Category: Northern California

Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos in Spanish, is a colorful, celebratory holiday that mixes the macabre with the mundane and the magical. A day to remember, honor and celebrate those family members, friends, pets and even strangers who have passed.

It happens about the same time as Halloween hijinx and mixes some of our spooky shenanigans with Mexican rituals, but, without the fear of those that have moved on. Although ghosts and skeletons play important roles, it is an enchanting and not so creepy portrayal of the un-living. Parties gather in cemeteries, bestowing offerings for those who have moved on.

Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Books, Family Travel, Mexico, Museum, San Francisco, art, final wishes

A good friend took a group of kids and parents rock climbing in the Sierras recently. We walked ten minutes to a steep rock face and unloaded the gear and started setting up. My son has taken indoor classes at a gym, and hanging out in that atmosphere, I have never been enticed to join in, but in the mountains, out in nature, it was a totally different story.

I know my limits. Jumping out of a plane, bungee jumping from a bridge, crossing the Atlantic or Pacific in a small boat or running a marathon are not even remotely on my bucket list. That said, it’s invigorating to try new and adventurous activities at any age, to keep your mind and body fit, flexible, and to constantly look for new challenges.

Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, California, Family Travel, Hike/Backpack, Northern California, Rock Climbing, Sports, Yoga

It’s not that often a new, jaw-dropping cliff-side trail is opened. After much controversy and many years of debate, the Devil’s Slide Coastal Trail and companion tunnels are now in full swing and if you haven’t had a chance to walk, roll or run on the path it is certainly a great quick getaway for Bay Area folks. If you are planning a trip to San Francisco and want a manageable walk with Pacific Oceans views, make the trek just a 20-minute drive from the city.

Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Budget Travel, California, Cycling, Day Trips, Family Travel, Hike/Backpack, Northern California, San Francisco, Tide Pools, wildlife

Now’s the time, when there’s not much moon in late summer and fall, to slip a kayak into Tomales Bay near Point Reyes National Seashore. Bioluminescence is at its peak then, and when darkness settles on the water, every paddle stroke ignites bursts of light.

An easy place to put in is at Nick’s Cove, Miller County Park boat launch in the hamlet of Marshall. One great benefit here is the chance to get a good meal before you go or a celebratory beverage after you return at the bar and restaurant that bears the cove’s name. Even better, rent one of the cottages on the premises and spend the night, waking to the sound of bay waters lapping on the pilings.

Nick’s Cove Restaurant and Oyster Bar takes you back in time without old-fashioned discomforts. Once a hunter’s hangout, the bar still sports trophy heads on the dark wood walls, and true to the place’s history, the menu emphasizes seafood with, naturally, lots of oysters. It also emphasizes sustainability, sourcing many of its offerings in California Cuisine from the bounty of West Marin. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, California, Food, Marin County, National Parks, North America, Northern California, Point Reyes, Sports, Travel, United States

As a rule I tend to avoid tourist hotspots, but sometimes it is fun to be a tourist in your own city. On a recent #OrangeFriday, (when San Francisco Giants players wear orange jerseys and fans do the same on Fridays during the season) I escorted two 10-year-old baseball fans on a Duck Boat Tour to McCovey Cove. The small cove next to the ballpark hosts a multitude of kayakers, paddle boarders and cocktail cruisers, and we were going to join them on a land- and sea-worthy Duck Boat.

We boarded the bus/boat at Fisherman’s Wharf all bundled up for the three-hour tour. I would recommend eating before or bringing a very portable picnic on the ride. The open air Duck Boat, based on the famous World War II amphibious design, was a fun way to travel and the kitschy mood on board was infectious. The driver was cheeky and cheesy but all in all he was quite entertaining.

We drove through North Beach and Chinatown, the Financial District and some of SOMA, till we plunged into the Bay, adding a Coast Guard trained guy to assist the one-man crew. It was a beautifully clear, warm night and as the sun set, the orange light twinkled on the Bay. The captain let the boys drive in the water and peppered the crowd with historical and amusing tidbits about the city. He was a one-man band, often cutting away to an appropriate tune: Otis Redding’s classic, Janis Joplin and other San Francisco inspired songs.

Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Cruises, Day Trips, Family Travel, San Francisco

With the Sochi Winter Olympics just weeks away, interest is heating up for some of the lesser known winter sports. On a recent trip to Lake Tahoe, California for some winter fun, I was thrilled to find a cross country skiing venue with an Olympic pedigree.

Despite the disturbing lack of snow this year, Sugar Pine Point State Park, on Tahoe’s West Shore and home to the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympic Nordic Ski courses, was a great option to find pristine trails. More than 50 years ago, when the Olympics were less of a circus, the land that is now Sugar Pine Point State Park welcomed athletes from around the world, promoting international goodwill and the majesty of the sport.

Athletes raced over 35.4 miles of trail through the General and McKinney Creek areas.  The stadium was a temporary facility and was removed soon after the closing ceremony, restoring the land to its natural state. But the Olympic sign still stands at the entrance to what is now a picnic area and campground.
Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, California, California, Cross Country Skiing, Lake Tahoe, Northern California, Olympics, Skiing, State Parks, Winter Fun

As we careen towards Christmas, I was experiencing a bit of S-A-O, Seasonal-Autumnal-Overload. Having already relented to a trip to a giant pumpkin patch, harvest day for my son’s school, Halloween preparations and the omnipresent pumpkinification of October, from coffee flavoring, to muffins to candles…I was done.

Alas, we had a fall getaway planned to the California Gold Country in the Sierra Foothills and I was looking for some fun things to do with the family that might diverge a bit from the frolicsome fall activities I had been enjoying. We have driven past Sonora on our way to the mountains, often heading that way in summer or winter. It was exciting to think about a weekend trip that didn’t involve preparing food, camping or ski gear and with an open itinerary I could craft. I had a secret hope to see some changing leaves. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Budget Travel, California, California, Driving Trips, Eco Friendly Travel, Fall Foliage Tours, Family Travel, Food, Gold Country, Northern California, State Parks, Theme Park, Wine Tours, wine tasting

Last month the Rim fire, Burning Man and the closing of the Bay Bridge meant our planned Labor Day backpacking trip to the Sierras was in question. Finally, after much discussion we opted to head for the Snow Mountain Wilderness Area about 110 miles north of San Francisco in California’s Lake County.

Armed with outdated maps and hopes of some lake swimming, we hit the road ready for our adventure. Stopping at a ranger station, we got the skinny on the trails and hoped to hike to some small waterfalls. We were told the driving was rough to get to the trailhead, and included fording a river, which sounded exciting till we got to it and panicked.

We promptly set up camp and found a swell swimming hole, as we were to wait till the next morning when the other half of our party was to arrive. Once our big group was assembled,  we decided to spend the day at a big lake before attempting to ford the river again.

The driving was dusty, long and we made a few bad choices. Desperate to swim in a lake, we headed for Lake Pillsbury, which sounded enchanting, but was, alas, quite a depressing scene. Lake Pillsbury is a man-made lake in Northern California, situated an arduous 33 miles east of Ukiah in the Mendocino National Forest. Reviews were mixed, but as the the temperature climbed, we just wanted to cool off. What we found was a dried up, somewhat scungy car-camping scene, with campers and giant garbage bags full of empty beer and soda containers all smooshed together in the seedy campgrounds. The bathrooms, cute store and expensive gas were welcome, but this was not what we had in mind for our backpacking adventure; we didn’t even want to swim in the lake.

Finally we decided to return to the small menacing river and attempt to get past it with an all wheel drive Subaru Outback.
Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Budget Travel, California, Camping, Driving Trips, Eco Friendly Travel, Family Travel, Hike/Backpack, Northern California, wildlife

The other day I accompanied my daughter’s 6th grade class on a field trip to Calaveras County where we wandered among the big trees (giant sequoias) and camped in the forest by a meadow in one of California’s pristine state parks. I expected awe and inspiration, and a lot of kid fun, and I got that. But I also got some things I didn’t expect.

That’s usually the way with travel. You have some notions about what you’ll experience and at some point the path diverges and you end up someplace you hadn’t planned. A side trip in Calaveras County took me to the Fiji islands, the California 6th graders gave way to a Fijian Sunday school, and I was left awed by the redwoods and the sea. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, California, California, Camping, Eco Friendly Travel, Family Travel, Fiji, Fiji, Gold Country, Hike/Backpack, North America, Northern California, South Pacific, State Parks, Travel, United States

Katniss from The Hunger Games, Hawkeye from The Avengers and London’s 2012 Olympic Archery Competition have all given the ancient sport of archery a jolt. Kids and adults across the country are smitten with the idea of using a bow to shoot an arrow.

A recent New York Times Fashion & Style article explores the trajectory of the sport given the cultural craze. From Staten Island to San Francisco, sales of kid-size recurve bows have more than quadrupled this year!

Whether you have a Robin Hood fan, a small Cossack (a kid into ancient weaponry) or you just love fun, free, urban family activities, you’ve got to check out the Golden Gate Park Archery Range in San Francisco when you’re visiting the city. It’s a beautiful and well-maintained piece of park real estate, near the beach. It’s easy to park and accessible by public transportation. It’s always open for folks with their own archery equipment. If you’re looking to try it out as an activity, you can swing by the nearby Archery Pro Shop, where you can sign up for lessons, rent or buy bows or investigate other equipment. You can also buy bows and arrows on-line. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Books, Budget Travel, California, Camping, Family Travel, Olympic Peninsula, Olympics, San Francisco, Urban Parks, Yosemite