Due to COVID-19, I’m now traveling by car & working remotely in different parts of the US. My “weekend guides” result from having spent significantly longer in each place, but hopefully will help you plan a safe trip, even if it’s short. Read more here.
If you’re planning a weekend in Lake County, California, I’m sure your plans already involve Clear Lake — believed by many geologists to be the oldest lake in North America. Northern California’s Clear Lake is famous for bass fishing, and Nick and I made our first trip there in 2019 when I surprised him with a fishing trip for his birthday. But there’s actually quite a bit more to do in the region beyond fishing, and given it’s rural location and plethora of outdoor adventures, it’s the perfect spot for a socially distanced vacation.
When the quarantine itch started to set in early this summer, we decided to rent a house in Kelseyville for a month which gave me more than enough time to explore and write a guide to a weekend in Lake County. We used Airbnb to find a house with a great deck overlooking Mt. Konocti (pictured above) and the lake. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, sign up here using my referral link for $35 off your first stay.
Here are my top tips for a fun (and COVID-safe) trip to the area.
Warning as of 9/7/2020: Much of California is currently under severe fire danger warnings, and many communities are either under mandatory evacuations or evacuation warnings. Look up restrictions and the latest situation before traveling anywhere in California during wildfire season, both for your own safety and to avoid placing higher demands on the limited emergency resources of rural counties.
Clear Lake is known for having some of the best bass fishing in the world and regularly hosts tournaments where records are broken for the biggest catch. A weekend in Lake County wouldn’t be complete without trying your hand at catching some fish.
Fishing is definitely NOT my area of expertise or interest, but since it’s one of Nick’s biggest hobbies we spent the vast majority of our time outdoors fishing on Clear Lake. Nick ended up purchasing a used fishing kayak, but you can also rent rods, reels, and kayaks from Clearlake Outdoors bait & tackle shop or hire a guide in a motor boat (who will bring everything you need). Don’t forget to purchase a fishing license!
Fishing can also be done from shore, with some of the more popular and easily accessible spots (also free, public boat launches) being Library Park in Lakeport and the Clearlake Oaks Boat Launch. Both also have picnic tables and seating areas – perfect for me to hang out when I got bored of fishing.
Hike & Learn the History of the Pomo People
While I was in Lake County in July it was insanely hot – as in, more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit almost daily. So it’s safe to say, I didn’t do a ton of hiking. However, the area is surrounded by mountains and hiking trails, and touches several state parks, so there’s plenty to find if you download the AllTrails app.
The one hike I was able to do was in Anderson Marsh State Historic Park in Lower Lake, California. The mostly flat trail through the park offers a chance to see wildlife (I saw deer, a turtle, and many birds) and walk along Cache Creek. But it’s also an area of historical significance, if you’re interested in learning more about the history of Lake County. The park is largely uncrowded, making it perfect for a getaway during COVID-19.
Anderson Marsh is part of the ancestral territory of the Koi Nation, a Southeastern Pomo tribe, and the park is home to a number of prehistoric Koi sites. The Pomos were among the first humans to colonize California, where they traded obsidian and magnesite and lived off the abundance of Clear Lake. They also made baskets and boats out of tule grass.
When European settlers arrived in the mid-1800s, they eventually took control of the Pomo people’s land around Clear Lake. Starting in 1821, the Pomos were nearly wiped out by European diseases, enslavement, and mistreatment. By 1900, only 450 Pomos survived and today there are six tribes remaining in the region.
Anderson Marsh park is home to a number of prehistoric Koi sites as well as preserved 1800s dairy and cattle ranching facilities from when Scottish immigrant John Still Anderson acquired the land. California State Parks acquired the property in 1982 to protect its archaeological and natural resources.
A weekend in Lake County wouldn’t be complete without tasting the wine made from grapes grown in the region’s volcanic soils. Lake County is definitely an under-the-radar wine region compared to its better-known neighbors Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino — but its lack of popularity isn’t reflective of its quality and makes it the perfect destination for socially-distant wine tourism.
During COVID-19, wineries require reservations but it’s easy to get one on short notice by simply calling ahead. Additionally, masks are required until you’re seated at your table and most wineries have shifted to a self-guided “wine flight” tasting approach where you get all the wine at once vs. having each taste poured as you go.
My favorite was Laujor Estate Winery, a small-production winery in Kelseyville that offers the chance to taste its delicious wines while perched on a hill with breathtaking views of Mt. Konocti.
If you prefer to stay in your vacation rental and sip wine, the Riviera Foods grocery store in Kelseyville offers an excellent selection of local bottles to take home. The region is known best for its Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel.
Take a Day Trip to the Beautiful and Clear Blue Lakes
While Clear Lake is a huge fishing destination, it’s not the best lake for swimming due to naturally occurring blue-green algae that can be dangerous to humans and pets (plus in the summer, it’s quite warm – not the refreshing dip you’re seeking!). Less than an hour away, you can find Blue Lakes, a smaller pair of crystal clear, spring-fed lakes perfect for swimming (you can also fish here!).
Motor boats are not allowed on Blue Lakes, but you can rent kayaks or a small electric boat from The Lodge at Blue Lakes. Unfortunately, there isn’t easy access to the lake if you aren’t staying at a resort or campground on its shores, so paying the day-use fee or renting a boat from The Lodge is your best bet if you’re coming for the day from Clear Lake.
Where to Get Takeout or Eat Outdoors in Lake County
After all that time outdoors, you’ll be hungry — so make sure you plan to visit some of my favorite spots during your weekend in Lake County.
Arti Cafe, an authentic and organic Indian restaurant in Kelseyville that rivaled the Indian food we had in the Bay Area, for sure. My favorite dish was the melti-in-your-mouth Chicken Makhani, which was shredded tandoori butter chicken in a mild ginger and tomato curry sauce. The vegetable Biryani and garlic naan were also delicious! Arti Cafe offers both outdoor seating and takeout.
Saw Shop Public House, located on Main Street in downtown Kelseyville, is another gem of Lake County if you’re craving food on the gourmet side. The restaurant has plenty of outdoor seating, but also offers food and cocktails (served in portable, reusable mason jars) to go via an online ordering system.
Marcel’s French Bakery & Cafe is the perfect antidote to your croissant and coffee cravings. They have a drive through location right by the Clearlake Oaks boat ramp (perfect for an early morning iced coffee and snack post-fishing!) and a regular cafe in downtown Lakeport.
Catfish Coffee is another coffee house that also offers delicious breakfast and lunch sandwiches in Clear Lake, if you need a more robust meal than a croissant. They have a drive through, or you can place your order inside and do takeout as they are limiting capacity. There’s a Buddy’s Coffee in Clearlake Oaks that has the same exact menu, but I would recommend avoiding that location as they have signs discouraging mask usage and the employees/patrons don’t follow safety protocols. Sigh.
Pogo’s Pizza was our go-to for pizza and unhealthy but delicious comfort food. Since Nick and I like completely opposite types of pizza (he’s a meat lover kinda guy and I’m into vegetables and spice) we were thrilled that they offer individual-sized pizza for take out. Pogo’s has two locations in Kelseyville; if you want to dine outside the one downtown also has seating (the one in Soda Bay is just for takeout).
O’Meara Bros Brewing Company is another spot great for takeout if you’re in the mood for some more upscale comfort food (e.g. burgers, wings, and mac & cheese. They also have a small amount of outdoor seating. Don’t forget to try a six pack of the local beer – my favorite was the Bottle Rock Blonde Ale.
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