The day’s heat still wavers in the air, hiding behind tent flaps and resting in the still evening. The sun still has an hour to hang around before finally disappearing behind the mountains, and it’s gleefully watching over the hundreds of people milling around The Mercantile in Kelseyville. Here you’ll find winery owners and administrative assistants, school principals and county workers, exterminators and nurses, congressmen and construction workers. This cross-section of folk shows up every year for the same reason, and it’s not to swelter in the early evening heat. They’re all here for the Wine Auction, one of Lake County’s most important charitable events.
Rarely have I had a meal so thoughtfully prepared and served. The Blue Wing serves consistently good food, so when I learned that they had just become Blue Zones approved in Lake County, I couldn’t resist attending their celebratory dinner; I have already learned that anything Chef Pablo Aguilar does will be nothing short of breathtaking.
The late August evening brings its predictable slow, leisurely pace when the days are still long, and dining under the late sun’s rays is almost a requirement for any dinner in Lake County. Welcome to the Blue Wing’s courtyard.
Lake County’s home to amazing scenery, kind people, and a host of small businesses. Without them, we wouldn’t be who we are. So take a weekend afternoon to get out and discover something new. We listed eight great businesses here, but don’t worry. Surrounding these wonderful places are dozens more, all waiting for you to discover them.
Just when one thinks they know all the hidden gems in Lake County, Lake County never ceases to prove one wrong.
The sun stands high in the firmament all summer long. Its rays bring radiant, glowing life to all it touches. All things green reach and lean toward its sustenance, and we gleam from their nourishing fruit while they tantalize our eyes with their glory. Gold embers of the sun’s hues frame and mold the weaving greens and bright floral colors of vines, branches, trees, and flowers, of Finch Garden. Helen greets my husband and me when we park in front of her home.
It is an unmatched sound that most of us have heard many times before. Its reverberating music fills the ear and body with notes high so high they prick the ears and so low they shake the ground. Collectively, its delicious music brings a full-body encounter. Nothing quite compares to an organ’s music, but absolutely nothing compares to listening to it in a cathedral. Welcome to the monthly organ recital at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
Not too long ago, I received an email from Lynne Butcher telling me there are several new businesses that have recently opened in Upper Lake. Lynne would know. Lynne and Bernie Butcher are the proud owners of the recently restored historic Tallman Hotel and Blue Wing, which hosts live music Friday through Monday in the courtyard year around. Their businesses are already two great reasons to visit Upper Lake, and I couldn’t wait to see more, so I eagerly set up a day trip to see for myself.
The odor of heated fiberglass fills the air. I’m trying to keep up with what’s happening but can’t see through the smoke of the car with the blown head gasket trying to round turn one. Who’s in first? It doesn’t matter. A roar comes from the crowd watching turn three. It looks like a couple of boats got stuck together, and one car’s dragging the other around the track. I glance at it for a second, then get distracted by the major crash happening directly in front of the grandstands. A boat’s disconnected from its chain and cartwheels in front of the Blazer. The driver twitches the steering wheel, not to avoid it, but to ensure he gets a direct hit. He aims directly for the bow, and it explodes into a spray of fiberglass and old steering cables.
There’s a crisp chill in the air this April afternoon. Gray clouds are high over Clear Lake, reminding us of recent rains and storms. But all is quiet today other than the sound of the residential Grebe calling for its mate. It’s easy to get lost in the view sitting on the porch of La Loose Caboose. But we’ve already decided to write about our experience. I mean, how often do you stay at a B & B and laugh as much as we already have after seeing bras hanging from the wall, mirrors over the bed, and the neon light glowing “La Playpen” over the sleeping area? It’s already too much fun.
It’s another Thursday night in Lake County. We seem to be between rain storms, and even the sun has made an appearance as a promise of spring’s return. The sidewalks and streets of Lakeport are exchanging wet asphalt for dry. The day’s work is done, and most people are heading home for the evening. But on 11th Street, many are gathering, some strangers and some friends and acquaintances. My husband and I pull into the parking lot, dispersing a group of 4-H girls so we can park. Two men in Army uniforms approach the front doors to Umpqua Bank, and we know we are where we’re supposed to be on this third Thursday of the month in Lake County.
There we sat week after week, watching the surf and our kids attempting to catch the perfect wave to ride into shore. Occasionally they got carried in standing, but more often than not, they came into shore tumbling and rolling. The thought of joining them in the wash cycle of the ocean didn’t seem all that appealing. Onlookers looked on with a little envy and wonder. There is definitely the feeling that those in the water were the cool people, and those of us on the beach in our dry clothes were definitely missing out. They were in the water, and we were not. Plain and simple.
The chartered tour bus winds up the mountain, swings around switchbacks, and groans against the steep grade before pulling out on a ridgeline that workers call the North Slope, referring to how cold it gets in the winter when the wind blows. Right now the clouds rest below the tops of the surrounding mountains, dropping a mist that promises to turn into full-blown rain. Tim Conant, Calpine’s Director of Engineering, steps out of the bus first, followed by Danielle Matthews Seperas, Director of Government and Community Affairs. Both hunch their shoulders against the breeze and walk to the edge of the ridgeline. Just below, one of many geothermal power plants hums away, turning treated recycled water into electricity.
“When you flush a toilet in Clearlake Oaks, we pipe it up here and inject it,” Tim Conant explained earlier at the visitor’s center located in Middletown. He pointed at a large, lit model stretching across the wall. “We get about eight million gallons a day from Lake County and twelve and a half million from Santa Rosa.”
Kelseyville’s a great place, perfect for an afternoon or a weekend away. Resting at the foot of Mt. Konocti, it has kept that small-town, country friendliness. Plus, holiday shopping doesn’t get any easier than on Main Street. Just park your car and spend the afternoon perusing shops filled with local goods, tasting at award-winning wineries, and enjoying some great places to eat. We’re highlighting seven great places here, but that’s just a start: Kelseyville’s chock-full of great shopping.
The atmosphere’s expectant at the Soper Reese Theatre in Lakeport. The contestants nervously wait backstage while friends and neighbors mingle happily with each other around the tables. Maryann Schmid and Olga Martin Steele, co-founders and visionaries of the Hands Up Lake County competition, roam around the room, talking with people and addressing the innumerable details that attend an event of this size. With $100,000 offered in prizes, there’s a lot on the line.
It’s another beautiful fall day in Lake County, where the days are shorter, and the bright golden light is slow to give way to cooler temperatures and blustery winds. It’s Tuesday afternoon, and it feels like fall could last forever. Orange, brown, and yellow leaves adorn the display window of Style and Soul Boutique on Main Street in Lakeport, whether it’s autumn sweaters, tops, or dresses that tempt window shoppers to come in for a quick look around.
A bright Saturday morning shines across Cobb Mountain and down to the grassy fairways of Mountain Meadows, host of the Second Annual Blackberry Cobbler Festival. A steady line of cars streams in, winding down the blackberry-bush-lined road to the golf course, where local artisan arts and craft vendors welcome guests.
A curious stillness rests between the shadows and light filtering through the pine and oak trees in the heart of Whispering Pines Resort. Just beyond the banner reading “Blackberry Harvest Dinner,” rest two set rows of tables set with linen tablecloths with fresh flowers from Bell Haven Flower Farm perched on them. Pine and oak branches stretch across the open spaces on this breezeless night. Lights reach between them, setting the evening’s delicate mood. The fading day reflects the last effervescent hues of sunlight. It’s almost a fairytale image: pixies could emerge from the surrounding forest any minute. It’s a magical night worth celebrating. Tomorrow marks the Second Annual Blackberry Cobbler Festival, postponed for two years due to Covid. The anticipation is overwhelmingly joyful in the faces of tonight’s guests.
We unpacked like camping pros and settled in for the afternoon. We had spectacular views, friendly neighbors, the chirping of birds, and all the sunshine we could possibly want. In fact, we had more sunshine than we wanted. Turns out, our perfect campsite came with full sun exposure, and we were sweating ourselves silly. Never mind. We can handle this, we praised ourselves as we shuffled our chairs down to the beach to find some shade. Then the unmistakable sound of a hum filled my ears. Our neighbors had a generator! It would seem we had once again not thought of every contingency. Why didn’t we bring ours? Across the way, fellow campers had their own 10×10 pop-up tent and a small pool to cool their feet in. Camping envy rose again. It would seem, no matter how prepared we were, we’d never think of every contingency.
Mitsy….standing there with her dark blue wide-brimmed hat shielding her from the sun, impenetrable sunglasses which make it hard to truly connect with her, is talking to me? Speaking with me? Talking at me? I would say it is a conversation, except that there are not many spaces to make a full reply. There are moments of pause, silence just enough to get in a funny agreeable remark or two. Still, it is fully enjoyable on my end, if not like being part of a movie scene in which I am faintly a part of but mostly watching.
So we caved and bought a travel trailer like everyone else. Oh, the excitement and expectations that come with such a purchase. We bought enough things to fill a house for this tiny home on wheels. Then we took it out for its maiden voyage at Clear Lake Campground. Lisa Wilson, the second-generation owner of the campground, was celebrating her birthday, and anyone with an RV was invited to stay the night. We had all the confidence in the world that we were more than ready for this trip. Our friends eagerly greeted us when we arrived. David backed that trailer up like a pro as if he’d been doing this all his life. But, unfortunately, that’s when our confidence ended.
Hope Forti, director of Families Together and former Lake County kid, sits underneath an oak tree, twenty feet from the shores of Clear Lake. The afternoon sun’s still bright, but filters through the still-bright green oak leaves, reaching the grass in specks and spots. Hope’s holding a training for the Neighbors Program, a simple way that people can help foster families. Right now, she’s sharing some sobering statistics for Lake County. “There were nine hundred and thirty reported child victims of abuse and neglect in Lake county in 2018,” she says. “That is one child abuse report every ten hours. Some of those cases never get looked at,” she continues. “Right now, on a given day, eighty of Lake County’s children are in foster care. And people feel that if they can’t save the situation, they won’t do anything to help at all.” But Hope has created a program to allow people to help without having to rescue anyone: just deliver one meal a month to a foster family.
By noon, the hula hoop competition has ended, and they’re moving on to the raffle. Kids scale up a climbing wall, while others spend their time in the bouncy house. Vendors, community organizations, and food booths circle the area while live music pours from the stage. Austin Park in Clearlake’s filled with people, nearly bursting at the seams. “I think this is the best event we’ve ever had,” Clearlake resident Katie Sheridan says. Is it the fourth of July? Nope. It’s the first annual Hope4Health event sponsored by Adventist Health, and this year, they have combined with Blue Zones to help create a healthier, happier Lake County.
On the shores of our highly productive ancient lake, the little town of Clearlake Oaks transforms once a year when the best catfishing tournament west of the Mississippi draws hundreds of fishing enthusiasts and their families into town for the ever-popular Catfish Derby. The traffic along state highway 20 through the Clearlake Oaks community gets heavy at times but increases substantially at Derby time as trucks hauling fishing boats line up to check in for the 3-day Derby. “It gets pretty congested, but nobody complains,” said Dennis Locke, the Catfish Derby Committee Chairman. “It’s like a festival setting in any small rural town, where people gather and excitement builds in anticipation of a grand finale. In the case of the Derby, the grand finale occurs on the last day at noon, when the announcement ceremony draws a huge crowd.”
Clear Lake’s cool water laps gently on the shores of Redbud Park; it’s still too early in the season for the sounds of jet skis and wakeboarders. Soon they’ll be here too, but not today. The shores are calm and quiet as people and vessels come and go from the boat launch. A warm, gentle breeze blows, reminding me that summer is not far away. A short distance from the water, a large circle of pop-up canopies form a large ring in the massive parking lot, separating themselves from the boat traffic nearer the water. This circle is why we are here—to visit Lake County’s newest Farmers Market.
It’s springtime; the birds are back and busy building nests, the wildflowers are blooming, and the weather’s getting warm. There’s no better time to take a road trip around Lake County. If you’ve got a free day, hop in the car and enjoy some of the county’s most beautiful, unique, and tasty places.