Where to Spend Your Staycation

You don't need to travel far to feel like you're away.

Good-bye Lake Michigan, the Rocky Mountains, and the National Museum of American History. Hello Lake Merritt, Mount Diablo, and the Oakland Museum of California. Local attractions may not possess the allure of exotic destinations, but they make up for it in accessibility and affordability. And with wages stagnating, expenses escalating, and workdays stretching out like saltwater taffy, these benefits make all the difference.

The cachet of the staycation has skyrocketed in recent years. Once the province of the afraid-to-fly and the fiercely frugal, stay-at-home vacations have evolved into something to envy, not scorn. Low-stress local getaways may in fact be the 21st century’s answer to a summer at the lake house: relaxing, low-profile, family-friendly, and a logistical breeze. Did we mention cheap?

Perhaps more than any other region in the country, the Bay Area is replete with staycation opportunities. After all, plenty of people travel from around the world to vacation here. Innumerable cultural, educational, and outdoors adventures await — all you have to do is find them. Here’s a list of ideas to get you started. You may discover that experiences you once spent multiple days and hundreds of dollars to reach are available within the span of one sunny summer Saturday.

Boating and barbecuing at Lake Del Valle: Folks west of the hills often overlook Del Valle, but locals know: If you want to spend a day chilling out on the water, this is the place. A laidback vibe and a gorgeous setting deep in an oak-studded valley southeast of downtown Livermore guarantee a good time. Rent a motorboat, patio boat, pedal boat, kayak, or canoe, and take it out on the five-mile-long reservoir. Proceed to a lakeside barbecue and a game of horseshoes. The good ol’ days never left.

Bicycle wine tour in Calistoga: A day of wine tasting in Napa Valley can be stressful. Driving from lot to lot and jostling with crowds for a place at the tasting bar isn’t the best way to unwind. For a more low-impact experience, head to the valley’s northern end and the staycation-friendly burg of Calistoga. Bring your bike (or rent one in town), map out an itinerary, and spend your day enjoying both the natural scenery and the bounty of excellent wines available at a handful of wineries and tasting rooms.

Guided brewery tours: If wine’s not your thing, maybe this is: Hop on a bus and let a stranger drive you from brewery to brewery, including some of the country’s best, as you become increasingly prone to wax poetic on the relative merits of porters and stouts. A number of local businesses offer such gracious services, including Bay Area Brewery Tours and North Bay Brewery Tours, taking advantage of the region’s wealth of superb microbreweries. Don’t drink and drive. Just drink.

Alcatraz tour and ferry: Some locals may feel it’s beneath them to cavort with camera-toting tourists on the Rock, but that’s their loss: Even lifelong residents will find something fascinating about Alcatraz. On a clear day, the ferry ride out to the island is a treat in itself. But stepping inside the former prison is simply
transformative. Spring for the optional audio tour: It’s worth it. Afterward, wander around the island to explore the outbuildings, enjoy the gardens, and absorb the incredible views. You’ll realize the tourists are on to something.

Port Costa and Warehouse Cafe: Take the last East Bay exit off Highway 80 and travel a few winding miles to one of the Bay Area’s last true outliers, Port Costa. Founded in 1879, the town grew into one of the country’s busiest wheat-shipping ports, complete with a wicked reputation for rowdiness. The bustle is gone, but Port Costa is otherwise preserved. The Burlington Hotel is an allegedly haunted former bordello, while the Warehouse Cafe, across the street, is home to a taxidermied polar bear, hundreds of beers, and some of the nicest folks around. Have at it.

Lake Chalet and Oakland Museum of California: You hardly have to leave home for this one. Pick a special exhibit at the excellent Oakland Museum of California, or take your chances and stop by when you can. (First Sundays are free.) Revel in California’s rich history, environment, and art. Once your mind is sated, walk a third of a mile up Lakeside Drive for some grub at Lake Chalet. Happy hours and lakeside views are what staycations are made of.

Ocean Beach and Segway Tour in Golden Gate Park: Granted, Ocean Beach is no Caribbean vacation. But what’s a little fog and frigid water? If there’s any place for a getaway in busy San Francisco, it’s the Sunset — or, as it used to be known, the Outside Lands. Exotic. Head inland for an excursion of a more modern sort: a guided Segway tour of Golden Gate Park. (Don’t worry about sacrificing your street cred for a little fun; this is a staycation.) Tickets run $70 but often sell out in advance. Aim for a Sunday, when the park is closed to vehicle traffic.

Houseboat on the Delta: Grab some friends, reserve a weekend, and venture up to the Sacramento River Delta for a one-of-a-kind experience. Maneuvering a houseboat on the delta can be a bit trickier than poking around on the glassy surface of a man-made lake – given the tides, currents, and frequent winds — but any first-timer can manage with a little care. Explore the waterway’s myriad channels and inlets, anchor at one of a number of campgrounds, and live it up. Just avoid holiday weekends: It’s a madhouse.

Camp or backpack: Even within the East Bay, options abound. Lake Del Valle, mentioned above, offers a number of campsites, as does Anthony Chabot Regional Park in Castro Valley. Mount Diablo State Park has another three family campgrounds and five group sites, plus some of the best hiking in the Bay Area. Sunol Regional Park offers four car-camping spots, but its fourteen hike-in sites are even better. The Bay Area’s best backpacking is available ninety minutes south of Oakland in Henry Coe State Park, which was recently saved from budget-related closure by a group of private citizens.

Sausalito and the Bay Area Discovery Museum: If you have young kids, grant this two-in-one staycation serious consideration. Pack up the fam and head across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge for a morning at Sausalito’s Bay Area Discovery Museum. The hands-on, indoor-and-outdoor children’s museum is consistently ranked as one of the region’s best. While they explore, you take a load off. When the tykes are good and tuckered out, ply them with ice cream as you enjoy the artistic offerings and upscale resort-style ambiance of central Sausalito. It’s a win-win.


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