From redwoods to white beaches: Escape the Bay Area with 6 weekend getaways

February 08, 2016                 11m read time
Max Levenson


Find yourself staring at the screen and not the redwoods? We’ve got a list of easy-peasy getaways to slip out of the city and into all the beauty the Bay Area has to offer.

Well, here’s the good news: Unemployment in San Francisco—the City by the Bay—is dropping faster than a bowling ball off the side of Mount Lassen. But here’s the catch: people in San Francisco log more hours at work than any other city in the country—an average of 44 hours each week. That’s a lot of time spent staring at computer screens, and probably not enough exploring all the incredible nature just a skip and a hop away from the city. Here are some great weekend getaway spots that don’t garner nearly the attention they deserve.

1. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Bumpass Hell in Lassen Volcanic National Park near San Francisco Pung

Bumpass Hell in Lassen Volcanic National Park near San Francisco

Pung

 

Less than a four-hour drive from downtown San Francisco, Lassen National Park in Mineral, CA, packs thrills similar to Yellowstone without the schlep—why drive 15 hours when you can stare at hypnotizing explosions of steam and boiling mud in your own backyard? Beyond its famous bubbling ground, Lassen is home to steaming fumaroles (volcanic gas vents), wildflowers, lakes, and volcanoes, including the largest plug dome volcano in the world and the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range. Take it all in by trekking the park’s 150 miles of hiking paths, but don’t wander too far from the trail—the park has sent more than one stray adventurer to the hospital with burnt toes. Here are some must-sees: 

Mount Lassen Peak Trail Hike

Starting at the Lassen Peak parking area, this five-mile, round-trip hike features elevation gains of more than 2,000 feet, a plethora of switchbacks, and rocky terrain. You may notice a lingering rotten egg smell as you near the summit, but don't worry about who forgot to put the groceries in the fridge. It’s just hydrogen sulfide, reminding you that Mount Lassen is still considered an active, though dormant, volcano.  

Bumpass Hell

The name alone makes you curious, right? The largest hydrothermal area in the park, Bumpass Hell features 16 acres of the boiling pools and gurgling mud pots that helped make Lassen famous, including Big Boiler, a roaring steam vent. Fortunately, a three-mile boardwalk has been installed to keep you safe from all that geothermal excitement.

Subway Cave

Cool off with a stop at the Subway Cave, which beckons explorers with its underground lava tube. The short self-guided trail is pitch-black, so be sure to bring a flashlight and some tough shoes for the jagged cave floor. Holding steady at a brisk 46 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, bundle up for this dark, chilly adventure that’s open April through November.

Devil’s Kitchen

The second-biggest hydrothermal area in the park, Devil’s Kitchen has a four-mile trail that takes about two hours to cover. To get there, hike through the Warner Valley meadows and cross over Hot Springs Creek. A bit like a mini Bryce Canyon, Devil’s Kitchen is home to red and yellow dissolved rock formations, boiling mud pots, hissing noises, and spectacular steam vents puffing out whirls of hot air. 

2. Guerneville, CA

Russian River near Healdsburg near San Francisco, California nate bolt

Russian River near Healdsburg near San Francisco, California

nate bolt

 

The quirky and historic logging town of Guerneville lies nestled in the folds of beautiful Sonoma wine country, almost perfectly bisected by the Russian River. Mosey down quaint Main Street, browsing retro restaurants and corner stores like the Guerneville 5 & 10. If you’re planning a trip in September, relax onshore or atop an inner tube, listening to the sounds of live music with a glass of wine in your hand during the Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival. But no matter what time of year you visit, there’s plenty to explore in this artsy community:

Johnson’s Beach Boating

Offering kayak, canoe, and paddleboat rentals, Johnson’s boathouse makes it easy to get out and explore one of Sonoma County’s top swimming spots. All boats cost $40 a day or $12 an hour.

Rio Theater and Café

Only 90 miles from San Francisco, the 1950 quonset hut movie theater with a colorful past is fittingly located on Bohemian Highway. This relaxing gathering place for locals features a cafe serving breakfast and lunch on a terrace with river views, plus a cheerful weekend market.  

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve

Filled with coastal redwoods, many of which grow to heights of more than than 200 feet, the 800-acre park is home to the gargantuan Colonel Armstrong Tree—estimated to be more than 1,400 years old and a staggering 310 feet tall. Wander in wonder along self-guided trails, catch a show at the outdoor amphitheater, or pack a lunch for the picnic areas.

Russian River Brewing Company

The doors open at 11 a.m., but people start lining up at 10 a.m. There’s a reason. Fancy yourself a microbrew maven? Three words: Pliny. The. Elder. (Or, Pliny The Younger, if you’re lucky enough to score a growler for the two weeks in February when it’s available.) Having achieved cult status among Bay Area hop hunters—and basically everyone else in America who loves craft beer—Russian River Brewing Company is well-regarded for its aggressively hopped, California-style, Belgian-inspired ales and barrel-aged beers. Be sure to stop for some suds and snacks on your way—it’s just a short 33-minute detour from Guerneville.

Korbel Winery

Established in 1882, Korbel is the oldest operating "champagne" (yes, yes, we know, technically it’s sparkling wine) house in North America. Swing by Korbel’s beautiful tasting room to sample the full breadth of their effervescent portfolio, then take a relaxing stroll through the extensive gardens boasting more than 250 varieties of antique roses. Feeling a little giddy after all that bubbly? Pay a visit to the onsite Korbel Delicatessen & Market for sandwiches, salads, and box lunches that you can take to-go for picnicking under the redwoods.

3. Portola Redwoods State Park

Family hiking in Redwood National State Park near San Francisco, California Aleksei Potov

Family hiking in Redwood National State Park near San Francisco, California

Aleksei Potov

 

Tucked in the west flank of the Santa Cruz Mountains just an hour from San Francisco, Portola Redwoods State Park is a rugged, natural basin filled with Coast Redwoods, Douglas Firs, and Live Oaks. Home to Pescadero and Peters creeks, take advantage of 18 miles of trails, a 53-site campground, and four larger group campsites for overnight stays. While you’re there, check out:

Shell Tree

One of the park’s myriad highlights, this mammoth mainstay on the Sequoia Nature Trail was more than 2,000 years old when it burned down in 1989 due to a careless camper’s fire. Today, it’s a solemn reminder and ghostly shadow of its former self.

Old Tree Trail

The centerpiece of this winding, canopy-covered, 0.6-mile path is its namesake: a monumental old growth tree approximately 12 feet in diameter and 300 feet tall.

Old Haul Road

If you’re looking for a mountain biking adventure, head to Old Haul Road about five miles away. Meandering alongside Pescadero Creek, the former logging route is graded with a pleasant 500 foot descent. To reach Old Haul Road, park at the Visitor’s Center and ride south to the Iverson Cabin site.

Peter’s Creek Grove

Also known as the Bay Area’s Lost World, this wooded sanctuary harbors old-growth, backcountry redwoods in a ravine along the creek. To see it all, take Peter’s Creek Trail, a 12-mile round-trip route that goes up and down into the canyon. The hike is long, and the scenic reward is something you have to earn. 

4. Healdsburg, CA

Girls eating pie and ice cream at Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar

Girls eating pie and ice cream at Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar

Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar

 

If you're eager to explore California wine country, head to idyllic Healdsburg—there’s nowhere better to start sipping. Centrally located to more than 100 world-class wineries and tasting rooms, the boutique downtown is delightful to explore and easier to navigate than some of Healdsburg’s more prestigious neighbors (no offense, Napa). With more tasting rooms than you can shake a stick at, this place is an oenophile's playground with little to no driving required. When you need a brief respite from the food and vino, get ready for a smorgasbord of outdoor adventures including hot air ballooning, road cycling, golfing, canoeing, and more. Our Healdsburg-centric suggestions:

The SHED

Originally conceived as a community gathering place and farmer-friendly market, the SHED is like the smaller, hipper cousin of Whole Foods or New Leaf. This popular hub features a farm-to-table café with an open kitchen, multiple delis, wood-burning stove, house-made products, and a beautifully curated artisan gift shop that’ll distract you for at least 30 minutes (trust us: grab a bottle of the Frantoio Grove olive oil if they have it in stock). Serving three meals a day, the SHED boasts mouth-watering (and always-changing) menu items like duck prosciutto salad with Asian pears, Sibley squash chestnuts and cider syrup, and wild fennel soup with smoked trout and lemon verbena. What’s not to love?

Bear Republic Brewing

Located in the heart of downtown and founded by third and fourth-generation Sonoma families, Bear Republic boasts a solid list of bites and brews (shoutout to Racer 5 IPA), including their first beer, Ricardo’s Red Rocket Ale, and beer-spiked barbecue wings.

Banshee Wines

This place is anything but your typical tasting room. Owned by a handful of 30-somethings who created a cozy, living room feel with leather couches and the sounds of vintage LPs spinning on the turntable, Banshee offers small bites and tasting flights from $15 to $30. We recommend the 2014 Sonoma County Pinot Noir.

Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar

That’s right. A pie bar—and with flavors Willy Wonka would approve: strawberry raspberry streusel, maple chocolate walnut, salted caramel mud and more. Inspired by French, Scandinavian, and Japanese flavors, these made-from-scratch morsels come from locally-sourced ingredients. Heaven.

Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve

Give your stomach (and your waistband) a rest with a leisurely amble along this pastoral trail network comprised of about three miles of easy hiking. Located north of downtown near Simi Winery, the preserve offers stunning views of Fitch Mountain, the Mayacama Mountains, and the Russian River, not to mention gorgeous stands of oak and pine, wetlands, and vernal pools.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery

This place is so much more than grapes and its famous namesake. Take advantage of the swimming pool, cabanas, bocce court, and two onsite restaurants. Be sure to score some tastes of Coppola’s small-batch labels offered on-site, with fabulous names like “Archimedes,” “Pitagora,” “I Mille,” “Director’s Cut,” and “Eleanor.”

5. Capitola, CA

Santa Cruz Natural Bridges State Beach near San Francisco, California Chintla

Santa Cruz Natural Bridges State Beach near San Francisco, California

Chintla

 

Just a 90 minute drive from San Francisco, Capitola is a beach town hamlet for relaxation and plenty of sunshine. Established in 1869 and deemed one of the oldest seaside resorts on the Pacific Coast, this quintessential Highway 1 town has repeatedly been voted one of the best spots on the California coastline. While you’re there, don't forget:

Paddling at Capitola Beach

Frequently described as one of the top 10 beaches on the West Coast, Capitola Beach offers great surf, particularly in the winter, and plenty of sprawling public beaches for swimming, surfing, volleyball, kite flying, kayaking, and more. Rent boards and paddles or take lessons from either Capitola Surf and Paddle or Capitola Surf. When your appetite is as high as the waves, head to the locally beloved Gayle's Bakery & Rosticceria for the most dizzying, beautiful array of all your favorite comfort foods (or stop by for picnic lunch fixings before hitting the water).  

Swimming at New Brighton State Beach

Take the New Brighton / Park Avenue exit off Highway One to reach this dog-friendly beach. Beyond picnic areas, swimming, and fishing, New Brighton offers million dollar-view campgrounds on a bluff overlooking Monterey Bay. Be sure to reserve months in advance if you want to camp.

Paradise Beach Grille

Located right on the beach, Paradise Beach Grille features an outdoor fireplace for cozy nighttime dining with unbeatable sunset vistas. Indulge in scrumptious from-the-sea bounty like coconut and macadamia encrusted ahi tuna fillet or sugar and spice salmon.

Natural Bridges State Beach

While the highlight of this 65-acre park is the natural bridge that reaches across a section of the beach, it’s also home to the dazzling Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve. Plan a visit between October and February, when more than 150,000 monarchs flock to the area. Beyond butterflies and bridges, the protected cove is great for swimming and sunbathing.

6. Auburn, CA

Guy panning for gold mikeledray

Guy panning for gold

mikeledray

 

Placer County has a little something for everyone, be you a history nerd, outdoor buff, oenophile, or...49er? Yep—add “pan for gold” to the itinerary, and tell the kids they’re only getting treats from Samantha’s Ice Cream Parlor if they can pay for it in 14k nuggets (just kidding). Located less than three hours from San Francisco, the former mining town of Auburn is a serene destination where history is very much alive and nature is easily accessible. Stops we suggest:

Knee Deep Brewing Company

Grab a seat (and a growler) at Knee Deep Brewing Company. Through the tasting room's glass walls, watch the making of their award-winning brews—like the Hoptologist Double IPA or the Tanilla Porter—from barrel to bottle.

Gold panning

Nestled squarely in Gold Rush territory, Auburn's the perfect place to get back to your 1849 roots. Auburn State Recreation Area allows gold panning in permanent running stream beds for an authentic experience. Just 30 minutes away in Coloma, Marshall Gold Discovery State Park gives $7 gold mining lessons for beginners, plus a range of historical and group tours. They give you all the supplies, and you even get to keep the gold you find. Eureka!

Hike or Bike in Hidden Falls Regional Park

On a nice day, Hidden Falls is guaranteed to be hoppin' with locals. There you'll find 30 miles of hiking routes and single track for mountain bikers. Favorite trails include the Sky Ride Loop, Grey Pine Trail, Great Egret Trail, Grey Squirrel Trail, or Deer Trail. The park's star attraction, of course, is the 5.6-mile Hidden Falls Trail. You'll weave along the creeks to two observation decks with picnic tables and fishing spots, all with rockin' views of the 30-foot falls. Since it's a popular spot, it's smart to go early to nab a parking spot.

Placer County Wine Trail

Here’s a good rule of thumb: where there’s a wine trail, follow it. Connecting 20 boutique, offbeat wineries in Auburn, Lincoln, Loomis, Newcastle, Rocklin Circle, and Meadow Vista, the lovely Placer County Wine Trail makes exploring the region’s vino offerings gloriously easy. Tried and tested ZOZI staff favorites include Bonitata Boutique Wine and Bear River, a boutique micro winery producing small case lots.

Max Levenson

Has bike, will travel.

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