Take a Tour Through California’s Cannabis Country
It’s been tough cooling our jets the last few years. The good news is there’s a whole new genre of travel opening up that combines the familiar — great drives, inviting communities and stellar sights you know and love — all remixed in ways you’ve never experienced before. And for good reason. Until recently, you couldn’t legally tour a cannabis farm or enjoy an infused dinner party at a swank lodge. Haven’t gotten around to renewing your passport yet? No problem, because what Bordeaux is to wine, places like Mendocino and Humboldt are to craft cannabis. Before diving into our road trip through the greatest hits of NorCal cannabis travel, let’s note that yes, this is officially now a thing in the Golden State. By official, we mean everything we cover here is legal, licensed and open to anyone age 21 and over.
Let’s hit the road!
San Francisco to Sonoma County
San Francisco is foundational to modern-day cannabis culture. Indeed, it was during the worst days of the AIDS crisis that LGBTQ+ community activists like Dennis Peron fought for caregiver access to cannabis so they could provide relief for patients. Those struggles made California’s Proposition 215 a reality, a historic first, which legalized medical cannabis in 1996.
Today, this history is honored as part of the recently launched Cannabis Trail. Stretching from Santa Cruz to Trinity County, this self-guided cultural route highlights nearly two dozen people and places instrumental to normalizing cannabis in California. Several are located in S.F., including the Castro’s Flore Dispensary. Owned and founded by Terrance Alan, a friend of Peron who worked alongside him, the shop specializes in carrying the NorCal sun-grown cannabis favored by caregivers. Further commemorating this S.F.-cannabis farmer connection is the Compassion Mural, a 37-by-17-foot visual homage adjacent to the dispensary that’s the first of five monuments planned for the Cannabis Trail. Other San Francisco stops on the trail include Hippie Hill, City Lights Bookstore and the Grateful Dead House. To the north, Sonoma County is now more than a haven for savvy wine travelers. It’s also where you can find top-shelf cannabis experiences.
If “refined farmhouse with a pool” sounds about right, check that off your list at Sonoma Hills Farm. Vegetable, cannabis and hemp cultivation here are overseen by Aaron Keefer, the former director of The French Laundry’s culinary gardens, who utilizes organic practices to produce everything from dry-farmed peppers to SHF’s acclaimed Pink Jesus cannabis strain.
In addition to your stay at the three-bedroom/three-bath farmhouse set on 60 acres, your experience can include private events and strolls through the veggie and hemp farm. (Current regulations don’t allow access to the cannabis area.) A drive past ranches, vineyards and hidden hamlets leads you to Guerneville’s Mine + Farm, an impeccably restored 1906 farmhouse reimagined as a cannabis-friendly bed-and-breakfast. It’s just a cork’s throw from Korbel Vineyards, but buds — not bubbles — are the focus here. Amenities include pre-rolls set out for guests on the wide porch and a pleasant grassy expanse where you can sway in hammocks near the inn’s own cannabis garden.
Head up Highway 101 into Mendocino County and you are now entering the Emerald Triangle, a three-county area encompassing Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties. The region is renowned for being home to world-class cannabis cultivators, primarily small, independent operations that are the cannabis equivalent of craft breweries or boutique wineries. One of the most stellar ways to experience this craft approach is via farm visits and hosted events like several slated for the coming year. Outside the town of Willits, Emerald Spirit Botanicals has garnered top honors for cultivating cannabis rich in rarer cannabinoids like CBD and THCV. A two-generation operation headed by matriarch Katie Jeane, it will be hosting a series of small group farm tours and infused dinners where you can experience sustainably farmed cannabis along with other locally grown food products underneath towering Douglas firs.
To the southwest, the Anderson Valley is rightly celebrated for its wine. It’s now also home to one of California’s most elevated cannabis travel experiences. The Madrones, a nine-room, Mediterranean-style lodge known for its wine-tasting events and beautifully manicured gardens, is expanding its cannabis offerings to include micro-infused dinners, tours of the property’s nearby cannabis farm and weekly events at its recently debuted consumption lounge. For the ultimate convenience, an on-site dispensary, the Bohemian Chemist, is filled with artfully packaged cannabis flower and other products befitting the tony setting.
The largest and most famous cannabis haven of the Emerald Triangle, Humboldt County is 4,000 square miles of rugged coastline, towering redwoods and remote hilltops. Almost mythic in stature, it’s a place where discerning what’s truth or lore can be elusive — the Bigfoot of bud as it were — which is why we recommend a guided tour for your first Humboldt forays. You can’t do better than rolling past the redwoods with Eureka-based Humboldt Cannabis Tours. Run by Matt Kurth, the tours include scheduled or customized options and can even include a stop at an artisanal winery.
Tour highlights include visits to working cannabis farms like award-winner Huckleberry Hill Farms (also a Cannabis Trail landmark, www.pickhumboldt.com), run by second-generation farmer John Casali and his partner Rose Moberly. The lush landscaping and serene Buddha statues make the farm feel like an Instagram-ready botanical garden. Lodgings range from rustic glamping venues like Five Sisters Farms to historic Scotia Lodge, a recently refurbished 22-room boutique hotel that offers guests on-site cannabis delivery. The company also operates a nearby cannabis lounge and dispensary at Papa & Barkley Social, as well as a spa that features THC- and CBD-infused treatments. Like this road trip, if that doesn’t leave you relaxed and reset for the new year, nothing will.