Five Weekend Getaways
School may be in session but it doesn’t mean you can’t escape the chaos of homework, baseball games and ballet recitals for a couple of days. You don’t have to travel overseas or dip into your savings to find a relaxing place for your family to unwind. Skip a soccer game and check out one of these five weekend getaways all of which I’ve been to myself. They are all between one to four hours away and can be inexpensive if you’re flexible.
Bay Area Coast
Drive time: One and half to two hours to Pigeon Point Lighthouse.
Just a short drive over the San Mateo County mountain range and it seems like you are escaping to another country. While I typically make it a day trip, it can easily be a wonderful weekend getaway. Follow Highway 92 and it will bring you to Half Moon Bay. Turn left on Highway 1 and you have miles of beautiful ocean views with little or no development. Besides just enjoying the scenery, there are tons of things to do along this beautiful stretch of coast: hiking at Purisima Creek Redwood Preserve in Half Moon Bay (www.openspace.org), shopping at boutiques in Half Moon Bay, picnicking on the beach or visiting produce stands.
One of my favorite places in this area is Año Nuevo State Park (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=523). Drawing visitors from around the world, up to 10,000 elephant seals come to the park every year to breed and give birth. You must make reservations for a docent guide to lead you to these incredible creatures.
If you want to splurge, you can stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay and be treated to wonderful views, spa treatments, fine dining and other luxuries (www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/california/half-moon-bay/rooms-suites). Or you can head down the coast to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel (www.norcalhostels.org/pigeon). It may not have luxurieS,, but it offers a unique experience that your family will remember, including incredible views, a peaceful environment and a lot of history. You can stay in shared dorm-style rooms for $28-32 adults and $14-16 children, or you can rent a private room for $82-186 per night. If it’s summer, there’s also some great camping in this area (reserveamerica.com). Butano State Park and Half Moon Bay are some of my favorite campgrounds.
A fun place to eat that we always go to when we’re in Half Moon Bay is Cameron’s Pub, Restaurant and Inn (cameronspub.net/). This true British pub has great grub, an inn with quaint rooms, a British food and gift shop and a double decker bus.
Drive time: One and half to two hours
Made famous by the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds, this beautiful town has more to offer than just horror movie fame. Its miles of sandy coves, seaside bluffs and fantastic whale watching make it a great place to forget about the stresses of life. In the seaside harbor, there are shops, art galleries, wine tasting rooms and a bustling commercial fishing industry. This is the perfect place to buy fresh seafood.
If you are a Hitchcock fan, you can find sites where the movie was filmed in Bodega Bay and nearby Bodega, such as the school house where the birds attacked the children (www.visitbodegabayca.com/hitchcock-film-fest). Bodega Bay is also the location of the sixth annual Hitchcock Film Festival in March.
The best time for whale watching is January through May. Each year, the blue and gray whales travel south to Baja California for the winter and then back north for the summer feeding season. There are some great overlooks in the area to spot whales, or you can go on a boat trip (www.bodegabay.com/whale-migration-bodega-bay/).
We shared a vacation rental home on the beach with friends. It h had a view of the sand dunes and rough ocean. I highly recommend going this route, but there are plenty of other lodging options in the area (www.bodegabay.com/lodging/#bodegabay).
Drive time: Three and half to four hours
From beaches to museums, Fort Bragg has a little something for every family member for a memorable weekend getaway.
One of my favorite activities is riding the Skunk Train (www.skunktrain.com). This one-hour scenic roundtrip takes you through the redwoods and along the Pudding Creek Estuary on some of the oldest railroad tracks in the state. Located just behind the Skunk Train depot is the Mendocino Coast Model Railroad & Historical Society. This tribute to the Mendocino Coast's railroad history boasts nearly 1,300 feet of track and models – plus it’s free with your Skunk Train ticket (www.mendorailhistory.org/index.htm).
Another must-see is
Glass Beach (www.fortbragg.com/explore/glass-beach). It gets its name from the colorful shimmering polished glass along its shores. You can spend hours looking at this beautiful sight and taking photos, but don’t take any of the glass with you. It’s illegal.
Venture outside the city toward Mendocino to the Point Cabrillo Light Station. It's a bit of a walk from the parking lot (0.5 miles), but the views are worth it. (pointcabrillo.org/).
Visiting in the fall? Check out one of the wild mushroom walks or identification workshops, peruse the edible garden, or wait until dark for the Festival of Lights at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (www.gardenbythesea.org/).
You can get some great deals on lodging, especially in the off-season (www.mendocino.com/mendocino-hotels.html). I recommend getting a room with a view of the coast.
Gold Rush Highway
Drive time: Two and half to three hours from the Bay Area to Auburn.
A drive on Highway 49 through the heart of Gold Country is a perfect weekend getaway. Not only is it a very scenic drive, but it offers California history lessons, recreational activities and even shopping. For a short trip, I recommend you tackle the stretch of highway between Auburn off of Interstate 80 and Jackson off of Highway 88. You can make the trip shorter or longer, since there are many main highways that feed into Highway 49 and there’s plenty to discover. A good first stop on Highway 49 is the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park at 310 Back St., Coloma (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=484). This is where James W. Marshall discovered gold in 1848 on the South Fork of the American River which sparked the Gold Rush and the growth of the West during the ensuing decades. Here you can find the Gold Discovery Museum and Visitor Center where you can pick up maps and information and check out exhibits and artifacts from the Gold Rush. There’s also a Sutter sawmill replica which is operated regularly for demonstrations.
Further down the highway is Sutter Creek, a perfect hub for shopping, dining, strolling, visiting historic sites and exploring the Sierra foothills wine regions. This town has a wonderful balance of old and new, maintaining its Gold Rush façade but also catering to the wants and needs of visitors from around the world (www.suttercreek.org).
With the American River nearby, this drive also offers great water fun. You can enjoy rafting, swimming holes and fishing (www.theamericanriver.com/recreation/).
Lodging in the Auburn and Jackson areas can run between $100-200. But you may get a better deal if you stay somewhere closer to Sacramento or plan your trip during the off-seasons.
Drive time: One and half to two hours
Made famous by novelist John Steinbeck’s fictional stories set along California’s coast, Monterey is a hub for experiencing what our great state is all about: history, scenic beauty, literature and resources.
There’s Cannery Row, a center of the sardine-packing industry immortalized by Steinbeck in his stories. With its charm and colorful history, it offers quaint boutiques, great seafood and four-star hotels (canneryrow.com). At Cannery Row, you can also find the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium with its thousands of marine animals and plants (www.montereybayaquarium.org). It’s one of the most incredible aquariums you’ll find anywhere and shouldn’t be skipped if you visit the area.
Another place to put at the top of your list is Monterey Old Town Historic District (www.nps.gov/nr/travel/ca/ca27.htm). This historic state park includes buildings from the 18th to 19th centuries, the Monterey customs house, the first theater, an old whaling station and more. You can take guided or self-guided tours.
If you want to enjoy the area’s beautiful scenery, a walk or bike ride along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail offers views of sea lions, otters and sometimes whales. It hugs the coast following the same route as the old Southern Pacific Railway and it’s a great way to walk to Cannery Row and Monterey Bay Aquarium (www.seemonterey.com/things-to-do/parks/coastal-trail/#sm.00017hbm7mphzdjgpsu14q8lxrjd0).
The average price for a three-star hotel in the area is $215. But if you travel to the area during the off-season, like October and April, the weather may be a bit cooler, but is usually still pleasant and there are fewer crowds and better deals at hotels. For more information on lodging, check out: www.seemonterey.com/hotels/#sm.00017hbm7mphzdjgpsu14q8lxrjd0.
Teresa Mills-Faraudo is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.