Short getaway options 2-3 hours (driving only) from the South Bay Area?
August 7, 2015 10:53 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I (30s, no kids, both geeky/arty introverts) have a couple vacation days coming up. We'd like to take a short, low-hassle overnight trip somewhere, but we've done the Monterey thing multiple times, we don't want to go to San Francisco, and we aren't really into wine tasting. What else can we do that doesn't require a ton of advance planning or more than around 3 hours sitting in the car?

OK, so...the Mr. and I have both been wrapped up in a ton of exhausting work stuff recently and are in dire need of a relaxing (but creatively stimulating) break. Unfortunately, it seems our options for things that meet our criteria within reasonable driving distance are limited, so I'm hoping maybe someone reading this will think of something we haven't.

Note that we don't want to go to Monterey, Carmel, San Luis Obispo/Central Coast area, Santa Cruz, or San Francisco (we've eliminated those from consideration, as we've "been there, done that" in the case of most of those, and my partner really just dislikes SF). We have zero interest in wine/wine tasting, so Napa/vineyard stuff is right out.

Here are some things we like (though other than "cooler weather", none are absolute deal-breakers):
- On the cooler side, weather-wise
- Beach hikes
- Woodsy areas
- Walkable downtown areas that actually have stuff (other than noisy bars) open past 9 PM
- Art and crafting exhibits, fairs, galleries
- Museums of any kind
- Weird old buildings / historical landmarks
- Factory tours
- Coffee shops with random books/puzzles/musical instruments lying around
- Craft beer
- Atmosphere that is neither too "old rich white people" nor too "yelling WOOOOO and bong hits". We're not party animals but we're not "apply foot cream and go to bed at 8 PM" types either.

Honestly, so far the most appealing destination we've come up with is Mendocino County, where we've never been, but which looks to have exactly the mix of outdoorsy and arsty stuff we're after. But the estimated drive time from here (San Jose area) to there is 4 hours, which is sort of on the outside edge of how long I want to sit in a car. (I have a small bladder and a tendency toward claustrophobic rage, so, yeah.)


- Can anyone reassure me the drive isn't actually that bad, and that it's possible to leave in the early morning and avoid any nasty traffic, etc.?, or
- Can anyone recommend something similar to Mendocino (assuming my ideas about it are accurate), but close enough to get there in 3 hours or less?

Partner and I would be very grateful if you can! Thank you.
posted by aecorwin to Travel & Transportation around California, CA (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think Stinson Beach meets a lot of your criteria, but not sure if you've checked it out yet. There are also tons of vacation rentals all up and down the coast between you and Mendocino, e.g. in Sea Ranch, Bodega Bay, Gualala, etc... that cover most of your bases and would be a good bit easier to get to.
posted by un petit cadeau at 11:08 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In the same area as Stinson Beach are Muir Woods National Monument, Muir Beach, and Mount Tamalpais. Just a bit north is the Point Reyes National Seashore. All are wonderful, and it's all on the way to Mendocino if you still want to go there.

Closer to home, but great if you've never been there, is Redwood Regional Park, just east of Oakland.
posted by ubiquity at 11:12 AM on August 7, 2015

It sounds like you may want to check out Grass Valley -- It's about 3 hours from San Jose & I think it has everything on your list except the beach hikes. However it does have the Yuba River.

I'm also thirding all the West Marin locations suggested by Un Petit Cadeau and Ubiquity, and adding that if you make it up to Tomales Bay, you should check out Nick's Cove.
posted by mont the drifter at 11:15 AM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: To me, Mendocino is a long ways away coming from the East Bay, so I think if you're hoping that the Mendocino drive doesn't feel like 4 hours coming from the South Bay, I would rethink that (though perhaps a stop for lunch in Healdsburg would suit for breaking it up - plus I really love the 128 route through Philo/Navarro/Boonville, just for the scenery and the dramatic weather change). Otherwise, it probably does fit your criteria. We did a weekend there last August and it was (pleasantly) blustery and foggy - we stayed outside of Mendo Town at the Inn at the Cobblers Walk, did a great beach/cliff walk right outside our door, visited Mendocino and Fort Bragg, and had a fantastic dinner at Wild Fish.
posted by vunder at 11:18 AM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

You say you don't want to go to the Central Coast, but have you been to Hearst Castle?
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:18 AM on August 7, 2015

Best answer: Have you ever visited the Gold Country? It's really fun and interesting. I liked Murphys the best, but there are a lot of little towns that are in the thick of it. It's mid-state so no ocean, but there are rivers through parts of it, like Grass Valley, etc. and the local shops are really cool. (on preview, what mont the drifter said)

Next time you are up for sitting in the car for longer, think about the little towns on the eastern side of the Sierras, specifically June Lake (my fave).
posted by janey47 at 11:22 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Pfeiffer Beach is amazing.
17-mile drive in Carmel is amazing.
The beach right by Pebble Beach golf course is amazing.
Mission in Carmel is amazing.
posted by resurrexit at 12:03 PM on August 7, 2015

And I also think - as stated above - the Marin Coast could meet your criteria, mostly. You'll get almost everything but probably not much in the walkable downtown with stuff going on after 9pm. My friends had a very nice weekend in Olema - I know they ate at the Sir & Star and were very pleased.
posted by vunder at 12:50 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing Sierras, specifically noting Angels Camp in addition to the places already mentioned.
posted by freezer cake at 1:06 PM on August 7, 2015

Best answer: Just a heads up that Gold Country will be HOT this time of year. It's about 10 degrees warmer than the South Bay.

Nthing Tomales area which meets temperature requirements. Nearby Petaluma is a really cute town, and all the areas up there are small/oceanside towns so it would feel like a mini-getaway. Bodega Bay is beautiful, I've stepped into a couple small galleries there before. Also... Spud Point Crab Company!
posted by blueberrypuffin at 1:31 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hi there, fellow small-bladder person in the South Bay! I was you, only pregnant (OH WHAT MY BLADDER CAN BE EVEN SMALLER THAT'S JUST GREAT), when we went to Mendocino for our anniversary. I was nervous about the drive too but didn't have any problems. Part of that might be because I slept a good chunk of the way, but there are also plenty of good places to stop. On our way back, we stopped for lunch in Santa Rosa, which had a cute and fairly artsy downtown, so that was a great way to break up the trip too. Once you get up north a bit, it's a very scenic drive with all the trees, so that's pretty cool too.

We stayed at the-now-closed-but-maybe-soon-to-reopen Greenwood Pier Inn (technically in Elk, 20-30 minutes outside Mendocino) and loved the hot tub and views of the ocean over the cliffs. Very romantic and cute, though not too much to do within walking distance (but again, Mendocino isn't too far away and enjoying a bunch of food/drink we brought back to the room while sitting in a hot tub is a pretty good vacation for us, but YMMV).

We found downtown Mendocino to be very nice, and whether in Elk or Mendocino, we were never far from awesome ocean walks/cliff trails/nature-y sights.
posted by mouse noises at 8:17 PM on August 7, 2015

Response by poster: Hey, thanks, everyone for the awesome suggestions and information! I now have multiple places on my must-visit list that I would not have otherwise known about. For this trip we've decided to try out the Point Reyes area, but in the future will definitely want to check out Mendocino and Gold Country, etc.
posted by aecorwin at 1:17 PM on August 9, 2015

Response by poster: Also, I haven't actually been to Hearst Castle (despite being a Cal Poly grad who spent several years in that general area) but AFIAIK it tends to typically be hotter there this time of year, not cooler (unless you're directly by the water). Someday, but not this trip.
posted by aecorwin at 9:29 AM on August 10, 2015

« Older Should I try to do a computer programming bootcamp...   |   What's the non-fiction writing process like? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.