10 Driveable Locations to Visit This Year, Part I


2008 was the year of the staycation, and 2009 doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon. This is excellent news for California residents who have everything one could want--sand and snow, mountains and deserts, plains and valleys--all within the state's confines, plus some stellar ongoing deals on local getaways. In this two-part list, we'll tempt you with 10 can't-miss spots to visit in the coming 12 months--make it your New Year's resolution to hit them all.

10. Mammoth Lakes

If Tahoe's too much of a trek, or you simply know all the runs by heart, you won't be disappointed by central California's skiing hotspot, Mammoth Mountain (located roughly equidistant from San Francisco and LA). With 3,500 acres and 150 trails, what's not to love? Plus, luxury accommodation like Tamarack Lodge will ensure you sleep in comfort. Now, that the white stuff has finally blanketed the mountains, it's time for you to get your snow bunny booty to Mammoth. What are you waiting for? (Even if skiing's not your bag, you won't want to miss the stunning views from the Panaroma Gondola.)

9. Mendocino

While all of Mendocino County is worth the exploration, the quaint seaside village of the same name is the closest thing you'll find to New England on the West Coast. With the rugged feel of California's northernmost parts, without traveling quite that far and abadoning civilization entirely, Mendocino is an idyllic community of creative souls and those drawn to its all-natural beauty. A smattering of prized B&Bs--like the famed MacCallum House, romantic Brewery Gulch Inn, or delightful Whitegate Inn--will make your stay more enjoyable than not, as will dining experiences at 955 Ukiah and Cafe Beaujolais. Still not convinced? There are 17 saloons for the less-than-4,000 local residents. That oughta whet your Mendocino appetite.

8. Avila Beach

Few Northern Californians could pinpoint this seductive Central Coast enclave on a map--if passing through, it's usually en route to Pismo Beach to the south or San Luis Obispo to the north. But if you want a warm beachy getaway without going all the way to Santa Barbara (or wish to actually be on the beach in a swimsuit unlike "summer" San Francisco days spent in the sand), Avila's the perfect option. The Sycamore Mineral Springs will afford a rejuvenating weekend away, or if you prefer to stay beachside, the newly opened and aesthetically-stunning Avila la Fonda won't disappoint.

7. Nevada City

The best thing about Gold Country is it rarely changes. The worst thing? It rarely changes. If you haven't visited the area's hub, Nevada City, in the better part of a decade, you'll find it pretty much the same. But that's no excuse for not reliving the Wild, Wild West days of yore when Jesse James reigned supreme and guns were bartered for in terms of women and booze. Sleep at downtown inn Bella Rosa after getting your honky-tonk on at any of a number of dive bars that decorate Broad Street.

6. Paso Robles

Napa Valley may be nice, but have you tried traversing CA-29 in the height of summer (or um, any time of year really)? Paso Robles (pronounced by locals as Pah-so Roh-buls), California's emerging wine region, offers the best bits of Napa, sans the crowd. It also boasts a charming town square area, along which boutique Hotel Cheval and posh eatery Artisan reside. Or you can choose to lay your head to rest at Justin Vineyards & Winery, one of the most popular venues in all of Paso, which also offers adorable suites (for those who prefer not to sip and drive) and one of the best meals you'll find in all of Central California at Deborah's Room.

Our final five escapes within driving distance...

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