Sun, Vineyards, and Peaks: The San Francisco Loop - Page 2

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The vineyards of Sonoma
The Carpet of the Wine Country: The vineyards of Sonoma  (Corel)

Days 3-4: Yosemite to Lake Tahoe/D. L. Bliss State Park (200 Miles)
North of Yosemite, the 22-mile-long, 12-mile-wide crystal repository of water that is 6,229-foot-high Lake Tahoe is surrounded by mountain peaks rising another 4,000 feet above it. Talk about having it all. Perhaps the best way to see this spectacular alpine lake is by traveling part (or all, if you have some weeks to spare) of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail, which circles the lake. Along the way are numerous opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, as well as a full array of seasonal winter sports, such as downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Depending on the amenities you seek, the lake's North Shore contains small towns and a more rural environment, while the South Shore is filled with casinos, glamorous hotels, restaurants, condos, and so forth.

In the vicinity of South Lake Tahoe, D.L. Bliss State Park (800.777.0369; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=505) provides excellent lake access. Commercial activities available nearby include scenic tours via jeeps or Hummers, mountain-bike rentals, scenic gondola tours at area ski resorts, or lake cruises on a three-deck paddle wheeler, the Tahoe Queen (800.23.TAHOE).

A good place to camp nearby is at Tahoe Valley Campground (530.541.2222). It has cable TV hookups, groceries, propane, laundry, heated pool, fishing, tennis, bike rentals, and access to good hiking trails. D.L. Bliss (800.444.7275 for reservations) itself also has 150 campsites, though no RV hookups.

Days 5-6: Lake Tahoe to Napa/Sonoma (200 Miles)
Only 40 miles north of San Francisco, Napa and neighboring Sonoma counties contain more than 150 wineries. Native Americans first staked out the fruitful, rich soils, long before the discovery of gold in the late 1840s, Mission priests grew the first grapes here at the Sonoma State Historical Park (707.938.9560; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=479). In addition to numerous winery tours and tasting rooms in the region, you can visit the home of one of the area's earliest tourism promoters at Jack London State Historical Park (707.938.5216; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=478). Hop the Napa Valley Wine Train (800.427.4124; www.winetrain.com) for a fun three-hour, 36-mile trip through wine country that means you don't have to bother with driving after quaffing all those chardonnays and pinot grigios.

Sonoma is not only the place where Northern California's wine industry was born in the early days of the Spanish Missions, around 1800, it's also the site of the most northerly of the California Mission churches, and the place where the California Republic was announced in 1846, declaring Sonoma its first capital. Today, of course, there are winery and vineyard tours galore, hot-air ballooning, fine dining, old historic architecture at Sonoma State Historic Park, and even famous movie-set locales. A great way to get around Sonoma is by bicycle, which are available to rent in town.

The best RV camping in the vicinity of fashionable Napa and Sonoma is at the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park in Calistoga (707.942.4575; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=477). It has an outdoor pool with a lifeguard, firewood, biking, hiking, and horseback riding. The surrounding area contains steaming geysers, mineral hot springs, and mud baths, as well as the expected wineries and area hot-air ballooning.

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