Middletown, resting at the foot of Mt. Saint Helena, has long been a halfway point for people heading to other places–hence the name Middletown. But that’s rapidly changing, and it’s easy to spend a day here enjoying all it has to offer. It’s got a vibrant art scene, great shops, and plenty of places to pick up the absolute best gift for someone you love. Here are a few great suggestions.
HOLIDAY SHOPPING GUIDE
Over the years, our family has enjoyed some Christmas reading. We’ve read through The Little Match Girl, The Elves and the Shoemaker, A Christmas Carol, Sherlock Holmes and The Adventures of the Blue Carbuncle, and many other great stories. But one of our favorites is poet Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales, which we read every Christmas Eve. It’s a beautiful story that shares Christmas memories from over one hundred years ago. If you’re looking for an enjoyable short read, here’s a link to a public domain version:http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks07/0701261h.html
If you’re looking for some great wine to pair with your holiday feasts, look no further. Lake County has an abundance of high-quality wines. It’s all because of our unique volcanic terroir, the secret that makes every Lake County wine unique. Here are eight recommendations to make any meal better.
Sebrina Andrus, owner of maker. in Kelseyville, reaches far above her head and pulls hard on the window shades, swinging the blinds high up the large windows of what at one time was Kelseyville’s Farmers’ Savings Bank. Winter light shines through them, illuminating the hand-crafted products of maker.
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.
In their expanded location at the old Wildhurst tasting room, Jamie still will greet you at the front door. Odds are she’s chatting with another of her many friends, but she’ll always take time for you. And, if you’ve booked an appointment, you’ll get a chance to experience Sophie’s beauty skills. She offers complete makeup services, facials, waxing, and many other treatments. But if you didn’t make an appointment, don’t worry. The store’s full of beautiful things and stuffed with a combination of locally-made and thoughtful gifts, beauty supplies, and unique items. Each time we visit, we end up picking up something. And, as a testament to Jamie and Sophie’s eye for lovely things, the decorations change regularly. Right now, the store’s a holiday extravaganza. In Spring, it’s bright and festive. And each decorative change creates a new experience; it’s like stepping into a new store each time we visit.
Feeling discouraged at times but realizing the importance to always discover a solution to pick myself up serves as one of the key traits to achieve true happiness in life. This rule of thumb should be in in all of our playbooks. We all have our burdens to bear but no one can make a better life for themselves until they look deep and rediscover the past magic. I am not referring to a hocus-pocus type of magic but a sense of recalling better days. It may be different for every one of us. Think back. Keeping the warm memories alive is not hard. It is a habitual ritual that began for me after my father’s sudden death at the young age of 57.
Bob Phillips stands in front of one of his photos, his feet spread slightly wider than shoulder-width, a facemask hiding his bearded face. Under his opened flannel shirt, a ‘D’Art Frog logo shows, half-hidden. “I consider myself a landscape photographer,” he says, thinking for a second. “I’m really an old school photographer.” On the walls around him hang his photographs. Sure, there’s a spectacular photo of Mt. Konocti shaded in the purples and blues of sunset on one wall, but near it, an image filled with holiday revelers hangs. Close-ups of radial airplane engines and painterly photographs of downtown Lakeport fill the walls next to them, showing that Bob’s more than just a landscape photographer. When I mention it, he smiles. “When the gallery was just my work,” he says, “I would have people come in, look at my photos, and ask, ‘How many photographers do you have?’” he laughs.
Lower Lake is a town filled with history. It’s home to the Historic Schoolhouse Museum and Lake County’s first jail, still standing and available to visit. It also has the honor of hosting the first jailbreak in the county, one of my favorite stories. The builders, happy to finish their work on the jail, celebrated a bit too hard and ended up being the first incarcerated. However, the roof wasn’t secured, so, in the middle of the night, they lifted it and made their way out. It’s also a great place to spend a holiday afternoon filled with shopping. Park your car anywhere on Main Street and spend the day wandering. Not only does it have a broad selection of unique items, but it also has some great restaurants. Here are a few recommendations of great places to grab a bite to eat and pick up the perfect gifts for your loved ones.
Kyle’s owned The Game Hub for ten years now, and he’s gotten to know his customers. “I wanted to be a teacher,” he says, “but went a different direction. I fell in love with running a business. But it’s cool to see people grow up and keep coming in.” In light of that, Kyle has made the game section of the store easy to understand and broken down into sections: New to the Hobby, Family Fames, Kid’s Games, Small Games, Intermediate Games. Anyone from a young parent to an involved RPG junkie will feel at home.
Entering the courtyard’s just the beginning of the journey when you head in to meet the Two Sisters. A couple Radio Flyer wagons and a bubbling fountain filled with fish first greet you, followed by metal buckets, washbasins, and statues, the appropriate overflow of any good antique store. Then you’ll make your way up the stairs and meet them. Tina and Robin Kingsley stand in the middle of their store, looking at all the things they have collected over the years. They’re surrounded by embroidery, ceramics, galvanized tubs, candles, figurines, games, and various other good finds.
We’ve got a little bit of everything,” Robin says, a smile in her words.
“A lot of everything!” Tina interjects.
It was a spontaneous stop. I happened to already be in Middletown with some time to spare when I remembered a little shop I wanted to check out for a potential Bloom review. That’s when I met Ellen Munk, co-owner of Middletown Florist and Gifts, standing behind the florist desk cleaning up the last bit of greenery from a bouquet.
“Welcome!” came her greeting. “Feel free to look around and let me know if you have any questions,” she said, moving back to the front of the shop. The unmistakable smell of fresh-cut flowers filled the room.
Reuben and Kassie Koontz moved back to Lake County in 2015 after living in Santa Rosa for years. There, Reuben did high-end autobody work and made great money. But they wanted a different, more rural lifestyle. So Kassie moved back home to Middletown, where her family has lived for four generations. There, she and Reuben created Koontz Mercantile, an eclectic shop filled with all kinds of cool stuff.
And ‘cool’ is the right word. The place has an aura of hipness. A surfboard serves as a shelf in the outdoor room, while a bicycle turned into a side table sits underneath rows of aprons filled with different sayings. “Shut up Liver, You’re Fine,” one reads.
It’s the holidays in Lake County. The pale winter sun reflects in spots and flashes off Clear Lake. A few bass boats putt along the shoreline, their owners flicking their lures into nooks and crevices, then winding them slowly in. At the nearby park, a couple sits at a picnic bench, eating lunch. And hidden off to the side, tucked like a treasure to the left of the boat launch, sits Lakeside Arts and Gifts.
“It all started when we went to a craft fair,” James begins. “We bought some soap, and I said, ‘We could make soap better than this!’”
Tiffany laughs as she remembers the conversation. “But you know, he went home and did it! We’ve been making soaps ever since.” A drying rack sits a few feet behind Tiffany with an array of different colored soaps arcing like a rainbow on it. Shelves line the walls, filled with essential oils. Their converted bus looks and smells like soap-lovers heaven on wheels.
Oak Boutique in Kelseyville feels more like walking into a friend’s home that also happens to have clothes for sale. Just inside, owner Caitlin Andrus warmly invites you into her world. A welcoming sitting area in front of the store encourages you to slow down and stay awhile, another gentle reminder that this isn’t going to be an everyday shopping experience. It’s no wonder Oak is loved by locals and visitors alike.
Did you know that a turkey’s snood can change color depending upon their emotions? I didn’t either until I read local Lake County author Lori Armstrong’s children’s book Bubbly Jock and the Thanksgiving Fallacy. It’s the story of Bubbly Jock Jack, a turkey living on an organic farm complete with corn mazes and goat yoga. There Jack spends his days following the farmer on his rounds, playing with the farmer’s children, and pecking grain from the visiting kids’ hands. He leads an idyllic life until he overhears something that makes him question everything.