Take a Drive in Lake County

Part 1: Middletown to Kelseyville Riviera

It’s springtime; the birds are back and busy building nests, the wildflowers are blooming, and the weather’s getting warm. There’s no better time to take a road trip around Lake County. If you’ve got a free day, hop in the car and enjoy some of the county’s most beautiful, unique, and tasty places.

Part one wanders from Middletown, up and over Cobb, until it winds up in the Kelseyville Riviera, edged up against the side of Mt. Konocti.

Middletown

Named because it was the mid-point on the stage run from Calistoga to Lower Lake, Middletown’s still the first place many people see as they enter Lake County. It’s also the perfect place to begin the road trip. While you’re there, be sure to take some time to visit the MAC, also known as the Middletown Art Center. It’s home to regularly rotating exhibitions that feature some of the region’s best artists. And, if you time it right, you can take a class from one of their many skilled teachers and learn something new. Before heading out of town, do some shopping at Middletown Florist and Gifts and Koontz Mercantile, then grab a bite to eat at Buddha Thai, Los Compas Taqueria, The Cowpoke Café, or La Parilla. All serve great food.

Middletown to Cobb

From the MAC, head up Highway 175 to the mountains. You’ll wind through the Collayomi Valley, the steep slopes of Cobb Mountain dead ahead. To your left, you’ll see steam rising from the power plants of The Geysers, the world’s largest geothermal facility. Soon you’ll begin to climb, eventually reaching nearly 3,000 feet in elevation. The oak trees give way to pines, and the temperature drops. As you move into the town of Cobb, grab a coffee at Mountain High, then head a bit further up the mountain to Boggs Mountain Demonstration Forest. If you’ve got a vehicle that can handle dirt roads, take a trip through the forest. Much of it burned in the 2015 Valley Fire, but that just opened up vast views that stretch from Mt. Lassen in the Sierras to the northeast, the ocean in the west, and the Bay Area in the south. If you happen to be hungry, grab lunch at Adam Springs Golf Course, a lodge-style restaurant built almost entirely from local wood. 

Cobb to the Red Hills

Continue down Highway 175 until you reach Red Hills Road, then turn right. You’re entering a famous wine region known for its bright red dirt that’s filled with Lake County Diamonds, a quartz crystal only found in Lake County. Now’s the time to do some wine tasting. Make your first stop at Laujor Estate Winery; it’s got some of the best views of Konocti in Lake County and fantastic wines. Once you’re finished there, make the trip to Boatique Winery. Even if you’re not in the mood for a tasting, it’s well worth a stop; the winery houses an extensive collection of antique wooden boats and a car boat. 

Red Hills to the Kelseyville Riviera

By now, the day may be winding down, and you’re ready for dinner. Continue down Red Hills Road, go through the stoplight at Kit’s Corner, and head towards the Kelseyville Riviera. If you’re curious, you can always stop at the Ely Stage Stop. If you catch it on the first Sunday, they’ve got a great Fiddlers’ Jam and a fully restored stage stop museum you can peruse. If not, continue on to what locals call “The Riv”. It’s probably time for dinner, so make sure you spend the evening at Arti Natural and Organic Indian Café. It’s known throughout the region for its high-quality Indian food. If that’s not your thing, stop at Pogo’s Pizza. They make their pizza from scratch and don’t skimp on the toppings. And, if you’re lucky enough to end up in The Riv on the first Sunday evening of the month, check out the Open Jam at Riviera Hills Restaurant and Lounge. It’s where the area’s best musicians come to play and have a good time.

That’s enough Lake County excitement for one day. Check in next week for Part Two of our Lake County Road Trip.

Part 2: Kelseyville Riviera to Lakeport

One of the best parts about Lake County is that there’s so much to explore. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s something new to discover. Around each corner of the road, there’s another hidden gem just waiting to be found.

This is part two of our road trip. If you didn’t catch up on part one, you can find it here. Today we get to enjoy some great views of Mt. Konocti and the Clearlake arm of North America’s oldest lake, then spend some time shopping in two unique towns.  

Kelseyville Riviera to Clear Lake State Park

Before you get going, grab a cup of coffee at Common Grounds, located between Pogos Pizza and the Riviera Market. Take a minute or two to enjoy the moment, then hop in your car and head down Soda Bay Road towards Buckingham. Take your time; the road winds along the edge of Mt. Konocti and offers spectacular views of the lake, across the water to Lucerne, Bartlett Mountain, and, further north, Elk Mountain. As you wind down the road, you’ll enter a place that feels primeval. The oak trees turn to firs, and the sun turns to shade. You’re entering the Black Forest, a unique part of Lake County filled with mystery. You’ll know you’re passing through when you see the sign on the left. Not too much further down the road and just past the resort community of Soda Bay lies Clear Lake State Park, 590 acres ready-made to explore. First, spend some time picnicking at the beach area—it feels like you’re in an issue of Sunset Magazine. Then take a dip in the lake, and swim over to the rocks where the sulfur-scented springs bubble all around you. If swimming’s not your thing, head to the nature center, where they regularly offer tours or take a hike on one of their many trails.

Clear Lake State Park to Kelseyville

By now, you’re probably hungry, so it’s time to head to the happening small town of Kelseyville. From the state park, turn right on Soda Bay Road, and it will lead you into town. But before you get there, make a point to stop at Peace and Plenty’s Farm Stand. You’ll see the sign on your right just before making a sharp left turn onto Gaddy Road to head towards Kelseyville. Pick up some fresh produce and get some saffron if you have the chance. Peace and Plenty is North America’s largest saffron farm. Then hop back on the road, turn left on Gaddy, and you’ll soon enter Kelseyville. Turn left on State Street, then right on Main to get to Main Street. If you end up hitting Chacewater Winery and Olive Mill, you’ve gone too far. But no worries. It’s a perfect place to enjoy a wine tasting and test some of their handcrafted olive oils. In Kelseyville, there’s no lack of things to do. Pick up a gift at Sophie’s Day Spa, A+H General Store, or Two Sisters Antiques, grab a bite to eat at The Saw Shop Public House, and enjoy some wine at Fore Family Vineyards. It’s a perfect place to spend an afternoon.

Kelseyville to Lakeport

Even though it’s probably late afternoon now, there’s still time to visit Lakeport. From Kelseyville, hop on Highway 29 until you reach the 11th St. exit. Turn right off the exit, then follow 11th street to Main Street, where you’ll turn right. The County seat, Lakeport’s got a lot of history. Spend an hour or two in the Courthouse Museum, then wander down through the many Main Street shops. If you have a chance, head down to Library Park, resting on the shores of Clear Lake. There you’ll be greeted by spectacular views of the Lake and Mt. Konocti, and if you visit on a Friday evening in the summer, live music in the gazebo. End the day with an artisanal pizza at Juicy’s or some homemade pasta at Park Place Restaurant. Then, provided you’re not too stuffed, finish off your day with some ice cream from Sweet Pea’s Ice Cream Parlor, and watch the sunset over the waters of Clear Lake.

That’s it for today’s adventure. Stay tuned for Part Three of our Lake County Road trip.

Part 3: Upper Lake to Lower Lake

Yup, it’s springtime, and Lake County is at its most beautiful. The fruit trees are blossoming, and people wander around humming, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Yes, it’s that kind of beautiful. There’s no better time to hop in the car and enjoy a tour of one of the world’s beautiful places.

Upper Lake to Clearlake Oaks

Today’s trip begins in the quaint town of Upper Lake. If you’ve never had a chance, this road trip best begins after a pleasant night’s stay at the historic Tallman Hotel. If you happened to visit on the weekend, you enjoyed some great live music before plunging into one of their ofuro tubs and relaxing for the evening. The next morning, enjoy a brunch at the Blue Wing Saloon or a cup of coffee from Double D’s, then get in the car and head south down Highway 20. You’ll definitely want to stop at The Lunchbox Museum in Nice. Filled with an eclectic collection of Americana that spans the twentieth century, it’s an unusual experience you can’t miss. Then, as you continue down Highway 20, you’ll enter the resort town of Lucerne. Stop for a few minutes at Lakeside Arts and Gifts, browse their local arts and crafts collection, then spend a few minutes at Lucerne Harbor Park before moving on. As you continue down the highway, look up the hill as you pass 13th Street. There’ll you see the castle, Lucerne’s original resort building, currently being renovated by New Paradigm College. Then enjoy the lake views as you move from the broad, shallow basin and turn down the Oaks arm of Clear Lake. Soon you’ll enter the town of Clearlake Oaks, known for its annual catfish derby that brings people from all over the region.

Clearlake Oaks to Clear Lake

As you enter Clearlake Oaks, you’ll swing away from the lake. Now’s the time to enjoy some great American-style Chinese food at Happy Garden, known for its good food, inexpensive prices, and large portions. If you’re not hungry yet, turn left on High Valley Road and wind up towards Brassfield Estate Winery. Once you pull into the parking lot, you’ll know why it’s worth the detour. Complete with gardens, a wine cave, and a European-style tasting room, it’s like a step into Tuscany. If you’re ready to wander into the wilderness, continue up High Valley Road until you enter the Mendocino National Forest. But if you’re looking for a milder adventure, head back down to Highway 20. Just as you leave town, turn right on Sulphur Bank Drive. The road will lead you past the now-defunct Sulphur Bank Mine, where you can still see the sapphire-blue retaining pond and smell the eggy-sulfur smell in the air. The road winds you up over a ridgeline with some spectacular views, then heads down along Borax Lake, a unique, soapy lake that bubbles when the breeze blows. It’s also home to one of the oldest settlements in North America, dating back over 12,000 years. The road gets a bit tricky here, so you’ll want Google Maps. But be sure to turn right on Park Street, which turns into Lakeshore Drive. That will lead you down past the beach at Austin Park and straight to The Spot*, one of the most fun restaurants in the County. It’s a fifties diner remade and serves some of the county’s best burgers. Enjoy your meal on the deck above the water, or sit on the outdoor patio, enjoying their great food and regular live music. If you’re in the mood for something different, try Boar’s Breath, which serves quality, casual barbecue. Then, if you’re in the mood for a detour, head out of town down Highway 20 to visit Cache Creek Vineyards and Stonehouse Cellars. Both are worth the trip.

Clearlake to Lower Lake

No Lake County road trip is complete without a stop in historic Lower Lake. It’s home to the amazing Schoolhouse Museum and one of the county’s best historical comedies. Just as you turn left off of Highway 53 and onto Main Street, you’ll see a small rock building. That’s Lake County’s first jail and home to the county’s first jailbreak. According to the story, on the day they finished the building, the builders decided to celebrate. They partied so hard they got thrown in the jail they had just built. But they knew that the roof hadn’t been secured yet, and lifted it enough to slide out and stagger home for the night. While you’re in Lower Lake, stop at Small Town Ceramics, where you can paint your own pottery, and The Game Hub, which is stocked full of games the whole family can enjoy. If you’re hungry, you have to get a bite at Danny’s Roadside Kitchen. For Texas-style barbecue, it can’t be beaten.

Lower Lake to Six Sigma Ranch and Winery

As the day winds down, head south on Highway 53 to do some wine tasting at Fults Family Vineyards. It’s an unpretentious place where you can spend the afternoon chatting with owner Kendall Fults, watching sports on the television, or practicing your wedge shot on a short par-3 hole to the right of the tasting room. Then take off down Spruce Grove Road to visit Six Sigma Ranch and Winery. It’s a place filled with wonder, resting on over 4,000 acres. Wind your way down the long dirt road, over the cattle grates,  and into the parking area near the old stage stop, now converted into a tasting room. It’s a perfect way to end the trip, sipping on wine under the ancient oak trees or enjoying their miles of hiking trails.

David Wakefield

David and Trudy Wakefield started The Bloom in 2018 to showcase the best parts of Lake County and to provide a local outlet for community events, arts, music, and writing.

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