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Postcards from Outer California

Brought to you by Lexus Hybrid Drive

Postcards from Outer California

Brought to you by Lexus Hybrid Drive

Getting away was easier than we thought – and way more fun. We loaded up a Lexus RX 450h and set off across the Golden Gate Bridge for a long and leisurely drive through Napa and Sonoma. Our only plan was adventure. Our only guide was whimsy. We never pulled over unless we wanted to, our day punctuated by stops at points of inter- est but never once at a gas station.

Our first stop was the di Rosa, a former vineyard in Napa, widely considered to house the most important collection of Bay Area art in the world. Paintings, sculptures, installation, and video art are on display in state-of-the-art galleries as well as in the historic home of Rene and Veronica di Rosa. On the surrounding hillsides, outdoor sculptures dot the landscape, and the flock of free-range peacocks that greeted us around each turn added a surreal touch to the whole experience.

Next, we pulled into the Fremont Diner just off the Carneros Highway. Created by chef Chad Harris, it’s a delicious blending of old and new. The artfully ramshackle roadside diner features locally sourced, updated takes on classic comfort foods: Think deviled eggs, pickles, chicken sand- wiches, and mac ’n’ cheese.

Driving along the gently winding roads surround- ing Lake Sonoma, we stopped more than once to admire the breathtaking views. When we final- ly got onto the clear blue water, we knew we’d shaken off the city once and for all. Sure, we’d be back at our desks on Monday, but this week- end we had miles and miles of road to enjoy and a feeling of limitless possibilities that we’d take with us as we headed home.

Rene and Veronica di Rosa’s collection features 2,000 pieces of Bay Area art, including this hilltop sculpture by Mark di Suvero called For Veronica. A quote from Rene greets visitors at the entrance to the hangar-like main gallery and sets the tone for the whimsical, sometimes outlandish works held within: “Divinely regional, superbly parochial, wondrously provincial – an absolute native glory.” The permanent collection includes works by Bruce Nauman, David Best, William T. Wiley, Viola Frey, among many others.

Sonoma doesn’t lack for great places to eat, but the Fremont Diner is something special. Chef-owner Chad Harris’s locally sourced take on comfort foods and the diner’s artful, retro decor beckon serious foodies and the just seriously hungry to pull off the highway and relax and stay awhile. Highlights include deviled eggs and farmer’s toast, but the burger, turkey sandwich, and miniature ham biscuit are not to be missed. Be sure to save room for the daily pie selection and a salted caramel shake.

Sometimes the best destination is no place in particular. Breathtaking views greet you around every turn. Picnic spots can be found almost anywhere in Sonoma, offering a perfect excuse to relax and reconnect. At magic hour, the hills glow honey and amber. Oak leaves rustle in the breeze. Lying on a blanket in the tall grass, it’s easy to forget that San Francisco is less than two hours away.

Nestled beneath the coastal mountains, Lake Sonoma is a 2,700-acre man-made reservoir that beckons you from the road and invites you to its crystal waters. With hiking trails, picnic areas, campsites, and boat rentals, Lake Sonoma offers an entire weekend’s worth of outdoor activities. Or, if you’re so inclined, you can enjoy no activities at all: Park yourself on the shore of the lake and watch canoes paddle by.

Driving is one of the great pleasures of visiting this part of California. Lined with Douglas firs and California laurels, the winding roads and big sky of Sonoma County remind you of why you love driving in the first place: freedom. Stops along the way are fun, but the roads are more than the way you get there – they’re the main attraction.