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Off the Beaten

Strange and wonderful tucked-away spots

By Suzanne Daly, Gretchen Giles, Gabe Meline,Denis Lindsay and P. Joseph Potocki

Gravity Hill

Had your fill of brutal reality, cold rationality and bail-out-the-bastards realpolitik? Sonoma Mountain's Gravity Hill puts reality on pause by offering the stressed and befuddled an Alice-like wonderland adventure. But whereas Alice had her up-and-down size issues, Gravity Hill proves up is always down and, likewise, down goes only up, up, up.

Staring bottomward from atop Gravity Hill, nothing about this lonely stretch of Lichau Road provokes more than a mere shrug. But the eyes can lie in Wine Country Wonderland. From the easily observed lowest point below, set the car's transmission in neutral. Suddenly, we're kids again, locked in awe and wonderment as the car silently, magically, with no locomotive power, rolls up the hill ahead. Conversely, positioned heading down at the slope's nadir, the damn Flivver backs itself up to the heavens.

Gravity hills (also known as magnetic hills) are infrequently found. The more creative and conspiratorial of our ilk variously attribute these anomalies to spirit world leakage, to overlapping and perhaps competing dimensions, to Matryoshka-doll universes opening into one another, to alien interference or to extraordinary mineral, metal or stone deposits causing magnetic fields to go zotz, thereby convincing gravity to refute its normally well-behaved self. That said, rationalists, the starch-collared bores they tend to be, claim gravity hills are, to a one, simply optical illusions.

Rohnert Park's Gravity Hill is on Lichau Road above Sonoma State University on the eastern slope of Sonoma Mountain, off Petaluma Hill and then Roberts roads. Reach an iron gate with the sign "Gracias San Antonio," and you've arrived. Nearby cow pastures, a smattering of homes and the appointment-only Fairfield Osborn Preserve will come and go along the way, as will an unmarked fasting farm available for those with more than wonder and mere innocence to lose.

N 38░ 20.616┤ W 122░ 36.888┤

Boho Cache Hint: The cosmic vortex may cause your GPS to go haywire. —P.J.P.

McInnis County Park

What do golfers, the clapper rail and kayakers have in common? All benefit from the beautiful surroundings of John F. McInnis County Park on the edge of Marin County's San Pablo Bay. Interlacing natural wetlands with a pristinely landscaped golf course and lush green soccer and softball fields, the park exemplifies the intelligently planned use of recycled water. Just a mile east of busy Highway 101, hikers, fishermen and sports buffs enjoy the diverse amenities the park offers. At the entrance, the road diverges: left to the golf course, restaurant, softball field and batting cages, dog park and tennis courts, or right to the soccer fields and trails that meander out to the bay.

The past Fourth of July found walkers inhaling the scent of sage as they left the manicured sports fields behind and headed out on a dusty trail alongside the cat-tailed banks of Gallinas Creek. Stopping to see what a couple of anglers were casting for, they discovered that tasty striped bass can be had for the price of a California fishing license and a bay and delta fishing license—except on this national holiday and Memorial Day, when the license regulation is waived.

A couple of canoes paddled by to the happy strains of band music wafting out over the water from the Marin County Fair, and the sparkle of the Ferris wheel could be seen in the distant west against the blue roof of the Frank Lloyd Wright's courthouse. A fully sloughed snakeskin lay desiccated and forlorn by the edge of the trail, reminding the hikers to take a sip from their water bottles before circling back to civilization and the sizzle of a holiday barbecue. John F. McInnis County Park, Smith Ranch Road, San Rafael. One mile east of Highway 101. 415.499.6387.

N 38░ 1.429┤ W 122░ 30.665┤—S.D.

Hess Collection

On approach, Col. Theodore Gier's venerable old winery seems to inhale thin wisps of summer's cool morning fog. The stout, ivy-covered rock pile, built a century ago, has been home to the Hess Collection since 1986. It sits symbiotically affixed to its environs, a reconditioned ruin settled in amid ancient volcanoes, Mayacamas redwoods and terraced Mount Veeder vineyards.

The Hess Collection's modern 13,000-square-foot gallery space contains pieces by over two dozen world-renowned artists. Work by Francis Bacon, Robert Motherwell and Frank Stella composes some of the collection's earliest pieces. Prominent Asian and African artists complement the Americans and Europeans. Sculpture, video and multimedia installations are included as well. The budget-minded engage these museum-quality pieces free of charge, though a 10-spot tasting in the downstairs tasting room tends to enhance the experience.

Donald Hess began his international art hunt in 1960. Since then, he has built and/or purchased four wineries, each situated on a different continent and each housing work from his extensive collection.

Hess limits his patronage to 20 living artists whose work especially resonates with him. He regularly purchases each artist's pieces, sponsoring their continued efforts until they either attain recognition from the art world writ large or die trying.

It's no wonder that Hess wines are also well regarded. The Hess family has been in the public thirst-satisfying business for centuries. Hess is the ninth generation heir to a Swiss beer-brewing fortune. He parlayed suds into a second fortune selling mineral water before turning his attention to art and wine.

4411 Redwood Road, Napa. 707.255.1144.

N 38░ 20.316┤ W 122░ 23.310┤

Boho Cache Hint: Turn this mutha out. —P.J.P.


Best known for the lay monastery at Starcross Community, Annapolis also boasts Horicon School (85 pupils in grades K–8), the old historic Horicon School building, a post office, a transfer station for garbage and a winery. Originally established by loggers and apple farmers, most residents now work at the school or in nearby Gualala. Since there are no stores in town and limited shopping in Gualala, Annapolians head to Santa Rosa, almost two hours away via Skaggs Road. The occasional tourist might find this circuitous route back to Highway 101 the most compelling reason to wander through this tiny burg, taking time to stop at the Annapolis Winery, best known for a buttery Chardonnay, or at the Starcross Gift Shop for the gold-medal-winning olive oil produced onsite.

Rae Brodjeski, the post mistress of the Annapolis Post Office for nearly 25 years, cheerfully serves the community of 500 along with her part-time relief and one carrier. Parker, recently of Napa, moved here because her fiancÚ got a job at the Horicon School. When asked what she thought was the most interesting thing about Annapolis, Parker laughed. "Well, we only have a post office, a school and a dump, so I would say the post office is the most interesting thing."

Annapolis Post Office, 36451 Annapolis Road. 707.886.5151. Starcross Community Gift Shop, 34500 Annapolis Road. 707.886.1919. Annapolis Winery, 26055 Soda Springs Road. 707.886.5460.

N 38░ 43.350┤ W 123░ 22.140┤ —S.D.

Cavallo Point

Cavallo Point sits just below the northern entrance of the Golden Gate Bridge in historic Fort Baker. With arguably the best view of the bridge, Cavallo Point offers lodging, fine dining, a world-class spa, yoga classes, culinary lessons, art exhibits, access to amazing trails and much more for those looking for a vacation or even a day trip.

On a recent tour, bellman and valet Stuart O'Connor happily showed off the historic lodges, the duplexes originally fit for two officers and their families. These properties have been restored to about 90 percent of their original condition. The lodges still hold the same flooring, glass windows and seating as they did back when they were built between 1902 and 1912. The original structure remains to complete the antique setting, taking guests back to another time and place using LEED-certified materials.

At Cavallo Point's restaurant, Murray Circle, Michelin one-star executive chef Joseph Humphrey oversees an assortment of American and French cuisine.

Day-tripping at its finest!

601 Murray Circle, Fort Baker, Sausalito. 415.339.4700.

N 37░ 50.272┤ W 122░ 28.766┤

Boho Cache Hint: Don't get too stumped.—D.L.


The best way to discover Plantation is if you don't know that it's there. After driving for hours on a remote, winding road covered in shade, the trees open up and the road dips as a small, bright dale reveals itself. To the left, rustic barns and farmland; to the right, a beaming white gabled Victorian with a large wrap-around porch and huge front lawn. All of a sudden, the atmosphere feels like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, replete with an old gas pump and a white wooden fence. Is this isolated paradise really located in Sonoma County?

"We're definitely remote," says Nell Western, who first came to Plantation as a camper in the 1970s and now serves as office manager for the summer camp there. "We don't get cell reception up here, thankfully."

Plantation was built in the late 19th century as a 13-room hotel for nearby Fort Ross. At its height, it held a post office and a Druids Hall meeting room, and was a stop on the prominent Wells Fargo Express route. The hotel burned in the 1920s, but many original buildings remain, bordering Salt Point State Park and overlooking the 500-acre land.

Living outdoors, young campers at Plantation learn to grow food, tend to livestock, harvest crops and participate in the classic summer camp final-night variety show. The camp session is intentionally lived entirely without electricity.

"We just have a very back-to-basics philosophy here," Western explains. "It's a chance for folks to get away from their computers and games, their cell phones and their laptops, and just go back to learning to be with people, learning to live with people, learning to actually converse with people. It's a very equalizing atmosphere up here."

Western estimates that about 98 percent of Sonoma County residents have no idea Plantation exists, but says most campers love to return, either serving as camp counselors or stopping by for a nostalgic visit on family vacations.

To those just passing through, the camp's amenities are strictly for the looking. However, just three miles up the road is Kruse Rhododendron State Preserve, a large forest with five miles of hiking trails which, when the season is right, showcase beautiful clusters of rhododendrons, ferns, myrtle, huckleberry and second-growth redwood. Rhododendrons being seasonal, May is the best time to visit, and the smaller the car, the better—the dirt roads are skinny and there's barely any place to make a turnaround—but the short, two-mile loop trail offers a quiet, beautiful hike.

Plantation, 34285 Kruse Ranch Road, Plantation. Kruse Rhododendron State Preserve, Highway 1, near Salt Point State Park.

N 38░ 35.400┤ W 123░ 18.600┤—G.M.


The last time I drove past Dogtown, some wag had altered its population sign. Where the two-digit spectacle of 30 was placed, "31" now proudly stood. Someone must have had a baby.

Not too many babies in Dogtown, I bet. Formerly known as Woodville due to its timber riches—Dogtown, evidently, was always just called Dogtown. Folks there had a lot of dogs; simple as that. Woodville, Dogtown—whatever—once had a steam-powered saw mill to help plane down Bolinas' timber. Nowadays, it has a pottery shop, some epic bends in the road and . . . well . . .

One of the great things about Dogtown is that looking for the thin slivers of information available on it lead one to the Carla Ehat Oral History Program for the Anne T. Kent California Room run by the county library and including transcriptions of loquacious old people remembering their days out in the veritable wilds of west Marin. Interviewed by Ann Kent—her husband's family established Kentfield and gave Muir Woods to the public—and Carla Ehat from 1974 and past Kent's death to 1984, some 300 interviews are archived at the Civic Center.

Elders evoke creek names, knolls and sections of the Bolinas Lagoon as familiarly as one remembers a list of cousins. The Briones family held court in Dogtown at one time, given most of the Bolinas area directly from Mexican land grants. Olema once bustled, eventually eclipsed by the mighty metropolis of Pt. Reyes Station two miles to the north. Tempers seethed. Schools were erected. Commerce thrived. Trees were felled. Cattle ranched. Young folks married. And indeed, babies were born.

N 37░ 56.487┤ W 122░ 42.291┤

Boho Cache Hint: Crash the gate. —G.G.

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