• Shadi Rahimi

Northern California Rec's: Sunflowers, Russian River & A Historic Ranch

Well... COVID. I was planning to write a Bali blog earlier this year because that was my last trip but I procrastinated a bit and then corona became a global pandemic. So instead I'll be writing about California for awhile, and photography tips, while republishing writings about other places around the world when appropriate. I live in Northern California and while there's no shortage of places to visit, for this dip back into blogging I'm going to write about three road trips I've taken during the pandemic that I highly recommend for Californians looking for an easy getaway.

DAY TRIP: Sunflower Fields, Dixon

I don't know if many Californians would know about Dixon if it weren't for their sunflower fields. Especially with all the photos posted on Instagram every summer. But it's not just about a photo opp. Seeing endless rows of bright yellow flowers stretching tall for the sun is a major mood boost, which we all could use these days. And it's a really easy family trip.

First, it's just an hour northeast of San Francisco. There's a bunch of sunflower farms that are easy to spot while driving, which is nice/easy enough. We simply put "sunflowers" into our GPS once we got to Dixon and drove around to check a few fields out. We visited in late July and some of the fields had already dried up. June is best for a visit. Here's a few things to know:

1) Some farmers aren't having it: So many people are flocking there these days there's a $1,000 fine you could get for trespassing, especially if you disrespect a farmer's land. It's their livelihood after all, so any disruption of the crop or the bees that pollinate it (if you're allergic to bees this probably isn't for you) could cost them. Some have even put up no trespassing signs.

We were careful not go into the fields. Just a few shots from the edge of a field that didn't have any signs or other visitors, standing in the dirt rather than between the flowers. It was more about capturing a memory of the visit, which was in honor of our girl soon turning 2!

You don't even need to be near the flowers for a creative shot:

2) When to visit: It seems the more popular time is late June to early July. So if you want to avoid crowds and catch the last of the season, late July is best. It was really hot when we visited, which was even more of a deterrent in terms of staying in the fields for long. Here's me being artistically sweaty for a self portrait while standing in the dirt path next to the field.

3) It's not just about the flowers: If you're a city dweller it's really nice to see flat expansive land dotted with cows and horses. Safia loved stopping to watch the animals we could see from the road. There's also a lavender field you can book an appointment to visit during its season.

And Dixon has some nice restaurants that adhere to social distancing guidelines on its Main Street. We ate at Rosemary's Farm to Fork Cafe, which is a cute spot to get light but prettily arranged brunch/lunch (like chicken and waffles, wraps and pork tacos), great drinks (bulletproof matcha, detox lemonade) and smoothie bowls (I had the Sunny Bowl, really yummy).

WEEKEND TRIP: Russian River

We were really good about not going anywhere for months when COVID was first a terrifying nightmare, but by the end of June we were itching to go somewhere. I saw a friend with two young kids post about safely visiting the Russian River and we decided to do the same.

Where to stay: When booking Airbnb's these days you can select a place with "Enhanced Cleaning" that is specific to COVID considerations. But it's not so easy to tell on hotel booking sites which ones are adhering to extra safety precautions. So you need to do a bit of research.

I recommend the place we stayed, Highland Dell Lodge, and the place my friend stayed also seemed great (but was booked up). We were given a no frills 2-bed room with an epic river view at the historic lodge, which could have comfortably housed 4 people. The lodge leaves 24-hours between guests for cleaning and we saw them leave all the doors and windows open to air out a full day after our neighbors checked out. There's only a few staff members and they wear masks. Plus they have outdoor balcony seating at their restaurant, which has river views.

This photo was taken from our balcony!

Their restaurant has great food and a full bar and you get free breakfast in the morning (hard boiled eggs, toast or bagels, pastries, coffee and juice). And the rooms are reasonably priced, which can be hard to find in the general Guerneville/Russian River area.

What to do: The river of course! Across the river from our lodge was Monte Rio (public) Beach where we had a better time for free than the beach I booked online. Here's some photos of it:

People were able to distance themselves quite easily because there's so much space along the bank. Not so at the beach I reserved online before we drove up (because I didn't know any better). I paid $24 for a parking spot and chair/umbrella within a circle marked by red paint that ensured 6-feet distance between everyone. It was crowded. Our time at this beach wasn't as fun for a few reasons: We got a spot far back from the bank and walking back and forth across hot rocks with a very cranky toddler was not fun. 2) It wasn't as secluded feeling as the public beach. 3) It felt too regulated to be relaxing. BUT on the flip side, there were bathrooms.

Here's a photo from there, though it's vertical for a reason: there were people on either side. And I had to wait awhile for people behind me to float away. (The water is murkier too).

Also a "must do" – Armstrong Woods. An epic hike because you're walking among redwood trees that are 1,000 years old. People wear masks and are good about distancing. There's wooden benches before you enter the park where we had a little picnic before starting out. It's just a really beautiful and easy stroll that doesn't require a hiking backpack unless you prefer it.

The main paths are well kept and flat. It's up to you to venture uphill. We did for a bit and saw some deer but it was tough to keep Safia away from the edge so we didn't do it for long.

She had more than enough fun playing with every stick on our path and was ready to nap after.

WEEK/WEDDING TRIP: Why am I talking about weddings amid COVID. Well because my girlfriends and I stayed at a ranch in Ukiah for a weekend that's often rented for weddings and it's stunning and I could see how you could hold a safe wedding there even now. I'll explain.

Maybe I liked Yokayo Ranch so much because whoever decorated the interiors has my aesthetic (ha). But more likely because it's a hidden 40-acre getaway that's surrounded by organic farms and wineries in gorgeously lush Mendocino County. The main home on the property was built in the 1900's and the other was added in the 1950's. I was told a combined 45 people in total could stay on the property at one time in the homes, the poolside bungalows and glampy tents.

We stayed in the main house, where as 6 ladies and 1 baby we each had our own room/bed and there was a whole upstairs floor with multiple beds to spare. We shared the fully stocked kitchen, living room and bathrooms. Steps away from our front door was a pool area – where we spent most of the day – with two bungalows, a bar, jacuzzi and behind it a campfire area.

It was the idyllic location for a ladies getaway (when you've all been distancing and COVID-safe) and it would be a beautiful place to have a small wedding with close friends and family (who you could ideally ensure will adhere to whatever protocols you set for them before and during).

I assume it would be a bit different to rent for a wedding but during our stay we didn't come across any staff, it felt like we'd rented out the whole property. Private, safe and serene.

Even the road in/out of the property is a gorgeous tree tunnel.

Hope you enjoyed this blog, more from California to come!