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Wine Country Daytrip: Food, Sun, and Stars

A drive to Yountville and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park turns up big views and big flavors.

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  • Vista Trail at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, image
    Photo caption
    Sugarloaf Ridge State Park's Vista Trail has no trouble living up to its name.
  • braised ribs and polenta at Redd Wood Yountville, image
    Photo caption
    At Yountville's Redd Wood, dishes such as braised short ribs and celery leaves over soft polenta are unfussy yet refined.

The hills that divide Napa and Sonoma make a charming backdrop for the California valleys’ vineyard rows and picturesque towns. They’re even better up close. This arm of the Mayacamas Mountains is home to a string of parks scattered with redwood groves, oak forests, grassy meadows, and top-of-the-world views. One of the best lookouts in the two counties is the crown of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Bald Mountain (parks.ca.gov). True to its name, the peak is clear of trees, letting hikers revel in a 360-degree vantage point that, on a clear day, gathers the Sierras, Mount Diablo, and San Francisco in one sweeping view. The mild temperatures in spring and fall make those seasons ideal for the moderately strenuous 5.5-mile trip.

 

For a gentler walk, the Vista Trail traverses the mountain’s side, crossing through meadows and stands of trees as the tops of the surrounding hills bob in and out of sight at eye level. And, on one or two Saturdays a month, depending on the season, park visitors needn’t take on any elevation at all to get closer to the heavens thanks to the star parties put on by Robert Ferguson Observatory (rfo.org). Docents set up telescopes outdoors and help kids and adults safely watch the surface of the sun at midday, then point out the highlights of the night sky once darkness falls.

Visitors spending a full day outdoors can still enjoy the tasteful pleasures of wine country in nearby Yountville, where a handful of stellar casual restaurants includes Addendum (thomaskeller.com), a take-out shack in the spacious garden behind the sit-down Ad Hoc. At lunchtime Thursday through Saturday, the restaurant serves picnic-ready boxes with a choice of legendary buttermilk-fried chicken, house-smoked ribs, or pulled pork sandwich. Diners looking to skip the line can order up to a week ahead.

For a sit-down lunch or dinner, Redd Wood (redd-wood.com) manages to be easygoing as well as stylish, serving fun cocktails such as an Italian greyhound—the usual vodka and grapefruit livened up with a bracing splash of Campari and lime—and wood-oven pizzas with delicious toppings including sausage, tomato, smoked mozzarella, Calabrian chile, and fennel. What to do first, eat or take a hike? Whatever day-trippers choose, they’re guaranteed to get two different, and equally lovely, perspectives on the Mayacamas.

Photography by Eric Smillie (trail); Nick Vasilopoulos (pork shank)

 

This article was first published in July 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.