HOPLAND TO WILLITS (35 mi.) – 2 or 3 NIGHTS

Perched along Highway 101 at the gateway to Mendocino County, Hopland (pop. 921) is undergoing an impressive renaissance with new lodging, wine tasting venues and a rustic-chic vibe casual travelers will appreciate.  Check into the new Thatcher Hotel, a classic restored Victorian (1890) sporting 18 sleek guest rooms set in a modern palette.  As the sun sizzles, the signature bar and alfresco dining around the pool set the stage. This is a laid-back zone with plenty of wine venues.  Start the afternoon at the 40-acre Terra Sávia for a tasting of estate wines, tour of the olive mill factory or picnic on the deck.   For gorgeous gardens and a swirl of world-class wines, Campovida is the stop to experience a “Taste of Place” or “Garden Tasting” in the elegantly manicured six-acre grounds.  Hit up The Golden Pig for dinner to go, showcasing a vibrant locally-sourced menu from the owners’ 2,000-acre Heart Arrow Ranch, Magruder Ranch and Lovers Lane Farms.  Also on site, Sip Mendocino features 100+ local wines. Don’t forget to stop by Graziano Family of Wines, which produces the heritage grapes of Mendocino, many of which are from head-pruned, Old Vine vineyards that produce consistently full-bodied, uniquely flavored and finely balanced wines. Down the street, Brutocao Cellars combines Italian heritage and northern California agriculture to produce award-winning wines that pair well with food and friends!

The ultimate GPS – Great Pinot Sipping – starts along the 15-mile stretch between Hopland to Ukiah.  Here, pavement fades to green as vineyards kiss the redwoods and time truly slows.  Key stops include the expansive 180-acre Jeriko Estate and Saracina Vineyards featuring a state-of-the-art cave system carved out of solid rock.  This is a good time to dive into Mendocino AVA zinfandels including Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery’s alembic brandy and award-winning Mae’s Block Zin served in an historic 1880s farmhouse.  Top off the tour at RIVINO Winery, offering a stunning alfresco tasting venue perched over the vineyards.

Continue on to Ukiah (Haiku backwards) and switch gears to the dark side:  Ales.  Pull up a stool at the nation’s first certified organic brewpub, Ukiah Brewing Company & Restaurant, for a selection of 20+ ales and lagers, all brewed with organic barley and hops.  Finish the day with a cache of culture at Grace Hudson Museum for a personal tour of the Sun House, a stunning 1911 craftsman bungalow offering an inside look into the lifestyle of artist Grace Carpenter Hudson (free with museum admission).  A variety of dining choices abound, from the upscale Patrona or the new Left Coast Seafood to nearby Cultivo, and Oco Time for sublime tempura.

As night arrives, slip into a soak at California Landmark No. 980 – better known as the champagne mineral baths.  A favorite haunt of Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt and Jack London, Vichy Springs Resort and Spa is a 700-acre retreat boasting America’s only warm and naturally carbonated Vichy mineral baths (and Olympic-size pool).  Bed down in the historic Blue Cottage (1852) or take a break in the creek side baths like a lime in Perrier.  Other options include heading to the hills for a trek to two of the county’s top natural wonders:  Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve and Orr Hot Springs Resort.

Nirvana hits a high note at Mendocino (HWY 101) mile marker 27.16 when the valley cuts loose along the Russian River.  It’s picnic time or a pack it to Parducci Wine Cellars (1932) -– the world’s first carbon-neutral winery — stop for legendary wines.  Nearby, Testa Vineyards offers an authentic wine tasting venue overlooking its lake and guest house.  Cap the day with a visit to BARRA of Mendocino, with its 5,000 sq. ft. tasting facility that resembles an inverted champagne glass.  Bed down in the all-American town of Willits at Baechtel Creek Inn, with a serene backdrop.  Daytime options include a visit to Mendocino County Museum steps up with Native American exhibits, 19th century stagecoaches and a “new settler” hippie van.  Nearby, Roots of Motive Power is the stop for a walkabout (1st and 3rd Sundays) and a stunning display of guts and girth,  behemoths – including a classic 1885 Porter steam engine.  Cap the day with a visit to the new Northspur Brewing Company for a cool one.