A few miles past the state park in the heart of Soda Bay resides Bell Haven Flower Farm. Pull off the road and down the drive; Bell Haven Resort sits on the right and the flower farm on the left. A bright green lawn slopes gently down to the shores of Clear Lake; oaks and redwoods stretch overhead, shading the grounds from the bright Northern California sun. Just beyond the lawn, two piers push out into the lake’s waters. It’s idyllic, peaceful, and quiet. Lake County’s long been a special place for the Dohring family. “We’ve been married 41, almost 42 years,” Laurie Dohring, owner of Bell Haven Flower Farm, says as she strolls the grounds of their resort next door. “In fact, we honeymooned in Lake County at the Aurora Club. And my son got married in front of the house, just right here. That was back when we still came up for vacations. So when the opportunity arose, all of my children wanted us to buy the resort.
It’s an unusually cool summer afternoon in Big Valley. Outside the Finley Country Market, rose bushes and lavender pop out of planters, framing the red, farmhouse-looking store. Several picnic tables, shaded by umbrellas, stretch across the courtyard. Finley Country Market’s been around twenty-five years and serves as a hub for the small community. They’ve got a good barbecue, offering grilled chicken, burgers, or tri-tip sandwiches depending on the day of the week. And they’re popular; it’s not uncommon for the market to receive twenty-five or thirty pre-orders on Fridays for their tri-tip sandwiches.
And each Friday, another wonderful thing happens at the market. There, on the counter next to the register, sit Karen Shippley’s gluten-free muffins. Depending on Karen’s mood, you may find blueberry muffins, carrot cake or German chocolate cupcakes, all luscious and completely gluten-free.
Once the pavement ends, it’s like entering another world, peaceful, calm, filled with light and laughter. Massive valley oaks arch overhead, shading the fire pit and picnic area. Bamboo wind chimes clink in the soft breeze. Martin Pohl, owner of Beaver Creek, steps out to greet us.
“Hello! Hello!” he smiles as he walks towards us, his flip flops clicking with each step. “Welcome!”
You’ve probably driven past Cache Creek Vineyards more times than you can count. Whether leaving or just coming into Lake County, it’s hard to miss the giant wine barrel resting just off of Highway 20 on the way to Williams. If you look closely, you’ll see the fountain to the right of the tasting room, sparkling near the overarching oak trees. Further back, an amphitheater sits. And if you look closely enough, you may catch a glimpse of the herd of Tule Elk roaming the property. Sometimes life needs a short detour, and Cache Creek Winery is well worth a side trip on your way to or from the city.
Entering the courtyard’s just the beginning of the journey when you head in to meet the Two Sisters. A couple Radio Flyer wagons and a bubbling fountain filled with fish first greet you, followed by metal buckets, washbasins, and statues, the appropriate overflow of any good antique store. Then you’ll make your way up the stairs and meet them. Tina and Robin Kingsley stand in the middle of their store, looking at all the things they have collected over the years. They’re surrounded by embroidery, ceramics, galvanized tubs, candles, figurines, games, and various other good finds.
We’ve got a little bit of everything,” Robin says, a smile in her words.
“A lot of everything!” Tina interjects.
Bob Phillips stands in front of one of his photos, his feet spread slightly wider than shoulder-width, a facemask hiding his bearded face. Under his opened flannel shirt, a ‘D’Art Frog logo shows, half-hidden. “I consider myself a landscape photographer,” he says, thinking for a second. “I’m really an old school photographer.” On the walls around him hang his photographs. Sure, there’s a spectacular photo of Mt. Konocti shaded in the purples and blues of sunset on one wall, but near it, an image filled with holiday revelers hangs. Close-ups of radial airplane engines and painterly photographs of downtown Lakeport fill the walls next to them, showing that Bob’s more than just a landscape photographer. When I mention it, he smiles. “When the gallery was just my work,” he says, “I would have people come in, look at my photos, and ask, ‘How many photographers do you have?’” he laughs.
“It all started when we went to a craft fair,” James begins. “We bought some soap, and I said, ‘We could make soap better than this!’”
Tiffany laughs as she remembers the conversation. “But you know, he went home and did it! We’ve been making soaps ever since.” A drying rack sits a few feet behind Tiffany with an array of different colored soaps arcing like a rainbow on it. Shelves line the walls, filled with essential oils. Their converted bus looks and smells like soap-lovers heaven on wheels.
Sebrina Andrus, owner of maker. in Kelseyville, reaches far above her head and pulls hard on the window shades, swinging the blinds high up the large windows of what at one time was Kelseyville’s Farmers’ Savings Bank. Winter light shines through them, illuminating the hand-crafted products of maker.
Reuben and Kassie Koontz moved back to Lake County in 2015 after living in Santa Rosa for years. There, Reuben did high-end autobody work and made great money. But they wanted a different, more rural lifestyle. So Kassie moved back home to Middletown, where her family has lived for four generations. There, she and Reuben created Koontz Mercantile, an eclectic shop filled with all kinds of cool stuff.
And ‘cool’ is the right word. The place has an aura of hipness. A surfboard serves as a shelf in the outdoor room, while a bicycle turned into a side table sits underneath rows of aprons filled with different sayings. “Shut up Liver, You’re Fine,” one reads.
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The early April sun just warms the crisp air and flecks across Clear Lake. Clouds puff across the sky, touching Mt. Konocti and sliding their way across Mt. Hannah. Orchards, pastures, and horse corrals with white fences edge Highland Springs Road as it winds its way towards the Mayacamas Mountains. There, nestled between vineyards, stands the small tasting room of Olof Cellars. Cindi Olof, co-owner of the winery, stands inside, a mask and gloves on, filling up a case of wine.
Right now, Olof is offering a special—a case of their wine for $100. “It’s an incredible deal,” Cindi says, adjusting her mask. “That’s $8 a bottle for a $35 a bottle of wine.” She pauses for a second, thinking. “Or $125 a bottle in Napa.”
Patches of snow mingle with the remaining patches of light just outside the doors of the Little Red Schoolhouse, known to Cobb locals as “Little Red.” Inside, smiling faces greet us, dressed in various shades of green. Just beyond the registration area, the old schoolhouse is full of tables; flowerpots studded with gnome figurines sit as centerpieces. High school students wander the area, handing out appetizers to mingling patrons. Others carry out the desserts to be auctioned later in the evening. Baskets laden with local wines, tours, cookies, and other trifles line the walls. The silent bidding already is in full swing as people pace between the ceramic snails and Wine Adventure tickets, eager anticipation in their eyes. Above the auction items, a rainbow of shamrocks covers a wall.
To get to Six Sigma Ranch, you have to want to get there. It’s not the kind of place to swing by for a quick taste. No, once you turn off Spruce Grove Road, bump over the cattle grate, and see the sheep grazing in the vineyards, you enter a place that exists in a different timeline than the rest of the world.
Bright and whimsical, A+H General store shines with a palpable glow. “We had a customer come in,” Sabrina explains, shifting her weight to her left foot. “And he told me that we should call the store ‘The House of Mirth.’ I just loved that.”