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This article is from Elizabeth Harryman and and originally appeared in AAA Magazine. The full article was run with permission on the Lake County website HERE. Photo above: Ron Keas.

Waterfowl and Old West flair in laid-back Lake County

Sunlight glinted like sapphires on California’s largest and oldest natural, freshwater lake as I drove to its basin. Clear Lake covers 68 square miles (Lake Tahoe is bigger, but sits partly in Nevada). The lake is nearly 1 million years old, and its plant and animal life have sustained human habitation for 12,000 years. Today, Clear Lake forms the centerpiece of Northern California’s Lake County, a nexus of boating, fishing, wildlife watching, sightseeing, wine tasting, and a refreshing lack of pretension. The towns of Upper Lake and Lakeport serve as convenient home bases. Last June, I set out to explore the region’s pastures, vineyards, and rounded hills, which appeared to be swathed in velvet by green and golden grasses.

Boatique Winery

Wineries Plus

Some Lake County wineries offer more than wine tasting: Chacewater Winery and Olive Mill (707- 279-2995; hosts olive oil tastings, and  Boatique (707-279-2675; has a collection of antique wooden speedboats ($5 admission is waived with bottle purchase).

Be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.

The Old West

In Upper Lake, I felt as if I’d entered an Old West movie town: A doctor’s office, a lawyer’s office, a post office, a saloon, a hotel, and several shops line one main street. I half expected to see a poncho-clad Clint Eastwood with his pistol out, ready to dispatch a villain. The historic, wooden Tallman Hotel adds to the ambience. A veranda surrounds three sides of the hotel, and my room had a 12-foot-high ceiling, a claw-foot tub, and a wicker desk.

Blue Wing Saloon

This was the end of the stage line past Ukiah, said Bernard Butcher, co-owner with his wife, Lynne, as we chatted in the parlor. People transferred here to wagons to go to hot springs resorts. Four rooms are in the original 1896 building, 13 more are in modern structures. Rates start at $219, which includes continental breakfast and Wi-Fi. Across a gravel patio, the Blue Wing Saloon Restaurant serves dishes such as Lake County Yerba Santa goat cheese with roasted walnuts, greens, and a citrus vinaigrette. Local musicians play three nights a week and during Sunday brunch. Dinner entrées, $17-$32; Tuesday evening three-course prix fixe dinner, $20. (707) 275-2244;