Coastal Commuter

Getaways for a great escape

Tomales Bay is a nearby escape that feels light years away from the big city. Photo: derwiki

The fires of November have been so devastating in both the northern and southern parts of the state — with the unprecedented death and destruction of the Camp Fire also resulting in downright apocalyptic atmospheric conditions in the Bay Area — that the urge to get out of town has been more than compelling. It might be essential to your health. You can shut yourself in — or you can get away. To that point, I’ve got a few favorite Cali destinations that invariably recharge my batteries, and there might be no better time to take advantage of them than now.

Some places are so close to the urban sprawl but seem so far away when you finally get there. I’m thinking about the beaches and bays of Marin where, on certain autumn nights, you can experience the glorious beauty of bioluminescent plankton in the waters, especially at Tomales Bay. I still harbor dreamlike, shiver-inducing memories of standing on the shore of Stinson Beach at midnight and seeing the crests of incoming waves that shimmered with an otherworldly glow from those microscopic wonders. It might be too late in the year for phosphorescent tides, but it’s still lovely on Tomales and Bodega bays, at Stinson and Muir beaches, and Point Reyes, and anywhere in Bolinas and Inverness. And moving inland, you can find yourself a nice eucalyptus grove and bide a wee in the aromatic bosom of nature.


Venturing further afield, I do love Gold Country with its historic spots like Nevada City to get in touch with the state’s rough-and-tumble past. One B&B where I stayed with my sweetheart of the time actually had a bed that was hung from the ceiling with chains and rocked back and forth in a gentle motion when we turned in for the night. But that region’s proximity to the recent conflagration might be tough to process for anyone seeking comfort and solace right now. By comparison, a trip up or down the coast would be a tonic.

You could head north to Mendocino — onetime hippie haven where I once wandered through a genuine dwarf-tree forest — or south to Santa Cruz with its boardwalk and easy charm, or to Monterey with its tony brew pubs, seafood grottos, and that spectacular aquarium by the fresh and salty Pacific. And if you’re southward bound, Big Sur remains the most magnificent and mystical locale on the craggy central coastline. Plus, there’s all that Beat Generation cachet in the nearby woods, where poets and philosophers would Zen out in relative peace, and where anyone can do the same. Or you could enjoy the spectacular views at a renowned hangout and creative cauldron for artists, Bohemians, and spiritualists since the 1950s: the Nepenthe restaurant situated on a peak overlooking the ocean.


Certainly the northerly vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties and the southerly ones in the Santa Ynez and Temecula valleys have their lure, but I’m not much of a wine drinker, and the charms of world-class restaurants such as the French Laundry are a little out of my price range. Thrift-shopping in Ventura and hiking around the rolling hills of the Ojai art colony are more my speed. Or let me have a couple romantic nights in one of the wild, themed suites at San Luis Obispo’s legendary lovers’ escape, the Madonna Inn. And a trip to Yosemite, whether you stay at a fancy lodge, a mid-range cabin, or a modest motel, remains one of the joys of living in the Golden State.

Believe it or not, tripping through a few of California’s various well-preserved missions (such as the notable one in Santa Barbara) — where men of the cloth lived and worshipped in centuries past — can actually be uplifting, regardless of your religious beliefs or lack of them.

And lest I forget, there’s the spiritually gratifying feeling one gets in the Mojave Desert — especially Joshua Tree National Park, home to so many Joshua trees with their cactus-needled limbs raised to the sky, seemingly in prayer. If you go in the late winter and early spring, you can experience the fleeting beauty of a desert in bloom. And if that desolate splendor starts to get to you, just hightail it to nearby Pioneertown, where Pappy & Harriet’s — the friendliest bar, restaurant, and honky-tonk for many miles — presents the finest Americana performers playing the Southern California circuit. Sometimes, you have to take a break from getting away and just get it on.

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Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on KPFK/Pacifica Radio's David Feldman Show and Thom Hartmann Show and on Michael Snyder's Culture Blast, available online at and YouTube. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster