Under the radar family destinations

1. Willits/Fort Bragg:
What better way to spend 4th of July than to experience the Willits Rodeo and carnival, then take the Skunk Train to Fort Bragg, Mendocino's most interesting natural gem?

Sure Fort Bragg feels like a hideout for Vietnam renegades, but explore a bit and you'll find pygmy redwood forests, a beach littered with sea glass, a brewery with plenty of room for kids to chase each other and an oceanfront botanical garden that will inspire budding artists.

Accomodations:

Willits:

Baechtel Creek Resort and Spa: Low key and packed with families, this historic hotel saves the precious rooms for grown ups, but has simple digs for kiddos. The pool and hot tub allow for a break from the summer heat.

Emandal Organic Farm: There are 19 redwood cabins on the oak and fir clad hills. Each cabin is furnished with beds (along with bed and bath linens), ceiling fans, cold spring water and electricity. A hammock is generally found adjacent or nearby. All the fruits and vegetables served in their dining room are grown on the farm, as are the meat and eggs.
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Fort Bragg:

Beachcomber Motel: This beachfront motel is perfect for a reasonably priced beach vacation. Families play on the sand, then spend the evenings eating BBQ salmon and playing games at the picnic tables.
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2. Shasta Cascade:
While the masses head to Tahoe and Yosemite, you can motor up I-5 and explore some of California's most beautiful (and undiscovered) green spaces. There are pounding waterfalls, swimming holes, granite crags, hiking trails, and even family summer camp-like hideouts in the western Trinity Alps. Kids love the bike trails, swimming lakes, and the lumberjack breakfasts.

Accommodations:

Stewart Mineral Springs: It combines the allure of hot springs with a summer camp like quality. They have a sweat lodge and a variety of accommodations.
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Railroad Park Resort: Sleep in a train-car in the shadows of Castle Crags State Park. Not the plushest digs, but you don't come here for luxe linens.
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Trinity Mountain Meadow Resort: Hidden in the Trinity Alps, this all-inclusive family resort lures folks wanting to escape it all. Family activities rule the days (hikes, volleyball, swimming), while kid-themed recreational activities are planned in the evenings so parents can dine sans whining.
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3. Sierra Foothills: So Gold Country might sound dusty and frankly a bit dull compared to the grander opportunities in Northern California, but once you arrive in the small and progressive towns of Murphys, Nevada City, and Twain Harte the Motherlode never looked so darn precious.

Kids frolic in swimming holes, ride bikes at wineries, hike, zip line, horseback ride, and are welcome at nearly every single restaurant for miles. Plus there is some allure in panning for gold--allowance money goes a long way.

Accommodations:

Murphys: We always rent a house or cottage through a local rental agency. It makes us feel like we live in the foothills.

Twain Harte: You can get a cabin or room at Pinecrest Lake Resort (or camp nearby). Though B&Bs are often not the best places for kids, we have stayed at McCaffrey House and found them very friendly towards kids.
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Nevada City: The Sierra Hot Springs Resort may be a little too peace and love for some folks, but if you don't mind your kid seeing naked folks, their natural setting is quite lovely.

Or in town the Outside Inn is a good family friendly option. With themed rooms and a short walk to town, it makes good home base for mountain bikers, hikers, and folks aiming to jump in the swimming holes.
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4. Half Moon Bay: Pitch a tent at Costanoa, or stay in one of their "glamping" tents--with heaters and down comforters draped on the comfy beds--so you can explore the San Mateo coast.

Hike to view elephant seals, explore the tidepools at the Fitzgerald Marine Preserve, learn to surf in the shadows of Mavericks, and play in Lemus Farms.

Who says you have to have a full gas tank to enjoy a getaway?

About Michele Bigley:

Michele Bigley comes from a long line of intrepid travelers. Her itchy feet started young -- by the time she was 10, she had been to every state in the U.S. By the time she was 30, she had visited more than 30 countries. She turned her wanderlust into a career when she got pregnant with her son Kai, wanting an excuse to keep traveling and writing.

She is the author of Northern California: An Explorer's Guide (Countryman Press, 2009) and Great Destinations Kauai (Countryman Press, 2008).

She authors the iPhone/iPad travel apps Family Friendly San Francisco and Napa and Sonoma With Kids. She is the Nor Cal expert for Triporati

Her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Away.com, Examiner.com , Islands, Tripvine.com, Moxie, Girls Life, and more.

When she and her family are not on the road, they nest in San Francisco with their fat cat.

Visit her website at www.michelebigley.com

>> Buy this book on Amazon: Northern California: An Explorer's Guide (Explorer's Guides)

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