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Norcal: Winter Safecations

Need a reprieve from the pandemic? Try a California staycation filled with outdoor adventures...
By Jenny Willden
Photography by Francis Fraioli
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Car Camping in California on a mountain

Flying to a tropical island or a faraway mountaintop ski retreat sounds perfect at this phase of the pandemic but higher case numbers and new stay-at-home orders leave Northern Californians (relatively) confined to their local area. If you’ve finally finished Netflix (congratulations) and need an escape beyond your neighborhood, we have a few ideas. While we won’t recommend flying currently, consider booking these sanity-saving staycations now or for a celebratory post-pandemic stay down the road.

From cabins to glamping tents, these private accommodations keep you socially distanced from others while providing a safe way to celebrate the new year and get away from it all. Some are classic California resorts, but a few are brave newcomers that opened during these challenging times. While a pandemic may seem like a less-than-ideal era to launch a lodging business, the gamble’s paid off for Ken Barber, co-owner of Sonoma’s Wildhaven. His safari tent-style glamping resort opened in the spring and is a rare pandemic winner.

“We didn’t know what the response would be to a new glamping destination launching a few months into the pandemic. We tested just a few tents to begin with and the response was amazing,” he says. “People told us they had been cooped up in their house for months and this was their first taste of fresh air.

”Wildhaven is set along the Russian River near Alexander Valley wineries and outdoor adventures aplenty, providing an easy escape for Bay Area locals. Unlike some glamping resorts, it’s affordably priced for anyone looking for a camp-like getaway without sacrificing the comforts of home.

“Our mission is to make it easier for Californians to spend a memorable night outdoors,” Barber says, “and we knew that a glamping getaway was a safer way to do this during COVID, better than heading indoors to a hotel.”

And Wildhaven welcomes all kinds of Californians. “We’ve had guests from all walks of life. Families love it since it makes it much easier to bring kids (there’s very little to pack and set up). Couples love the romantic aspect of a cozy tent with comfy beds, a firepit to cook on, and a store that sells tasty local wines,” Barber says. Wildhaven also attracts first-time campers who aren’t ready to commit to buying new gear, but who want to see how they like the experience, and seasoned campers who like to mix a glamping trip in between more hardcore backpacking trips.

Whether you’re eager to book a glamping tent like Wildhaven’s, a redwood treehouse, or a cozy cabin, use this guide to plan a restorative local getaway that’s a quick drive for Northern Californians and in compliance with state pandemic orders.

COVID-19 NOTE: If you live in a county under a regional stay-at-home order or your home address is not in California, you may not currently be able to book these properties. Read California’s COVID restrictions before planning your trip.

Glamping set up with cute dog

Photography courtesy of Wildhaven

Wildhaven Sonoma

Get your glamp on at Wildhaven, a new safari tent-style getaway in the heart of Sonoma County. Whether you’re a couple looking for a romantic getaway or a firsttimer wanting to camp without setting up all your own gear, Wildhaven is a perfect staycation solution. While some tents are more luxurious than others all offer rain and sun protection and are furnished with real beds with full linens, towels, lights, charging outlets, heating, and ventilation. Check-in is low-contact, and you can spend your time outdoors along the river instead of crammed into a hotel lobby. This experience is especially great during these pandemic times as the only shared indoor spaces are the restrooms and camp store.

Beyond your tent, relax with a picnic on the beach or roast s’mores around the firepits. Soon you’ll be able to rent a kayak at Wildhaven’s shop to paddle on the Russian River, but for now, bring your own tube or kayak if you want to get on the water. Pedal by bike around Anderson Valley or into the towns of Healdsburg and Guerneville for some shopping. Find hikes with vineyard views in Healdsburg or book a guided horseback ride through the vineyards.

If sipping wine is more your speed, you’ll love Wildhaven’s location within 20 minutes of 200 wineries. Within three miles of the glamping grounds, find Anderson Valley favorites such as Silver Oak, Medlock Ames, Robert Young, and Alexander Valley Vineyards. Sonoma’s culinary hot spots are minutes away by car, or you can cook at camp on the outdoor grills. For imbibing on-site, stop by Wildhaven’s camp store for beer wine and treats.

Car camping in mountains of CaliforniaPacific Overlander Rentals, Anywhere

Craving a Yosemite National Park getaway? Or an overlanding adventure along the coast? Rent a Pacific Overlander 4×4 and take your trip on the road (or off road) without sacrificing comfort. There’s no better social distancing solution than these fully equipped vehicles, which come stocked with camping gear and rooftop tents. Just bring along your sleeping bag and pillow, and you’re ready for an adventure.

The Pacific Overlander team thought of everything, including camp chairs, table, fridge and freezer, cooking equipment ,and camp stove. Book your ride online, pick it up in San Francisco, and drive up to 150 miles a day with no additional charges.

LOGE Mount Shasta Mount Shasta

Escape to the mountains at this forgotten-motel-turned-adventure-outpost beneath 14,179-foot Mount Shasta. It opened in late 2019 and is ready to welcome local travelers seeking an outdoorsy escape. Traditional hotel rooms are the safest winter option here and all are designed for adventurers with bike and ski racks built-in. There’s even a hammock for casual lounging. COVID protocols are followed when it comes to sanitation and safety.

Plus LOGE has plenty of outdoor social space for gathering while staying socially distanced. Cook your own meals on the grills or gather round firepits to thaw out and cook s’mores. Caffeinate for the day at LOGE’s Finlandia Cafe and Taproom, the place for local Heritage Roasting Company coffee paired with pastries and hearty oatmeal bowls.

While Shasta calls summit seekers in summer, winter brings skiers to Mt Shasta Ski Park and tubers to Mt Shasta Tubing Hill. If you arrive unprepared, rent gear onsite, or skip skiing and borrow a cruiser bike for the five-minute ride into town. Bringing Fido along for the trip? His tail will be wagging as pups are welcomed and spoiled at LOGE. Book the “Treat Your Pup” package and receive a dog bed, bowl, and leash your furry friend can use throughout his stay.

Connecting treehouses in Sonoma County California

Photography courtesy of Sonoma Treehouse Adventures

Sonoma Treehouse Adventures Occidental

Zipline through the redwoods and sleep in a treehouse on the new Sonoma Treehouse Adventure overnight extravaganza. Designed for the young at heart, the adventure begins with an afternoon tour across 14 ziplines that ends with a rappel down to the forest floor. From there, take an ecotour through the forest to elevated treehouses built around the redwoods. Every treehouse comes equipped with real beds, composting toilets, snacks, and dining furniture. You’ll be perched in an off-grid treehouse, so for obvious reasons, there are no showers. For safety, masks are required during the ziplining and ecotour. Each treehouse is spread far apart from the others and connected only by bridges, offering you space and privacy.

Dinner is delivered to your room and you can dine inside your treehouse or out on the decks overlooking the forest. Expect a multicourse meal with a cheese plate, hearty entrees for meat eaters and vegetarians, and rich desserts. Once night falls, the wind swaying these mighty redwoods will gently rock you to sleep.

Wake in the morning with coffee, french toast, and potatoes, then zip from the treehouses for a second tour through the trees. This memorable excursion soars 200 feet above the ground through the Sonoma redwoods on the fastest, longest ziplines of the entire experience.

Wylder Hope Valley Hope Valley

Channel Scandinavian hygge vibes at Wylder Hope Valley, formerly Sorensen’s Resort, a recently renovated property near Lake Tahoe in Hope Valley. When winter drops feet of snow on the Sierra Nevada Mountains, come to snowshoe or cross-country ski right on the property, and thaw out afterward in Wylder’s private sauna. Or hop in the car and drive 16 miles to Kirkwood for legendary skiing and snowboarding. Stop by Wylder’s Outpost to rent cross-country skiing or snowshoeing gear, and fuel up for the day at Sorensen’s Cafe. Complimentary cocoa and coffee are available for guests all day, but an aprè-sski stop is worthwhile for home-cooked eats and spiced hot toddies. (Don’t miss the homemade pasta on the dinner menu.)

Wylder’s updated cabins feature a modern, minimalist aesthetic and full kitchens. Each cabin stay includes a complimentary bottle of wine and a bookable time slot for a private sauna session.

Whether you cruise to Tahoe or kick it locally in Sonoma County, these mini road trips can be just the ticket to keeping your cool in these prolonged pandemic times.