Glen Oaks' private swimming spot in Big Sur.
Photo credit: Jen Siska
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Slurping oysters in West Marin.
Photo credit: Angela Decenzo
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Photo credit: Tai Power Seeff
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Heli-hiking on Catalina Island.
Photo credit: courtesy of Santa Catalina Island Company
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Riviera Hotel in Palm Springs.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Riviera Hotel
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Sailing in The Bay.
Photo credit: Alanna Hale
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Horseback riding at Alisal Guest Ranch in Solvang.
Photo credit: courtesy of Alisal Guest Ranch
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Sunburst motel in Calistoga.
Photo credit: courtesy of Sunburst
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Burlington Hotel in Port Costa.
Photo credit: Alanna Hale
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Burlington Hotel in Port Costa.
Photo credit: Alanna Hale
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Bull Valley Roadhouse in Port Costa.
Photo credit: Alanna Hale
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Billboard in Los Alamos.
Photo credit: Jen Curtis
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Timber Cove Inn in Fort Ross.
Photo credit: Jen Siska
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Joshua Tree Music Festival.
Photo credit: Sean Naugle
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Treasure Island Music Festival.
Photo credit: courtesy of Treasure Island Festival
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Escape from Wonderland in San Bernadino.
Photo credit: Oh Dag Yo
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The Avalon Ballroom hosts the Catalina JazzTrax Festival.
Photo credit: courtesy of JazzTrax
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West Marin—An all-access gourmand pass
Don’t waste another moment endlessly waiting for a table at Hog Island, now that you and six friends can book one of Elizabeth Hill’s West Marin Food and Farm Tours (From $475 per person, foodandfarmtours.com). On the private two-night culinary retreat, she’ll give you the lowdown on local oyster-farm lore and lead you to West Marin’s top artisan producers— like Cowgirl Creamery, Brickmaiden Breads, Marin Sun Farms, and, of course, Hog Island (sans the wait). There’s also Heidrun, where Gordon Hull shows you how mead (honey-based wine) is fermented. And you’ll make pit stops to forage juicy blackberries and pull up beets for a farm-to-table cooking class and dinner back at your Inverness tree house (or bayside cottage, if you prefer), led by chef Matt Elias of True Grass Farms. Rachel Levin
Carmel-by-the-Sea—A bonfire fest
California may have a zillion sandy swaths, but for legal bonfires, it’s slim pickings. Fortunately, one of NorCal’s most scenic stretches, the cypress- fringed Carmel Beach, welcomes them, turning into a veritable ring of fire on warm October evenings. the revamped L’auberge Carmel (From $425, laubergecarmel.com) has a historic-Euro vibe in close proximity to the beach. Pack in picnic eats like Garden Variety farmstead goat cheese and fall-fresh grapes from the new Thursday farmers’ market, or pull up a log at the Carmel Art & Film Festival Filmmaker’s Beach Bash on October 12 (carmelartandfilm.com), when it seems like the whole town is roasting s’mores and watching a flick under the stars. Stephanie Orma
Catalina Island—Trailblazing via copter
Just a 22-mile boat ride from the mainland, Catalina has long played host to weekenders seeking leisurely hikes and trail rides. But now it’s getting an adrenaline injection. Heli-hiking and heli-biking expeditions, newly launched for guests of the Pavilion Hotel (From $225, 310-510-1788), swoop you to the isolated and dramatic western coastline, where native island foxes and the iconic Catalina bison roam. Still can’t sit still? clamp into the Zip Line Eco Tour (From $120, 800-626-1496), which zooms thrill seekers 500 feet above sea level at 45 miles per hour, giving new meaning to the phrase “hang 10.” When you’re finally ready to calm your nerves, relax with a mai tai at nearby Descanso Beach Club’s (From $400, 310-510-7410) swank new presidential cabanas for six, or park yourself on the new Bluewater Grill’s (bluewatergrill.com) epic deck jutting over the pacific. Kimberley Lovato
San Diego—beachside brews
San Diego now has 72 breweries, making it California’s beer capital, at least in terms of number of suds makers—not to mention its beer-friendly weather. Start at the Brew Project (sdbrewproject.com), a warehouse bar that might as well be S.D.’s official beer embassy, with its close proximity to the airport and 31 local beers on tap. The third Friday of the month brings in 10 food trucks to join the party. Feeling nerdy? You’re in luck: Beer is so woven into San Diego’s DNA that Balboa Park’s History Center (sandiegohistory.org) has a new exhibit dedicated to it: “Bottled & kegged: San Diego’s Craft Brew Culture” (through January 20). But the easiest way to navigate the scores of breweries here is to hire one of Brew Hop’s (From $75 per person, brewhop.com) beer geeks as your guide and DD—they’ll tailor the itinerary to your palate and chauffeur your crew to tasting rooms in the likes of a Lincoln Navigator licensed for open bottles. Christine Ciarmello
Palm Springs pool parties—from sweaty dance fests to chilled-out dips
Ace: On October 19, a balls-to-the-wall full-moon drum circle and high-voltage dance party kick off at this vintage motel. From $109, acehotel.com/palmsprings
Hard Rock: The infamous hotel chain opens its Palm Springs location September 27, with poolside costumed dancers at the Monster Rock Ball on October 31.From $179, hrhpalmsprings.com
Riviera: New Grecian-style cabanas stocked with champagne offer refuge during the day. But on Thursday evenings, they thump with a DJ beat for the high-heels crowd. From $187, psriviera.com
Twin Palms: This private mid-century estate was designed for Frank Sinatra in 1947. Now the grand piano–shaped pool serves as an exclusive venue for your own Rat Pack. From $2,600, sinatrahouse.com
Korakia Pensione: The Mediterranean pool deck is studded with fire pits for prime chill time after yoga class. There are no phones or TVs, providing the ultimate disconnect. From $169, korakia.com Jenna Scatena
Sailing—by tax bracket
Bay winds are at a pleasant 15 knots (versus summer’s face-numbing 27). Don’t have your own clipper? Charter a skippered 41-foot Tartan with Berkeley’s OCSC Sailing School ($3,100 for 3 nights and 6 people, ocscsailing.com).
$ Blue-Collar—Angel Island: Pick up a mooring at Ayala Cove (415-435-5390) on Friday night when the ferry day-trippers are long gone—you’ll feel like you’ve found a budget version of a private island paradise. After a relaxing night onboard, jump-start the morning before the crowds arrive with a hike to the 788-foot Mount Livermore summit, then refuel by the shore with a hot dog and a Lagunitas at Angel Island Café (angelisland.com/cafe/index.php).
$$ White-Collar—Petaluma: While driving to Petaluma is definitely quicker, sailing through the Petaluma wetlands feels as romantic and remote as a cruise on the Amazon (Ok, almost). a raised drawbridge welcomes you to the Turning Basin dock, your watery doorway to a historic downtown where newcomers offer farm-fresh menus: Social Club (socialclubrestaurant.com) has a new beer garden, and the late-night Speakeasy (speakeasypetaluma.com) specializes in tapas.
$$$ Gold-Collar—Sausalito: Sunset is best celebrated from the Presidio Yacht Club (presidioyachtclub.org). The next morning, after a porchside brunch at Cavallo Point (cavallopoint.com), navigate Sausalito’s Richardson Bay and dock at Clipper Yacht Harbor just in time for cocktail-hour negronis, followed by Oysters Alcatraz (topped with smoked pork belly) at the new Barrel House Tavern (barrelhousetavern.com). Then slip into Trident’s (thetridentsausalito.com) complimentary boat dock before settling down to dinner. Christine Ciarmello
Solvang—wine, dude ranch style
Base yourself at Alisal Guest Ranch (from $1,695 for all-inclusive double occupancy, alisal.com) on October 25–27 for a wine immersion weekend with a crew of Santa Rita’s top vintners. The first annual Wine Ghetto Weekend is luring the cultish Bordeaux-and-Rhône-style warehouse wineries from neighboring Lompoc’s Wine Ghetto to take up residence for the weekend. Mornings start with good ol’ country-style flapjacks and mimosas, while idle time can be passed exploring the 10,500-acre grounds by horseback. Celebrated resident chef and barbecue pit master Pascal Gode dishes up saucy slow-cooked ribs in the warm evenings. Jenna Scatena
Dana Point high—society surfing
Think of this as the high-maintenance brah’s guide to Socal surfing: The St. Regis Monarch Beach resort (from $395, stregismb.com) gives guests the royal treatment with its new surf butlers, a squad of expert surfers trained in cpr, lifeguarding, and good service. As if checking the ocean’s temperature and the surf conditions before you hit the water, giving you pro tips on technique, and hand-selecting your wetsuit and surfboard weren’t enough, the beach butlers will also hunt down the ideal shady spot of beach and supply you with sunscreen, your favorite magazines, a chilled towel, and even, should you need it, liquid confidence in the form of a margarita. Jennie Nunn
Calistoga—a 50-room suntopia
Calistoga has long had doily-clad B&Bs and mega-resorts, but there has been little middle ground. Until now, with the new Sunburst (from $175, thesunburstcalistoga.com)—a cheap(ish)and cheerful motel that just opened. Featuring a mineral pool, bright orange and green accents, and a clean but vibrant decor, it’s the kind of place where you could lug the whole family or bring a weekend posse. There’s no restaurant, but equally affordable fare can be found on the lounge menu at Solage, a luxe resort just a quick bike ride away. There, choose from great cocktails and sophisticated snacks, all served on the patio. Take note: Sunburst is offering 20 percent off all rooms until the end of the year. Sara Deseran
Port Costa—southern fare alfresco
This one-block town across the Carquinez Strait from Benicia is only 30 miles east of San Francisco, yet it feels like a slice of the French Quarter with its old-school southern charm. At the Bull Valley Roadhouse (bullvalleyroadhouse.com), a surprising new comfort-food restaurant beneath a canopy of walnut trees, comrades formerly of The Slanted Door fashion pre-Prohibition cocktails and lavish spreads of buttermilk-fried chicken with summer squash gratin. The spookily charming Burlington Hotel (from $65, thehotelburlington.com) next door gives you a reason to stick around—waking up to homemade cornbread slathered in caramelly red Midsummer Wildflower honey, courtesy of Bull Valley owner (and local beekeeper) Earl Flewellen. Christina Karem
Los Alamos—a picnic walkabout
The numbers add up: three wine-tasting rooms and three notable new restaurants, all within a sunny half mile. Now the dusty stagecoach town of Los Alamos is as good a stop for gourmet fare as it is for fuel. Start at Café Quackenbush (generalstoreca.com) for cranberry scones, then saunter over to the toy-blue Global Gardens (globalgardensonline.com) for local olive oils (with the option to circle back for pumpkin–olive oil ice cream). Swing through the saloon doors at Casa Dumetz (casadumetzwines.com) for Sonja’s Suds sparkling syrah rosé. Bell street Farm (bellstreetfarm.com) serves an epic farmhouse comfort dish: chicken pot pie with roasted delicata squash. And you can wash it down with a local draft beer at the funky 1880 Union Hotel’s saloon (unionhotelvictmansion.com). Just stopping for gas? At least pick up a fig and prosciutto flatbread to go at Full of Life Flatbread (fulloflifefoods.com), an old favorite that’s been drawing crowds for 10 years. Christine Ciarmello
Moss Beach—psychedelic nudibranchs
Seven-million-year-old rock beds, shallow reefs, sea grass prairies, and stands of giant kelp set the stage for some 200 species of critters at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, a newly designated protected area where the tide pools are among the most diverse in the continental United States. Go in clear weather during late-afternoon low tide (while it’s still light out!) for the best chance to see creatures like the pink-tentacled moonglow anemone, the gumboot chiton (the largest mollusk of its type in the world), flamboyant nudibranchs, or even the elusive red octopus. For insight into the underwater realm, print out the new Friends of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (fitzgeraldreserve.org) tide pool guide or sign up for a tour. Jill K. Robinson
Fort Ross—drinking for mavericks
Skip the elbow-to-elbow crush season of most Sonoma tasting rooms by veering off 101 early and heading to the coastal town of Jenner, wine country for pioneers. Fort Ross Vineyard (fortrossvineyard.com) has opened the only tasting room in the new Fort Ross–Seaview American Viticultural Area. There you can sip piney, cherry-filled Sea Slopes pinot noir while perched above the fog, admiring views that stretch to the Farallon islands. And on October 26, it’s hosting the inaugural Fort Ross–Seaview Wine Festival ($35), where the region’s signature cool climate pinots and chards will flow from Wild Hog, Pahlmeyer’s Wayfarer Vineyard, and others. At the Timber Cove Inn (from $219, timbercoveinn.com), the kitchen serves fresh uni and salmon, and the crashing waves will lull you to sleep (ask for junior suite 405—it’s newly renovated). Carolyn Alburger
Big Sur—a clandestine swimming hole
Not the pool party type? Then you’ll find the private cerulean eddy tucked behind the mod cottages at Glen Oaks motor lodge (from $225, glenoaksbigsur.com) even more refreshing. Its small size works best for two, and the redwood-enclosed meadow above its banks serves as your verdant cabana, safely protected from fog lingering outside Big Sur’s sunny banana belt. Come evening, the new Big Sur Roadhouse (glenoaksbigsur.com/roadhouse.html) next door serves up refined New Orleans fare like Dungeness crab gumbo, with locally sourced ingredients. Back at Glen Oaks, settle into the Big Sur Cabin’s twin private outdoor claw-foot tubs, within arm’s reach of the fire pit. Craving s’mores? Each room is stocked with a kit that includes handmade marshmallows. Jenna Scatena
Music Festivals—whether you’re barely legal or rocking a midlife crisis (or just like to dance)
Way Over Yonder: Santa Monica, Oct. 5–6
Crooning Conor Oberst and First Aid Kit replace Dylan at this West Coast edition of Rhode Island’s Newport Folk Festival.
Eagle Rock: Los Angeles, Oct. 5
Bosnian Rainbows (former Mars Volta members gone goth pop) and Nguzunguzu rock out with other hip-hop, punk rock, and electronic bands in the L.A. streets.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: Golden Gate Park, Oct. 4-6
Steve Martin rocks the banjo at the 13th annual free outdoor fest.
Joshua Tree Music Festival: Joshua Tree, Oct. 11–13
Beneath the desert mountains, Burners groove to rootsicana-newgrassy-folkadelic jams by Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Elephant Revival.
Festival Supreme: Santa Monica, Oct. 19
Tenacious D, Garfunkel and Oates, and Reggie Watts will make you laugh and shimmy at this comedy-meets-music gathering of wits.
Culture Collide: Los Angeles, Oct. 10–12
This SXSW-esque fest includes international bands like Denmark rock duo The Raveonettes and Australian ’80s dance-pop group Miami Horror.
Treasure Island: Treasure Island, Oct. 19–20
Our local mecca for electronic-indie-folk lovers, with headliners Atoms for Peace and Beck.
Escape from Wonderland: San Bernardino Oct. 26
Barely legals bop to electro’s top 40 dJs. Last year’s set included Calvin Harris and Laidback Luke.
Catalina Island JazzTrax: Catalina Island, Oct. 3–20
Smooth jazz saxophonist Boney James and Booker T. Jones seduce at the epic Avalon Ballroom.
Morro Bay Harbor Festival: Morro Bay, Oct. 5-6
Grandkids and grandparents get down to San Francisco rockers Mother Hips and the progressive bluegrass group Hot Buttered Rum. Stevanie Wazna-Blank
Originally published in the October 2013 issue of San Francisco