Little-known Northern CA getaways?
March 10, 2013 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Where to go for a cheap, pretty, short vacation in Northern California?

I've done and am fond of Tahoe, the Russian River, Stinson Beach, Monterey, and Carmel. However, given the sheer size of this state, I'm sure there are great places I'm missing for a 3 day getaway. Looking for something within 5 hrs driving time of SF (less is better). I love Humboldt and Mendocino, but outside the obvious towns, I'm coming up dry (and really, as dear to my heart as it is, Humboldt is a bit farther than I'd like to drive for this). Looking for 1) towns and 2) small rental properties (cottages, condos preferred; will do hotels/motels/B&Bs if needed) for under $120/night. Pretty, low-impact walking/hiking areas nearby a huge plus!
posted by smirkette to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
I'm writing you from the fine town of Grass Valley, CA. It and its sister town Nevada City, CA are lovely small towns, former gold mining area in the Sierras, and really beautiful this time of year. Lots to do in the area: hiking, shopping, good restaurants, swimming in the river (in summer!), etc. It's a 2.5 hour drive from SF. Lots of inexpensive hotel and B&B options: off hand I can recommend the Courtyard Suites or the Holiday Inn if you want corporate, or the Outside Inn if you want a funky and cheap motel. Other options in the Sierra foothills down Highway 49: Placerville, Amador City, Sutter Creek, and (up the hill a bit) Murphys. All those towns have enough tourist interest for a few days.

On the coast but south of Mendocino, Gualala has some nice places to linger. Bodega Bay is very close and quite pleasant. Sea Ranch is also neat but places are expensive, makes more sense to rent a house with a group of friends. I like Mendocino quite a bit, not sure why you skipped it over. Can't say anything good about Eureka and only a little good about Arcata, but they are options.
posted by Nelson at 5:21 PM on March 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Are you familiar with Jughandle Creek Farm, between Mendocino and Fort Bragg?
posted by jon1270 at 5:36 PM on March 10, 2013

If you have not been to Point Reyes or Muir Woods, consider putting one or both on the itinerary.
posted by Michele in California at 5:59 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband and I had a lovely mini honeymoon in Fort Bragg. We stayed at The Beachcomber, which is just a bit over your price range, ate some fantastic meals and drank great beers from North Coast Brewing, and took long walks on the bike/walking trail along the beach. Fort Bragg is a little less precious than Mendocino. I would love to go back there.
posted by apricot at 6:54 PM on March 10, 2013

Mount Diablo is nice this time of year.
posted by elmay at 7:34 PM on March 10, 2013

Fern Canyon at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is really neat.
posted by Mark Doner at 7:46 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Anderson Valley and Booneville.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:16 PM on March 10, 2013

Sea Ranch, on the Sonoma Coast just south of Gualala, is my long-time answer to this question. Lots and lots of vacation rentals. Irish Beach, also on the Sonoma Coast, is another good option. I've found Sea Ranch cheaper than some other places -- depends on when you go, size of house, etc., but it's usually pretty reasonable.

Jenner is another spot on the coast where I've stayed -- there's a B&B-type place there that rents out cottages. Jenner Inn, I think.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:04 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dunsmuir is 4 hours away. River views, burney falls is not too much further. Lake Shasta, Mt Shasta. Kind of disjointed but maybe you'll get an idea.
posted by notned at 9:16 PM on March 10, 2013

Orr Hot Springs in Mendocino, between Ukiah and the coast. Great place!
posted by anadem at 9:26 PM on March 10, 2013

Ever heard of Bodega Bay? How about Dillon Beach? Each town has quite a few vacation rentals available and each is within a two-hour drive from San Francisco.
posted by Lynsey at 10:04 PM on March 10, 2013

We've had a great time in downtown Sonoma and even Napa when we just happened to be there on farmer's market day. Healdsburg and the Alexander Valley are a little less travelled than the surrounding areas if you can find a place. Or go south to Santa Cruz -- it's closer than Monterey, and even if you aren't into the Boardwalk (I'm not), Main St is interesting and Capitola & Aptos are super cute. We spent such a nice weekend getaway down in Half Moon Bay we moved here. The Apple Hill area above Sacramento is fun in the fall.

We have had good luck with renting houses & cottages from VRBO and the big sites like Expedia or often have great last-minute deals on the big luxury hotels. For $120/night around here you are going to have to dig around, but it can be done.
posted by troyer at 11:09 PM on March 10, 2013

This is going to sound weird, Occidental, CA. We went for a long weekend once when I was a kid. My Dad was into those massive Italian dinners. t's in Sonoma so craft breweries, wineries and hiking as you like it.

I also like Santa Cruz. This is a good choice for summertime. Go to the boardwalk, hang out on the beach, etc. There used to be a flea market to check out down there. Monterrey and Carmel are closeby, so lots to see and do.

I used to go to Capitola after stressful workdays. I'd get a slice of pizza and sit on the grassy knoll along the beach. Always made me happy.

San Jose believe it or not, Rosecruscian Museum, Winchester Mystery House are worth seeing.

San Juan Bautista, is my favorite mission.

Castroville is a fun place. Pretty at the beach and ARTICHOKES! Go for the festival in May.

Go to Duartes in Pescadero for Cioppino and Olallie Berry Pie.

Some of this stuff is a day trip, but hey! That's the beauty of it!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:31 AM on March 11, 2013

I love Santa Cruz. Try the Adobe on Green Street. Sunday through Thursday rates are $129.

North of Santa Cruz and south of SF: you can stay at a lighthouse on Hwy 1.
posted by ewiar at 12:09 PM on March 11, 2013

Also: Bolinas. A great little town north of SF (the locals take down the road signs to try to hide from tourists).
posted by ewiar at 12:11 PM on March 11, 2013

Pescadero is a sign on the highway on the way to Santa Cruz or Monterey for most people, but it's got a restaurant with excellent ollallieberry pie and artichoke soup (the aforementioned Duarte's); a lighthouse with a hostel practically attached (also aforementioned); a gorgeous state park where you can walk the beach, hike in the woods, and see elephant seals; and a goat dairy that produces delicious cheese and offers tours. I can't speak to accommodations because I've only ever done day trips there, but it's worth finding a place you like a little ways down the road even if there's nowhere to stay within the actual town limits.

Point Reyes is also great. It's a short and gorgeous drive from the SF Bay Area, and it's home to several oyster farms (with accompanying oyster-eating-places), Cowgirl Creamery, a place where you can see the San Andreas Fault, a fascinating lighthouse (though the walk to the lighthouse itself is incredibly strenuous, you can still get a nice view of it and have a good experience without making the hike), and no shortage of places to hike. (There's some great biking up there as well, if you're interested.) There are a couple nice hotels, many cottages, and more B&Bs than you can shake a quaint, antique wooden stick at.
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:17 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, y'all. Nearly all of these places are all on my radar, but excellent suggestions!
posted by smirkette at 9:09 PM on April 11, 2013

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