Bay Area Semi-Staycation
September 14, 2020 6:11 PM   Subscribe

I desperately need a vacation, and I want to get out of town for a few days. Where can I go within ~3-4 hours distance of San Francisco for some smoke-; fire-; and covid- free R&R?

Hi! I really need to take a vacation, and there's smoke and fire and covid everywhere. Can you recommend a specific hotel, airbnb, lodge, amenities and/or activities, etc that are within ~3-4 hours driving distance of San Francisco that are open, reasonably free of smoke/fire/covid, and something I could look forward to?

I will be with my partner (ie. 2 adults), and we'll be renting a car. We have 3 or 4 days, and we're targeting next weekend (ie September 25th), though this is pretty tight. We've enjoyed backpacking in the past, but given the general difficulty of the world right now, we'd like to do something less challenging this time.

Things I think I might enjoy but am not sure are practical include:
- surfing/SUP lessons?
- some spa time?
- a pottery class or workshop?

Things I think we might enjoy together include:
- some nice day hikes
- getting a nice fancy meal kit, and making it together

Areas we're looking at, and not being super satisfied with currently:
- Aptos
- Cambria
- Sea Ranch (pricey!)
- Big Sur (everything's closed :( )
- Santa Cruz

Thank you so much!
posted by wym to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Realistically, the entire West Coast is on fire -- even the mountains are no escape, Reno is also blanketed. Air quality is completely screwed from Vancouver to San Diego, there's nothing in a 4 hour driving range that would be free of this by then. If you're willing, fly somewhere.

What you could do is wait until the day you leave and check the AQI map to see if anywhere is lucky. I would not book anything in advance because the winds will change.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 6:23 PM on September 14, 2020 [8 favorites]

Yeah, unfortunately, the smoke is blowing all over the place (even across the rest of the country!). Zoom out on the PurpleAir map. Right now, for example, parts of the North Bay are okay. You should probably be able to take a day trip, checking the numbers in the morning. And with luck things will improve in general...
posted by pinochiette at 6:28 PM on September 14, 2020

Colorado seems to be the nearest refuge, though that can change.
posted by dum spiro spero at 6:29 PM on September 14, 2020

Just as a data point, I live in British Columbia’s interior and we cannot go outside due to the air quality as a result of fires in California, Oregon, and Washington. My family in Saskatchewan say it’s starting to get bad there too. Of course, Canada is not an option for many reasons, including the border closure, but my point is we have air quality warnings, we have Covid. You can determine whether or not you feel safe flying.
posted by nathaole at 6:31 PM on September 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Some of the houses in SeaRanch or other luxury areas might have indoor jacuzzis, indoor personal movie theaters, etc... maybe look for a specific home to rent for a few days?
posted by rogerroger at 6:35 PM on September 14, 2020

The AQI right now is 84 in Cambria, where we recently spent a very nice overnight, though realistically there’s only so much to do. It’s nice though because you can stay at Moonstone Beach (not with a kitchen though) and be right on the water, which helps with the air (usually).

I recommend just keeping a few coastal places on your radar and checking in mid week.

Also we were in Morro Bay the week before and there was lots of SUP happening there. The air was up and down but this was before there were a lot more fires.
posted by vunder at 8:30 PM on September 14, 2020

Here's a smoke map:
Looks like you're not going to be out of poor air within ~3-4 hours of SF
(I'm in Santa Cruz and air is not good here)
posted by windsock at 8:59 PM on September 14, 2020

I have been watching the air quality very closely, and you're looking at Arizona or Las Vegas for decent air. There are a few places every day in the state where it's Moderate, but it's almost never the same places. Mono Lake was getting evacuated last week, for some reason it's not too bad now. Normally the coast would be the place to be but there is a ton of smoke built up over the ocean as well, so even that is not going to help. Seeking high elevation to get above it is probably your best bet. FWIW, the "incident meteorologist" for the North Complex fire says that it is unlikely we'll get any relief until at least October.
posted by wnissen at 9:31 PM on September 14, 2020

I spoke with a close friend who lives in Sea Ranch this weekend. It's very smoky at the moment, though not actually on fire yet. (Also, if you haven't been there, it's worth looking into the amenities you want. It's a long way to much of anything, aside from a couple of okay restaurants and one fancy market in Gualala. I'm guessing surfing lessons will require traveling at least to Bodega Bay.)

In normal times, I'd suggest Carmel. I have no idea what it's like now.
posted by eotvos at 10:31 PM on September 14, 2020

I live in Portland normally and this all coincided with and canceled some of my vacation plans in the weekend so I took off out of town. There was still smoke after 6 hours of driving east and a number more hours of driving south. It didn't let up until midway through the eastern part of Nevada. And obviously the wind could push it in other directions as others have pointed out.
posted by knownfossils at 11:36 PM on September 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: hey all, I appreciate the quick smoke reality check. just to clarify - and forgive my naivety/ignorance here - is the general consensus that I should anticipate around the same level of smoke ~two weeks out from now? and/or that it's impossible to know, with significant chances of it being the same?

posted by wym at 11:44 PM on September 14, 2020

Oh, I didn't catch that detail! Maybe others didn't either. Personally I feel like it's hard to know what the situation will be in two weeks, at least given how things have unfolded the last week or two (or even longer in CA than in Oregon). You could make some reservations somewhere that are easy to cancel at the last minute maybe?
posted by knownfossils at 11:58 PM on September 14, 2020

I tried to figure out whether to go on an outdoor weekend trip recently based on checking many different air quality maps and ultimately got to the point where I determined that there was no such thing as reliable forecasting (even for the following 1-2 days, much less 2 weeks) nor did the various maps provide consistent enough data.

For me this was too much uncertainty and I stayed home. Of course, smoke is way worse now, but in any case the idea of driving several HOURS only to still end up in smoke is just not appealing for time off personally.

All that to say I think you'll just have to wait and see - keep your plans as flexible as possible until it's time to go, and consider indoor activities whenever possible (tough w covid of course).
posted by internet of pillows at 12:02 AM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

> anticipate around the same level of smoke ~two weeks out from now?

The Santa Cruz mountains fire near us was one of the earliest fires (started 8/16) though not one of the biggest, is still not fully contained, and is likely to go on smoking for a while. My guess is that the smoke overall will be similar in a couple of weeks.

There's a wider view at this Cal Fire page
posted by windsock at 11:04 AM on September 15, 2020

I would assume the smoke isn't likely to change in two weeks since IF we have any kind of rainy season this year (we pretty much didn't last year) there probably won't be any rain or anything at all to break up the smoke this month or maybe even next month.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:36 PM on September 15, 2020

I don’t think it’s possible to know what the situation will be over the next two weeks, but I don’t see why the poor air quality would quickly and dramatically improve unless the fires suddenly stopped. My husband, toddler and I just arrived on the east coast a few hours ago because our air quality was so bad in British Columbia. After monitoring the situation for a few days and keeping an eye on, we realized the forecast kept changing and booked our flights. We take COVID very seriously, but it was so bad that we were getting sore throats and headaches even though we were staying home all day, had air purifiers on, and sealed every crevice we could find. We pulled the trigger because we couldn’t live like that for another two weeks, especially with a toddler.

In case it helps you make your decision, we chose to fly way over to the east because the closest places we could drive to that weren’t consistently getting smoke were eleven hours away. If you can manage a drive that long, I would check and monitor which cities aren’t getting smoke. Otherwise, I recommend a hardcore mask + COVID plan and flying. Good luck to you.
posted by saltypup at 12:48 AM on September 16, 2020

Well, I am happy to be proved wrong just two days later. It looks like the cyclone in the Pacific has done two things: 1, pushed the offshore smoke to the north, and 2, brought westerly breezes into the Bay Area. So we have good air quality. It's amazing!

Have a look at this picture, though, you can see if anything changes about this situation, wind from any other direction would bring the smoke from active fires right back. So I would take advantage now.
posted by wnissen at 7:05 AM on September 16, 2020

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