On the road
Over the mountains and through the woods: Trekking in California's Wine Countryon a luxury hiking vacation
One of the best things about living in Houston is the ability to take off to almost any destination at the drop of a hat. Unlike many cities, we have two — yes two —very easy airports to access. I kind of compare my love to Houston like that of a cheating spouse. I like Houston quite a bit, but sometimes what I love more is the fact it’s easy to escape. Good ole H-Town most definitely has a lot to offer, but the thrill and excitement of being able to travel is one of the best parts for me.
As a writer, and someone who regularly hungers for activity and adventure, I’m always on the lookout for the next best thing to try. Imagine my delight when I opened a recent Marie Claire magazine and ran across Wine Country Trekking, a concierge/pseudo travel agency providing luxury European style hiking (and running!) vacations from San Francisco to the Wine Country with a focus on superb hiking, lodging, food and wine! All things almost every human loves, yes?
Basically, the way the trip works, is you pick the trek and dates that best suit you. The company will FedEx a hiking backpack and some goodies along with your Custom Trek Trail Guide.
Wine Country Trekking offers up to nine different treks throughout the San Francisco Bay Area venturing into the wine country of California. They offer treks as short as 3 days | 2 nights and as long as 10 days | 9 nights with prices ranging anywhere from $1,000 - $2,700 which includes lodging, most transportation and a majority of your meals.
Basically, the way the trip works, is you pick the trek and dates that best suit you. The company will FedEx a hiking backpack and some goodies along with your Custom Trek Trail Guide which has all the info you need – what to pack, what to prepare for, etc. You’re responsible for booking your own flights and getting to your first hotel.
Once you arrive at the first property, your trail guide will guide you on all things – what sites to visit (i.e. Ghirardelli Square), where to head for breakfast and lunch, how to start your trek, and any other fathomable question. You will follow your trail guide (noted below in detail), which will guide you to your destination for that night.
A concierge service will pick up your bags from your first hotel and they will be waiting in your room at your second hotel (the company uses a diverse sampling of boutique hotels and quaint bed and breakfasts, which are all equally awesome) by the time you arrive after the day’s hike, and so on for each remaining day of your trip.
The trip ends up as a fabulous combination of lazy and adventure. How’s that you ask? Lazy in the sense that the adept guides plan every conceivable logistic of your trip, which may include adventurous and tiresome hiking up mountains at an elevation as steep as 2,300 feet on back-to-back days. Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention a portion of the hiking is through beautiful vineyards throughout Sonoma and Napa, with wine tastings and property tours already prescheduled and included in your trek. (Read about those on my final day.)
For example, Day 2 of my trek was from San Francisco to Sausalito. My trail guide gave me the following info on my hike so I knew what I was in store for each day:
Distance: Approximately 8.5 miles
Elevation: 250 feet gain and 250 feet loss
Terrain: Paved and crushed rock roads and walking paths
Hiking Time: 3 to 5 hours
The trail notes (directions on leaving the first hotel and heading towards the second) are extremely detailed. Even for someone who writes a sport’s column titled The Blonde Side, it was easy as pie to navigate. If you use a GPS tracker (like the Nike+ app), it’s an additional help for tracking as the guide is sectioned into mileposts and tells you things like, “at 0.4 miles, turn left and go approximately 0.3 miles.” The guide is complete with pictures for those of you who are more visual when following directions, as well as removable maps for each day’s hiking.
Here is what my custom trek (an abridged version of the hiking and runner’s trek) looked like:
Started at the Argonaut Hotel, San Francisco, CA
495 Jefferson Street, San Francisco, CA 94109 | 415.563.0800 | argonauthotel.com
Located just one block down from Ghirardelli Square with bustling coffee shops and bistros along each side, this is where my trail guide started, with a detailed description of turning left out of the hotel. After a delicious breakfast at The Blue Mermaid, I set out through Fisherman’s Wharf and along McDowell Road, over the Golden Gate Bridge, through Ft. Baker (with amazing views of Alcatraz) and into the breathtaking scenic views of Sausalito, which now ranks as one of my favorite cities in the U.S.
Ending at the Casa Madrona Hotel and Spa, Sausalito, CA
801 Bridgeway, Sausalito, CA 94965 | 415.332.0502 | casamadrona.com
After the day’s beautiful hike/run, I ended at my courtyard king room at the newly renovated Casa Madrona Hotel, which was within walking distance to every seafood restaurant, pub/bar and top destination gelato shops Sausalito had to offer. The next morning I headed off to the Venice Gourmet Delicatessen with my voucher (inside my trail guide) to have a brown bag lunch prepared for the day’s adventure and started my trek through the town of Sausalito, which included over two miles of stairs. Yes, stairs!
The day was filled with a long and private hike through the Coastal Trail (towards Muir Beach) where the only other person I saw casually passed by on horseback. Talk about being alone with your thoughts and nature, it was surreal coming from the concrete jungle we’ve come to know and love as Houston. I walked miles along Muir Beach before arriving at my destination for the night.
Ending at Pelican Inn, Muir Beach, CA
10 Pacific Way, Muir Beach, CA 94965 | 415.383.6000 | pelicaninn.com
Voted one of the most romantic bed and breakfasts, I can see why. The Pelican Inn is in a far off place without any televisions and definitely no cell service or Wi-Fi so it iseasy to disconnect. The inn is exceptionally small, with only seven guest rooms and Muir Beach just yards away.
I’m not sure I’ve ever stayed in such a quaint town or property, but it was a nice way to unwind after logging over 20 uphill miles in just a few days. The next morning, the staff served a delicious English-style breakfast and sent me off with my lunch for the day as I headed into the infamous Mt. Tamalpais.
Before getting to Mt. Tamalpais, the hike started along Highway 1 with cars zooming by before I entered the Golden Gate National Recreation Area where I encountered deer just feet in front of me with zero intentions of moving out of my way. The view of the towering redwoods as I entered Muir Woods National Monument was something from a postcard – absolutely gorgeous. The trail guide also does a nice job of highlighting where the best views are for taking pictures (but good luck trying to mobile upload them to Facebook!).
Ending at Mountain Home Inn. Mill Valley, CA
810 Panoramic Highway, CA 94941 | 415.381.9000 | mtnhomeinn.com
This inn rests atop Mt. Tamalpais ridge with a view that lingers for miles. Another small B&B, the inn boasts just 10 rooms, which are both intimate and extremely spacious. The outdoor patio and in-house restaurant were great amenities, which made it one of the ultimate vacation spots on the trip.
Ending at Gaige House. Glen Ellen, CA and Hitting the Vineyards
13540 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, CA 95442 | 800.935.0237 | gaige.com
The last day was filled with hiking through a few Sonoma vineyards starting with Robert Hunter Winery with a tasting in their exotic garden. Given their bubbly selection, this was probably my favorite vineyard. Cutting through a secret path leaving Robert Hunter, lunch and another reserve tasting was setup at Little Vineyards Family Winery.
After lunch (and they do cater to vegetarians), my next private tasting was at Ahh Winery, which is even more intimate and set in the home of Bruce Rector, the delightfully entertaining winemaker.
After lunch (and they do cater to vegetarians), my next private tasting was at Ahh Winery, which is even more intimate and set in the home of Bruce Rector, the delightfully entertaining winemaker. Here’s a tip: if you’ve ever have the chance to chat up a winemaker, take it!
After all the tantalizing wine tastings, it was back to the Gaige House (where my luggage and a glorious private garden tub awaited my return). AJoie de Vivre property, the Gaige House is nestled along one of the main roads in the historic town of Glen Ellen with blooming greenery along each wind in the road sitting on three lush acres along side the Calabazas Creek. After a deliciously healthy breakfast, it was time to check out, this time with luggage in hand and back to Texas.
A vacation and adventure I’ll never forget, I can’t wait to plan my next one. To find your perfect wine country trek (whether you’re rolling solo, with your spouse or a group of friends), visit the Wine Country Trekking website and compare trek options.
Wine Country Trekking | email@example.com | 888.287.TREK (8735)