Some things in life come full-circle. Take acorns, for instance. Once used by early Californians for flour, these tannic oak offerings are making a comeback in one of California's culinary hot spots -- Sonoma.

On a recent visit to wine country with Oakland-based Access Trips, I got a behind-the-scenes look at why Sonoma is leading California's culinary revolution. The region has been blessed with a bounty of food in its natural landscape.

In the book, "Wine Country Chef's Table," John McReynolds, the culinary director at Stone Edge Farm, writes about "the flora and fauna in Sonoma that can be used in your food." As a fifth-generation Californian, he's an expert at identifying natural food sources such as acorns, which he grinds into flour and uses in his cooking classes. "You have to leech the tannins out, but it has a sweet, earthy flavor," says McReynolds, who teaches cooking classes in his outdoor kitchen, just steps from the small, private winery's organic vineyards.

Today's travelers look for these kinds of enriching experiences -- trips that have a lasting, positive change on their lives, according to Access Trips CEO Tamar Lowell.


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Lowell's company leads learning tours to 13 countries including Turkey and Nepal (mountain bike meccas) and Morocco and El Salvador (exceptional surfing spots).

"We want guests to feel a sense of personal accomplishment," she says, along with "having fun and feeling like an insider." Lowell has traveled to more than 60 countries and lives in the Glenview neighborhood with her husband and two children.

The Sonoma culinary tour is the newest offering in the Access portfolio and lets small groups of guests do insider activities such as four-wheeling through vineyards and tasting developing wines from the barrel. One day is spent learning to cook at the celebrated Harvest Moon Cafe, and another is spent in the olive groves, vineyards and kitchen at Stone Edge Farms.

Even the overnight accommodations tell a unique story. MacArthur Place Hotel and Spa is set on 7 lush acres near Sonoma Square. Once the third-oldest ranch in Sonoma, guests can stroll through perfumed botanical gardens that are harvested for the kitchen and the spa. It's just one more example of the sweetness of living in concert with nature.

What are your favorite local adventures? Drop me a line, and I'll share them with readers. You can reach me at ginnyprior@hotmail.com or online at www.ginnyprior.com.

FYI
Access Trips website is www.accesstrips.com.
The 16th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival is April 10-14. For more information, go to www.sonomafilmfest.org.