TEXT: Angela Aiello
A wise person once said to me that if you don’t dream, you don’t live. As a self-professed dreamer, I like to think that life is what you make it and seek out. California is a place to witness this in action. It is a place to find inspiration, revel in passion, and be reminded that you do only live once.
I’ve heard many people agree with me that once you go to California, it is with you forever, but it is here in this state where you realize creativity really should reign. Creativity should be at the heart of everything you do. California inspired me, even more, to keep going and to keep dreaming, and to keep passion as my driving source. For me, this is an important reason to travel – not just to escape regular life, but to be filled up with energy that renews your soul.
On my most recent trip to California, I veered off the path most-traveled and adventured to some lesser-known regions in California – Oakland, Monterey and Sonoma County – where wine and food were always the focus! I always try to keep creativity at the heart of everything I do – for work, for love, and life. As a writer, I wanted an itinerary that would inspire me to put pen to paper, explore my inner photographer, and speak to my inner artist.
Nestled on the bay a short ferry ride from San Francisco, Oakland offers an attitude of unpretentious artistry filled with talented and personable people. With the rising cost of living in San Francisco, Oakland is the next hot place to live and also to work. Arriving at the downtown waterfront, I was immediately drawn to write about this location. I would be following in the footsteps of Jack London, an American novelist and author of Call of the Wild and White Fang, to whom the city is dedicated.
Oakland has taken the title of “Wine City”, and the downtown is filled with urban wineries that you can bike to and taste wine. These are actual city wineries, with oak barrels, stainless steel tanks, and an open concept design. It was like wine country got transferred to the city, and the smile on my face couldn’t have been bigger. Wineries are blocks apart from each other and reside in old warehouses converted to urban tasting rooms. Being conveniently located, people have easier access and connection to the wineries. They can visit and shop on a regular basis without having to travel for the wine they love – brilliant right? I highly recommend taking a bicycle tour of Wine City with East Bay Winery Bike Tours. Get ready to bring wine home from this magical experience.
My next stop was Monterey, which was recently named as one of the world’s “Top Ten Wine Travel Destinations” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Clint Eastwood, American actor, director, and producer calls Monterey home. Entering the quaint seaside town of Monterey, it was like I had slipped back in time. This romantic little town on the central coast of California is one of the most peaceful places I’ve been in a very long time. It is dedicated to John Steinbeck, who grew up in Monterey, and was the author of 27 books including Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row. You can stroll the fabled streets of Cannery Row and probably run out of room on your phone with all the fantastic photo opportunities. Being close to the water offers a sense of peace, and the beach showcases the picturesque California coast. I’ve even been told that sometimes, you can even see migrating whales.
Make dinner reservations at The Sardine Factory, Monterey’s top restaurant, for an unforgettable dining experience. This place has been open since 1968, and for good reason – it is filled with playful food theater, delicious wines, and a plethora of rooms to explore. It captures the essence of the area. The lounge features live music and an incredible wine cellar. Be sure to order the sorbet, which is displayed on a giant swan made of ice.
Wine country in Monterey is up and coming, and it is definitely a place to keep on your radar. I had the chance to visit Hahn Vineyards and take an ATV ride to the top of the vineyards – this can be done by anyone and is a must-do wine adventure. This vineyard touched my heart, with beautiful Chardonnay and Pinot Noir among other quality wines they are producing. There are ten distinct wine appellations in Monterey County. The rich diversity of growing conditions is reflected by the astounding grape varieties grown here.
Sonoma County is filled beauty and talent from their premium and well-crafted chardonnay and pinot noir to Michelin star restaurants to fun personalities driving the culinary and wine side. Sonoma County offers all who enter it pure elegance. Its enchanting wineries, parks, hotels and restaurants will have you savouring every moment in this heaven like place on earth.
Head to Buena Vista Winery and blend your own wine, design your own label and enjoy one of California’s pioneering wineries. This place is simply gorgeous, so allow enough time to see the sights and taste at the bar. In the mood for pizza and beer? Stop in at the Russian River Brewing Company and try their beers in a tasting flight. This was great to share with my fellow travelers. We tried 22 different brews, from sour beers to stouts. Head to Sebastopol and see the cool things going on at Spirit Works Distillery. From Sloe Gin to music-inspired whiskey, this place is really amazing. I ended up buying a sweat shirt, I loved the experience so much!
Sonoma is really a place you could call heaven. It has everything you could ever want and everything you didn’t even know you wanted and more. From culinary and wine adventures to the ultimate in relaxation – It’s a place where everyone who appreciates the finer things will never want to leave.
Looking for a new California wine adventure? Seriously consider Oakland, Monterey and Sonoma California – you definitely won’t be disappointed!