World Travel Guides


Napa Valley - Off the beaten track


Harbin Hot Springs

If you're looking for a non-traditional spa experience, consider a trip to Harbin Hot Springs. Run by the Heart Consciousness Church, it offers all the usual spa stuff - massages, herbal wraps, charka alignment - in their 'clothes optional' pools, as well as some more unusual offerings, for instance, 'Water Dance massage,' described as something akin to strenuous underwater ballet at the hands of a naked professionals. You can purchase a day pass or enjoy a variety of overnight options, from camping to dorm rooms to fully equipped cabins, and there's a small vegetarian restaurant onsite (clients only). The springs are located just north of Calistoga.

Jack London State Historic Park

This park, in the Sonoma Valley, traces the last years of Jack London's short life (1876-1916). Shuffling occupations from Oakland fisherman to Alaska gold prospector to Pacific yachtsman - and of course, novelist on the side - London finished his celebrated journey when he took up farming. He bought Beauty Ranch in 1905 and moved there permanently in 1910; today, he would have been called an organic farmer. With his second wife, Charmian, he lived and wrote in a small cottage while his huge mansion, Wolf House, was being built. On the eve of its completion in 1913 it burned down. The disaster was a devastating blow, and although he toyed with the idea of rebuilding, he died before construction got under way.

After his death, Charmian built the House of Happy Walls, which is now preserved as a Jack London museum. It's a half-mile walk from there to the remains of Wolf House, passing London's grave along the way. Other walking paths wind around the farm to the cottage where he lived and worked. Trails, some of them open to mountain bikes, lead farther into the park. Be warned that thickets of poison oak await those who wander off the trails.

Petrified Forest

Three million years ago, a volcanic eruption at nearby Mt St Helena blew down a stand of redwood trees between Calistoga and Santa Rosa. The trees all fell in the same direction, pointing away from the centre of the blast, and were covered in ash and mud. Over the millennia the trunks of these mighty trees were petrified or turned into stone and gradually the overlay eroded away to expose the trunks. The first stumps were discovered in 1870, and a monument marks the visit by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1880.

Sonoma

The small town of Sonoma makes an excellent base for exploring the vineyards of Sonoma Valley, Northern California's other favourite place to get elegantly plastered. 'Slow-noma,' the locals' term for their relaxing, livable wine town, hints at the low-key charms of the Sonoma Valley. With its family-owned wineries and quiet rural back roads, the 'Valley of the Moon' (Jack London's literary name for the region) can be a more enjoyable place to wander around than the larger and more crowded Napa Valley.

The wine is just as good as Napa Valley's, but the wineries in Sonoma Valley are generally less crowded, and free tastings are still the norm. There are several wineries within easy bicycling distance of the town centre. Valley of the Moon, Wellington and Kenwood are three top-quality Sonoma winemakers worth a visit.



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