Top Ten Extreme Wine Touring
by Courtney Cochran
Given the surge of interest in so-called adventure tourism, it's no surprise that extreme activities have finally made their way to wine country. From mellow outings like deep-sea fishing and balloon rides to truly adrenaline-pumping options like skydiving and trapeze training, the options themselves are as varied as the highs they inspire.
Baby You Can Drive My Car
One of the most hair-raising things you can do in wine country is get behind the wheel of an Audi R8 and brave the hairpin turns and dramatic elevation changes at Infineon Raceway just south of Sonoma. We like Audi's all-inclusive package, which encompasses a wine country back roads tour, two nights' five-star lodging for two, catered meals and a day of racing along the breathtaking 2.5-mile course ($3,295).
Test your limits with Skydive Santa Barbara, an adventure outfit offering tandem jumps from 18,000 feet, the highest elevation permitted for jumps in the US (so high, in fact, that oxygen tanks are a must on the way up). Ninety seconds of free fall time afford ample opportunity to take in the spectacular Pacific coast and nearby rolling hills, which encompass some of Southern California's most storied vineyard sites ($299).
The Greg Norman-designed championship golf course at Wente Vineyards in Livermore plays through the pastoral vineyards, hills and rolling grasslands of the eastern reaches of the San Francisco Bay Area and affords area visitors a superb outdoor alternative to tasting. Suitable for players of all levels, the well-maintained course is open year round; winter course fees run $65 on weekdays and $90 on the weekends, including a cart.
When you tire of winery hopping, consider taking a trip south to try your hand at the flying trapeze. One of just a handful of full time circus schools in the United States, Trapeze Arts - conveniently situated just 30 minutes south of Napa in Oakland - offers lessons for groups and individuals in both flying and static trapeze, tightrope, trampoline and Chinese acrobatics (group lessons from $30/person, private lessons from $50).
Swish This Way
Mount Hood, just 70 miles east of Oregon's wine rich Willamette Valley, offers in its six resorts some of the best skiing on the West Coast. Take a break from sipping world-class Pinots to swish through the fresh powder the region receives in abundance; those looking for an extra challenge can attempt night skiing at Mount Hood Meadows, Mount Hood's largest resort, which also offers lessons and equipment rentals.
Go Shuck Yourself
Hog Island Oyster Company makes it easy for you to take your oyster experience to the next level at its popular oyster farm on the Point Reyes National Seashore in west Marin County. The outfit provides you with all the tools you need for the perfect outdoor oyster experience, including picnic table, BBQ, shucking tools and even free shucking lessons for first-timers. Know before you go: it's BYOB, and reservations are strongly encouraged.
Wine Country High
What better way to take in the vineyards and ranches of Southern California than from a perch up above? California Dreamin' offers daily hot air balloon tours of the picturesque Temecula Valley for as little as $128/person, although we prefer the more luxe private balloon ride for two ($590 weekdays, $690 weekends and holidays). Tours last about an hour, cover 3 to 7 miles of territory and include a complimentary breakfast before lift-off.
A River Runs Through It
For wine enthusiasts with a penchant for outdoor sports, River's Edge Kayak & Canoe Trips offers guided boat trips along Sonoma's bucolic Russian River. Choose from four pre-planned trips or have new owner Lollie Mercer customize an excursion for your group. All options afford idyllic views of vineyards and wildlife from the comfort of your craft, and advanced trips include stretches of stronger current for extra excitement.
Safari In Sonoma
Travelers on the hunt for serious adventure will find it at Safari West Wildlife Preserve and African Tent Camp in the hills above Santa Rosa. Explore the preserve's 400 acres in an authentic safari vehicle, from which you'll spot the likes of giraffes, gazelles, oryxes and ostriches - to name just a few of the animals that call Safari West home. Luxe tent accommodations are available, as is dining at the onsite Savannah Café.
Just a short drive from the vineyards of the Santa Cruz Mountains is scenic Half Moon Bay, where affable angler Tom Mattusch operates the Huli Cat, a 53-foot sportfishing and charter boat. Depending on the time of year, passengers can fish for the likes of rockfish, squid, salmon, albacore and other swimmers aboard the Huli Cat. Per person rates run from $50 to $250, and charter rates begin at $1,050.
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