East Bay Adventures - Hike Mt. Diablo - Horseback Sunol - Wine Taste Chouinard


Eastward, Ho!

Whether it's backcountry horseback riding, bagging a big peak, or sipping small-batch wine, the East Bay packs some wonderful winter outings that'll leave the crowds at bay.  

Hike Mount Diablo North Peak

Peak of the Devil

The peak of Mount Diablo is known for its hundred-mile views—but little-visited North Peak is the real summit to scale. Unlike the main mount, which you can get to by car (or bike), the North Peak can only be reached via a 1.8-mile (one-way) moderate hike. Winter mornings at this 3,557-foot altitude can be chilly, but after rain the views are crisp, clean, and oh-so-refreshing—and even better, you have them all to yourself. The hike traverses a few hundred feet below Diablo's main summit, climbs a ridge, and, at the very end, rises steeply. The view from the top is worth the final push: The land laps like morning tides—rising, cresting, and rolling on out to the Pacific—and San Francisco's skyscrapers spire on the distant horizon. Savor the scenes and snap a self-portrait, then head back the way you came.

Mount Diablo State Park opens at 8:00 a.m. Park at the Devil's Elbow parking turnout (noted by a very small signpost) about .7 mile below the summit. Walk the North Peak Trail heading toward Prospectors Gap. At the Prospectors Gap intersection, continue following the North Peak Trail uphill. The last couple hundred feet of fire road are very steep. Wear good hiking shoes and take your time! No dogs.

Horseback Sunol Regional Park

Sunol Saddle-up

When you want to get deep in the wild backcountry of the East Bay hills without breaking a sweat, try a guided horseback trip with Western Trail Riding Services. Based in Sunol Regional Park (home to nearly 7,000 acres of open space) Western Trail Riding offers a range of options, from 4-hour explorations to their most popular trip, the 1-hour jaunt paralleling Alameda Creek up to Little Yosemite Valley (yes, Virginia, there is a Little Yosemite Valley in Sunol). Smell fresh bay leaves and admire golden sycamores as your group meanders up a wide fire road. Gary and Cindy Wilkinson are Western Trail's fearless and friendly leaders, with 18 horses in their mix; six of these are rescue horses, including the well-behaved Copper, gentle Lacy, and the old-soul, Spirit. Easy riders.

Western Trail Riding Services (925-862-9044) is open year-round and leads trips seven days a week. Trips range from $30 to $160 per person. Group sizes are always kept small, with never more than eight total. All groups accommodate a range of riders, from beginner to advanced.

Chouinard Winery

Auld Lang Wine

Way back in Palomares Canyon (just west of Pleasanton), Chouinard Winery offers a special wine-tasting experience that's a throwback to simpler times. The Chouinards have been making wine since the early '80s, and their experience shows in the quality of their craft. Their old vine zin is a Weekend Sherpa favorite (and even won a Best in Show at the state fair), but what makes Chouinard's wine even more prize-worthy is…well, the vintners themselves. George and Caroline Chouinard welcome you to their upstairs tasting room in a big red barn, pour the vino themselves, and regale you with wine tales. Keeping it in the family, their son, Damian, is the winemaker who's even come up with such creative vintages as their signature Granny Smith Apple Wine (a sip a day keeps the doctor away…). On New Year's Day, the winery will be serving French Onion Soup and homemade bread during their annual open house. The soup is said to bring good fortune in the New Year. Sip—and slurp—to your health!

Just down Palomares Road from Chouinard's is Westover Vineyards. With over 20 ports, this is the place to go for those who like the sweeter side of the vine.

Chouinard Winery, 33853 Palomares Rd., Castro Valley: 510-582-9900. Tastings are complimentary. Westover Vineyards, 34329 Palomares Rd., Castro Valley; 510-537-3932. Tastings are $5 per person (waived with a purchase). Both Chouindard and Westover tasting rooms are open from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

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SPOT Rebate-- Download the $50 rebate form and take it with you to buy SPOT at one of their retailers by December 31, 2008!

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