Take the ultimate California challenge: surf and ski in the same day. This rollicking trip starts up in the laid-back coastal towns north of San Francisco, then journeys across the Central Valley to the snowy Sierra—and night-skiing at legendary Squaw Valley USA. Go for it.
Trip length: 1 day
Bolinas. With its consistently friendly break, this surf beach fronting this funky, ultra-relaxed town is one of the best places on the Northern California coast to carve your first wave. For lessons, try Bolinas Surf , offering instruction for everyone, even kids. All gear included, especially wetsuits—waters along the NorCal coast are downright cold year-round. Warm up with huevos rancheros or a stack of pancakes at Coast Café . INFO Marin County Convention and Visitors Bureau .
Stinson Beach (6 mi, 10 km; 13 minutes). If you’re an experience surfer looking to kick it up a notch, head south to this stretch of state parkland for bigger waves. Stop in at Live Water Surf Shop to get the latest conditions and sweet spots, or just hang out and get the sandy-blond vibe here—plenty of cool surf and skateboard gear and clothing too. Hit the coffee cart outside Stinson Beach Market for some Joe, then start your drive east across the Central Valley toward snow country. INFO Marin County Convention and Visitors Bureau .
Vacaville (70 mi, 112 km; 1 hr 25 min). If you’ve got kids in the car, don’t bother fighting them on this one. Nut Tree Family Park is a mini-carnival for the small set, with a carousel, pint-size railway, and other fun stuff. If you don’t mind jacking up the sugar content for the rest of the ride, stop by Fenton’s Creamery for awesome sundaes, or the Jelly Belly story for gotta-be-kidding flavored jelly beans--popcorn? Mojito? INFO Vacaville Conference & Visitors Bureau
Davis (21 mi, 33 km; 25 min). On a wacky road trip like this it seems right to mingle with college kids. The handsome campus of UC Davis has plenty of places to hang out and relax. Try the inviting, tree-shaded Quad—there’s usually a Frisbee game going on somewhere on this patch of green. In town, stop by Ciocolat Extraordinary Desserts for a double espresso and a truffle or two. INFO Yolo County Visitors Bureau .
Auburn (47 mi, 76 km; 51 min). Feeling like some fuel and a leg stretch? This Sierra foothill town has classic Gold Rush architecture; the dome-topped 1898 Placer County Courthouse has been a backdrop in the 1996 movie, Phenomenon, starring John Travolta. For grub to go, head to Ikeda’s . This roadside shop has been the go-to pit stop for the Bay Area's snow-seekers for over three decades. Load up on fresh veggies, peach salsa, and still-warm homemade pies, like blackberry and strawberry-rhubarb. You can order burgers, but we suggest heading up the road for those. INFO Gold Country Visitors Bureau.
Colfax (17 mi; 27 km; 21 mins). It may be wedged in a strip mall, but Colfax Max has plenty of local cred. If you’re hankering for an honest and affordable Angus beef burger, curly fries, and super-thick milkshake, slide into a silvery booth at this Gold Country favorite just off I-80. INFO Gold Country Visitors Bureau .
Soda Springs (31 mi; 65 km; 48 mins). Get your first taste of snow country at this humble little hill, site of many a California kid’s first shaky attempt at skiing. With thankfully low ticket prices, it’s a painless way to debut on skis—as least for your wallet. We can’t vouch for your body. Little ones love the age 8-and-under Planet Kids area, with stuff to climb, sledding, and other snow fun, plus there’s grown-up tubing too. Open 10 to 4 Thur – Mon. INFO Soda Springs .
Squaw Valley (22 mi, 35 km; 28 mins). You made it. Get out the ski gear (or pick up rentals at assorted ski shops in the luxurious village at the base of the mountain and hit the slopes—after dark. Cruise down 3.2 miles of intermediate terrain lit with floodlights, with plenty of terrain park features if the thrill of skiing at night isn’t enough for you. Dress warmly (and warm up with an Irish coffee back in the village when you’re done). INFO Squaw Valley USA .
Truckee (11 mi, 17 km; 18 mins). You can stay at Squaw Valley (The Resort at Squaw Creek and Plumpjack Squaw Valley Inn vie for fabulousness), or head back to this former rail town, now filled with fun bars, shops, and restaurants—and plenty of places to crash. Reward yourselves at Pianeta , with a cozy wine cellar vibe and serving some of the finest food in the Sierra, Drunken Monkey Sushi has jazzy sushi combos and a sexy décor. Bedtime? Consider eco-friendly Cedar House Sport Hotel .