come into Freestone. Its century-old hotel houses an antique store and nursery. You can buy exotic birds at the Freestone Bird Farm (noon to 5 Wednesdays through Sundays), or wool, leather, and sheepskin goods and clothing at Pastorale (9:30 to 5:30 daily all year, to 9:30 Wednesdays through Fridays until Christmas). Try Farwell and Sons (9 to 5 Fridays through Tuesdays) for rhododendron shopping. To return to Sebastopol, drive east on the Bodega Highway.

2. In Berkeley, quiet walks on the West's liveliest campus

At UC Berkeley, this month gets off to a panicky start with the onslaught of final exams. After December 17, only the faculty and administration are left on campus, and from Christmas until January 5, the university saves on the utility bill by closing buildings and hibernating into the new year. …

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