The perfect trip: California
The most thrilling spectacle is the herds of tule elk, a native-California species of 500-pound reindeer-like beasts, roaming the peninsula’s northern finger, Tomales Point. Come rutting season, their bugling echoes across the valleys as the males spar and lock horns in a fight for dominance, wooing potential harem members. The footpath wends right through the 440-head herd, and on weekends from July through September, the parks service provides binoculars for a closer look. It’s a little disconcerting hiking so close to these giant animals, but Hee assures, ‘They’re very tolerant of people on the trail, but if you step off it, the whole group can scatter and the bulls can lose their harems.’
Not that you’d want to step off the trail when you see what’s ahead. Just beyond the elk, the wildflower-studded footpath tops out on high, windswept bluffs with superb vistas. On one side, the Pacific churns; on the other lies mellow Tomales Bay, whose stillness belies the staggering power of the San Andreas fault just beneath its surface.
Where to eat
A roadside bar perched over Tomales Bay, the Marshall Store is the place to sample oysters. The store is not licensed to serve the alcohol it sells on the premises, so take your wine to the bay-side car park, a sandy strip lined with barrel tables. The speciality is barbecued oysters, but there’s also a terrific clam chowder (mains from £8).
Where to stay
Nick’s Cove and Cottages are an assembly of 1930s cottages on the edge of Tomales Bay. Nick’s feels like a summer place that’s been in the family for years. Refurbished in 2007 when famed local restaurateur Pat Kuleto took over, the cottages have luxury extras including high-thread-count sheets and heated marble bathroom flooring, but the decor remains decidedly folksy. The best rooms are on stilts, jutting out over the bay – come midweek for lower rates. Otherwise, Point Reyes is an easy daytrip from San Francisco (from £192).
Sonoma County: Best for wine
Sonoma Valley is 40 miles northeast of Point Reyes, 80 minutes by car.
Napa put California on the world’s viticultural map but, nowadays, gone are the family farms that once defined its landscape. Not so in Sonoma, however, which remains truer to its agrarian roots. Countless you-pick-em orchards, goatcheese farms and vegetable stands dot the winding back roads.
‘Sonoma has a rich agricultural tradition that predates the emergence of the California wine industry,’ explains Scott Adams, founder of Bella Winery. ‘What makes Sonoma County unique is its rich diversity. The vast majority of the wineries in the Sonoma area are still making wine on a small scale.’
You feel just how small this scale is wending towards Adams’ winery up West Dry Creek Rd, an undulating trail – just one-lane wide in some spots – and the favoured route of winery-hoppers on bicycles. At the road’s end sit two contrasting wineries, Bella and Preston: new Sonoma, old Sonoma.
Although Bella Winery has a block of 95-year-old, gnarled zinfandel vines on its estate, the winery building itself is new and its magnificent, cool caves were bored into the hillside only in the late 1990s. Its wines break with local tradition. Most red Sonoma vintages are big and jammy – one local winemaker describes his syrah as ‘slutty’. But at Bella, the single-vineyard zinfandels are elegantly lean and structured, taking a cue from Europe, not its neighbours. The vibe is playful and young: with its late-harvest zinfandel tastings, Bella serves peanut-butter cups.
Across the road, the maturer Preston Winery occupies a century-old organic farmstead surrounded by a weathered picket fence, with large wicker rockers lining the big front porch. This is salt-ofthe- earth Sonoma, with a mishmash of different Rhône varietals and vegetables for sale. Each Sunday locals gather here, bringing their own jugs to fill and sit under the shade of walnut trees, drinking wine and playing bocce ball (Italian boules), munching on Mr Preston’s homemade bread and olive oil between turns.