Take a Drive North to Ukiah for food, fun and spiritual respite

 
 

You don’t have to drive very far north on Highway 101 to find the hidden charms of Small Town USA.From the newly renovated movie theater in Cloverdale to the family wineries of Hopland and ethnic restaurants of Ukiah, the Redwood Empire has been reinventing itself while staying true to its wild and, oftentimes, unconventional roots.“In the 1960s, there were hippies, homesteaders and cults,” said Craig Strattman, the former chef of Healdsburg’s Chalk Hill Winery who has opened two restaurants in Ukiah in the past 13 years. “People came here to get closer to the earth and to commune with nature.”An overcast day provided the backdrop for a leisurely drive up to Ukiah, with stops at hidden gems such as Campovida Winery (the former Fetzer Vineyards Valley Oaks Ranch) and the City of 10,000 Buddhas in Talmage, one of the largest Buddhist monasteries in Northern California. Although only 61 miles from Santa Rosa as the crow flies, this relatively short journey provided a glimpse into another world and offered a taste of nature on a grander scale, accompanied by spiritual and physical respite.Here’s a few places you may want to check out along the way.CloverdaleThe sleepy village of Cloverdale has a couple of places to get a cup of Joe in the morning, with even more are on the way.At Savvy on First, which opened in 2013, chef/owner and Sonoma County native Kristine Bodily-Gallagher has created a cozy cafe and neighborhood gathering place where you can grab a fresh pastry and a cup of coffee Wednesday through Friday mornings or brunch on weekends. They also serve salads and sandwiches for lunch, and dinner on Thursday through Saturday.“We make everything ourselves, including the bread,” said waitress Maria Scalese, a Cloverdale native. If you enjoy kayaking or fishing, Scalese suggests taking a side trip to the northern shores of Lake Sonoma and the Yorty Creek Recreation area, which comes with a boat ramp and barbecue pits.Coffee is also one of the main reasons to visit Plank, a hipster coffee shop where you can meet the locals or just set up your laptop. The coffee bar is owned by Mike Morisette and Marne Dupere, who also run the adjacent farmers market on Tuesday afternoons and 14 Feet, a boutique on the other side of Plank that sells vintage and modern home furnishings.Christy Anne Latchford, who works at 14 Feet, said the town offers plenty of places to stretch your legs and hike, including a walk along the Russian River just east of town, where you’ll find a paved trail that’s just a three-mile jaunt, round trip.New stores have also started popping up, including Bolt, a fabric store geared to quilters that also offers some unique gifts for the home.Along with massage therapists, Cloverdale tends to attract all kinds of artists who show their work at the Cloverdale Arts Alliance and along the Sculpture Trail, which stretches from Geyserville to Cloverdale.“We have a new (sculpture) installation,” said Mark Tharrington, executive director of the Cloverdale Arts Alliance. “I think it gives the town a good vibe, and you can stop and look at it.”Tharrington also books the bands for Friday Night Live concerts in the summer, which ends on Sept. 2. The alliance also hosts a Jazz Club concert the first Thursday of the month and a Blues Session the second Saturday.“Cloverdale is getting some traction right now,” Tharrington said. “It’s busting loose. There’s a natural foods store going in, and the Trading Post is a big deal.”In the works for several years, the only existing portion of The Trading Post Market is its bakery (warning: hours are 1 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday), with the restaurant expected to open soon. Chef Erik Johnson of J Vineyards has been tapped for the job of creating the casual restaurant’s comfort food menu.In addition to mainstays like Pick’s Drive-In and the Hamburger Ranch, you can grab lunch or dinner at Cloverdale Ale Company’s Ruth McGowan’s Brewpub, which features $3 tacos on Tuesdays and live music on Saturday evenings.Cloverdale residents are extremely proud of their movie theater, The Clover, which offers a scoop shop and comic book store in its lobby. Owners Kathryn and Ryan Hecht moved from Brooklyn to reopen the cinema four years ago and are gradually renovating the historic theater into a first-rate venue.HoplandWhile Cloverdale is without a single wine tasting room, you can find plenty of fermented grape juice just up the highway in the small but energetic hamlet of Hopland.Hopland is also home of the Real Goods/Solar Living Center, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this summer. The center includes educational exhibits and a retail outlet for sustainable goods like solar ovens and food dryers, plus you can wander through the certified organic garden, take a tour and even camp on a limited basis. It’s a great place to take the kids and give them a taste of holistic living.If you don’t have the rug rats along, then be sure to stop at one of the many small, family wine-tasting rooms in Hopland, such as César Toxqui Cellars at 13500 South Highway 101.Toxqui went from laying bricks to counting brix when he became assistant winemaker at Brutocao Cellars. Later, he launched his own brand, sourcing grapes from Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties for his eponymous line of biodynamic wines.With his son, Hugh Oliver, he makes a refreshing blanc de noir sparkler and a fruity Immigrant Zinfandel.“At one point in our lives, we all were immigrants,” he said. “Just open a bottle and enjoy what America has become.”Other interesting wine-tasting stops in Hopland include the Graziano Family of Wines, which specializes in Italian and unique Old World varietals; and Saracina, owned by organic and biodynamic pioneer John Fetzer.Just east of town, drop by Campovida’s winery and gardens at the former Fetzer Vineyards Valley Oaks Ranch on Old River Road. This iconic winery, garden and culinary center, developed during the heyday of Fetzer Vineyards in the 1980s and ’90s, has been revitalized and renovated under new ownership, offering lush gardens alongside its wine and olive oil tasting.To get into the garden, you need to pay for a tasting ($10 for six wines plus olive oil) or buy a bottle of wine, but it’s worth it to stroll along the pollinator gardens, listening to the sounds of Stellar Jays and woodpeckers while watching butterflies flit amid the roses. On Saturdays at 11 a.m., you can taste and tour the garden with garden master Ken Boek (reservations recommended).If you’re hungry, the winery’s sister property, Piazza de Campovida pizzeria and taverna in downtown Hopland, will sate your appetite with an interesting array of small plates, salads, pizzas and large plates from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. And there are a few rooms there as well for overnight guests.TalmageFrom Campovida Winery, you can follow Old River Road north, past vineyards and old pear orchards, to Talmage and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a Buddhist monastery launched in 1976 on the grounds of the former Mendocino Mental Hospital.In addition to an elementary and high school, there are university-level programs on the grounds at the Dharma Realm Buddhist University. Several families of peacocks also roam the grounds, and their loud, calls echo through the 700-acre property with piercing and haunting regularity.Most visitors drop by to enjoy lunch at the Jyun Kang restaurant, which serves all-vegetarian Chinese cuisine, including appetizers, soups, noodle dishes and fried rice, all at bargain prices. You have to pay with cash, and no alcohol is served.David Hall and Nikolas Pelekis of Santa Rosa stopped by the restaurant on their way to visit Orr Hot Springs outside of Ukiah and were shocked by the strange, otherworldly ambiance emanating from the grounds.“You hear the peacocks, and their cries are coming from everywhere,” Pelekis said. “I felt that I had entered their area, and they were hunting me ... in a good way.”UkiahIf vegetarian fare is not your thing, there are plenty of dining choices in downtown Ukiah. Chef Ari Rosen, owner of Scopa and Campofina in Healdsburg, grew up in Ukiah and highly recommends Oco Time, a California-Japanese restaurant, and the take-out tacos at the Chavez Supermarket across from the airport.Strattman opened Patrona restaurant across from the courthouse on Standley Street more than a dozen years ago, and since that time, the neighborhood has come back to life with all kinds of trendy boutiques and eateries.A year ago, Strattman also opened the Asian-inspired Chop Chop restaurant just down the street, serving Tiki drinks plus exotic fare ranging from Korean Tacos to Bahn Mi sandwiches. On Thursday nights, you can get a John Ford Beef Burger and a pint for $12.There are also plenty of places to grab a beverage in Ukiah, from the urban, hipster coffee drinks at Black Oak Coffee Roasters on North State Street to the Mendocino Brewing Ale House on Airport Park Boulevard, home of the famous Red Hawk Ale, Peregrine Pilsner and Black Hawk Stout.Germain-Robin, a craft brandy distiller in the Redwood Valley, makes world-class brandies, liqueurs and grappa. As American Craft Whiskey Distillery, it also makes whiskey, and as Tamar Distillery, it creates hand-crafted gin and vodka.You can taste the renowned German-Robin spirits on Monday through Friday, but you need to call to make a reservation the day before at (707) 468-7899.There area also plenty of wineries, including Rivino, located on the Russian River just south of the downtown. The 100 percent estate family winery hosts a lively happy hour on Fridays, with live music.If you’re looking to get into the country, grab a picnic from the Ukiah Natural Foods Coop — a community gathering spot celebrating 40 years — and head out towards Lake Mendocino to the Shakota Trail or commune with the old-growth coast redwoods at Montgomery Woods on Orr Springs Road, about 30 minutes from Highway 101.If you’re into music, Mendocino College offers live concerts, and several music stores sell used CDs, old guitars and ukuleles. You might even run into Windham Hill guitarist Alex di Grassi, a resident of Ukiah, or blues guitarist Robben Ford, who was raised there.The naturally carbonated waters of the historic Vichy Springs Resort, which flow from six miles under the earth, are open to guests of the hotel as well as to outside guests who purchase a day pass.Like the famous Vichy baths of France, the bubbly “champagne” water is renowned for improving circulation, softening the skin and creating an aura of warmth and peacefulness. When consumed, its alkalinity is believed to heal a wide range of acid-based ailments, from gout to ulcers.In addition to the bubbling bathtubs, Vichy Springs includes an Olympic-size swimming pool, a hot pool and 700 acres of walking and hiking trails.Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at (707) 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56. Visit Campovida in Hopland to stroll through organic show gardens, and taste some wine and olive oile. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat) Kristine Bodily-Gallagher is the owner of Savvy on First, in Cloverdale. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)
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