June 2, 2016 by Joe Kukura

After the Valley Fire, Middletown’s doors are officially open again

One of the hardest hit communities in the September 2015 Valley Fire was Middletown, California, a small town of more 1,300 people where everyone knows everyone. The blaze destroyed nearly half of what many referred to as “the gateway to Lake County,” which has welcomed so many travelers and residents over the years. It was directly in the path of the fire when the blaze spread so quickly. Whole city blocks were burned down in Middletown, and more residents lost homes than not. Many had to evacuate immediately, knowing that their homes, businesses and most cherished community centers would be gone.

Lake County would bend, but would not break. The gateway community of Middletown is welcoming people back into Lake County as enthusiastically as ever before at these and other great places of interest all throughout this charming countryside gem.

R VineyardsR Vineyards

Lake County is known for its wine, and R Vineyards produces spectacular wine that’s 100 percent Lake County grown and bottled. Silver medal winners in the prestigious 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, R Vineyards farms its grapes sustainably on vines planted as long ago as the 1930s. Their Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier varietals are particularly exceptional, with tours of the winery are available by reservation and tastings are available at the Lake County Wine Studio and the ‘Off The Vine’ tasting room at the Twin Pine Casino & Hotel.

Twin Pine Casino & Hotel

The wine-themed Twin Pine Casino & Hotel does feature a tasting room and gift shop called Off The Vine, and the entire casino resort is fashioned in turn-of-the-century decor that resonates with wine lovers. Offering terrific rooms at terrific prices, Twin Pine also features the epicurean Manzanita Restaurant, the glamorous nightlife venue Grapevine Lounge, and of course some of the most exciting gaming in wine country. And it doesn’t matter what time you visit, because the Twin Pine Casino & Hotel is always open.

Hardester’s Markets & Hardware

The friendly aisles of Hardester’s Markets & Hardware had already been a pillar of the Middletown community for more than 70 years. But the grocery and hardware market stepped up to play a critical role in battling and recovering from the Valley Fire, donating groceries to fire victims, feeding firefighters and remaining open during the fires, running on power generators and sheer determination. With two other locations in Cobb and Hidden Valley Lake, Hardester’s Markets are the “everything under one roof” stores that meant everything to Lake County during and after the fires.

Cowpoke Cafe

A vintage Americana cafe oozing with charm, the Cowpoke Cafe rolled up its sleeves to play an important role in the Valley Fire recovery. When rescue, emergency and fire crews from all over northern California rushed to Lake County to battle the fires, the Cowpoke Cafe opened up its doors and served them all hot meals for free for several days on end. The local favorite is still serving breakfast and lunch daily, plus brunch on the weekends, with portions that are generous and hearts that are even more so.

Eagle & Rose Inn

Travelers to Calistoga and the Napa Valley have long kept a great little secret—you can save hundreds of dollars on your wine country lodging with a short drive up Route 29 to Middletown’s Eagle & Rose Inn.  Clean, quiet and comfy, the Eagle & Rose rooms come with a large bed, a small kitchen and an even smaller price tag. And if you find yourself heading up north, the Eagle & Rose Inn has a second location in Cobb.

Funtopia

The quirky, cool toy store Funtopia is a whimsical gem and a great example of the indomitable spirit of Middletown. Moving to a new downtown location and reopening under new ownership just after the Valley Fire, Funtopia is now a jam-packed emporium full of quality toys, games, kites, books, musical instruments and plenty more to delight youngsters and grownups alike. The new Funtopia also held a number of toy giveaways in the aftermath of the fire, bringing a whole bunch of smiles to the resilient kids of Lake County.

Harbin Hot Springs

One of Middletown’s best-known attractions is the renowned spa Harbin Hot Springs, a resort, retreat and workshop center whose unfortunate destruction in the Valley Fire made saddening national news. All was lost at Harbin, but the staff have been diligently rebuilding Harbin Hot Springs to reopen in 2016. A scaled-down “Harbin 2.0” will offer Harbin’s famous hot spring pools and camping areas again during initial opening opening dates set for late summer or early fall of this year. The overnight cottages will reopen in 2017 when the second phase of rebuilding is complete, and by 2019 Harbin Hot Spring will be fully reconstructed to offer yoga, retreats and its famed healing waters.

The healing is an inspiration and the charm is back on in Middletown. The determination, resilience and hard work of these residents has built this community back to being the gateway to Lake County that travelers and locals alike have adored for years. You can help rebuild Middletown too, by taking a trip to Lake County and enjoying it’s reestablished restaurants, many unique boutiques and one-of-a-kind resorts. If you do, you’ll see how Middletown is back on top.