Family-friendly vacation destinations…planning that perfect get-away!

Pt. Arena Lighthouse on N. California coast can act as key attraction for a family get-together in this scenic area!

Family-friendly vacation destinations… use the holidays to plot and plan a family vacation for 2018!

Granddaughter Jessica reveling in the N. California surf near Bodega Bay.

With the approaching holidays, families have the opportunity to discuss and plan a family vacation for the coming year. Over a recent birthday celebration our family discussed the idea of a family retreat sometime in spring or summer, 2018.

Around a crowded table, we discussed what kind of multi-day vacation we would like to share. Our family includes two 40-something daughters, their husbands, three grandkids ages 7, 12 and 17 as well as us, the grandparents.

Grandkids and adults offered their suggested criteria. I made mental notes on comments including “Appeal for all ages, kids to adults. Scenic, perhaps on the water. Fun activities for kids, adults. Good restaurants and lodging nearby. Affordable. Within a short drive of San Joaquin County”.

Ocean Cove, with lovely private campground on bluff above, is just north of Jenner, CA.

We did not finish the discussion but set the table for more detail to come over our Thanksgiving gathering. We’ll revisit the topic and let kids to adults fine-tune their checklist of attributes. Then, we will do our research, with the kids heavily involved. Resources include local visitors’ bureaus, VRBO or Airbnb for vacation rentals and Kayak or Travel Advisor for hotel/motel options and Internet deals. If camping, reserveamerica.com and/or recreation.gov offer insight and booking of state or federal campgrounds.

Based on our initial discussions, I plan to offer for consideration several suggested destinations:

Northern California coast; The coast, from Bodega Bay north to Mendocino, is both easy to reach (about three hours) and offers some of the most stunning waterfront in the United States! We have been there several times, on both day trips, camping trips and motel overnights.

Granddaughter and spouse Susan in front of Potter School, town of Bodega, used in filming the Hitchcock classic 'The Birds'.

This piece of California offers impressive vistas, spectacular food and resorts and marvelous camping options. Bodega (the town is different than Bodega Bay) is just off Hwy 116, and offers the old school where the 1963 Hitchcock movie classic ‘The Birds’ was filmed. Nearby Bodega Bay, on the water, is home to a variety of fine restaurants, motels and several nearby campgrounds. Stop at the Tides Restaurant for delicious breakfasts or lunches and wander a number of cute shops right along the bay.

A favorite park, Wright’s Beach State Park, between Bodega Bay and Jenner, is right on the ocean! Heading north on Hwy 1, one soon crosses the languid Russian River and reaches the cute town of Jenner, where the Russian spills into the Pacific. Stop at River’s End Restaurant for great food and stunning views; looking down from their deck above the river, a cadre of harbor seals usually is visible sunning themselves on a sandy spit (the restaurant offers a telescope for a closer view.

One soon reaches Ft. Ross State Historical Park, the old Russian outpost from the early 1800′s, then you will pass through a host of cute coastal towns like Sea Ranch (stop at the Sea Ranch Lodge for breakfast or lunch), Gualala and Gualala County Regional Park just south of town, very pretty with secluded campsites), Point Arena (check out the Point Arena lighthouse, for stunning coastal views). Ft. Bragg north to Mendocino also offer many additional options.

Lake Mary, eastern Sierra, just a few miles above the lovely town of Mammoth Lakes, CA.

Mammoth Lakes and the Eastern Sierra: Cross over the Sierra range and head south on Hwy. 395 to the town of Mammoth Lakes. Home to Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, one of the largest in the west, in summer it’s a huge mecca for hikers and mountain bikers. Just above town is gorgeous Lake Mary; at almost 9,000 feet, with thin air and gorgeous scenery, it’s one of six lakes in the Lake Mary Loop, all with scenic campgrounds and interconnected by paved biking and hiking trails.

Mammoth Lakes is a town that caters to tourists year-round, with lodging, restaurants, retail and sports shops, all aimed at youthful, outdoorsy visitors. The Mammoth Brewing Company, combined with the adjoining Eatery, is a must stop; fine craft beers and some of the best brew pub food we have had in a long while!

Nearby is Devils Postpiles National Monument. A short 1/2 mile hike takes one past a pristine stretch of the Upper Middle Fork San Joaquin River, then to the Postpiles. Here, about 80,000 years ago, basalt lava flowed. As it cooled and contracted it split into the symmetrical vertical, hexagonal columns that constitute the Postpiles. Further down the river is Rainbow Falls, which drops 101 feet over a volcanic cliff.

Devil's Postpiles National Monument is a short drive from Mammoth Lakes.

Fishing, touring, hiking and biking options are abundant, up and down the Eastern Sierra; each turn yields wondrous new vistas! Along the route you’ll pass the beautiful and strange Mono Lake, just north is the historic gold rush ghost town of Bodie, preserved in a state of “arrested decay” by the state park.

Other options that I expect will make our short list include Lake Tahoe or Pinecrest and the central Sierra, and perhaps the Redding area with nearby Mount Lassen National Park and Mt. Shasta.

Readers challenge: Send your favorite family destination, with the reasons why (100 words or less) and a photo or two (if you have them). We’ll publish your top selections right around Christmas time!

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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