Sun-kissed in CAL­I­FOR­NIA

The west coast of the United States is a first choice des­ti­na­tion for many with Los An­ge­les, San Fran­cisco and Las Ve­gas high on the list of itin­er­ar­ies. But don’t for­get the na­tional parks, the moun­tains, the beaches and the wine re­gions, writes ROGER A

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Sonoma Wine County

The names Sonoma and Napa are syn­ony­mous with wine in Cal­i­for­nia and the two re­gions just north of San Fran­cisco have a huge num­ber of winer­ies of­fer­ing tast­ings, pic­turesque small towns to visit, nu­mer­ous restau­rants and ex­cel­lent ac­com­mo­da­tion. I vis­ited Sonoma County, which as well as the 400 winer­ies, en­cap­su­lates lots of at­trac­tive scenery. On its western edge the county runs along a stretch of dra­matic Pa­cific Coast. The main towns lie on a ma­jor high­way (US 101) and in­clude Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Wind­sor and Healds­burg. At week­ends these cen­tres at­tract hordes of visi­tors, many es­cap­ing the city to taste the wine and dine at the many vine­yard restau­rants. There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent mi­cro cli­mates and these cli­mate vari­a­tions have led to a wide range of grapes be­ing grown. Chardon­nay, pinot noir, syrah and zin­fan­del are the ma­jor ones, but smaller winer­ies have ex­per­i­mented with lesser-known va­ri­eties. You can do your own tast­ing trip or join an or­gan­ised tour. Among the bet­ter known winer­ies are Kendall Jack­son, Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola (of film fame), Rus­sian River Vine­yards, Petroncelli, and Wil­son (my top se­lec­tion). At Selby Wines in Healds­burg there are framed letters of thanks from the White House af­ter fea­tur­ing their wines at a num­ber of of­fi­cial din­ners. Ap­par­ently an of­fi­cial from the White House vis­ited anony­mously a few years ago and was taken with the wines, es­pe­cially a chardon­nay, and they still have Selby Wines on their list. The road from Wind­sor to the Pa­cific Coast fol­lows the Rus­sian River Val­ley. Near Guerneville a short de­tour leads to Armstrong Woods State Nat­u­ral Re­serve, one of the re­main­ing stands of gi­ant red­wood trees in the re­gion. Path­ways lead through the for­est, the old­est tree es­ti­mated to be around 1,400 years old and the tallest is 94 me­tres. The mouth of the river near Jen­ner is sandy and when I vis­ited a large pod of seals was re­lax­ing on the warm sand. Else­where the coast is very rocky and steep and the surf looked dan­ger­ous for swimming. In sea­son the coast is renowned for Dun­geness crabs. At Bodega Bay a rocky head­land juts out into the ocean and a num­ber of fe­male whales and their calves were head­ing north to their Alaskan sum­mer des­ti­na­tion.


At the end of the 19th cen­tury a large num­ber of Dan­ish peo­ple mi­grated to the US hop­ing to make a bet­ter life in their new coun­try. In 1911 a small com­mu­nity was es­tab­lished near the old Span­ish mis­sion Santa Ines, in­land from the west coast town of Santa Bar­bara where Solvang [mean­ing sunny field in Dan­ish], thrived and the set­tlers car­ried on Den­mark’s tra­di­tions of lan­guage, folk danc­ing, mu­sic and cui­sine. The build­ings re­flected Dan­ish farm-style ar­chi­tec­ture, tim­ber fram­ing of brick or stucco and with wood shin­gles. In the mid 20th cen­tury Solvang was

dis­cov­ered as a won­der­ful place to visit and this ap­peal has not di­min­ished since. Solvang is a pedes­trian-friendly town with a large range of shops spe­cial­is­ing in an ar­ray of items such as clogs, hand-made lace, porce­lain col­lectibles, art gal­leries and an­tique shops. A fea­ture of Solvang is the num­ber of wind­mills. On the day I vis­ited a new shop, The Copenhagen House, opened its doors for the first time spe­cial­is­ing in the stylish jew­eller, home wares and toys (in­clud­ing Lego) for which Den­mark is fa­mous. There are five au­then­tic and more than 30 restau­rants and cafes fea­tur­ing not only Dan­ish cui­sine, but wines from the many winer­ies lo­cated nearby – wine and craft beer tast­ings are tempt­ing. The Mis­sion Saint Ines is still op­er­at­ing and can be vis­ited, a quiet re­treat from the ad­ja­cent town cen­tre. The city of Santa Bar­bara is a 60km drive away and should also be in­cluded in any itin­er­ary. Visit the old mis­sion, the im­pos­ing County Court­house, wan­der the main boule­vards and the old pier jut­ting out into the Pa­cific Ocean.

Big Bear Lake

Driv­ing east from Los An­ge­les the high­way passes through many com­muter sub­urbs and the coun­try­side is of­ten dry and sandy. The San Ber­nadino Moun­tains rise to over 2,500 me­ters north of the com­mu­nity of the same name with the high­way 38 wind­ing up through pleas­ant for­est coun­try to the town of Big Bear, nestling along­side a man-made lake of the same name. The town is mainly known as a ski re­sort with most ac­tiv­ity at Bear Moun­tain, but in re­cent years the chang­ing cli­mate has brought a num­ber of poor sea­sons, which is wor­ry­ing the lo­cals. To com­pen­sate the cen­tre is now a year-round re­sort with ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing fish­ing, hik­ing and trail bike rid­ing. I vis­ited in spring and the wild flow­ers were a riot of colour. I joined a lo­cally or­gan­ised walk in Bald­win Lake Eco­log­i­cal Re­serve where many of the wild­flow­ers were iden­ti­fied and dis­cussed, a pleas­ant way to ex­plore and ap­pre­ci­ate the di­ver­sity of the flora. Another walk was an easy marked trail loop among tow­er­ing cedars and pin­ion trees. I af­ter­wards heard that black bears are of­ten seen in the woods.

South of Los An geles to San Diego

The main high­way south of Los An­ge­les leads to the Mex­i­can bor­der at Ti­juana. There are a num­ber of beach com­mu­ni­ties along the way in­clud­ing Ocean­side, Carlsbad, Del Mar and La Jolla, be­fore reach­ing the ma­jor city and port of San Diego. Ocean­side is an at­trac­tive stop­ping point as it has a long sandy beach and a pic­turesque port. Stretch­ing out into the Pa­cific Ocean is a long wooden pier, at 594-me­tres, the long­est re­main­ing wooden pier on the west coast. The surf rolls in and nu­mer­ous surfers sit pa­tiently wait­ing to catch the waves. The small port and ma­rina is busy with tourists and there is plenty of choice for din­ing with fresh fish and chips very en­tic­ing. Fur­ther down the coast Carlsbad and Del Mar have be­come very up­scale residential com­mu­ni­ties with trendy bou­tiques and nu­mer­ous restau­rants. La Jolla is the lo­ca­tion of the San Diego cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia and a thriv­ing tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try busi­ness cen­tre. San Diego is a thriv­ing city, ma­jor port and home to huge naval and other mil­i­tary bases. How­ever, it still man­ages to main­tain a strong Span­ish in­flu­ence es­pe­cially in ar­chi­tec­ture, re­flect­ing the early set­tle­ment of Span­ish mis­sion­ar­ies dat­ing back to the 16th cen­tury. A great way to ex­pe­ri­ence the city is take the hop-on, hop-off trol­ley tour with its 11 dif­fer­ent stops. The tour starts at Old Town where a num­ber of recre­ated build­ings cap­ture as­pects of life in San Diego from over a cen­tury ago. Along the wa­ter­front (Em­bar­cadero) the Mar­itime Mu­seum at­tracts visi­tors, as does the nearby USS Mid­way Mu­seum with the old air­craft car­rier fully decked out with vintage craft. Although you can alight at ev­ery stop and ex­plore, I found re­strict­ing my­self to a few was a less tir­ing op­tion. The his­toric Gaslamp Quar­ter still con­tains many won­der­ful old build­ings. The gas lamps have been re­stored, but now the quar­ter is full of trendy bou­tiques, gal­leries and eater­ies. Don’t miss the su­perb Palace Bar in Hor­ton’s Grand Ho­tel. The trol­ley bus crosses over to the is­land of Coron­ado where the beach is of­ten packed with sun-wor­ship­pers. The fa­mous Ho­tel del Coron­ado from 1868 is a lo­cal land­mark and lo­ca­tion of the film­ing of the fa­mous 1950s movie Some Like It Hot that starred Mar­i­lyn Monroe. There are a num­ber of mu­se­ums around the Bal­boa Park stop and the fa­mous San Diego Zoo is nearby. By now you are prob­a­bly look­ing for sus­te­nance and there is a daz­zling choice of eater­ies around the Lit­tle Italy stop.

Gi­ant red­woods in Armstrong Woods State Nat­u­ral Re­serve, Sonoma County.

Rus­sian River Vine­yard, Sonoma County and Dan­ish style wind­mill.

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