Day Trips to Enjoy Right Here
Rising gas prices are making many Bay Area families reconsider taking a long flight or road trip this summer. Rather than paying more than $4 a gallon to fill up the family car or purchasing expensive airline tickets (fuel costs and a consolidation in the airline industry have also caused airline ticket prices to soar), many East Bay residents are embracing the idea of a “staycation” — staying close to home as a money-saving alternative.
If your finances are forcing you to put that trip to Europe or Hawaii on the back burner this year, we’ve found five local staycation venues that offer families a unique experience without having to leave Northern California.
If you’ve always wanted to take an African safari, visit Safari West in Santa Rosa.
Imagine boarding a quintessential safari vehicle that looks straight out of an Indiana Jones movie and embarking on an authentic African adventure where you can view giraffes, gazelles, zebras and other animals up close as they graze.
Safari West isn’t a drive-thru zoo but rather a 400-acre wildlife preserve in Santa Rosa that was established in 1989 by Peter Lang and is now home to more than 400 exotic birds and mammals.
Rather than looking at these beautiful animals in a zoo enclosure, families can view them in their natural habitat. Tour guides entertain with interesting facts and stories about many of the endangered species while guests enjoy a 2½- to 3-hour tour of the preserve.
For families seeking a longer visit, Safari West offers a luxurious tent camp and cottages, as well as an onsite restaurant that serves lunch and dinner.
The Safari West Wildlife Foundation is a nonprofit organization that serves to protect and preserve many animals such as the cheetah, now considered an endangered specifies. In addition to offering a once-in-a-lifetime experience for families, the tours also teach children about many endangered species that live on the preserve and the steps humans can take to save them from extinction.
Safari West, 3115 Porter Creek Road, Santa Rosa, (707) 579-2551, www.safariwest.com: Tours offered daily during the summer at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Day guest rate: $78 adults, $32 ages 3–12 and $15 for ages 1–2. Additional cost for private tours, lodging
While You’re in the Area: Just a 10-minute drive from Santa Rosa, Mom’s Apple Pie in Sebastapol offers 16 different homemade double-crust fruit and cream pies each day. On the edge of an 8-acre apple orchard, this place invites you to enjoy a leisurely slice or a heartier lunch with entrees such as soup, chili, sandwiches and salads.
Open 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, (closed July 4), 4550 Gravenstein Highway, North, Sebastapol,
(707) 823-8330, www.momsapplepieusa.com
If you yearn to tour castles in Europe, head to Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga.
Everyone loves a castle, and Europe has some of the best in the world, yet you don’t have to fly across the pond to tour an authentic medieval castle.
Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga, owned by Dario Sattui, has been offering family-friendly tours of the castle since 2007. The 121,000 square-foot 13th-century Tuscan castle boasts a moat, a drawbridge and even a torture chamber.
“We have a children’s area in the Knight’s Chamber where kids can enjoy coloring books and are treated to grape juice made from our Moscato grapes, while their parents taste some of our wines,” says Jim Sullivan, vice president of public relations and marketing for the winery.
Inspired by his European travels and love of medieval architecture and artistry, Sattui built the castle over a 14-year period using materials that were either authentic or hand-made from methods dating to the medieval period. The eight-story structure now allows families to travel back in time to an era of mounted knights and jousting. The tour includes underground caves, the castle’s armory, which containa armor, maces, swords and other weaponry, and an authentic dungeon.
The winery also offers horse-drawn carriage rides and special events throughout the year.
Castello di Amorosa, 4045 N. St. Helena Highway, Calistoga, (707) 967-6272, www.castellodiamorosa.com: Winery is open daily 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m.; tours are offered 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. weekdays and 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. weekends. Tour and tasting start at $33 per adult and $23 for ages 5–20 and includes juice. Reservations recommended.
While You’re in the Area: Plan to visit the Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga, one of only three Old Faithful Geysers in the world. Every 30 minutes, the geyser erupts and shoots steam and scalding water 60 to 100 feet in the air. The location also features a large picnic area and a petting zoo environment with llamas, goats and sheep.
9 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily, $10 adults, $3 ages 6–12, under 6 free. 1299 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga,
(707) 942-6463, www.oldfaithfulgeyser.com
If water sports in Hawaii are calling your name, try stand-up paddle boarding or windsurfing in Alameda.
While the world’s top windsurfers flock to Hookipa Beach Park on Maui, families can also master this sport closer to home on Crown Beach in Alameda.
“We have side on-shore winds, long sandy beaches and shallow warm water,” says Jane Cormier, who co-owns Boardsports School and Shop with Rebecca Geffert. The two teach windsurfing and paddle boarding, two sports typically associated with tropical locales, at locations in Alameda and San Mateo.
“Children as young as 4 can learn to windsurf in a private one-hour lesson,” Cormier says. For older kids, Boardsports offers one and two-day windsurfing summer camps for ages 5–12, and one- and two-day lessons are also offered for adults and youth on weekends.
Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, is another emerging sport with a Hawaiian heritage. Many vacation spots around the world are expanding their water sports activities to include paddleboarding.
“Most people feel comfortable paddleboarding after taking one lesson,” Cormier says. “Because standing takes balance, we work on enhancing balance and proper body mechanics.”
After mastering either sport, families can rent equipment and wetsuits from Boardsports for future outings.
“It’s a great way to enjoy water sports close to home,” Cormier says. “We have warm water, no sharks and our locations are a close drive from most cities in the Bay Area.”
Boardsports School and Shop, Crown Beach Park, Westline Drive at Otis Drive, Alameda; 1603 Coyote Point Drive in San Mateo, and 1200 Clay St., San Francisco, (415) 385-1224, www.boardsportsschool.com, call or check website for hours and pricing of camps and classes.
While You’re in the Area: Indulge in a cold treat at Tucker’s, an Alameda ice cream shop that has been in business since 1941 and offers old-fashioned “super-creamed ice cream” in a variety of mouth-watering flavors.
Open 12–9:30 p.m. Sun.–Mon., 11 a.m.– 9:30 p.m. Tue.–Thu., 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 1349 Park St., Alameda, (510) 522-4960,
If you’ve always dreamed of swimming with dolphins, head to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo.
Typically, the opportunity to swim with dolphins has meant traveling to the Caribbean, Hawaii or Mexico, but now the Vallejo-based Six Flags Discovery Kingdom offers families the chance to get up close and personal with dolphins on a year-round basis.
“Our Dolphin Discovery program is the only one of its kind in Northern California,” says Nancy Chan, spokesperson for Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. “While the park is only open seasonally, we offer the Dolphin Discovery seven days a week throughout the year.”
The two-hour program starts out with a classroom session where participants learn all about the Six Flags’ bottlenose dolphins, their behavior and how to communicate with them. Then guests don a wetsuit and head out to the warm pool to interact and swim with the friendly mammals. One of the program’s highlights allows guests to take hold of the dolphin’s dorsal fin and hold on for the ride of a lifetime.
Children 11 and under must be accompanied by an adult, and must know how to swim.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, 1001 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo, (707) 307-5787, $99.99 per person until June 30, then $129.99 after, reservations required.
While You’re in the Area: The legendary California rest stop, The Nut Tree, is approximately 10 miles north past Six Flags and features restaurants, retail stores, a train and carousel for kids and events throughout the summer. Across the street are the Vacaville Premium Outlets featuring 120 stores offering impressive savings on name brand items.
The Nut Tree, 1733 E. Monte Vista Ave., Vacaville, (707) 688-8733, www.nuttreeusa.com
If you’re in the mood for adventure travel, make reservations at iFly in Union City.
Australia, Russia, Switzerland and New Zealand are considered some of the best places to enjoy skydiving, but now you can enjoy the thrill of the sport without leaving the Bay Area or jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.
At iFly in Union City, those ages 3 and older can enjoy the experience of free falling while in a vertical wind tunnel.
The day starts with a brief class where participants see a short video, learn hand signals to communicate with their instructor while in the wind tunnel and practice skydiving positions. Then it’s time to suit up in your skydiving gear (including flight suit, helmet and goggles), and enter the pressurized staging area where each guest gets to take two sessions of “flying.” Beginners usually start with two 2- to 4-minute sessions. A qualified instructor remains by each guest’s side during the entire “flight.”
Unlike jumping out of a plane that comes with a multitude of potential risks, virtual skydiving is safe and can be done by all ages. There’s no parachute to worry about opening, and “flights” take place several feet above a net.
In addition to a once-in-a-ifetime experience, iFly offers guests bragging rights in the form of a take-home DVD and photos of each flight.
iFly SF Bay, 31310 Alvarado-Niles Road, Union City, (510) 489-4359, www.iflysfbay.com: Reservations required; open daily 8 a.m.–11 p.m., package prices vary. Look for occasional discount coupons on www.savvycities.com
While You’re in the Area: Go a little bit country with a family lunch or dinner at Texas Roadhouse. The fresh baked bread is to die for, and prepare to see your server periodically pause to join in a line dance. The restaurant offers a full children’s menu with cheeseburgers, mac and cheese, hot dogs and more, and all meals include delicious sides such as baked beans, steak fries, fresh vegetables and mashed potatoes.
32115 Union Landing, Union City, (510) 324-7623, www.texasroadhouse.com