If you’re anything like me, you are itching for a summer vacation right about now! It’s not even technically the season for another nine days, but Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start date, so it’s okay to pretend. It’s hard to justify staying inside all day when the sun is out shining and there’s so much California to explore! Apologies to the non-locals, this post is going to be all about Cali. One of my favorite things, if not my most favorite thing about living here is the accessibility to so much within a day’s drive. We can travel to the smallest of towns from the biggest of cities within an hour. Hike the most gorgeous mountains, sail the ocean or lazy river it in the forest. You pick your style, California will provide. Personally, I prefer the more wooded areas, so that’s what you’ll be hearing about today. I’ll always be more river than I am beach and more mountain than I am desert. Unfortunately, So Cal tends to be more popular for the opposite of my preferences, so I have to travel further to get what I want. Enter my love of Northern California. If I were to paint my dream home it would fall somewhere, anywhere, along the Russian River in Sonoma County. Surprisingly, I didn’t spend much time in that neck of the woods, growing up only about an hour South of it. Sometimes I look at pictures of this area just to torture myself and think, “people actually get to live here”. I’m sure there are a number of people who think that about good old Hollywood too, so I try to remember that the grass is always, ya know. Then again nothing in Los Feliz is as green as that picture above. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up here. Because seriously, this area SCREAMS television production. There must be a writer’s room for my husband somewhere between that raft and one of those trees. I’ll look into it. As much as this is turning into a diary entry, the point of my post was not so much to talk about my dream life as it was to say…there are affordable escapes to glimpses of one’s dream, no matter what terrain you like. A lot of beautiful adventures in this amazing state are waiting for your visit. Here are a few budget friendly ideas for an easy summer getaway.
One of the most frugal ways to travel within your own state is to keep it short. My husband and I have found we almost always overestimate how long we need to be somewhere. If you take a three-day weekend, you’re missing less (or zero) work and spending less money. There are a lot of those paid holidays in this great nation; the next one being July 4th and you better believe we’re taking advantage. So I guess I’ll start there. Where we plan to go.
If you were wondering what perfection looks like, search no further. This coastal village is without a doubt my favorite place on God’s greenish earth. My parents honeymooned here almost forty years ago. Our family vacationed here bi-annually for most of my adolescence. I haven’t been back since I was eighteen and I plan to change that this summer. This isn’t really a town where you go on tours or line up activities. It was always a relaxing vacation in a rental house with home cooked meals where we roamed the shops and explored the headlands. Air BnB has multiple cabins for rent from $100/night. I recommend staying walking distance from the town itself if you can. Nearby (free) attractions include Little River, a huge redwood forest (including the tallest tree in the world), a very Northern California beach (cold and rocky) and North Coast Brewery if you’re a fan of the craft beer company. This town also might be responsible for my obsession with the TV series Murder She Wrote, as it was filmed here for the first few seasons. Or it might just be because that J.B. Fletcher is too dang good.
Just a few hours South of Mendocino in Sonoma County, you will find this quaint stop along the Russian River. It has a lovely town square surrounded by shops, antiques, restaurants and wine tasting galore. Further outside the downtown area you will find many a Sonoma winery (Napa’s younger sister, though I’m sure they wouldn’t want to be called that) and the most breathtaking views. My husband and I ventured out this way last year and found one of the most unique landscapes: miles of vineyards with redwood trees as the backdrop. I’ve never seen that combination before and I could have stared at it for hours. We drove out of town a bit to find Dry Creek General Store, a stop well worth the detour. It’s a restaurant, a bar, a market, BBQ grounds… I don’t really know how to describe it. I guess that’s why they call it a General Store. And it’s directly across from Dry Creek Winery, so you could double up on your visit. This was my favorite part of Healdsburg; open air and surrounded by nature. If you want to continue exploring, you’ll find smaller sandy coves along the Russian River and scenic routes and bridges in and out of town. In case you’re wondering, no this did not make the list because I love the Scream franchise and it just so happened to film here. Are you noticing a theme? You can take the girl out of Hollywood… I would also recommend staying overnight in the nearby Occidental for some plush scenery and a quieter night. Prices are higher in this neck of the woods, so you have to be very selective and plan ahead in your hunt. Remember, Air BnB is your friend and you can’t go wrong picking a neighboring town.
You MUST look into a family vacation in this tiny, amazing location. My husband and I discovered it last year when we had our quarter life crisis and thought we may buy the movie theater there. Which, by the way, is built in a WW1 quonset hut, has the largest connected piece of The Running Fence along the ceiling and is steps from the Russian River. It has since been purchased by twenty-five individuals who are doing everything one would hope with such a historic and unique place. The drive into town is filled with campsites, kayak rentals, hotels and redwoods. You even pass a few wineries. This would be the perfect opportunity for communal camping if that’s your thing. And definitely the cheapest option! There is so much river activity along the route that you’d be a fool to not at least dip your feet in (which I certainly did last summer). My hope is to one day vacation there with a bunch of other families and spend the week exploring the river. You will not regret checking out this special destination, even if it’s just for a day.
While I’ve never been, this is on my list. I was originally looking into it as a winter destination last year because it snows there and that’s special to us Southern Cali folk. But it appears to be just as active and exciting in the summer months as well! This is in the heart of Gold Country, a wonderfully underrated part of California. You can pan for gold, visit museums from that era of American history and browse all the bookstores in “Booktown USA”, as the locals call it. I’ve been reading about a lot of nicer restaurants popping up around these parts as well. There are plenty of outdoor activities nearby and you will find many small towns nearby that have a similarly historic feel (Sutter Creek being one). The layout is very Old West and saloon-y, which is about as good a job as I can do describing the architecture.
I tried to avoid the major vacation destinations people think of when they come to California: Yosemite, San Diego, Carmel/Monterey, etc. in favor of introducing you to some smaller and equally fantastic little towns that have a lot to offer. In any of these places you can find affordable accommodations and corners to eat and explore. If this summer isn’t the year for the big European trip, try exploring what you have within driving distance. And remember, bringing friends not only makes it more fun, it cuts down on the cost of gas and lodging!