Family-friendly vacation or reunion destinations for the new year!

The Garing family celebrates a family gathering on the Natural Bridges State Beach near Aptos.


Family vacation or reunion: family-friendly vacation or reunion destinations for the new year!

Sun sets over the beach at Aptos, CA.

Thinking of family in 2018, I put out a call to Record readers and friends for their suggestions as to family-focused vacation and/or reunion destinations. Suggested criteria included a destination offering both kid’s and adult activities, nearby cabin rentals or motels, campgrounds and restaurants, all within a few hours of San Joaquin county. Budget-friendliness and proximity to water earned extra points. Happily, I received a number of creative suggestions; enjoy:

Shaver Lake: Carrie Sass, Stockton, noted four generations of her family had enjoyed family vacations at Shaver Lake in the Sierra northeast of Fresno. Carrie notes, “Watersports in the summer, great stream and lake fishing and close to China Peak Ski Resort in the winter for snow skiing, as well as several snow parks. The summer weather is perfect for hiking to small lakes and attractions like Rancheria Falls”.

Whale watching is popular in the Aptos and Santa Cruz areas along California's scenic coastline.

“Camp Edison, a Sunset Magazine award -inning campground and Dorabelle Campground (USFS) are both located on the lake. Small individual cabin rentals are found in Shaver Village in the heart of this little town, or Shaver Lake Cottages on the point by the lake. Fine restaurants are nearby – our favorite is the Trading Post”.  The lake is reached via southbound Hwy. 99 to Madera, then Hwy. 168; it’s about 2.5 hours, 127 miles from San Joaquin County.

Additional Sierra destinations: Several others suggested (north to south) Sly Park Recreation Area off Hwy. 50, Silver Lake (and the Stockton Municipal Silver Lake Camp) above Murphys on Hwy. 4, and Pinecrest Lake, above Sonora on Hwy. 108. All three destinations offer a picturesque high Sierra lake, swimming, fishing, hiking and a wide variety of camping and/or lodge and cabin rentals with restaurants nearby.

Shaver Lake and Camp Edison are popular as Sierra high-alpine lake destinations.

Christine Lewis of Fair Oaks, CA adds these insights for her favorite, “Sly Park is more family-friendly for older children (noting babies with diapers not allowed in Jenkinson Lake, a reservoir).  The area offers premium lakeside campsites with full hookups and a variety of sites for large and small RVs and tent-only sites including  group and equestrian sites.  A nearby boat launch with dock and boats with limited speeds make for great options for kayaking, canoes, paddle boards and small boats. Lots of hiking trails and horse trails; we were surprised to discover an active waterfall on a short hike from our campsite”.

Purple lupine frames Mt. Tallac high above Lake Tahoe's Camp Richardson and Fallen Leaf Lake.

Aptos beach-front: Tom Garing, formerly of Woodbridge, now Roseville, offers “we are beach people and family beach vacations make everyone happy. Renting a house on Beach Drive in Aptos has worked well for us, offering great access to and views of the ocean with whale watching spectacular this past summer. The tide pools at nearby Natural Bridges and, of course, the boardwalk in Santa Cruz are a must-visit. The grandkids took a break from sand and surf and visited a local farm to do some strawberry picking. Waking up to a day of kite flying and sand castles can never be boring!”. Aptos is about two hours and 110 miles from San Joaquin County.

Lake Tahoe: Several readers and my family offer historic Camp Richardson and nearby Fallen Leaf Lake’s Forest Service campground (camping options both at Camp Richardson and Fallen Leaf Lake), with two lakes, hiking, cabin rentals, bike rentals, horseback riding and the adjoining Tallac Historic Site, featuring the grand lake-front mansions of the Baldwin and Pope Estates and Valhalla. The Beacon Restaurant is next door on Lake Tahoe’s beach, busy South Lake Tahoe is just three miles away with all that glitz and Heavenly Resort and the casinos also beckon for nightlife. Camp Richardson and Fallen Leaf Lake are three miles north of South Lake Tahoe on Hwy. 89, about 2.5 hours and 140 miles from San Joaquin County.

Rancheria Falls is a popular hiking destination near Shaver Lake.

Stockton “stay-cation”: Sharon Nordstrom, Stockton, suggests a stay-at-home-vacation, “taking in the delights of Stockton. The Haggin Museum is the gem of Stockton, standing regally in Victory Park offering all generations a welcoming environment in which to browse its world-class permanent collection of fine art and galleries of unique historic displays.  Stockton’s history (as well as traveling exhibits) appeals to a wide range of tastes.  Enrichment activities for children and families include the first and third Thursday evenings of the month, where members and visitors enjoy wine, appetizers, coffee and desserts alongside live music, guest speakers and demonstrations”.

Sharon adds, “Victory Park offers picnic areas, benches, grassy knolls, geese and duck filled ponds, playground equipment and baseball diamonds – it’s a must-visit. Nearby Miracle Mile, downtown Stockton and the Deepwater Channel with the Stockton Arena and Stockton Ballpark make for a variety of additional dining and family activities”.

Thanks to readers for creative suggestions; and plan now for 2018 family-gatherings!

Vintage Haines-Houser harvester is part of local agricultural history at the Haggin Museum in Victory Park.

For more information: Shaver Lake‘s Camp Edison:, (559) 841-3134; Sly Park,, (530) 295-6810; Silver Lake,, (209) 227-0082; Pinecrest Lake and Tuolumne County,, (800) 446-1333; Aptos and Santa Cruz County,, (800) 833-3494; Lake Tahoe’s Camp Richardson,, (800) 544-1801; Federal campground reservations,; Haggin Museum,, (209) 940-6300; Stockton,, (209) 938-1555.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in the west!

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