Home to over 30 wineries and 9,000 acres of vineyards, Lake County has become one of Northern California’s best kept secrets. This wine growing region north of Napa Valley may share similar soils and climatic conditions to its high-profile neighbor, but it’s got a vibe and appeal all its own.
Now that businesses have started reopening, it’s time to start planning your getaway to Lake County. Get to know this relaxed wine region and all its unspoiled beauty with our first-time visitor’s guide, complete with all the best places to eat, stay, play, and sip for when you do decide to visit.
The first vines in Lake County were planted in the 1870s. Though Lake County was a thriving wine region by the early 1900s, Prohibition quickly put an end to wine production in the area and vineyards were replaced with walnut and pear trees. It wasn’t until the 1960s that grape growers returned to the area and started planting vines. Today, Lake County is one of the fastest growing wine regions in all of California, with the number of acres under vine expected to double over the next several years.
Lake County contains eight distinct AVAs, all of which are situated around Clear Lake – California’s largest freshwater lake and the oldest lake in North America – and near the base of Mount Konocti volcano. Here, grapes grow in volcanic, mineral-rich soils at high altitudes of 1,370 to 2,600 feet, where mild summers and cool winter temperatures create ideal conditions for producing elegant, complex wines. While the region has become well-known for its cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc wines, Lake County is also planted to cabernet franc, petit sirah, merlot, syrah, malbec, grenache, zinfandel, viognier, and riesling, among others.
Lake County is a place where visitors come to relax, drink wine, and enjoy the natural surroundings. While lodging options vary throughout Lake County’s numerous communities, the majority of accommodations encourage finding a slower pace away from the hustle and bustle. The Lodge at Blue Lakes has been welcoming guests since the 1870s and is a popular place for visitors. Stay in any of the 22 simple, yet tasteful rooms and enjoy complimentary continental breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and access to plenty of water activities. In fact, The Lodge at Blue Lakes has the largest fleet of environmental-friendly electric boats for rent in Northern California. If looking for some peace and quiet among the vines, check out Bed and Barrel at Stonehouse Cellars. This family-owned bed-and-breakfast has three sleek, modern rooms above the Stonehouse Cellars winery, as well as a century old one-bedroom cottage overlooking a pond that provides a bit more seclusion. During a stay, guests receive a farm-fresh breakfast each morning, as well as tastings in the winery. For a more rustic experience in the great outdoors, opt to camp at Clear Lake Campground. Situated along an outlet creek off Clear Lake, the campsite welcomes tents, small trailers, and campers and is a great spot for fishing and bird watching.
Located on the southern end of Lake County, Six Sigma Ranch‘s tasting room sits in a cozy cabin on what was once a stagecoach stop. Surrounded by majestic oak trees in the middle of a 4,300-acre working ranch, Six Sigma is a peaceful place to enjoy a picnic while sipping on their acclaimed tempranillo, cabernet, and sauvignon blanc. Nearby, Fults Family Vineyards welcomes with a tasting room overlooking the property’s 45 acres of vineyards. This two-generation family-owned boutique winery, which produces less than 1,500 cases annually, is focused on cabernet sauvignon, petit sirah, old vine zinfandel, and red blends.
Situated on a hill offering picturesque views of Clear Lake and the surrounding vines, Gregory Graham is a small-production winery located in the Red Hills appellation of Lake County. Visit this dog-friendly winery and you’ll likely find owner and winemaker Greg and his wife pouring the wines, such as their award-winning cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, zinfandel, and syrah. Also offering stunning views is the grandiose Brassfield Estate, a Mediterranean-inspired winery dedicated to crafting 100% estate wines. Tours are offered by appointment, and there’s a serene outdoor picnic area from which to enjoy wine and a cheese plate afterwards.
The casual Mike’s Breakfast & Lunch in Lucerne keeps locals and visitors coming back thanks to its long list of hearty omelettes, benedicts, and burgers, while the Lucerne Euro Market & Bistro charms with lighter breakfast fare, fresh salads, and a friendly, down-to-earth vibe. Located in the Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake, Blue Wing Saloon is a nod to the town’s original saloon from the 1800s. Expect gourmet pub fare for lunch and dinner, along with a full bar featuring local wines and craft brews. Don’t miss their popular Sunday Suppers, which include a multi-course dinner accompanied by live jazz for just $25.
The Yard in Lakeport is a relatively new pub that has won fans for its rustic atmosphere and modern, locally-driven menu, featuring everything from pulled pork tacos to fried chicken and waffles. And at O’Meara Bros. Brewing Company, also in Lakeport, mouthwatering comfort food can be washed down with one of the brewery’s artisan beers (made on-site!), as well as live music every Saturday.
Besides wine tasting, the main draw of a visit to Clear Lake is its easy accessibility to the outdoors. There are hundreds of miles of scenic roads, wilderness areas, and peaceful lakes and reservoirs to discover, as well as more than 300 species of birds that inhabit the area. Spend the day fishing on Clear Lake — known for its incredible Bass fishing — or opt for some bird watching at Clear Lake State Park. Swim, kayak, paddleboard, or rent an electric boat in Blue Lakes, hit the road on two wheels to cycle along the scenic countryside via Konocti Regional Trails, or break a sweat via Mt Konocti County Park‘s many hiking trails. Looking for something less active? Head to Taylor Observatory for some epic stargazing or simply pull up a chair overlooking the lake while watching the sun go down. Needless to say, there are endless ways to take advantage of Lake County’s gorgeous natural landscapes, whether you plan to visit for a weekend or make it a longer getaway.