NAPA — There’s a popular stop in Wine Country, along a winding highway with acres of vineyards unfurling on either side. But it isn’t a place to taste chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon, nor is it a new Michelin-starred restaurant. It’s a museum.
Tucked between two wineries in Napa Valley, the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art highlights the work of Northern California artists, with galleries, sculpture gardens and a 35-acre lake. Opened in 1997, the museum was the project of Rene di Rosa, an aspiring viticulturist who sold his vineyards to create a preserve dedicated to Bay Area funk art — a space he called his “incorrect museum,” which would be fun, free of pretense and open to visitors at no charge. (There is now a $20 entrance fee.)
Many readers recommended di Rosa to me, including Ann Scarff, who says she takes guests there after they’ve visited enough nearby wineries that the flavors have begun to blend together. “This magical place livens conversation as well as appreciation of the countryside and Northern California artists from the past century to the current,” Scarff, who lives in Sonoma, wrote.
When I arrived at the museum’s main gallery on a recent Sunday, I was greeted by an Oldsmobile that was covered with billiard balls, toy guns and a pair of handcuffs, among other things, and had a giant rhino’s head sticking out of its hood. I strolled into the grassy sculpture garden, between the world’s tallest file cabinet, the gargantuan tangled roots of a redwood tree and an unsettling set of hands sticking out of the earth — a piece constructed by di Rosa himself.
I thought about the tongue-in-cheek lyrics that di Rosa handed out to the museum’s earliest guests in the late 1990s: “Art here is a healthy remedy / with a laugh at rascality not posing as ponderosity.”
For the past several weeks, you’ve been emailing me your choices for the best museums and places to enjoy art in California. Today I’m sharing a selection of your suggestions, sorted by region and lightly edited for clarity. Enjoy!
Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento
“The Crocker is our go-to museum, even though we live more than an hour away and the iconic museums of San Francisco are closer. The core collection focuses on U.S. and California art and can be viewed in as little as 60 to 90 minutes if pressed for time. The art on display is well curated with great explanations of what to look for in each piece — great for novices and gallery regulars. Frequent special exhibits are very high quality. Recent exhibits include Alexander McQueen and the largest Wayne Thiebaud retrospective in the country.” — Kathy Jakel, Lafayette
Anderson Collection at Stanford University
“Next door to the larger Cantor museum and sculpture garden, the Anderson Collection has modern art by Rothko, Diebenkorn, Thiebaud and so many more, with an emphasis on California artists. You always see something new because the curators rotate the collection and bring in new artists via exhibitions. My husband and I like to stop by a couple times a year for 45 minutes and just soak up the art, sometimes on our way to the Stanford Shopping Center. It’s so easy to access, especially on the weekends. And did I mention it’s free?” — Sonia Brunner, Los Altos
Carmel Art Association in Carmel
“Carmel Art Association has a huge selection of local artists, all for sale. We love the amazing work there and have purchased several original works. It is a nonprofit so there are no fees for the artists. Amazing art!” — Pollyanna Pixton, San Jose
Sand City Art Park in Monterey County
“The monthly Night Market in Sand City Art Park brings together live music, food trucks and local brewers in the heart of the public murals in Sand City. It’s an intergenerational event focused around art.” — Susie Brusa, Monterey County
Oceanside Museum of Art in San Diego County
“Every time I visit — I’m a card-carrying regular — I’m knocked out by how much talent resides in North San Diego County. The Oceanside community has put so much effort toward making the museum a success, and for my money, and I’m floored by it every time.” — Debby Bright, Oceanside
Brewery Artwalk in Los Angeles
“This artist’s colony on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles is home to 50 or more working artists in all mediums, including painting, sculpture and jewelry. The artwalk happens twice a year, and it’s been so fun getting to know these artists and talking to them about their work.” — Suzanne Graf, Los Angeles
Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena
“It’s a little jewelry box. It seemed that every piece on display was a gem of its kind. Mr. Simon collected an outstanding array of work by Degas — I could study the pastels alone for hours. I also remember a show of Nabi paintings that really put that group on the map for me. My husband and I put a print of ‘Chestnut Gatherers’ by Georges Lacombe above our fireplace when we got home.” — Anne Miller, Oakland
You can send your own recommendation to [email protected]. Please include your name and the city where you live.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Kristine DeYoung, who lives in Laguna Woods:
“Although it may seem like a no-brainer, my favorite place is Yosemite National Park. As a native with the privilege of growing up within an hour’s drive to the desert, mountains and the ocean, Yosemite has captured my soul.
As a younger woman, I backpacked or hiked many of the park’s trails, often bringing along my young son to learn about the magical lakes, big trees, brave coyotes and hungry bears. In my middle-aged years, I loved camping and hiking in the park alone or with friends. Each season has its own spectacular wonders.
Now, as a retiree and artist, I am still inspired by Yosemite’s rocks, water, plants, animals, history and changing skies. Plus, I have the luxury of seeing her when most of the summer tourists are gone.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
After a rainy winter, spring has arrived in California. Tell us your favorite part of the season, whether it’s road trips, festivals, sunny afternoons or wildflower sightings.
Email us at [email protected], and please include your name and the city where you live.
And before you go, some good news
The Marin Independent Journal recently asked readers to send in six-word stories about luck. Here are some of my favorites:
“Knock on wood — family, friends, health.” — Mary Lou Hayward, Novato
“The doctor called. Scans are clear.” — Rebecca Tollen, San Rafael
“Storm took beautiful trees; thankfully safe.” — Rebecca Bingea, Santa Venetia
“Ninety-four, thanks to nature, nurture, luck.” — Nona Dennis, Mill Valley