4 Quick California Weekend Getaways in Any Direction

By Elizabeth Borsting

  California is more than just a golden state; it’s a state of mind that often boggles in terms of its size. From its southern tip brushing against the Mexican border all the way north to Oregon, the coastline alone encompasses more than 900 miles. Is it any wonder why California’s motto is Eureka (Translation: I have found it)? So, get in the car and go! And if you find yourself heading out of San Joaquin, on the open road with no destination in mind, consider these four stops along your journey.

ccco-2-4 (1)GO North: Mendocino’s Culinary Quest

One of the state’s greatest and little known assets is the rugged and rich Northern Coast, which is home to the quaint seaside sanctuary of Mendocino. And, while the area is teeming with an incredible craggy coastline and towering aged redwoods, it also features an abundance of organic farms, fishing harbors and some serious fungi (more than 3,000 types of mushrooms thrive here with 500 edible varietals). It’s a great place to please your palate and discover some fabulous food, craft beer and award-winning wine.
Mendocino and its neighboring villages, such as Elk, Albion, and the wine-growing region of Andersen Valley, definitely appeal to gourmands. Nearly every month another wonderful culinary gathering is taking place, from the Mendocino Crab & Wine Festival and International Alsace Varietals during the winter months to back-to-back celebrations in May with the Booneville Beer Festival and the Pinot Noir Festival. Heck, fungi are even feted every November during the annual Wine and Mushroom Festival.
Napa has some serious competition when it comes to turning grapes into grappa.  Mendocino’s Wine Country boasts a varied terrain and collection of micro climates yielding some superior vintages, from Riesling and Chardonnay to smooth Pinot Noirs. There are plenty of tasting rooms along the backroads and a few in the town of Mendocino.

Jesse Narducci Apple Harvest 2012Where to Stay: A culinary getaway wouldn’t be complete without a stay at the Philo Apple Farm. Owners, Don and Sally Schmitt, founded The French Laundry in Yountville and, as we all know, sold it to a then-unknown chef by the name of Thomas Keller. They headed to Mendocino County to open this working farm and retreat where they host Stay & Cook retreats as well as Farm Weekends where guests get to learn new recipes and hone their cooking skills. We can tell you this:  It’s a whole lot cheaper than dinner for two at certain five-star Napa Valley restaurant. PhiloAppleFarm.com

shutterstock_85815520Go East: Death Valley

It’s one of the hottest, the driest and the lowest places on Planet Earth as well as one of the most intriguing and magnificent. Sitting well below sea level in a basin that is known for its steady drought and record heat, Death Valley is a land of extremes. Yet, it’s extremely appealing for those who enjoy the great outdoors. The peaks that loom high above the desert floor are dusted with snow during the winter. Rainstorms, which strike with little warning, yield a rainbow of wildflowers. Though its name is macabre, a trek to Death Valley will definitely get the blood racing through the veins.

As part of the national park system, Death Valley encompasses more than three-million acres including hundreds of miles of usable backcountry roads.  And, with so much open space, there is something for everyone. Hiking and backpacking, though not recommended during the peak summer months, really has the feel of getting away from it all.  There are places to camp, hike, and mountain bike. Birdwatching is another favorite pastime.

FC Inn BalconyThose who have a hankering for history should visit Scotty’s Castle. Albert Mussey Johnson built the house as a vacation getaway for his wife, but it was his friend Walter Scott who boasted of having built a castle with money culled from his secret mines. The only way to get beyond the estate’s threshold is to book a range-guided tour.

Where to Stay: If you’re not camping in Death Valley, the Furnace Creek Inn is the only Four Diamond Inn to be found (if you find another it’s likely a mirage). This comfortable and stone façade-hideaway has been welcoming guests for nearly 90 years. The Ranch at Furnace Creek is less plush and more family-friendly, but both offer a plethora of amenities including dining, a swimming pool and lounge. FurnaceCreek.com

FC Inn PoolGo West: Big {Sur}on Luxury

There’s no denying the beauty of Big Sur. Driving along Highway 1 through this amazing stretch belonging to the Central Coast is breathtaking. Wildflowers are always in bloom, California Condors are often spotted in flight, and the faint sound of sea otters at play can be heard off the coast.  Author Henry Miller’s former home is open to the public and there are plenty of beautiful beaches and art galleries to explore.

shutterstock_297923813Where to Stay: Big Sur is also home to one of the most luxurious retreats in the state – Post Ranch Inn. With panoramic seaside views from its coastal perch, the dramatic beauty of the California coastline begins to unfold. There are just 39 guest rooms and a pair of private homes blending rustic elegance with refined comforts. Feel like taking a spin in a Lexus? Simply inquire with the concierge, and it’s a done deal (free, too!). There’s also an array of fitness classes, guided nature hikes, tours of the chef’s herb garden and more. With an award-winning restaurant coupled with incredible views, spa sanctuary with a menu of treatments, infinity-edge pool and luxe accommodations, why would you venture anywhere else? There’s simply no reason to leave.  But, if you must, Monterey and Carmel are approximately 30 miles to the north and offer plenty of shopping and attractions. PostRanchInn.com

Post-Ranch-Inn-Big-Sur-Wedding-ReceptionsGo South: Journey to the Past in Julian

It’s the other Big Apple and it’s located in San Diego’s outback.  Cradled among the pine and oak-covered hills is the alpine community of Julian, which reached its pinnacle when gold was discovered around 1870. During that time the town’s first apple trees were planted and, although the mines have long been abandoned, the apple industry hasn’t been hard pressed at all.  In fact, each year during the Fall Apple Harvest—October and November—thousands of visitors make the pilgrimage to Julian to celebrate the crop and devour slices of fresh apple pie. A flare for the Old West remains along Julian’s Main Street where a hub of false-front stores dot the stretch of wooden sidewalks. The 125-year-old Julian Drug Store features an authentic soda fountain and charming diner, while the nearby Julian Cider Mill allows visitors to witness apples being pressed for cider.  Horse-drawn carriage rides are especially popular during the harvest as visitors are ferried through town and along the back country roads. The Eagle & High Peak Mines, which date back to the 1870s, offer guided tours and a glimpse into Julian’s gold-mining heyday.  For those who want nothing more than a slice of apple pie, there are several shops along Main Street eager to please the pie-eating populace, including Mom’s Pies, The Julian Pie Company and Apple Alley Bakery.

aafWhere to Stay: Celebrating more than a century of hospitality is The Julian Gold Rush Hotel.  Located along Main Street amid the shops and cafes, this Victorian-era inn features 15 rooms and cottages complete with a full breakfast and afternoon tea.  JulianHotel.com