News from Three Northern California Getaways

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Every year, new attractions and places to explore seem to open up in northern California, and this year is no different. I met with a few destination marketers this week at a California tourism promotion event in San Francisco and picked up some newsy tidbits from northern California.

***In Calaveras County, two new tour companies are taking visitors into the area’s many vineyards in different ways: by bike and horseback. A company called Horse and Barrel saddles up in the cute-as-a-button Gold Country town of Murphys — home of 16 tasting rooms on Main Street — and leads riders through local vineyards. Wine tasting comes after the horses are back in the barn. A similar concept is behind Get On Your Mark, an Calaveras County outfit founded by a USA certified cycling coach. These “wine” bike adventures feature bike rides through the rural Calaveras countryside and vineyards, lunch and wine tasting to cap it off.

***Up in El Dorado County, home of Coloma, the gold discovery site, tourism promoters are cheering the recent acquisition by the American River Conservancy of the 272-acre Gold Hill Ranch. This is a little-known historic site, just a mile south of Coloma and the Marshall Gold State Historic Park. The ranch was first settled by Japanese from Aizu Wakamatsu, a region of Japan, in 1869. It is the birthplace of the first naturalized Japanese-American and the only community established by samurai outside of Japan. The Japanese who lived here started silk worm farming and cultivated tea, rice, citrus, peaches and other stone fruit. The National Park Service recently placed the site — called Wakamatsu Colony — on the National Register of Historic Places at a level of “national significance.” Plans are in the works to open 19th century farmhouses and acres of beautiful hilly and oak-dotted land to the public.

***In Santa Cruz, two landmarks are celebrating milestones in 2011. The Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, opened 25 years ago to commemorate a young surfer who lost his life to the sport. The small red-brick building, perched on the cliffs overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, is home to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. Several of the original long-board surfboards (some made from redwood planks) from the early days of surfing hang from the walls. Other exhibits include surfing industry legend and pioneer Jack O’Neill’s prototype wetsuits.

One of the two historic landmarks at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk — the carousel — turns 100 this year.  One of the few remaining old carousels with an actual brass ring, riders of one of 72 hand-carved horses and colorful chariots can try to reach it as they pass. The other boardwalk landmark — the thundering Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster — has a few years to go before its centennial. It opened in 1924.

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