The plan is in motion, the destination set: Ride some of the twistiest roads connecting Mendocino and Lake counties, find a better-than-decent lunch in Lakeport, overlooking beautiful Clear Lake, and ride some more. The only meals I’ve partaken of in Lakeport prior to today are burgers and fries at the drive-in (Renee’s Cafe with 15 flavors of milkshake, most excellent on a hot Lake County day), burgers and fries at the local chain restaurant, or burgers and fries at Lakeport Speedway (but more on that later). Today we’ll be sampling the fare at Park Place Restaurant, reputedly one of the finer eateries in town.
Lakeport is the oldest incorporated town in Lake County and sits on the west shore of Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake entirely within California. It has a charming small town ambiance; the brick-fronted main street offers several eateries and shopping opportunities, but our goal today is the lakefront itself.
FORT BRAGG TO CLOVERDALE
I set out relatively early — for a Sunday — heading east out of Fort Bragg through the corners on one of only three roads out of town — all of them twisty. Highway 20 to Willits is 33 miles of one curve after another, some tight and technical, some wide sweepers, and only a few miles of straight, smack dab in the middle. If you stop for a break at Camp 20 (bathrooms, albeit stinky ones — plug your nose), you can tell which riders are headed inland and which ones are headed to the coast: those taking off layers are headed inland, those adding layers and warmer gloves are headed coast-side. Today I’m wearing mesh, expecting warmer temps inland, but using my heated grips as it’s chillier than I anticipated.
Highway 20 meets Highway 101 at Willits. Heading south to my meeting spot with Cindi, I roll through Ukiah and Hopland, until reaching Cloverdale and the only Starbucks in town, right off the highway. Pulling in, I spy Cindi’s unmistakable red VFR. We’re getting together for girls ride to Lake County for lunch, taking some of the tightest roads connecting Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma Counties.
HOPLAND TO LAKEPORT
Warming up with coffee and chai drinks, Cindi and I catch up with girl talk and then hop on the bikes to head north again the short 12 miles to Hopland. Instead of following the main highway, however, we turn north on Old River Road, paralleling the Russian River for four miles through lush, hidden vineyards. Hopland is a delightful destination for another day, but today we’re on a mission.
At the roundabout east of Hopland, we exit east on Highway 175 to find construction warning signs. Since it’s Sunday, there are no worries about stoppages and delays, but on 175 you always have to watch out for gravel in the corners, so take care.
THE VIEW FROM THE TOP
The new pavement is utterly sublime and makes for a superb ride to the top of the grade. (Be sure and stop for the view and a photo op. You’ll have to pull out to the left, but there’s not much traffic on this road so pulling in and out is straightforward. Lake County spreads out before us: Mount Konocti due east, the lake off to the north, Lakeport in the valley before us. Earlier in the year, April and May, you’ll catch a blur of color out of the corner of your eye — the pinks of redbud and Clarkia, the purples of lupine, and blue of brodieas — but now all we can see is brown. Lake County seems to be drying out quickly this year, but dry means better riding, so on we go! We unceremoniously reach the still-unpaved, bumpy stretch — the “old road” — and are forced to slow down for the rest of the ride into town.
ON THE WATERFRONT
Lakeport has a beautiful waterfront park complete with boat docks, jet ski rentals, a lovely gazebo, and restaurants. We easily find the Park Place Restaurant, my lunch spot of choice today. I’m ready for something different today, food that’s a bit more refined than the usual “burgers and fries”. Park Place Restaurant was established in the mid-1980s, and has been reviewed as the “finest eating establishment in Lakeport.”
Although we’re not allowed in the second-story rooftop seating area (with its wonderful view of Mt. Konocti and the lake), despite nearly begging, I am not disappointed with my order from the Sunday brunch menu of the veggie frittata, paired with country potatoes and fresh fruit. I’m astonished at how tall the frittata is. Usually, a frittata is a flat pancake of a dish, but this frittata is tall, packed with perfectly crisp vegetables (not limp, soggy or overcooked), delicately seasoned with fresh herbs, and utterly delicious. And… it‘s enough for this hungry moto-babe who has more roads to conquer! Dessert? Not today thank you.
AT THE RACES
One of my favorite pastimes in Lakeport is the Saturday night stock car races at Lakeport Speedway. There are races featuring the usual “stomp on the peddle, turn left” modified muscle cars (bomber class), the “modifieds” class (very fast), and the Legends, which travel the stock car track circuit each season. These tiny but adorable, boxy cars are powered by a Yamaha motorcycle engine! The most fun, however, is to catch the races on a night when demolition madness is on the menu. I like the boat races, an all-out battle to see who can retain at least a part of the boat they’re towing on the chain behind the car. It is brutal, wickedly funny, and a spectacle like none other. It’s the kind of bashing that motorcyclists stuck in a four-wheeled vehicle dream of.
HIGHWAY 175 AND THE FAMOUS COBB ROAD
Cindi and I wander across to the park after brunch, take a few photos, and agree that it’s time to find more roads to carve.
While Highway 175 into Lakeport from the west offers tight technical corners and a dry-ish habitat, Highway 175 southeast to Middletown offers a ride through pastoral farmland and then into the piney woods over Cobb Mountain. There is nothing I love better about being on a bike than the absolutely divine smells that come through my helmet’s air vents during riding. The scent of pine trees at elevation sends me into a realm of exquisite and utter joy.
Since I haven’t ridden the road simply called “Cobb” by motorcyclists in the know (“I’m riding over Cobb today.”), I take it a bit slower, which also allows me to suck in the clean pine air and take in the 1930s Adirondack camp feel of this region that seems so out of place with the sun-drenched, bikini wearing, beer gutted, jet ski and powerboat-waked lake itself. Near the top are a couple of small stores if you need a break. We didn’t stop, wanting to simply keep riding. On the backside of Cobb are some steep downhill grades, and beware the road bicyclists who stubbornly claim the lane, unwilling to let anyone pass. Finally, there’s a safe place to go around the bicycles, and we glide into Middletown to gas up at the Chevron, use the restroom, and buy some TicTacs. Middletown is a crossroads for motorcyclists, and there are plenty in town, from the dating moto couple (who met on Craigslist) at our fuel stop to sportbikes lining the streets in front of the few restaurants in town.
SLOGGING THROUGH MOUNT ST. HELENA
If I could, I would turn around and ride home the way I came, but today our route takes what turns out to be a slog on Highway 29 over Mt. St. Helena. A slog, only because it’s early evening on a Sunday and too many people are in a hurry to get home, which doesn’t make for the best motorcycling.
SNACK BREAK IN CALISTOGA
Our last stop of the day is on the outskirts of Calistoga, at the Mary’s Home Plate Café. Picnic tables, burgers or ice cream, if you’re so inclined, and a bathroom for customers, make for a pleasant spot to say our goodbyes today. Fortunately, we both have fun roads to follow home, so at the end of Mark West Springs Road, where it meets Highway 101 and turns into River Road, we part company. I head north for the third time today, cutting east on Highway 128 to the Mendocino coast. Cindi continues west out River Road then turns south for Novato at Monte Rio. It has been a grand ride—and a successful food mission—through a small corner of Lake County. We’ll plan another ride on another day to explore more of the fine roads that Lake County has to offer.
If you’re coming to Lakeport for the weekend, several decent waterfront accommodations abound. The Regency Inn Anchorage Inn, or, if you’ve got some money to burn, the resort-like accommodation of Rocky Point Cottages. For food, there are now more options for meals, including TJ’s Downtown Bar and Grille and Roy’s Backyard Barbecue. Don’t forget to take a walk in Library Park at night; the gazebo and old-fashioned carriage-style lamps are lit, creating lovely soft magic shining at lake’s edge.
Harbin Hot Springs in Middletown is one of the oldest and most beautiful hot springs in California and today operates as a non-profit retreat and workshop center. It’s a great soak with lots of camping spots, bunks, rooms, and cabins, with a community kitchen, an on-site store, café, and restaurant. But if you get freaked out by hippies, new agers, or nudity, avoid Harbin at all costs!
Mount Konocti is an ancient volcano that recently opened to offer one of the newest day hikes in the state. You can now hike to the top and enjoy stunning panoramic views high above Clear Lake and the area’s beautiful vineyards and orchards. With the cleanest air in the state, views are breathtaking and include Mount Saint Helena and the Mayacamas to the south, Pinnacle Rock and the remote Snow Mountain region to the north, and the Sutter Buttes and, on particularly clear days. even as far as Mount Lassen to the east. For more information and to download a trail map, visit the Konocti Trails website.