The Captivating Burney Falls

The 129-foot Burney Falls in northern California is one of the state’s most beautiful waterfalls.

The water does not simply pour over the top, rather the porous volcanic rock in the area encourages a dispersal of the water, resulting is multiple cascades that leap from the rock’s face along the entire height of blue and white waterfall.

The most popular vantage point for viewing is from the base of the falls, but this area can be crowded in the summer as heat-weary visitors find refuge in the coolness.

A short loop trail allows visitors to explore both sides of the creek above and below the falls. However, if you are up for a larger hike try hiking a couple of miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, which passes next to the falls.
The campground can be very crowded in the summertime, and the visitors, not the most quiet. If possible, try visiting during a down season or mid-week.

Back to 1885 at the Sacramento Hostel

blog-20120902-img1If you want to overnight in a restored Victorian mansion dating to 1885, the Sacramento Hostel is the place. The hostel has worked hard to give visitors a comfortable experience while maintaining the elegance and beauty of this historic building.

The family room we stayed in was very spacious. The kitchen was well stocked with cooking utensils and the facilities were well maintained. My daughter enjoyed exploring the stairs and quickly discovered a foosball table and travel library in the basement. The small breakfast that was offered in the morning was a good way to start the morning. The staff members are very helpful in recommending local places to visit and an activity board listing local attractions and schedules is displayed in the main hallway.

The building itself has a long history and was once nearly destroyed to make room for a modern skyscraper. Fortunately the building was preserved, actually moved several times over its history, to become a unique experience for today’s travelers. Look for a pamphlet on the building’s full story that is located in one of the Victorian style living parlors.

Parking is available on the street, or in a gated area for a small fee. The hostel is located in the heart of downtown and is a good location for exploring Sutter’s Fort and the Railroad Museum.

Learn More:
http://norcalhostels.org/sac/

The Point Reyes Hostel is Great for Families

After a long day of exploring the beaches, forests and grasslands of Point Reyes National Seashore, where does a family stay?

In the heart of this 70,000-acre parkland, is the Point Reyes Hostel. The main hostel is located in a converted ranch house, but recently there is a new addition, the “green building.” The green building was constructed to LEED Silver standards so it maximizes water savings, is energy efficient and constructed with materials that support human and environmental health.

I found the new facilities to be clean, roomy and most of all quiet. Our family room had two bunk beds and a larger twin bed on the lower level, but what everyone liked most was the window, which could be opened to allow copious amounts of fresh coastal air inside. The communal kitchen was well stocked with cooking items and the shared bath facilities were well maintained.

Adjacent to the kitchen area is a sizable balcony for sitting outside and having a meal. If you sit outside the entertainment can include a covey of quail running below, or even a deer munching some grass nearby.

Depending on the time of year you can expect sun or rain, but there is always some amount of overcast that rolls in from the ocean. The seashore is located about an hour north of San Francisco, California.

To learn more about the Point Reyes Hostel visit:
http://norcalhostels.org/reyes/

A Family Overnight at the Marin Headlands Hostel

If your family is visiting San Francisco, California, consider overnighting on a decommissioned military base.

The base is now part of an immense national recreation area known as the Marin Headlands where visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, and beach combing. After a long day, when it is time to bed down, the Marin Headlands Hostel is a good choice for families. The hostel has taken great care to restore these historic military buildings, which date to 1907.

Families who stay here get a treat, the opportunity to stay in a solidly built two-story building that served as Officer’s quarters. Inside the house an impressive staircase greets visitors and a cozy living room is stocked with books and games. A broad porch welcomes parents who wish to sit, rest, and watch sunsets or catch glimpses of deer grazing in a field. As part of the hosteling experience be prepared to bring your own food and make use of the common kitchen.

The hostel is a good value for the money, especially considering the high cost of accommodation in the bay area. I would suggest earplugs to guard against any possible late night noise.

What I found most memorable during my stay was hearing an owl hooting in the stillness of the night in this immense and open green space of the Marin Headlands, and knowing that just a few miles away, live several million people.

Camping at Little Basin Cabins and Campground

The Little Basin Cabins and Campground is a hidden location and perfect for escaping from the busy rush of Silicon Valley.

This former Hewlett Packard employee retreat is now part of Big Basin Redwoods State Park in California and can be enjoyed by the public.

Our car pulled into the campsite where dappled light dotted an open space underneath massive redwood trees. A Jay stood like a sentry on the picnic table. We unloaded our supplies and scouted out two spaces for our tents. The Jay hopped into a tree and watched us closely. Our daughter explored the immediate area and found lost treasures of stick forts hidden among fallen redwoods. We pitched our tents, stored our gear and explored the larger campground.

Little BasinLittle Basin offers 12 cabins and 38 well-spaced campsites among the redwoods for families who need some time to camp, play and explore. The park offers trails, and more developed facilities such as a children’s playground, group mess hall and sports field. Each campsite includes a fire-ring and picnic table. Shower facilities are also available in the rest rooms. Ice and wood is available at the camp office.

As the sun lowered on the horizon we prepared our fire. My ten-year old daughter is granted the privilege of being the keeper of the fire, a responsibility she takes great pride in. Soon a bed of coals was ready to cook our dinner and we placed our foil pockets with veggies and meat in the coals.

As the sun lowered further the last lances of light shot between the great trees creating well defined walls between shadows and light. The sun disappeared, it was dark on the forest floor but overhead the clouds were colored with pink, red and purple.

We tore into our cooked pockets and enjoyed a cornucopia of flavors, it was a simple meal, but we relished it greatly.

Little BasinIn the evening the temperature lowered and we donned our jackets. The light from the fire illuminated our faces and the trees immediately around us. We talked some, but mostly just stared into the flames and let our thoughts wander. It was very relaxing.

Everyone was tired and we felt that it was very late. Someone announced the time, it was only 10:00 P.M. The TV show that we might have watched at home was not missed.

At night we heard some chattering of raccoons outside, they were checking to see if we left some food out, we did not, and they left empty handed. Later, something stepped through the leaves, carefully and deliberate, it was a deer. In the early morning soft rain pelted the outside of our tents and at one point it rained heavy for about ten minutes.

As morning broke we woke and enjoyed the quiet before others started their day. It was a few minutes of precious, even sacred time in the cool and stillness.

The fire was restarted and the camp stove turned on to heat some water in our old, beat-up, blue enamel pot. Soon we had water for coffee. We stood around the small fire drinking coffee and chased off any chill that might have been in the air.

Little BasinThe day began again and life was again renewed. A Jay, possibly the same one we saw the day before, sat like a sentry on a nearby branch and watched us closely.

Little Basin is a new addition to Big Basin Redwoods State Park near Boulder Creek, California. In this time of recession, Little Basin, is an experiment of sorts by the State of California and conservation organizations to allow Little Basin to support itself by being self-sustaining as a revenue generator while providing outdoor education opportunities to the public.

To learn more about Little Basin visit –
http://littlebasin.org/camp/little-basin
To learn more about Big Basin Redwoods State Park visit-
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=540

Eight Tips for Visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay AquariumA visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California can be a treat. Families will enjoy the many treasures of the ocean with exhibits that inspire, educate and astound. Whether it is the 28-foot high kelp forest exhibit, the touch pools, mesmerizing jellyfish (shown) or seeing the ever-favorite sea otters it is a wonderful place for kids of all ages.

The aquarium is such a great place that it is often packed with visitors. If you appreciate your ‘elbowroom’ a little planning can go a long way. Here are eight tips to help make a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium more enjoyable:

1. Go Off Season
Summer is the ‘high’ season, but if you can visit during a down-time you might have the aquarium mostly to yourself. Consider visiting during October; the weather is generally pleasant, and most tourists are focused on the upcoming Christmas Holidays. Another good time is during the winter season when most families are reluctant to get outside. If summer is the only season you can visit the aquarium consider some crowd management techniques and visit mid-week or early/late in the day.

2. Visit Mid-week
Weekends are very busy, but Tuesdays and Wednesdays generally have fewer visitors to the aquarium. A staff member suggested that Wednesday was the best day to visit anytime of year; but in the summer Wednesdays can still be busy. The photo shows a diver cleaning the glass in the impressive Kelp Forest exhibit with a handful of onlookers silhouetted in the foreground. When you visit during a down-time you can better appreciate all of the exhibits without the crowds.

Monterey Bay Aquarium
3. During the Day Visit Early and Late
Regardless of time of year avoid the bulk of crowds by visiting in the morning for an hour just after the aquarium opens then return later that afternoon several hours before it closes. You can always stamp your hand as you leave the aquarium to return later that day.

4. Walk and See the Sights
A good number of people who visit the aquarium just explore a small area in Monterey called Cannery Row. Make it a point to see some of the sights in Monterey and the neighboring Pacific Grove. Better yet, just go for a nice walk. A pleasant and visually delicious walk along the Monterey Coastal Trail takes you from the aquarium to Pacific Grove – priceless views without the expense.

5. Bring Money – Parking is Expensive
Avoid the shock of arriving in Monterey only to learn that parking will cost you at least $10 to $15 a day. Driving around trying to find a cheaper space in the area is often not practical, frequently wastes time and on busy traffic days will lead to stress. Once you find a spot, grab it and start your day – having the family time is more valuable than grumbling about paying for parking. If you park on the street at a meter bring a roll of quarters (or two). Several local garages and parking lots are located near the aquarium but these can fill up by 10 a.m. on busy days. Parking in Monterey can be expensive so plan for it.

6. Munchies Are A Must
Bring some munchies to stave off that mid-morning or afternoon hunger. When you are ready to eat the aquarium has a café/restaurant and the surrounding area offers a number of places to eat. I have never been disappointed eating at the Sea Harvest. It has good food at reasonable prices. The Sea Harvest is located opposite the city’s public parking garage by the exit, just look for the big blue fish on their sign. 598 Foam Street, Monterey.

Monterey Bay Aquarium
7. Consider a Family Membership
It is easy for a family of 3 to drop $75 just to enter the aquarium. The money is well spent as the aquarium is a world-class experience. If you are staying in the area for several days, or will visit on several occasions, consider a family membership. The membership pays for itself in two visits and you have the benefit of entering the aquarium at a side entrance to avoid lines. Plus you receive a 10% discount at the aquarium’s gift store.

8. Stay Overnight in the Area
If you are staying overnight consider staying in nearby Pacific Grove about a mile and a half from the aquarium. It has some nice places to stay, like the Bide-A-Wee Inn and Cottages. Look for places that offer rooms with a small kitchenette and breakfast in the morning. The small downtown area of Pacific Grove has cozy cafes and a coffee shop where you can relax on a couch and enjoy a good book. During the summer and over major holidays lodging prices in the Monterey area can double or triple from their off season rates so plan ahead and look online for deals. If you are really budget minded try the Monterey Hostel only several blocks from the aquarium. Reservations are recommended at the hostel any time of year.

To learn more about Monterey Bay Aquarium visit:
http://www.montereybayaquarium.org