an ode to california

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It’s going to be a slightly different post this time around as I’m veering away from anything marketing related.  I’ve been utterly slammed at work the last few weeks, and I need a little mental break from the marketing front.  Instead, I’m going to write about my ongoing soft spot for the state California.

I’ve been to The Golden State more times that I can count. I have family that lives out there, I’ve vacationed up and down the California coast, I’ve done the cross-country road trip to California on more than one occasion, and I lived in Los Angeles for a few years right after college.  For a non-Californian, I feel safe saying that I know the state pretty well.

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Southern California, and the Los Angeles area in particular, is heavily congested and can be a frustrating place to live or visit.  But it also has endless amounts of charm. For starters, you just can’t beat the vibe of Santa Monica.  The ocean, the pier, the farmers’ market and even the original location for Hot Dog on Stick are all things that stand out to me.  Heading east you will find old Hollywood.  It’s scattered with historic places like the Capitol Records tower or filled with landmark restaurants like Miceli’s or Musso & Frank’s.  And of course as you head up north on Highland toward the 101 you find the Hollywood Bowl.

But even though I lived in Los Angeles (and have explored it a ton), I still tend to favor Northern California (and especially the Bay Area).  Near San Francisco alone, you’ll find Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, The Fillmore Theater, The Presidio, Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, and The Haight.  That’s all without even mentioning the amazing ethnic food that is waiting to be consumed in every corner of the city.  When you add all of the bodies of water that surround San Francisco, I find there is just so much to love about that area.

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If you head north a few hours drive past Humboldt County you’ll be near the beach town of Trinidad, the Redwoods National Park and one of my all time favorite beaches in the world (yes, the world), Gold Bluffs Beach. Why is it one of my favorites?  Let me try to do my best to describe it.  Picture a vast yet secluded beach that isn’t overrun with crowds.  Now imagine that beach being walled by 60-80″ cliffs that divide the beachfront area from the nearby Redwood forest.  And finally picture yourself standing on that same beach with the sound of the crashing waves bouncing back off the cliffs and echoing in your ears all the while the smell of the Redwoods waft down from the cliffs above to where you are standing.  That’s Gold Bluffs Beach. Should you find yourself up in this area do yourself a favor and make a stop there – it is utterly breathtaking.

But as much as I adore all of the above mentioned places, one of my favorite spots in California is not one that you would expect. In  the northern central part of the state, about an hour east of Sacramento, is Amador County. The area is in the Sierra Nevada foothills and has a somewhat under-the-radar wine industry.  Now I know when thinking of wineries and vineyards that Napa Valley and Sonoma County come to mind first — but they also can get pretty crowded.  And that area is heavily populated by tourists — wine tasting tour buses anyone?  Plus you pretty much have to pay a tasting fee at most of the wineries that you visit.

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Enter Amador County as a sleepy and more intimate alternative. Granted, you will be a little more limited in the types of wine available due to grapes that are grown in the area, but what you may sacrifice in selection you more than make up in hospitality.  For example, look at my favorite spot up there: Story Winery.  There is never a charge for tastings at Story, the vibe is very low key and friendly, they have gorgeous grounds for holding picnics (again, no charge to bring your own food), and they invite and encourage you to camp out for the afternoon while enjoying a great bottle of zinfandel along with any picnic you might have brought along. And there is no rush to get in and out like at so many other vineyards.

Story and other wineries in the area may not have the whole Napa marketing engin
e behind them, but I think they more than make up for it in how they welcome their customers.  I’m sure I’m not going to persuade wine aficionados to forego a trip to Napa when visiting the Bay Area, but trust me it’s worth it to plan an extra day and make the drive east to Amador County.

(Photos courtesy of Shuttersmack Photography + Design.)

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