Sunday, January 8, 2017

Side Trips: Clear Lake

     It's the off season, and while others are dreaming of summer getaways to destination hot spots, budget travelers are living large, planning big, and going far on bank account fumes. Though every day may not be warm, golden, or even dry, the lack crowds and traffic (depending on where you go) keep the vacation buzz strong. So, if you're lucky enough to have paid vacation but aren't blessed with a large bank account, now's the time to indulge in a side trip. This time around, my side trip was a birthday gift from my sister: a trip to Clear Lake, the largest freshwater lake in California.
     When the traffic is a little less congested, why not take the scenic route? My sister and I drove to Clear Lake via wine country instead of the more streamlined 101 route, which added a little time to the drive but also added lovely views and dining. After passing by several vineyards, we stopped for lunch at the absolutely charming and ever popular Gott's Roadside in St. Helena, which has plenty of outside seating for large groups and your furry friends. Yummy fish tacos and garlic fries! And you can watch the Napa Valley Wine Train from your table.
     For accommodations, why do the usual? We opted for train cars turned tiny homes at the pet friendly Featherbed Railroad in Nice (pronounced like niece), a caboose bed and breakfast that will just warm your soul. Each train car has a different theme, so whether you're on a trip with your girlfriends, a family adventure, or a romantic getaway, you're set here. Our car was the "tropicaboose": wood floors, stained glass window over the bathroom, two separate reading nooks with views of the lake in the cupola you climb up into (disturbance-free reading), and tropical decor throughout. A super delicious birthday cake (chocolate with raspberry filling) from a local bakery was waiting for me on the table. I experienced a charm overload when my sister pointed out a travelers' book where previous visitors wrote diary-like entries about their stay in the caboose and adventures at Clear Lake.
     Soon after arrival, June and her enormous, adorable dog Jake came to say hi and asked what we'd like for breakfast. She suggested Eggs Benedict, my fave, and let us know that videos, games, and books were available to check out in the main house where breakfast would be served the next morning. We then walked down to the lake and took in the views from a private Featherbed Railroad dock. Sigh.
     We arrived at the first of three delicious breakfasts the next morning around 9;30 and were greeted by owners June and Paul, and of course, Jake. The dining room? Charming. The Eggs Benedict? OMG! And then, with some advice from our hosts, we were off on adventures: bird watching at Clear Lake State Park, drives around the lake, visits to Clearlake, Lower Lake, and Lakeport, and lake walks to sunset watch. For wine drinkers, their are many boutique wineries in the area to visit, including the Boatique Winery in Kelseyville, where you can ooh and aah over beautiful boats after the wine.
     Bird watchers will especially enjoy this side trip. There was a group of vultures living in the trees above our caboose, and they're present throughout the area. Though they're not the most glamorous, they're still pretty awesome to behold. I got a close up on the dock, where a vulture was perched in the evening, and a close up of a Great Blue Heron on the shoreline beside the dock. We saw a Great Egret fishing in Lakeport and another at Clear Lake State Park, where we saw a variety of ducks and song birds. The whole experience left me contemplating the merits of city living and brought up fond memories of a small-town childhood.
     The whole trip felt like paradise, and because of the deals we got by going off-season, our wallets were able to relax and let their pennies loose too. When the tourists go home, this side trip is a definite miss-me-not.

The Napa Valley Wine Train
The food at Gott's Roadside was too good for a before picture.
Train cars ahead!

One of two Reading Nooks.
View of one Reading Nook from the other.

The Eggs Benedict.
Clear Lake State Park with its ducks in a row.