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San Francisco radiates a heady high that’s not entirely due to the fog of its legalized dispensaries or the miles of sloping streets. In addition, the cultural hub bewitches visitors with swirling murals, Prohibition-era speakeasies and – beyond that – outstanding areas of natural beauty. If you’re dreaming of a rural escape, perhaps now is the time to take advantage of the verdant wine country, fantastical redwood forests and untouched wilderness within driving distance of the Golden Gate City.
Yosemite is a wild landscape that looks as if it was painted by Bob Ross himself. The vast national park is notorious for its clusters of cloud-climbing sequoias including the Instagram-worthy California Tunnel Tree – a man-made tunnel is carved through the tiger-orange trunk like a portal into Eden. Hike down one of the many routes that criss-cross the dense forest to find Bridalveil Fall, bursting from the crown of colossal granite cliffs.
A rustic pocket of old Americana tucked away in the rolling hills of Napa Valley, Calistoga is like heaven incarnate with its wealth of natural spa treatments. Take a dip in the famous hot springs, submerge yourself in the hot volcanic ash of a mineral-rich mud bath or check out the man-made ‘Old Faithful’ geothermal geyser that erupted when a well was drilled in the 19th century. Living up to its location, the small city offers plenty of places to have a glass of vino, including an irresistibly retro 1930s gas-station-cum-winery.
Thriving throughout the seasons with its popular ski resorts, wind-fueled watersports and network of hiking trails, Lake Tahoe attracts more than its fair share of day-trippers and sun-worshippers. The star of the show is the lake itself: a deep basin cloaked in a glassy cobalt veneer and backdropped by the lofty peaks of shrouded mountains. Its spellbinding setting is not without its own skeletons in the closet (or rather lake), as legend has it the chilly depths may hold the perfectly preserved bodies of mafia victims and lost divers.
Capture the magic of Lake Tahoe on this photographic tour. It includes stops at a wildlife sanctuary to snap some native birds (plus a bear if you’re lucky, from afar that is) and – depending on your choice of itinerary – a drive through Incline Village, the site of the famous Western show Bonanza. When you arrive at Lake Tahoe, you can use the guide’s tips and tricks to shoot reflections of cloud-spearing mountains in its rippling waters before swinging by West Shore, one of the filming locations from The Godfather Part II.
A pastoral paradise in Sonoma County, Healdsburg oozes country charm with its rustic farm-to-table fare and welcoming wineries. Strolling along streets that crunch underfoot with fallen leaves, you’ll come across the pinstriped signs of fashion boutiques and the creamy facades of buildings overrun by thickets of creeping ivy. There’s nightlife to be had, too – seek out Barndiva for a drink in its gallery-slash-bar setting.
Famed for its sustainable farming and surrounding nature reserves, wine-soaked Sonoma is a dreamland for wine and nature lovers. Its technicolor tapestry of golden meadows, stripy emerald vineyards and peach-colored architecture creates a spectacular backdrop for visits to award-winning wineries.
Journey deep into California wine country the old-fashioned way – on horseback. Channeling classic cowboy swagger, hoist yourself up onto the saddle of a mare for the day to follow your guide down the dusty trails that creep into the wilderness of Sonoma County. As your horse trots over the rocky terrain, you’ll enjoy regular breathers to appreciate the electric-blue waters of Sonoma Lake, the bucolic views from Skaggs Vista and the sweet aromas of the many vineyards in Dry Creek Valley.