While Everyone Else Goes to Tahoe, Book a Trip to Clear Lake

Saloons or wine tastings? Kayaking or hiking? It’s all on the table in Lake County.

August 29, 2023 7:08 am
The aerial view of the Buckingham Park on Clear Lake, California.
Buckingham Park on Clear Lake in California.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

The best of summer is yet to come for the Bay Area, which leaves you plenty of time to plan a trip to Clear Lake, California’s largest and oldest freshwater lake. Believed to have formed a million years ago, today Clear Lake is the centerpiece of Lake County, a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, with opportunities for fishing, boating, volcano-hiking, sightseeing and, yes, even wine-tasting. Old West adventure awaits in this under-the-radar region. Here’s everything you need to know to enjoy a long weekend.

Go Kayaking, and Birdwatch While You’re at It

Known for its sparkling sapphire waters (but named for the fine air quality), Clear Lake boasts an exceptional network of water trails beloved by all levels of kayakers. The water trails were explicitly designed to make access to the 68-square-mile lake easier for new paddlers, as many routes are protected from strong winds. The water loops are rated on kayaking ability and boast unique features.

You might see wildlife like bobcats, river otters and deer on the Soda Bay Trail, so-called for the volcanic gases that sometimes bubble to the surface (likely from nearby Mount Konocti, a dormant volcano). Others, like the Rodman Slough Trail, are prized for incredible bird-watching opportunities. The lake is the country’s largest breeding ground for Western and Clarke’s grebes, waterfowl with distinctive long necks and pointed beaks.

Rent kayaks (plus paddleboards, jet skis and more) and grab maps at Disney’s Boat Rentals in Lakeport. There are 50 public access points around the lake’s 110-mile perimeter, many of them free.

Fish in One of California’s Best Spots

Plant and animal life around the lake have supported the indigenous Pomo and Wappo tribes for at least 20,000 years, so it’s no surprise that today Clear Lake is one of the best spots in the state for freshwater fishing. In summer and fall, anglers will find an abundance of largemouth bass, catfish and crappie. If you need anything for your tackle box, check out the four fishing supply stores on the lake, including Clearlake Outdoors in Lakeport and Limit Out Bait and Tackle in Clearlake Oaks.

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Learn About Pomo Culture

For centuries, the Pomo have been master basket weavers, weaving vessels so tightly they can hold water. The Historic Courthouse Museum in Lakeport is worth a stop to check out the extensive collection of these intricate, geometric-patterned baskets. Walking through the doors of this 1871 former county courthouse will transport you back in time, with exhibits on local geology, Native American culture and mining.   

Stay in an Old Western Town

You half expect to see drifters, bandits and bounty hunters sidling up to the bar in Upper Lake. The town’s Main Street is straight out of a Western, with a doctor’s office, post office, and saloon. Take in the Old West vibes from the wooden porch of the Tallman Hotel, founded by a gold prospector around 1896. This was the end of the stagecoach line, where travelers transferred to wagons on their way to hot springs resorts. Guest rooms in the original building have 12-foot ceilings and claw-foot tubs; there are about a dozen additional rooms in more modern digs.

Hardcore kayakers and anglers may prefer one of the many Airbnbs with private boat docks or sluices connecting to the lake.

Hike a Volcanic Dome

Mount Konocti provides a majestic backdrop to the area — and it’s also a dormant volcano. Though it last erupted 11,000 years ago, geologists have detected heat and a bit of seismic activity in its depths. The entire 7.5-mile out-and-back trek starts in Mount Konocti County Park. It takes you past a pioneer cabin, picnic tables, groves of twisty maul oak trees, and up in elevation to five distinct peaks with breathtaking views of the valley and lake. On clear days, you might glimpse Sacramento Valley.

Sample the Local Wine and Olive Oil

Even the wineries here have an intriguing touch of history. Heralded as an unpretentious version of Napa Valley to the south, the area’s winemaking tradition dates to the 1870s, and there are now more than 8,400 acres of vineyards. Boatique Winery mixes wine tastings and tours with a vast collection of antique wooden speedboats. Try Laujor Estate for relaxed tastings with epic views from their patio. If wine’s not your thing, Chacewater hosts olive oil tastings along with their vino.


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