Everything you need to know about travel to California amid the Getty and Kincade wildfires

Travel to parts of California is returning to normal schedules as firefighters have been able to better contain wildfires in the northern and southern parts of the state.

Last weekend, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency as high winds fueled wildfires across parts of California.

Now, both the Kincade wildfire in the North and the Getty wildfire in the South are more than 60 percent contained. Evacuees are returning home in some areas and power is being restored in many neighborhoods in both areas.

Northern California

The Charles M. Schultz-Sonoma County Airport (STS) in Santa Rosa said it’s restoring full commercial air service, but it will take a few days to return to normal schedules. The airport had shut down all commercial air services due to the Kincade Fire, which started on Oct. 23 near Geyserville in Sonoma County.

Map of Kincade Fire 2019
This is a map of the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County as of Oct. 28, 2019. (Courtesy of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection)

As of today, the Kincade Fire was 68 percent contained and is expected to be fully contained by Nov. 7, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire has burned more than 77,000 acres.

Today, the Santa Rosa airport said it’s restoring full commercial air service, but it will take a few days to return to normal schedules. American Airlines, Sun Country Airlines and United Airlines have resumed normal flight schedules to and from that airport, but Alaska Airlines said on its blog that it has suspended all its 18 daily flights in and out of Santa Rosa through Saturday, Nov. 2, because the situation in Sonoma County remains “dangerous and unpredictable.”

“Everyone’s safety remains the top concern,” Alaska said on its blog. The airline is letting customers change or cancel their flights without fees.

For the Santa Rosa airport, American Airlines is letting customers reschedule flights without fees; Alaska Airlines, Sun Country Airlines and United Airlines are letting passengers change or cancel flights without fees. Certain dates apply for each airline.

Flights in and out of other Northern California airports in Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco were not directly affected.

Southern California

The Getty Fire in Los Angeles, which was reported on Oct. 28, is 66 percent contained, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. It has burned about 745 acres.

American Airlines is letting travelers rebook flights without fees for five Southern California airports in Burbank (BUR), Long Beach (LGB), Los Angeles (LAX), Ontario (ONT) and Santa Ana/Orange County (SNA). Delta Air Lines is letting passengers change or cancel flights through the same five  airports without penalty and Sun Country Airlines is doing the same to/from the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Certain dates apply for each airline.

The Getty Fire or smoke from it has not affected other airline operations at Southern California airports.

Airline and traveler aid

Some airlines are directly helping California communities affected by the wildfires — and opening avenues for customers to do the same.

American has activated its Disaster Giving program through a partnership with the American Red Cross, which would supply shelter, food, supplies and health services as needed. American’s AAdvantage members wanting to help can give money, earning 10 miles for every dollar donated to the Red Cross with a minimum $25 donation through Nov. 16.

Alaska donated $10,000 to the California Fire Foundation’s SAVE (Supplying Aid to Victims of Emergency) and $5,000 to the Latino Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund. And the airline will match up to 1 million Mileage Plan miles donated by its customers to its Disaster Relief Pool.

Travelers can register with their airline for text or email notifications of flight delays or cancellations. They also should check with their airline for more details or information about service in California.

6 questions to help you plan a top-flight visit to Northern California wine country

Autumn in California means wine harvest and the release of previous year’s new vintages.

Wonderful weather also means it’s a great time to visit the northern part of the state for wine tastings and vineyard tours.

Newbies and dedicated wine lovers will find long lists of wineries to visit, so I won’t duplicate that here.

When choosing where you want to visit, ask yourself these questions:

  • What type of wine do you want to taste? Red, white, rose or sparkling wine. Some wineries also offer port wine or other spirits made by affiliates.
  • Do you have a particular wine region you want to explore? Northern California alone has several, including dozens of designated appellations, in Alexander Valley, Napa Valley and Russian River Valley in Lake, Napa, Sonoma and other counties. I wrote an article on one of the region’s newest wine appellations, the Petaluma Gap, in April for The Dallas Morning News.
  • Do you want to visit a winery at its vineyard or a tasting room? Many wineries offer tastings and tours of their vineyards on site. Others only have tasting rooms, which also can be at the vineyard or in a town. The town of Healdsburg, which is about 70 miles north of San Francisco, boasts more than two dozen winery tasting rooms, including Hartford Family Winery, La Crema, Seghesio and Portalupi Wines. Tastings and tours can range from $10 to over $100. (See the last bullet item.) During fall harvest, you may be enveloped by the heady aroma of grapes at vineyards.

Joe and Margaret Valenzuela outsource much of the work for their young Rubia Wines label, including their wine aging in barrels at their winemaker Julien Fayard’s property in Napa. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

  • Do you want to visit a large or small winery? A new label or a well-established brand? Family owned? Napa Valley alone has more than 500 wineries. In July, I wrote an article about how a Texas couple started a boutique Rubia Wines in Napa Valley. Its tasting room is at the industrial park office of its winemaker. It offers small bites with tastings. I also wrote an article last year about Hall Wines in Napa Valley, which offers tours and tastings (from $30 to $250 a person) at three locations: vineyards in St. Helena and Rutherford in Napa Valley and a tasting room in the nearby historic town of Sonoma.

Visitors to Hall Wines in St. Helena, Calif., enjoy the view of the Mayacamas Mountains from one of the outdoor seating areas. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

  • Do you want to eat as you taste wine? Nowadays, a winery experience is almost as much about food pairings as it is wine. Some tastings come with small bites or palate cleansers, but more often a winery will charge extra for a “culinary experience” that’s often with fruit and vegetables grown on site and noshes or meals prepared by a well-known chef. That also drives up the cost of a visit, usually starting around $35 and rising into triple figures. Some wineries also feature restaurants where you can order a la carte from a limited menu.
  • Do you want a winery visit with a touch of the unusual At Hall Wines, for example, visitors can wander through 38 large pieces of artwork. At the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, you can reserve a spot at its large pool, which quite the scene when weather permits. Several wineries, including Schramsberg Vineyards in Calistoga and Bella Vineyards in Healdsburg, boast historic caves that visitors can tour. You can play a game of croquet at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards in Windsor.
This 35-foot-long, stainless-steel leaping rabbit by artist Lawrence Argent greets visitors as they enter Hall Wines’ showcase winery in Napa Valley. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)