For a vintage wine country getaway, Upper Lake, California, is among the uppermost choices for historical culture, elegant wine tasting and a great time outdoors. Located approximately 140 miles north of San Francisco by car, the charming and provincial country town of Upper Lake is known as “the Gateway to Mendocino National Forest,” and is your gateway to award-winning high-altitude wines, boating, fine dining and luxury.
History runs deep in Upper Lake’s outstanding collection of hotels, restaurants and places of interest. But that history is on display even in Upper Lake’s newest and thriving hot spots. Upper Lake is experiencing a big revival with restaurants, shops and other attractions – even horse-drawn carriage rides on weekends.
If you’re looking for a real taste of Lake County, that’s literally what’s being served at People Pleazin’ Pantry. Specializing in products made right here in Lake County, People Pleazin’ Pantry serves a constantly updated array of locally produced jams, marmalades, breads, soups and more, plus art is on display from local artists. If you love farmer’s markets, People Pleazin’ Pantry is a popular farmer’s market booth that has grown into a full-fledged store that really aims to please.
One of Upper Lake’s most beloved local institutions is Judy’s Junction, an old-style Americana diner where the portions are generous and the staff are always attentive and happy to see you. The country cooking and classic American cuisine at Judy’s Junction could be referred to as “greasy spoon without the grease,” instead with dishes prepared using fresh ingredients, whose menu features biscuits and gravy and chicken-fried steak dishes that have been winning rave reviews for years. Just be sure to bring your appetite, and realize there’s plenty of parking-lot space available at Judy’s for the RV-traveling crowd.
History comes to life with tasty results at the Vintage Deli, a renovated gas station that’s been converted into a gourmet delicatessen—complete with classic, retro gas pumps and a vintage 1950s interior. One of the newest restaurants in Upper Lake, the Vintage Deli has quickly made a name for itself with freshly made bread daily, scrumptious specialty items, and, of course, Lake County’s famous olives. With patio seating in both the front and back, the Vintage Deli is a fabulous nostalgic lunch spot to enjoy a ride back to the good ol’ days.
If you’d rather take your taste buds south of the border, Mi Chelas Mexican Restaurant would be the place to visit. From the outside you’d wonder how more than two people could be in here, but inside the place is actually fairly large.
And that reference is in line with the old-fashioned good service here which comes from the fact that most of the team are part of a big family. On the menu are items that owner Elvira Cortez remembers finding in her mom’s kitchen.
Upper Lake has been home to the Lake County Wine Studio for years and that’s still a great reason to visit with owner and sommelier Susan Feiler specializing in wines from Lake County that you might not find anywhere else. Her unique ability to hunt down “discovery” wines is uncanny and wine aficionados literally drive from out of state at times to see what’s on Susan’s radar.
You’ll also want to visit Stephen Dilley’s Lavender Blue shop which has art, crafts and antiques. Most recently he posted a set of china that dates back to before Upper Lake was founded and some beautiful artwork shot by local photographers.
Stephen isn’t the only one with unique and vintage items on the street. Several antique and curio shops are also worthy stops, particularly Tony Olviera’s Antique store where, for $5, he’ll take you on a tour of his incredible collection of western history.
And right across the street from Tony’s shop is the Blue Wing Saloon, which occupied the space in the 1800s, was torn down during Prohibition, and was re-created in the past 10 years. Today live music and good food are a constant draw that keeps this place busy, busy.
There are more antique shops, a general store, gift shops and other places to check out. The new life breathing into this old town is so encouraging and uplifting. While it’s always been fun to stroll the covered wooden sidewalks and check out the placards telling the story of the town’s past, now it’s even better with happy shopkeepers and restaurateurs inside those shops buildings to answer your questions and show you some neat treats and terrific finds.