It's located just north of Napa, but you may not have heard of it. Even if you have, it's less likely that you've been there. Lake County lies due north of Napa Valley, its southernmost town just up the hill from Calistoga. It's home to the largest, natural freshwater lake within California's borders, a beautiful body of water about 100 miles in circumference. We think it's one of California's nicest, less-discovered spots.
You can plan your Lake County day trip or weekend getaway using the resources below.
Why Should You Go to Lake County?
- Lake County is especially popular with fishermen and boaters. It's a good place to get away from it all, and we like its unpretentious summer wine weekend.
- The Lake County wine industry is growing but still small, and you're likely to find the winemaker pouring for you in the tasting room. Properties in the area are beginning to be revitalized, but it's still a friendly place to visit, where shopkeepers and innkeepers are clearly glad to see you and not jaded like their counterparts elsewhere.
Best Time to Visit
The most popular time for visitors is July and August (best for water play on the lake), but it's less crowded and especially pretty in spring when the wildflowers are blooming. Clear Lake is at about 1,300 feet elevation so that it may be a little colder than at your home. Otherwise, its weather pattern is the same as the rest of California, with warm summers and rainy winters.
4 Great Things to Do in Lake County
- If you've only got a day, book a tour at Eleven Roses Ranch for a rare look at some beautiful countryside and one of the most relaxing outings you can find anywhere.
- Wine Tasting: You'll find about 20 wineries scattered around the county, and some are open for tasting. We especially like Ceago. It's between the villages of Nice and Lucerne on the north shore, and its setting could easily make you think you're traveling between the two towns' European namesakes. However, one of the nicest ways to enjoy several at one sitting is to visit the Lake County Wine Studio on Main Street in Upper Lake, which serves as the tasting room for wineries too small to have their own. Kelseyville is also home to several winery tasting rooms and has some lovely little shops to browse in.
- Robinson Rancheria is the nicest Lake County casino, offering bingo, slots, and table games, as well as some good entertainment.
- Water Play: Clear Lake serves up some of the state's best bass fishing, and you can hire a guide to improve your chances. For a more active time on the lake rent a jet ski or boat.
Annual Events You Should Know About
Held in May, the Lake County Wine Adventure gets you into 20+ wineries over two days, including some not normally open to the public, and all for less than the cost of wine tasting at one winery in Napa Valley. Lake County Wine Tours offers a transportation package, so you and your friends don't have to draw straws to designate a driver.
Tips for Visiting Lake County
- July and August are the busiest months, and the nicest places fill up early. Plan ahead or go off-season.
- Some of the roads around Clear Lake are narrow and nausea-inducingly winding. If motion sickness is a problem for you, take precautions.
- If you want to take a drive along the lake shore, California Hwy 20 is the place to go. It runs close to the water between Upper Lake and Clearlake Oaks on the northwest side.
Locals around the lake are very friendly and helpful, so ask around to get the scoop on the latest new eateries. The meal we had at the Blue Wing Saloon next door to the Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake was excellent and their service superb.
Where to Stay
You can't beat the Upper Lake's Tallman Hotel for comfortable, classy accommodations. Check guest reviews and compare prices for the Tallman on Tripadvisor. For hotels in the rest of Lake County, read reviews and compare prices at Tripadvisor.
The town of Clearlake is on the southernmost end of Clear Lake. If you use an online mapping service, be aware that California has more than one place called Clear Lake. The one you're looking for is north of the Napa Valley and Calistoga. Upper Lake is 130 miles north of San Francisco, north of the lake itself. The best way to get there depends on which part of the lake you're going to, so it's best to consult a map.