Four Northern California One-Tank Getaways and Weekend Jaunts

by Carmel L. Mooney

Fuel prices are almost inconceivable and families are looking for close-to-home getaways, vacations, day trips, and jaunts that don’t deplete the kids’ college funds. Fortunately, the Sacramento area’s central location affords families some wonderful escapes for a tank of gas or less.

South Lake Tahoe lies about two hours from Sacramento. The Embassy Suites Tahoe is the perfect family-friendly lodging choice with suites that accommodate nearly all families. A satisfying gourmet breakfast and nightly manager’s reception are even included in the value. They have wonderful children’s programs with tailored local activities if mom and dad should want some time alone in Tahoe. And with half a dozen casinos within a block, it may be tempting. Echo Restaurant on-site at the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel has a wonderful Kids’ Club menu and the grown-up selections are absolutely mouth-watering. Nice little extras like a warm indoor saline pool and spa, daily paper, and new upgraded bedding make this property a family favorite and a perfect respite.

View of Lake Tahoe from Camp RichardsonBike riding at Camp Richardson is a highly preferred Tahoe area activity where riders of all levels enjoy trail rides of various lengths and types on miles of safe, paved trails perfect for the whole family. Camp Richardson also offers kayak, jet ski, and speedboat rentals which remain favorites with families who love water fun on North America’s largest and clearest Alpine lake.

Any visit to South Lake Tahoe, no matter what season, is incomplete without a scenic lunch or dinner cruise of Emerald Bay on MS Dixie or Bleu Wave Yacht. Offered are numerous cruises for children (and parents) to enjoy such treats on board as magicians, storytellers, and themed hosts. Kids love spotting eagles and nests and other wildlife from the top deck of the narrated vessels where fun and history come alive for cruisers.

Of course, if doing nothing or next to it is your preference, then simply pack a lunch and head out to Pope Beach or Baldwin Beach to play in the sand, relax, swim or explore nature. Late summer and early fall mean fewer crowds and an even more enjoyable beach experience.

While you’re in South Lake Tahoe or on a completely separate one-tank getaway, visit Virginia City, Nevada for old-time western fun and history. This mining town only 40 miles from Lake Tahoe invites kids to step back in time by taking trolley rides, visiting mines, and museums, and riding the Virginia & Truckee Railroad. Plan at least an entire day or better yet stay the night to fully enjoy what this historic little town has on its menu.

Napa and Calistoga are both only a tank away from Sacramento and offer much more than just wine tasting. Napa with its beautiful downtown area, eclectic shops, and interesting museums is a wonderful place to visit, meander through, and explore at leisure.

The Old World Inn B & B offers specials accommodating families or even romantic getaways for mom and dad. So mom and dad should bookmark that one for another jaunt alone. With the best hospitality and amenities a B & B could offer along with fresh baked cookies, deliciously decadent desserts, wines and cheeses, and sumptuous breakfasts, this inn leaves nothing for want. An extensive collection of movies, popcorn, plasma TVs, and a peaceful garden courtyard are just part of the reason you’ll wish you had longer to stay. You’ll feel as though you’re staying with relatives considering the warm and friendly hospitality guests appreciate.

Your clan absolutely must eat at and experience both Boonfly Café at the Carneros Inn and Mustards Grill to experience two separate but equally delightful true tastes of the Napa Valley in two elegant yet casual family-friendly atmospheres. Both restaurants offer incomparable freshly prepared foods with local ingredients and award-winning chefs who marry delicious mouthwatering flavors and sauces with seasonal local produce and herbs.

Oxbow public market NapaFor a fun taste of native fare, plan a couple of hours to browse the Oxbow Public Market in Napa where you’ll find local organic ice cream, teas, meats, produce, olives, and other mouthwatering local goodies and all under one roof.

The magical little town of Calistoga is a mandatory visit. The true gem of Napa Valley, Calistoga with its fabulous dining, is in and of itself worth the visit just to eat. Perhaps nowhere else in California can one encounter so many impeccable dining options all in a two-block span. Although much more in this gorgeous little town is worthy of experience, the restaurants are the crown jewel.

No getaway to Calistoga would be complete without a mud bath at world-famous Doc Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort. With soothing mineral swimming pools, massages, and mud baths, this is the ultimate healthy and relaxing family destination. Many families relish the sheer pleasure of soaking together in the mineral pools while even older children and teenagers savor, as much as their parents, the luxuriant health benefits of a mud bath. They have several different family-friendly lodging options available on property with choices such as a motel, bungalows, and Victorian rooms. Beautiful bicycling and hiking trails abound throughout Napa Valley and surround the Calistoga area so don’t forget to pack the bikes and hiking shoes. You can easily spend two or three days in Calistoga and wish you had more time to enjoy it all.

If you’re looking to escape the Sacramento heat or planning your next fall outing, don’t let gas prices keep you grounded as flat-landers. Plan a one-tank getaway now and fill up on family fun without breaking the piggy bank.

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Carmel L. Mooney is a mom, travel columnist, and radio talk show host. You can hear her on KJAY 1430 AM on Sunday afternoons and you can take her travel writing seminars or purchase her books.

field in Calistoga photo by Mat Honan