After leaving California’s cool, foggy redwood coast, we wound our way along narrow country roads to our new home in California’s sunny wine country; Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Just outside of Santa Rosa in the heart Sonoma County’s wine country, we couldn’t have picked a better place.
It was fourth of July weekend and we knew it would be crowded, so we reserved a campsite at the park and glad we did. We would move on into the Sierra Nevada mountains after the holiday, but we needed somewhere to wait out the busy 4th of July weekend and this park is perfectly located for that. After hauling our trailer up the exceptionally narrow and winding entry road we found shady camps surrounding a large meadow with open woodlands of oak, madrone and pine reaching into the surrounding mountains. The park is 1,500 feet above the heat of the valley below and it’s centrally located in Sonoma Valley between the pleasant towns of Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Napa and Calistoga. It’s right in the middle of wine country.
Sugarloaf Ridge is a state park that was rescued from budget cuts by the Sonoma Ecological Center and now operated by them. At $35/night there’s no power, no cellular signal, and no sewer hookup; water available only at community spigots and a centrally located bathroom with pay showers. Only about half of the campsites could accommodate our twenty eight foot long trailer. No problem. With our waste tanks empty and fresh water tanks full we were ready for a “dry camp.” As a bonus, the best wines we found during our stay here were right near the park entrance at Landmark Vineyards where we sipped the best chardonnay and pinot noir we’ve ever tasted.
We spent the sunny fourth of July weekend hiking in the surrounding mountains, lounging in camp and visiting the small towns nearby. We explored Railroad Square in Santa Rosa and shady Calistoga. We visited tiny Penngrove with its Buddhist meditation center next door to the local bar & grill (coincidence?).
But the town of Sonoma was our favorite with it’s large, grassy central plaza surrounded by 19th century buildings and the old Spanish/Mexican mission of San Francisco, the northernmost of a string of 17th century missions starting at the tip of Baja California over two thousand miles to the south. It was here in Sonoma in the mid-19th century that American settlers first raised the now familiar California bear flag signaling the start of an independent California Republic. In Sonoma we splurged for an excellent meal of lamb and chicken masala at Himalayas Restaurant and sipped wine at California’s oldest winery, Buena Vista.
Our fourth of July celebrations started by returning to Sonoma in the morning for their 4th of July parade where ironically a Mexican charro group with their dancing horses stole the show. We returned to Sugarloaf Ridge through tiny Kenwood where we stopped at the Palooza pub for an excellent shrimp and pulled pork lunch, then siestas in camp to prepare for the evening.
We had signed up with the park managers for a hike to the top of Bald Mountain, the highest point in Sonoma County, to watch the fireworks displays in the surrounding communities of Napa, Sonoma and Santa Rosa two thousand feet below us. Wine and beer served on the mountaintop, bring your own chair, and it’s a three and a half mile hike up a steep trail with the return trip down the mountain at night. What better way to celebrate the fourth of July than sipping wine on top of a mountain with fireworks lighting the sky in all directions. It was a fitting end to our stay at Sugarloaf Ridge.
The next morning we packed up and left for the Sierra Nevada mountains, leaving the pastoral Sonoma Valley behind in exchange for the Sierra Nevada mountains and entering gold rush country and the realm of the giant sequoia trees, the largest living things on earth.