It’s so easy to be a tourist in wine country. Even people who live here discover there’s a near endless array of activities, and experiences found nowhere else in the world. It’s not all about wine, either, as these delightful destinations prove.
Start with a tour of the Sonoma stars...
Robert Ferguson Observatory, Kenwood
Learn why this area is called “Valley of the Moon” as you gaze at the stars and the stunning lunar orb from this world-class research center in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Highlights include the daytime PlanetWalk, a living scale model of the solar system that has been shrunk more than 2,360,000,000 times. You start at the “sun” and leisurely walk a 4-1/2-mile round-trip journey to the orbit of Pluto, lined with trail signs representing each of the planets in the solar system, and placed at a distance from the PlanetWalk’s virtual Sun proportional to the actual distance between the Sun and that particular planet's orbit. At night, you can see the stars and planets themselves, through high power telescopes, paired with lectures and seminars if you wish. Note that the dates near the New Moon are very popular, when skies are darkest and astronomical objects aren't washed out by moonlight. “Star Parties” are periodically scheduled evening gatherings, and the Observatory store stocks all the products a would-be astronomer could ever want: planispheres, safe solar glasses, red flashlights, foot and hand warmers, binoculars, guides and more.
2605 Adobe Canyon Rd., Kenwood, 707-833-6979, rfo.org. Daytime solar observing is free. Star Parties are $3 per adult; under 18 free. Parking Fee is $8.
House of Happy Walls Museum, Glen Ellen
What makes this National Historic Landmark abode so cheerful is that it salutes author Jack London’s artistic life, set appropriately enough, in Jack London State Historical Park. Jack lived for adventure and fantasy, and you can hike the 26 miles of connecting trails of this 39-acre backcountry woodland retreat and mountain expanse just as he did. The centerpiece is the ruin of the huge Wolf House that the London family built, but which burned down before they could move in. So close to his heart was this dreamed-of home that Jack is buried there. You can go on free weekend tours with a guide, or trek on your own anytime, through the restored Cottage where London wrote and died, and learn about London's worldwide adventures at the Museum itself.
2400 London Ranch Rd., Glen Ellen, 707-938-5216, jacklondonpark.com. $10 vehicle entry fee; $5 hike in/cycle in; Cottage Entry Fees $4 adults; $2 seniors/students; 12 and under free.
Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail, Bodega Bay
Even though this paved trail runs along the salt marsh that’s home to wildlife thousands of birds throughout the year, leashed dogs are welcome. The path is easy, looping one mile through Doran Beach Regional Park and Bird Walk Coastal Access Park along Doran Park Marsh and tidal channels, over a new 110' bridge that spans Cheney Creek, and connects to the Bird Walk Park up on the levees. To access the trail, park at a 10-car space parking lot right off Hwy. 1 at the south end of town (between Smith Brothers Rd. and Doran Park Rd.), or enter through Doran Beach Park at the north end of town.
355 State Highway 1, north of the town of Bodega Bay, sonoma-county.org. Parking $7.
Tip: It’s easier to explore when you don’t have to worry about driving. Reserve a private limo or Town Car for door-to-door ease.