Wanna have it all? Well, you can. Nestled in the heart of Lake County’s wine country rests a picturesque vineyard, orchard, and working farm, complete with a pot-bellied pig, tortoise, and chef Tammy Lipps. It’s a unique place where it’s possible to check in and never leave. Here’s how you do it.
FOOD AND DRINK
Have you ever experienced something so wonderful that you struggle to find the words to describe it? That’s me at The Bloom’s Five-Year Anniversary party at Ripe Choice Farm and Catering. I’d been in contact with Tammy Lipps, owner of Ripe Choice, for several weeks leading up to the event. I knew I wanted it to be something unique and memorable. Although several of our restaurants promise all those things, I knew I was looking for something a little more intimate, quiet, and off the beaten path.
Welcome to the Ripe Choice Farm: The early evening glow reluctantly gives way to the onshore breeze that promises cooler temperatures. But for now, a glass of sparkling wine, under twinkling lights and the small chatter amongst friends, makes for a delightful distraction. The barn’s high ceiling helps absorb the day’s warmth amongst its exposed wood.
The setting seems right, country, rustic, and yet elegant. Locally grown flowers adorn the center of the tables. Linen napkins and a formal place setting all promise tonight is not an ordinary Sunday evening.
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.
Just in front of Wholly Bowl, and sitting between Grocery Outlet and the Dollar Tree in Lakeport stands Shoreline Coffee Shop. It’s an unassuming spot, sandwiched next to a wireless store and discount shop. Usually, diners sit inside, but since COVID, tables stretch out in the open-air hallway where customers sit, sipping on drip coffee and forking into plates piled with food. If you’re looking for comfort food, Shoreline is a great place to begin.
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Let’s face it; Lake County is truly the place you go to get away from the real world. There are few better ways to leave the city, relax, and enjoy some incredible wine. Let me take you on an adventure.
It all starts on Spruce Grove Road–meander through rural Lake County before turning on the gravel driveway that winds upward towards Wild Diamond Vineyards. Traverse an oak grove, winding higher and higher in elevation as the oaks slowly turn to pine trees. That’s when you know you’re almost there. At the tasting room–or more accurately, mountain top–the world turns truly silent and still. A strong breeze greets you first as you step out of your car, a reminder that the world is far, far below.
“I call myself a winegrower,” Greg says. “I’m my own vineyard manager, and at the end point, I’m a winemaker. It’s not about getting tonnage. It’s about growing high-quality fruit. Grapes don’t ripen at the same time. I pick them over three weeks to ensure they are picked at the peak.” And it shows in his wines. Every bottle at Gregory Graham is distinct, unique, and thoughtfully created. “I would put my grapes and wines against anyone,” he says. “I put my thumbprint on the wines.”
Dale Grable, the owner of Thai American Market, always has a new idea. Since opening his unique Asian store in Nice several years ago, he’s committed to taking the stress out of cooking Asian food. I don’t know if you’ve ever walked into an Asian food store, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can be intimidating. None of the labels are in English, it’s difficult to tell the difference between five varieties of fish sauce, and, seriously, is that dried jellyfish?
Fortunately for Lake County, Thai American Market is nothing like that. Dale selects the best of each item, removing the confusion. He grinds and makes his own spices and seasonings. And, if you’ve never cooked Asian before, he’s made it simple by creating meal kits that demystify your favorite foods.
You can smell the smoker as soon as you enter the parking lot of Romi’s Brew and BBQ in Nice. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll get there just as someone’s taking ribs out for the evening’s dinner. The char, dense and smoky, fills the nostrils and overwhelms the senses, making it impossible to crave anything but a full rack of those mouthwatering ribs–and you haven’t even opened the door to the restaurant yet.
It’s all things bright and sunny as we pull into the Lakeport Cinema parking lot. The outside wall of the cinema hangs pictures of upcoming movies that will grace the screen in the near future. Ahead are a row of black glass doors. And in this moment, an alternate reality is about to begin. It goes something like this:
There is a set of black glass doors, unlike any others. Oh, you’ve seen doors like these everywhere you go, but what’s behind these particular doors brings a new state of mind to your everyday life unlike any other.
Lake County has an abundance of Mexican restaurants, and most all of them are wonderful. Everyone we talk to has their favorite, but there’s nothing wrong with trying something new. Of course, there are more than just four great Mexican restaurants in Lake County, but, if you’re looking to try something new and enjoy some great Mexican food, look no further than this list.
Main Street Kelseyville is a little busier than normal this Tuesday afternoon. With the recent warmer temperatures, mother nature is coaxing all of us to get out and about. Patrons leave Sophies Day Spa with a scoop of ice cream in one hand and a bag of goodies in another. A man leaves Bell Haven Florist with a bouquet and a smile in his step. Outside the Saw Shop, the covered patio and heaters remain in place just in case this warm spring weather should change its mind and bring us more rain. But the sky is clear and blue, and the rain seems a distant memory. It’s not a question on whether to eat outside or not. It would seem an insult to spring and its beauty to do otherwise.
Without a bit of research, I don’t know that I could say which came first: wine or art? I’m sure it’s art. But it seems to me, as far back as we look, both seem to be intertwined in humanity as long as we have been human. And what’s not to love about both? They bring great joy and an ever-changing and evolving perspective. That’s why when I learned Wine in the Willows was recently repurchased, I breathed a great sigh of relief, knowing that wine and art would not lose another supreme location.
“Where are you staying?” her blonde hair frames her bright smile.
“The La Loose?” my husband states with an I’m ready for anything at this point sound in his voice.
“Oh, the La Loose!” Jami’s smile brightens even more. “Well, be sure to add a bra to the collection if you have one you want to spare. Some of our guests have done that,” she says it so motherly, hospitably, and oh so matter of factly, like I’ve heard this conversation so many times before in my life.
My shock is real. I try to hide it. I’m sure I fail. I’m equally sure my husband is too. “Oh!” I say as delighted and with as little fear and trepidation as possible.
On Highway 20 in Clearlake Oaks sits an unassuming white building with red trim. It’s the home to Betty’s Tacos.
Betty’s tacos has a menu full of great items from oversized tortas to burritos, sopes, and salads. But, if you’re going there, you’ll have to try the tacos. Each four inch corn tortilla is filled with flavor; the beef is seasoned and tender, chopped fine, but not too small. Topped with tidbits of lettuce, cilantro, radish, grilled onion, a squeeze of lime, and the salsa of your choice, it’s bright, juicy, and tangy.
It’s a blustery day in Lake County. The wind whips the palm fronds stretched across the restaurant’s facade and across the highway, the lake, muddy brown, froths and splashes against the bulkhead of Lucerne Harbor Park. It’s cold, rainy, and miserable outside. But inside Grillagan’s island, it’s sunny, warm, and tropical. Calypso music plays on the speakers, tropical prints spread across the walls, and fishing nets hang from the ceiling. It’s the perfect place to get away on a short vacation and enjoy some great food. Cold, wet weather calls for grilled cheese and tomato soup; we all know that. And there’s no better place to enjoy it than at Grillagan’s Island. They specialize in grilled cheese and offer multiple ways to enjoy that delightful sandwich.
Tuesday afternoon in Kelseyville, August. Mike Guarniero and Danny Prather perch on barstools next to the front window, half-full beer glasses on the floor next to them. Danny’s taken the lead on a Neil Young tune he’s finishing, and odds are they’ll switch it around on the next song. Between the two of them, they could play all day and never repeat a tune. Danny gives a hearty strum on his guitar as the song ends, then grins as he leans over and takes a sip of his beer. Caroline Chavez, co-owner of Kelsey Creek, sees his glass empty and quickly brings over two full ones. “Now everybody,” she says, walking the smooth walk of a skilled bartender, “You all need to pitch in. I’m the only one buying them beer right now.” Mike and Danny happily grab their full brewskis, sip off the foam, and start a new song.
“Do you hear that?” I asked after just stepping out of the Gaslight Grill on Main Street Lakeport. It was an ordinary Thursday evening, or so I thought. The winter chill and seasonal lights brought a festive glow and the perfect ending after a delicious dinner. We’d just finished a mouth-watering bacon blue cheese burger, fried pickles, a fresh seasonal salad, and a pint of good beer. It’s always the perfect meal experience with the friendliest faces and consistently some of the best food in Lakeport.
I’ll never forget the first time I found my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant. You know the place I’m talking about. It’s all about the food, convenience, comfort, and, most of all, consistency. No, this isn’t where you go for a business meeting. You go there because it’s quick, convenient, and your personal favorite spot for any number of reasons.
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.
Lakeport’s Main Street still has many original buildings, and it’s pedestrian-friendly and filled with shops. It’s simple to just park the car, hop out, and spend the rest of the day strolling through the shops, eating, and enjoying great food. Plus, if you’re looking for a diversion, swing by Lakeport–the Courthouse Museum’s one of the best in the county, and it’s right on Main Street so that the trip won’t slow down your shopping groove.
Resting at the foot of Mt. Saint Helena on Highway 29, Middletown has long been the gateway to Lake County. The first stagecoaches entering the county came through town and stopped at the hotel before either heading up Cobb Mountain to the numerous hot springs resorts or continuing on to the shores of Clear Lake. In fact, Middletown’s called Middletown because it’s–surprise–the midway point between Calistoga and Lower Lake. But Middletown has more than just stories. It’s also got some great places to shop and eat.
When we think of small, locally-owned businesses, we rarely think of our local grocery store. I remember amid the early years of motherhood, the grocery store was often a moment of sanity. Just to be an adult, even for only that moment, meant the world to me. I knew what every aisle was going to have. I never had to guess where the pasta and cereal was. In some ways, especially when I was in a hurry, that sense of sameness was an absolute comfort and lifesaver. But I’ll never forget that one trip when I was in the canned food aisle of a major supermarket. There I was, looking at the beans. I don’t know why it was the bean aisle, but it was. I needed something different to cook, something inspiring. All I saw were beans staring blankly back at me, offering nothing new or original.
You know that place. It’s your go-to destination with friends, family, celebrations, date nights, business meetings, and all the in-betweens. It’s set apart, away from it all, and there’s no place quite like it in Lake County. Where are you at? Red’s At The Skyroom, of course.
Nothing says comfort food more than what comes out of the oven, right? One of our family’s favorite breakfasts starts with a Betty Crocker-inspired Sour Cream Coffee Cake. With the help of a bundt pan and a little glaze, it becomes nothing short of decadence not only to the eye but, most importantly the tastebuds.
It’s a bright sunny morning at Suites on Main in Kelseyville, and the day is full of possibilities. And yes, our goal is still not to leave Main Street. So here’s how we do it. First, start the day with a great cup of coffee. There’s something to be said about consistency, especially when it comes to the morning’s consciousness.