Fall foothills splendor, or Northern California coast majesty?

Sutter Creek turns out over 20 townsfolk dressed in period garb for their annual Heritage Festival.

With fine fall weather, head for Sierra foothills splendor, or Northern California coast majesty!

With October, even November, offering beautiful weather, here are two favorite destinations for fall touring.

Wells Fargo stagecoach charges down Main Street in historic Sutter Creek.

Sutter Creek and the Shenandoah Valley, just 50-60 miles from STOCKTON, offers the best of gold rush history in a quaint, compact 10 block downtown chock a block with cute shops, restaurants and winetasting outlets. For wine aficionado’s, undiscovered vineyards and wineries in the Shenandoah Valley are just a short drive away.

Along Sutter Creek’s Main Street are several bed-and-breakfasts, the Hotel Sutter, more than a dozen wine-tasting rooms interspersed with cute shops and restaurants. The Hotel Sutter (the oldest continuously operating hotel in California) is a great place for lunch or dinner, while Cavala’s Bar and Grill across the street offers good pub food and a classy oak bar; just around the corner is Gold Dust Pizza for fun family dining.

A recent visit came complete with the arrival of the Wells Fargo stage, and several dozen times people dressed in Gold rush garb, celebrating their heritage. Docents explained the history of the old Sutter Creek Theatre, open most weekends with live entertainment.

Sierra storm clouds brew just east of the lovely Shenandoah Valley, home to over 30 wineries.

Head a bit further east to the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County, rising to almost 3000 feet above sea level for  changing colors that come with the fall. The valley, composed of decomposed granite and volcanic soils, is a growing wine grape region.

The valley features over 30 wineries, with some of our favorites: Karmere Wineries, with elegant French-château tasting room, shares the history of local growers who introduced Italian, Rhone and Spanish varietals to the foothills, leading to renowned Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Barbera, Syrah and Viognier wines.  Helwig Winery offers industrial-chic winery buildings on a scenic hilltop with marvelous views and frequently offers live music in their pavilion on weekends.

Wine tasting at Karmere Vineyards in their French Chateau-inspired tasting room.

Story Winery offers sparkling views and vineyards dating to the 1890s, featuring Zinfandel, Mission, Barbera, Sangiovese and Primitivo grapes. Turley Vineyards features single vineyard Zinfandels and Petit Syrahs in a lovely setting accentuated by period-correct antiques. Dobra Zemlja Winery produces robust Viognier, Barbera, Syrah, Grenache and Zinfandel wines – and features the valley’s first wine cave, a cooling 56 degrees, entered through a 19th century barn.

The Northern California coast from Bodega Bay north to Mendocino is dotted with cute towns, stunning views, wildlife sightings and even Russian history. It’s just three hours from Stockton and offers both camping options and wonderful places to stop for overnight stays. We usually start in Bodega Bay, with lunch at the Tides Restaurant. Nearby is Wrights Beach State Park, with campsites right on the ocean if you can snag one.

Picture-perfect California coast, just north of Jenner.

Heading north on Hwy. 1 through Sonoma County you’ll soon cross the meandering Russian River and reach the town of Jenner where the river spills into the Pacific. A favorite stopping place is River’s End Restaurant, with jaw-dropping views and great food. From the deck high above the river, you frequently see harbor seals basking in the sun on a sandy spit near the river’s mouth.

Just a bit further north is Fort Ross State Historic Park, capturing the flavor of the old Russian outpost anchoring the Russian colonization period, 1812-1842, as well as the history of the ancient Kashia Pomo people that inhabited the area for centuries. Just north, stop at Stewart’s Point General Store for a snack and a tour of the museum-like all-purpose retailer.

Granddaughter Jessica revels in her first trip to the ocean near Bodega Bay.

You’ll soon reach quiet coastal towns like Sea Ranch (stop at Sea Ranch Lodge for lodging or meals), Albion, a town inland, offers shops, stores and restaurants. Nearby Gualala County Regional Park is heavily wooded, featuring lovely secluded campsites; Point Arena offers both jaw-dropping coastal views and a tour of the Point Arena Lighthouse.

Continuing up Hwy. 1, you’ll pass through Manchester, Elk, Albion and Little River (check out the classic Little River Inn for lodging or meals) before reaching Mendocino. Mendocino is, perhaps, the quintessential California coastal town, complete with fine restaurants and trendy shops. Just west is Mendocino Headwaters State Park, with rocky bluffs and trails that yield stunning ocean views; frequent sightings of both harbor seals and sea otters make for a wonderful day!

Point Arena Lighthouse warns sailors of the dangers of wind-swept, rocky N. California coast (and offers tours, too).

For more information: Amador wineries, Amadorwine.com; for information about local activities, dining and lodging, Amador County Tourism, TourAmador.com; Ft. Ross State Historic Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=449; Visit Sonoma County, Sonoma.com;  Sutter Creek, suttercreek.org; Sutter Creek Theatre, suttercreektheatre.com

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com.

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  • Blog Author

    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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