Affordable last-minute weekend vacation options near the SF Bay?
February 23, 2016 8:48 PM   Subscribe

I want to go on a nice trip next weekend (March 4-6) with the person I'm dating, but I'm having trouble finding affordable, appealing, not-already-booked places that are within a 3-4 hour drive. Hope me?

More details:
-The earliest we can leave (from Oakland) is 3pm on Friday, and we have to be back for work on Monday, so it can't be that far away.
-Budget is somewhat flexible but I don't want to spend more than around $100/night
-We were excited about the idea of camping in Big Sur, but the campsites there (and many other nice-seeming places) are booked for that weekend. (Oops.)
-Camping spots would need to have toilets, ideally showers, and be somewhere pretty/interesting--camping just to go camping doesn't feel like the best fit for this weekend.
-We don't want to rent a room in someone's house AirBnB-style because we want more privacy than that.
-Likewise, if we are camping, ideally I'd prefer someplace where our tent isn't that close to other people's tents.
-We are both people who are instantly read as queer so it needs to be someplace queer-friendly (I don't expect that to be a huge problem that close to the Bay area, but still.)
-I'd like to go somewhere pretty and/or interesting to explore: nature stuff, interesting little towns, something with historical significance, etc.
-The dates/times are not flexible: I usually work weekends and have this one off, and unfortunately we can't leave earlier or come back later.

If there's still a way to do Big Sur, that would be nice. Monterey and Santa Cruz are options but my partner has been there recently so those are less exciting for them. Neither of us is into wine enough for wine country to be that exciting unless there's something else to do, and they are sadly not into cheese enough for the Marin cheese tours to be a good option. I really wish Death Valley were close enough for a weekend trip, especially with the recent blooms, but I don't want the stress of that much driving or that much of a time-crunch.
posted by needs more cowbell to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Check out hotels or B&Bs in Nevada City, Grass Valley, or Placerville. All cute little towns in the Sierra Foothills--pretty sleepy but probably enough bookstores, cafes, shops, etc. to keep you busy for a weekend.
posted by lovableiago at 8:59 PM on February 23, 2016

Hendy Woods! Has three sites left for that weekend. Anderson Valley (N of SF). Gorgeous; redwoods. Spacious sites. Went last year, loved it, A+++ will go again. Did not get any shit whatsoever for being a butch dyke in the women's room.
posted by rtha at 9:00 PM on February 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't know about camping, but Mendocino? Glass Beach Inn is a non-fussy, inexpensive B&B in Fort Bragg (there are fancier ones in Mendocino proper). The botanical gardens are beautiful, the Point Cabrillo lighthouse is awesome, there's lots of hiking (and a pygmy forest!), there's North Coast Brewing's showroom and pub, and you can stop off in Booneville on the way.

Can't speak to queer-friendly but the area gets a ton of SF tourists in the summer, so probably.
posted by wintersweet at 9:02 PM on February 23, 2016

For $60/night you can camp at Orr Hot Springs. It is lovely. Not sure about campsite proximity yet IIRC you get use of the shared kitchen and bathrooms as well as the (sublime) pools and steam room. The place is totally queer-friendly.
posted by jet_silver at 9:25 PM on February 23, 2016

Mendocino is great as is Hendy. My pick would be camping a a bit north of the town of Mendocino in MacKerricher State Park, I've really enjoyed camping there in the winter - short walk to the beach, lots of hiking options, and it's a short drive to town.
posted by foodgeek at 10:01 PM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is setting up a tent after dark at these sorts of spots asking for trouble? I have a headlamp but I don't think I've ever done that. If we leave the bay at 3 I'm not sure we'd get to campsites when it's still light out.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:38 PM on February 23, 2016

What kind of trouble? I mean, harder than setting up in daylight, yeah, but not dangerous (socially, physically). Pick up a couple inflatable solar LED lanterns (like this, make sure they're charged before you go) so you can see what you're doing. The camp hosts at Hendy were way nice when we were there. There are tables/food lockers/fire rings at each tent site at Hendy. Food lockers are NOT secure against determined squirrels, just so you know!
posted by rtha at 10:53 PM on February 23, 2016

We shared a site at Hendy last spring with a couple friends - so, two tents - and the campsite was packed that weekend because it was Pinot weekend in the valley (who knew?). The site next to us was taken by six or eight college-age folks who were, uh, enthusiastic, but we really hardly heard them. The bathrooms in the morning were much occupied by women with curling irons and blow dryers who were really nice about making sure I could get to the sinks to brush my teeth. At night, what we mostly hear were owls (barred, I think). I look forward to going back.
posted by rtha at 11:00 PM on February 23, 2016

Trouble as in...something just not working. Or a difficult to navigate campground where we just wouldn't be able to find our spot in the dark.
The few times I've set up a tent on my own I've generally been OK, but I have memories, from childhood, of things always going wrong, like someone not being able to pound the tent stakes into the ground at all because the ground was so hard.

It looks like the only spots left at Hendy are cabins, which is a possibility (and would mean we don't have to put up a tent in the dark) but oddly feels a bit less enticing than either tents or a hotel.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:09 PM on February 23, 2016

I've found (detached, private) cabins in Mendocino County on Air BnB or VRBO for under $100/night.
posted by salvia at 2:42 AM on February 24, 2016

There are a lot of great B&Bs on the Russian River. We (a queer couple) had a great time. We played bingo with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
posted by kamikazegopher at 3:30 AM on February 24, 2016

Andrew Molera State Park! It's just north of Big Sur, and camping is first-come, first-served - so get there early (mid-day should be fine) and you'll get a spot. It's a short walk (about half a mile) from parking to the camp, but completely worth it. It's my favorite place to camp in Big Sur.
posted by jacobian at 8:09 AM on February 24, 2016

oops, just saw that you can't leave til 3. You'd probably still be ok as it's still the low season in Big Sur, but it's a bit more dicey to be sure.
posted by jacobian at 8:10 AM on February 24, 2016

I was going to say Orr Hot Springs too! It's gorgeous, very queer-friendly, and not too expensive, and about 3 hours from SF, factoring in traffic. The nearest town is Ukiah, which isn't a huge tourist destination, but there are some nice places to get dinner: Oco Time, Saucy, the Ukiah Brewing Company, Ruen Tong Thai, or local favorite Super Taco if you're looking for something more casual (try the seafood options). Also nearby: The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, the largest Buddhist monastery in the US. You can tour the gardens for free, and see the wild peacocks, and there's a great lunch restaurant.

Mendocino is beautiful, well worth exploring. Camping/hotels will be cheaper in nearby Fort Bragg, which is a bit more working-class, but still pretty liberal. It does get very cold on the Mendocino coast at night, like low-40s, so bring plenty of blankets if you're camping.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 10:02 AM on February 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

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