6-8 May 2014 - Reston to San Francisco to San Jose

In the mid 1950's my family moved from England to California. We eventually bought a home in Novato, just north of San Francisco, where we lived for 4 years. I had been back once in the 70's so I was looking forward to a return visit before our latest bike tour, a self-guided tour of California wine country. Our visit also overlapped with a dog agility competition that Kerie's sister Linda planned to attend so it was a chance to visit with her before the bike trip. After the tour we planned to travel to Sacramento to visit with friends from the US Geological Survey.

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Kerie and NaomiLinda, Kerie, and LuckyBikes packed in the van

We left a cold, wet Reston and later learned that the rain didn't stop while we were gone, lasting for a record 15 days. We decided to rent a van at SFO to allow us to carry our bikes easily inside along with our other luggage. While it would sit for a week while we rode the bike tour, it was cheaper than other options that included a one-way drop off fee.

We spent a couple of days at the Dolce Hayes Mansion in San Jose, near the sports complex where the dog agility event was held. Linda was trying out for the Agility World Championships, so she was focused on the event. It was good to have dinner with her the night before the event and get caught up. We also visited with Lucky and Super, her Border Collies. We brought our Bike Friday "folding" bikes. Rather than fold they come apart and take a while to pack but they fit us well and we prefer them over rental bikes.

8 May, Sunday - San Jose to Healdsburg

Our friend Naomi drove down from Sacramento for the morning to visit and check out the dog agility event. Afterwards we drove north, through San Francisco and over the Golden Gate Bridge to Healdsburg where the bike tour would begin. Along the way we stopped at Cypress Rd in Novato to check out the old house and take a photo. Not much had changed other than the trees were much bigger than I remembered and the street and houses much smaller. The creek at the end of the road where we used to float rafts during high water and otherwise do things boys will do was now fenced off. Downtown Novato was recognizable. The Novato theater where we spent many hours at Saturday matinees was being renovated and would soon reopen.

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Bicycle Brustop in NovatoSpent many afternoons here as a kidOur house in Novato, 1956-60

As with most areas we got very little sense of place on the drive on Route 101, a major highway that looked like most other major highways in the US. It was a relief to get to the the Dry Creek Inn in Healdsburg and get ready for our tour along mostly quiet rural roads in wine country.

9 May Monday - Healdsburg to Occidental, 29 miles

After breakfast at the hotel we stopped at Wine Country Bikes to meet with the co-owner John to prepare for the start of our self-guided bike tour the following day. We got our GPS device, maps and other info about the tour, and a bag of snacks. John walked us through the next three days of riding. The company would be shuttling our suitcases to each of our nightly destinations. They made all the hotel arrangements and the GPS would guide us along the chosen routes. The tour is a bit pricey by it was worth not having to worry about the various logistical details and just ride.

Traffic was heavy heading out from Healdsburg but it diminished as we got into the surrounding vineyard-filled countryside. Motorists generally gave us lots of room when passing. It did seem that speeds were high during the week, much higher than the posted speed limit.

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Ready to roll from Wine Country BikesLunch at Willow Wood Market in GratonSampling sparkling wine
at Iron Horse Winery

We stopped for lunch at Willow Wood Market in Graton, parking out front where there were no bike racks. We chose Iron Horse Vineyards as our first winery visit. They specialize in sparkling wines and the sampling ($20) was very good. There is a beautiful view over the surrounding vineyards from the tasting area. Several small groups filtered in and out but it was not crowded, one advantage to visting during the week.

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Entrance to Iron Horse VineyardsEntering OccidentalChurch in Occidental

There was a nice climb leading into the small town of Occidental where we browsed in a few of the shops in town. I talked to a guy on the sidewalk selling his drawings and prints. He is trying to get by without a car and was interested in our folding Bike Fridays. Marin Co a good bus system and he thought he could get by using buses and a folding bike. I suggested a Brompton or other quicker folding bike than my Bike Friday, although Bike Friday will soon be selling a quick-folding competitor, the PakiT. The Occidental Hotel was basic and clean with flowers in front. Dinner was a couple of doors away at Barley & Hops. Had a very good Berryesa House IPA.

10 May, Tuesday - Occidental to Guerneville, 36 miles

Howards Station Cafe across the street from the hotel serves an excellent breakfast. As usual there was a light mist in the air as the fog dissipated over the course of the morning. Immediately after leaving town we started to climb on Bittner Road, working our way to Coleman Valley Rd and more climbing until we reached the summit and flew down to the coast. We learned later that the Tour of California riders would reverse this route the following week during the Santa Rosa stage, with Peter Sagan leading the pack up Coleman Valley Rd. We descended cautiously due to the presence of several cattle grates across the road.

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Coleman Valley Rd summitReady for the downhill to the coastJust north of Coleman Valley Rd

The stretch of US 1 from Coleman Valley Road to the Russian River is beautiful, with many beach access points and turnouts overlooking the Pacific and lots of flowers in bloom. We stopped frequently to admire the view and take photos. Traffic was relatively light and not too fast. Later when we drove this same stretch it seemed more intimidating than it did when we were riding. At Goat Rock we rode toward the beach, climbing a bit then followed a steep descent to the shore. We didn't linger long, dreading the climb back to US 1. We would return with the van after the tour and explore the area more.

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Coast Highway State Route 1Wrights BeachJust south of Russian River

At the Russian River we headed inland toward Guerneville on Route 116. Traffic wasn't bad until we got closer to town. For a short stretch we were able to ride on very scenic Moscow Road amidst tall redwood trees. While 116 has a shoulder, when it disappeared and we were forced into the lane, motorists were not happy and a couple honked or passed too close. The West Sonoma Inn was empty but for us. Before dinner we took a swim in the "heated" pool. At Chef Patricks we had a good meal with a very good Pinot Noir from Moshin Vineyards that we later visited.

11 May, Wednesday - Guerneville to Healdsburg, 26.5 miles

After walking to breakfast at a nearby coffee shop we rode north to Armstrong Redwoods State Park. Most people leave their bikes or cars outside the park and walk in but since there were few people around, we decided to ride along the paved road and admire the impressive tall trees. We lingered for a while then headed back to the route, taking a narrow, winding, hilly road through the Rio Neto area where many interesting houses dotted the nooks and crannies of the landscape. Back on River Road there was lots of fast traffic and aggressive drivers, one of whom refused to slow down as we turned left into Korbel winery.

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Riding through
Armstrong Redwoods Park
310 foot tall Parson Jones

Korbel offers a free tasting. We bought a small bottle of champagne that we ended up not drinking until the last day of the trip. Had a good lunch at the small deli at the winery. After a short stretch on River Rd we turned onto Westside Rd with less traffic and lots of wineries, although motorists were still going fast. At Moshin Winery I did the tasting and purchased three bottles of wine to be shipped to our house. Later we stopped at Arista and Twomey wineries but didn't taste. Arista has beautiful gardens and Twomey has a great view of nearby orchards and surrounding hills.

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Ordering wine at Moshin VineyardOn the road to HealdsburgGarden at Arista Winery

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Inside Arista WineryArista entranceTasting Room

At Davero Vineyards we tried their olive oil and balsamic vinegar and bought a bottle of each, not thinking about the challenge of getting them back home. When we prepared to return home I didn't want to pack them in my soft-sided suitcase so I gave them to our friend Neil in Sacramento. In Healdsburg we once again stayed at Dry Creek Inn. After showers we rode downtown to dine at Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar, a very good and popular seafood restaurant, even splurging on a large dessert. An advantage to being back in Healdsburg was a visit to our rental van parked at Wine Country Tours, to drop off some dirty clothes and the oil and vinegar.

12 May, Thursday - Healdsburg out and back, 40 miles

One of the most popular rides in the area is West Dry Creek Road, a narrow rural road just west of Healdsburg amidst numerous vineyards and wineries. Our ride would take us along that road north toward Lake Sonoma. We saw a few other cyclists and several trucks shuttling between the vineyards. We picked up excellent sandwiches at Dry Creek Store that we carried to eat at the picnic tables adjacent to the fish hatchery. That was our turnaround point, returning on the same route back to Healdsburg. Saw several small, noisy Acorn woodpeckers. They store acorns in holes they drill in trees, harvesting the acorns during the winter.

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GPS unit from Wince Country ToursWine Country Century markersLunch near Lake Sonoma dam

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Freestanding grape vinesDaVero WineryGrapes just forming

We stopped by Wine Country Tours again to discuss the second part of our tour and pick up maps and info sheets. After a quick change and shower at the hotel we rode back downtown on a good paved trail. Dinner was at Spoonbar; very slow service, ok food but really small portions. Walked around town afterwards.

13 May, Friday - Healdsburg to Calistoga, 40 miles

Our destination was Calistoga, known for its spas and hot springs. We passed more wineries, including Francis Ford Copolla's huge estate, near several large outdoor sculptures near US 101. Much of the route was along Silverado Trail that had little or no shoulder and lots of traffic. The only problem we had was a cyclist who startled us when he passed very close without any warning. Had a good grilled cheese sandwich with potato salad for lunch at Jim Town store.

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Old Faithful Geyser near CalistogaOld FaithfulRoman Spa
Hot Springs Resort

At Roman Spa Hot Springs hotel we weren't allowed to put the bikes in our room; they provided a locked storage room instead. Room 105 overlooked the three pools, each heated to a different temperature. Walked to dinner at Boskas Trattoria nearby.

14 May, Saturday - Calistoga to St Helena and back, 26 miles

The Silverado Trail is the main route to St Helena. Unfortunately it's not a bike trail but a busy major road with fast moving traffic. It does have a good paved shoulder used by many cyclists and we didn't have any problems on the trip to St. Helena. We wandered along the main street for a while before we found Giugni's Deli where we had some good sandwiches.

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Silverado Trail
3 Foot Passing sign
Napa Valley Vine TrailDriveway to Sterling Vineyard

One of our favorite wines is Rombauer Chardonnay and the winery is located just north of St Helena. Unlike most wineries, tastings are by appointment only and we decided against a visit. After returning to Calistoga we walked around town then luxuriated in the three hot pools, watching hummingbirds and then several Acorn woodpeckers who were hiding acorns in the tall palm tree trunks. It was nice having time to relax and enjoy the day before heading back to Boskas for dinner. Afterwards we packed our gear to be ready for our shuttle ride back to Healdsburg in the morning.

15 May, Sunday - Calistoga to Healdsburg to Bodega Bay, shuttle and rental car

Even when there was a free breakfast, several mornings we opted to eat in the room, cereal and almond milk. Rarely are motel breakfasts worth the effort. I took a long walk and took a few photos before loading our gear and bikes into the Wine Country Tour van. In Healdsburg we picked up the rental van to make our way toward Bodega Bay where we planned to stay for several days. We mostly reversed the route we'd ridden earlier to the coast, stopping at Duncans Mills General Store where I picked up a couple of Pliney the Elder beers, a famous double IPA made by Russian River Brewery.

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View from our room
Bodega Bay Lodge
Lunch at Hearts Desire BeachPoint Reyes Lighthouse

From our room at Bodega Bay Lodge we overlooked the spa and bay. I sampled some wine at the complimentary tasting in the lobby, talking to a couple of ladies from San Francisco on an annual retreat. After dinner at The Tides restaurant we soaked for a while in the hot tub.

One day we drove south to scenic Point Reyes Lighthouse. On the way there we bought sandwiches in Point Reyes Station that we ate overlooking Hearts Desire Beach. A few Grey whales were still migrating north and we saw a couple of pair of females with their calves passing close to shore in front of the lighthouse. We drove to Lucas Wharf for dinner near the hotel. It was very close but Route 1 is narrow with lots of evening traffic so we decided not to ride.

The following day we took a short drive north along Route 1 toward the Russian River, stopping at a couple of beach pullouts. At Goat Rock, where we had stopped on our bike trip, we parked and walked to the mouth of the Russian River where several Harbor Seals were basking in the sun, some with calves, and a few playing in the surf. I was thinking the area was probably a good place for sharks and whales to feed and about then two large whales cruised by passing very close to the shore.

We brought sandwiches back to the room to have with a bottle of Pliny the Elder. After a nap we drove to Bodega Head to hike the Bodega Head Trail. Had a good dinner a the lodge's restaurant, Drakes.

The last leg of our trip entailed a visit with friends in Sacramento and riding the American River Trail AKA Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail. Along the way to Sacremanto we visited Davis, known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. The University has received the highest bike-friendly ranking from the League of American Bicyclists.

What impressed me the most was that bike parking was available in front of almost all downtown shops. Unlike most bike-friendly places that primarily use inverted U racks, Davis uses LR Series racks from Creative Pipe. The front wheel is held in a small tray and the bike is supported by a slanted post with a loop for using a U-lock or other type of lock. Davis' bike parking guidelines are surprisingly simple.

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Davis bike racksCapitol Building before
Tour of CA arrives
En route to American
River Trail

During the drive to Sacramento we encountered a dramatic change in landscape, from the rolling terrain of wine country in the Coastal Range to the flat Central Valley agricultural area. We got together again with our friend Naomi, had dinner with Kerie's former boss Neil, and did a little exploring of the city.

The American River Trail (AKA Jedediah Smith Trail) is relatively flat, extending 32 miles from downtown Sacramento to Folsom. We planned to eat lunch midway and then return to the city. When we reached Lake Natoma the trail splits and the restaurants we had planned to check out were on the other side of the lake, and there was no bridge until Folsom. We ended up riding to Folsom where we ate pizza outdoors, next to the start/finish line of a stage of the Tour of California that would arrive the next day. Crews were out setting up barriers and tents for the expected crowds.

We hope to return to the Bay Area in the future. The Wine Country Bikes tour went very smoothly and we'd recommend booking with them if you want a hassle-free bike tour in the area. They also rent bikes by the day or week, and most people use their bikes for the multi-day tours.