Thursday, March 31, 2016

California Dreamin' - Adventures in Santa Rosa

If you saw my post from a few days back, you probably already know that I'm in California for the week spending some time in Santa Rosa and exploring all of the travel options it has to offer. The city  is nestled in the heart of wine country, and is surrounded by a landscapes of rolling hills and lush grasslands. But best of all, it has plenty of things to offer the adventurous, active traveler too, including outstanding mountain biking, road cycling, and much more.

I arrived in Santa Rosa late Tuesday afternoon after flying into San Francisco, grabbing a rental car, and hitting the road. It took about an hour and a half to drive to town, where I first checked into the Flamingo Conference Resort & Spa, my base camp for my stay in the region. The Flamingo is a unique hotel to say the least, which a retro chic design that is both charming and fun. Sure, there are plenty of other places to stay in Santa Rosa, but I'd wager few of them have the character of this place.

After getting settled at the Flamingo, I had to run across town to the Trek Store of Santa Rosa to pick up a mountain bike for a planned ride the following day. The friendly and very helpful staff at the bike shop hooked me up with a Trek Fuel EX 8, and plenty of great suggestions on trails to ride in the area. Their knowledge and experience would come in handy when I would hit trail in Annadel State Park on my second day there.

On a side note, if you want to check out a fantastic bike shop when visiting the area, the Trek Store is one of the best I've seen. They have a great selection of bikes both for sale and rent to meet the needs of just about any kind of rider. There is also plenty of cycling apparel, accessories, and other items too. If you have some time to kill while in Santa Rosa, it's worth a stop even if you're not going to be riding.

After collecting my bike, I rounded out my first day by grabbing dinner at The Pullman Kitchen, a trendy and tasty bistro in downtown Santa Rosa. The menu included some light, healthy options, along with a good selection of local wines. After all, vino is what this part of California is best known for.

On my second day in Santa Rosa would definitely be a more active one. After grabbing a light breakfast, I drove over to Getaway Adventures, a local outfitter that specializes in organizing cycling and kayaking tours of the area. Getaway has been around for more than 25 years, and offer customers such options as the Velo 'n Vino wine tour and Pints and Pedals for beer lovers. But on this day, the company's owner – Randy Johnson –  took me on the Jenner Coastal Kayak tour, a paddling excursion that takes travelers to the place where the famous Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean.

Jenner is a small town located about 45 minutes from Santa Rosa. It overlooks the river and the scenic Northern California coastline. The paddling is easy and relaxed, with plenty of wonderful things to see along the way. The highlight of the trip is watching the Pacific Harbor Seals sun themselves on the beach. And since it is early spring, they have started to give birth to their babies. Were able to spot a couple of the pups from the water as they mingled with the rest of the herd.

As we paddled along the edge of the river, the curious seals came closer to our kayaks, occasionally bobbing their heads above the water to get a closer look. It was clear that they wanted to know who we were, and what we were doing there, but we were careful not to start too close to the main group, as they are easily startled and will quickly dash into the water.

At one point of the tour, we pulled our kayaks onto the beach and got out to take a look around. The beauty of the California coast was on full display, with rocky outcroppings, towering cliffs, and roaring waves crashing against the shore. It was worth the entire trip out Jenner just to take in the view.

Sadly, our paddling excursion had to come to an end, and after grabbing a quick lunch in town, we were back on the road to Getaway Adventures' headquarters in Santa Rosa, where they had other clients waiting and it was time for me to move on. For me, the tour was over far too quickly, but my day was far from over. After saying goodbye to Randy and his very helpful crew, I was off to Annadel State Park for the mountain biking portion of my tour.

This magnificent outdoor playground sits just 15 minutes drive out of Santa Rosa, and yet it has miles of trails for every type of rider. Whether you like twisty and technical single track, smooth and wide fire roads, or something in-between, Annadel has you covered. There are grueling climbs, and breathtaking drops. White knuckle descents and rocky routes can all be found there, with some fantastic views to be had along the way too.

I stared off by going up the North Burma Trail, a difficult climb that left my legs and lungs screaming out for relief. Near the top, it levels out nicely and become easier, but if you want an easier ascent, I'm told that South Burma is the way to go. Eventually I made my way over to the Lake Trail, which circles Lake Ilsanjo, one of the park's hidden gems. After that, I pedaled over to the Canyon Trail for a fun and fast – albeit rocky – descent back to the parking lot.

All told, I spent about two hours riding around Annadel, and came away very impressed. Not only is the riding fantastic, but there are trails for every style and experience level of riders. Best of all, the proximity of the park to Santa Rosa makes it easily accessible to anyone living in or visiting the town. We should all have such a wonderful natural resource so close to where we live.

After my ride, I zipped back into town, dropped off my bike at Trek Santa Rosa, and returned to the Flamingo for a quick shower. As you can imagine, my busy and active day helped me build up quite an appetite, and it was time to refuel. What better way to do that than with a big steak and a glass of local wine? I'd heard that Stark's Steakhouse was the best in town, and after one meal there it's hard to argue with that. The prime rib was delicious, especially when paired with the restaurant's truffle fries. Following a long and busy day, it definitely hit the spot.

Following a good meal, it was back to the Flamingo for some rest. Tomorrow is another busy one filled with more adventures, and I'm already looking forward to seeing what else Santa Rosa has in store for me.


motoventures said...

Looks like a great time! I enjoy your blog and the mental vacation that it gives me!

Kraig Becker said...

Thanks! Glad you enjoy it! :)