Take a Drive in Lake County, 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. If you missed part one and part two, be sure to check them out.

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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