Breezes swirl down a corridor made by trees standing up to 100 feet and perched atop levees, which form the banks of the 200-year-old Bear River. Above rustling branches and the calls of nearby eagles, the hum of an engine cuts through the tranquil air. Dave Jewell of Blue Sky Powered Paragliding takes thrill-seekers—some as old as 80 years of age—soaring up to 500 feet above rolling, farm-dappled country and between Bear River's banks on propeller-powered parachutes. Though currently surveying Californian skies, Dave has led flights and organized clubs in Japan, Nigeria, Mexico, Germany, and France, and he continues to draw on knowledge of flight mechanics from extensive Air Force parachute training. Today, Dave takes off from 24 acres of campground, where a paragliding club meets occasionally to heckle poorly shaped clouds.
A sweeping bonfire pit, rustic picnic tables, and grassy swathes for RVs welcome campers waiting their turn to fly. Dave also mans a parachute and equipment shop where he conducts repairs and reanimates the corpses of dead kites. Dave insists that he never tires of his sport, as the weather and surrounding terrain are always changing, making his higher-altitude experiences "terrifying without being terrifying.” With a small wingspan, the motorized parachutes can also approach wildlife more closely than other aircraft; on one flight Dave found himself flanked by two bald eagles, beating their powerful wings just 20 feet away.
Long visited by dreamy visions of starting their own tour company, Jewels Wine Tours owners and Napa Valley residents Julia Young and Ryan Raes utilize their regional intimacy to construct guided tours to the finest wineries, distilleries, and restaurants the area has to offer. The team takes great joy in customizing packages to their guests’ preferences, whether customers are looking to taste-test a certain hard-to-find vintage, or just want to be driven around by someone other than the family dog. A dedicated driver handles navigation for the duration of each tour, allowing the grape gurus to focus on enriching the tour experience by answering in-depth questions and providing insights into Napa and Sonoma Valley history.
It's a daunting task to visit all the wineries in the Napa/Sonoma region?there are more than 900 of them. Luckily, Stacy's Wine Tours is up to the challenge. They whisk visitors to a wealth of boutique wineries and vineyards during customized wine tours aboard a fleet of luxury vehicles. Guests can cruise through the grape-dotted countryside inside a stretch limo or opt for a basic designated-driver service.
They can also skip the wine tastings and head out on a brewery tour via Tap in Tours. A tour bus described as an "Irish pub on wheels"?though it's missing drunken novelists and poets?ferries passengers to various microbreweries along the 121 and 101 corridors, including Lagunitas, Hop Monk, and Petaluma Hills Brewing Company.
The history of wine in the Livermore Valley spans 250 years. Spanish missionaries planted the region's first grapes in the 18th century, and Robert Livermore sowed the first commercial vines in the mid-19th. These early efforts led to America's first international gold medal for wine at the 1889 Paris Exposition, when California grapes beat out bordeaux in the annual race to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
The guides at Livermore Valley Wine & Cycle Tours lead cyclists into this historic, scenic valley in which some 40 wineries currently reside. Rides between them follow moderate routes, letting peddlers soak in views of the canyons and ridges that rise and fall between the clustered rows of vines.
Everything changed for Bob and Chris Quinlan when they organized a successful pub crawl for their local Rotary club in 2005. The positive reception to their event led the pair to found AppeteasersUSA in 2011, which has since expanded from its initial tour in Folsom to include outings in Northern and Southern California, Washington, and Florida. Across the country, AppeteasersUSA’s savvy guides can be found leading patrons from culinary hot spot to hot spot.
Throughout the four-hour tours, herds of at least 25 tour goers stop at restaurants and bars unique to the area—eschewing chains and large franchises—for 30-minute stints, nibbling on appetizers and noting which kitchen appliances might come to life after the restaurant closes. To wash down savory flavors, patrons can swig discounted drinks at each establishment.
Ranger Bruce knows the natural world of Sacramento like the back of his hand. As a retired park ranger naturalist, he can take you to every waterfall, towering tree, and historic site as part of his 21 nature classes. The classes focus on topics ranging from California Indians and wild edible plants to astronomy and trees. Gaze upon the past at Coloma, a gold discovery site, or explore how wildflowers and insects interact to create new life every year. For an indoor adventure, try the State Capital or Sutter's Fort tours, or experiment to see why you really can't grow Sequoias in your kitchen.