Some of the best memories I have as a kid are the family road trips we’d take from Sacramento—my sisters and I piling in the back of our wood-paneled station wagon loaded with luggage, fighting for a window seat while dad fires up another cigarette and checks the map. It’s the quintessential American family experience, so what better way to start summer than a fun and affordable Father’s Day road trip getaway? Right then: Here are my top tips on places to go and things to do in Northern California that I promise your dad—and the entire family—will enjoy.
Family Canoe Trip in Sonoma’s Wine Country
One of my all-time favorite family summertime excursions is canoeing down the Russian River: It’s a fantastic and affordable all-day adventure. You simply pack a lunch (ideally wrapped in a waterproof bag), park the car, throw on a bathing suit, sunscreen, and a life vest, then launch yourself onto the Russian River. It’s a leisurely paddle downstream, and during the 10-mile journey you’ll pass sandy beaches and plenty of places for the kids to jump off rocks and rope swings.
After about 4 or 5 hours of stress-free serenity you arrive at a well-marked beach where the canoe rental staff will pick you up and take you back to your car. Now that’s a great Father’s Day getaway. Tip: Be sure to reserve your canoe in advance. For more info call Burke’s Canoe Trips at 707/887-1222 or log onto www.burkescanoetrips.com. Another local outfitter is Russian River Adventures, which allows you to bring your dog (707/433-5599). And if you’re looking for a great deal on a nearby hotel, click here.
Hot-Air Balloon Ride
If you’re looking to splurge on Dad this year, consider a hot-air balloon ride with Up & Away Ballooning. But this one isn’t for late sleepers. The adventure begins at the crack of dawn at Sonoma County Airport, outside of Santa Rosa. From there you travel to the best launch site given the conditions. Then you’re off on a 1-hour ride, drifting over the countryside and finishing with a champagne brunch—after both of your feet are back on the ground. Click here for local deals on Santa Rosa hotels.
Touring Lake Shasta Dam and Shasta Caverns
Now here’s a Father’s Day getaway you probably never considered: A trip to Shasta Lake to take a tour of the dam and power plant. Believe me, this is one of the best free tours in the state that’s both highly entertaining and educational. This HUGE dam, which holds back the waters of the Sacramento, Pit, and McCloud rivers, has an overflow spillway that is three times higher than Niagara Falls.
Every day they offer free guided tours that take you on an elevator ride deep within the dam’s many chilly corridors (refreshing on a hot summer day), below the spillway, and through the states largest hydroelectric generating station. If Dad likes machinery he’ll love this tour. For more information call 530/275-4463 or log onto www.usbr.gov/mp/ncao/shasta.
Another awesome family adventure in these parts is a guided tour of the crystal-studded stalagmites and stalactites within Lake Shasta Caverns. The stalactites and stalagmites in these caves are massive, and 60-foot-wide curtains of them adorn the great Cathedral Room. Even getting there was fun, because you can dock your ski boat nearby (or park your houseboat on the shoreline), walk up to the staging area, then climb onto a bus for a scenic ride up to the caverns. The caverns are open every day, year-round. For Lake Shasta lodging deals, click here.
River Rafting in Lake Tahoe
A fantastic way to spend a warm summer day with Dad is renting a raft or inner tube from the Truckee River Raft Co. and floating down the tame stretch of Truckee River from Fanny Bridge in Tahoe City to the River Ranch Lodge a few miles downriver. The 2- to 3-hour outing is safe for the entire family, with only a few stretches of very small rapids.
After you haul out at the River Ranch Lodge, sit at their beautiful outdoor patio overlooking the river and enjoy lunch and a cold beer. If you prefer a more exciting whitewater experience, Tributary Whitewater Tours offers daily excursions (in season) down the Truckee River amid Class 2 to 3-plus rapids. And be sure to check out our special offer at the Tahoma Meadows Bed & Breakfast Cottages on the West Shore.
A World War II Submarine Tour, San Francisco
What dad wouldn’t want to take a tour of a WWII submarine? Now I agree, Fisherman’s Wharf is rife with tourist traps, but there are some wonderful things to see and do here—if you know where to go. So here’s the plan: Get an early start to Fisherman’s Wharf and take a tour of the USS Pampanito submarine at Pier 45, which saw plenty of action in the Pacific. It’s been completely restored, and visitors are free to crawl around inside and play Das Boot.
Afterwards, head over to the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and take a history tour aboard the Balclutha, an enormous and fully restored square-rigger built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1886. Dad will dig it as much as the kids. And for a fantastic deal on my favorite San Francisco hotel, click here.
For more insider tips on California activities and tours, California vacation spots, California tourist attractions, California vacation packages, and California inns, B&Bs, lodges, hotels, and restaurants, explore LocalGetaways.com, where you’ll always find best California travel deals. Or better yet, add your own comments and advice to our Father’s Day Getaways blog. We’d love to hear from you.