Whether you’re looking for outdoor fun, sparkling holiday festivities or gastronomic delights, winter is a wonderful time to visit one of the many beautiful regions near San Francisco. Sonoma County In February and March, the rolling green hills of Sonoma come alive with a bright yellow carpet of wild mustard blooms; the best places to catch the mesmerizing displays include Alexander Valley in Northern Sonoma County and on Guerneville Road along the Russian River. It’s also the prime season to feast on Dungeness crab freshly caught in Bodega Bay and served piping hot at a variety of the area’s acclaimed restaurants. January through May is also whale-watching season in Sonoma County; see the fascinating giants as they migrate south to Baja California from the Ocean Overlook at Bodega Head. Napa Valley Winter in Napa Valley not only means less crowds, great deals and easier restaurant reservations but it’s also Cabernet Season®—the perfect time to enjoy locally sourced meals paired with the region’s bold Cabernet Sauvignon. The slower pace of the season also means more intimate behind-the-scenes vineyard tours led by the winemakers. Plan your trip around the Napa B&B Holiday Tour & Taste to sample wines at some of the area’s most picturesque inns dressed in their holiday best. And a stop at Oxbow Public Market, to pick up treats and artisan foodstuffs for loved ones at home (and yourself), is a must. Monterey County Plenty of sunshine and temps that rarely dip below 45 degrees make Monterey the perfect place for a wintertime hike. Check out spectacular sights of the Carmel coastline and Pebble Beach at Point Lobos State Reserve. Then warm up with a craft beer at one of the area’s eateries, like the Portola Hotel & Spa. Or enhance your itinerary with a festive event, such as Christmas in the Adobes in early December, a tour of 19th century adobes festooned with holiday splendor, and First Night Monterey, a fun-for-all-ages New Year’s Eve bash. Planning a spring trip? Check out the Annual Jazz Bash by the Bay. Tuolumne County Tuolumne County’s historic role in the California Gold Rush isn’t its only claim to fame. This area hosts a wide variety of holiday events that bring visitors back every year. The annual Sonora Christmas Festival takes place over Thanksgiving weekend. Holiday shoppers can choose one-of-a-kind gifts from more than 150 local artists. Music, carolers, baked goods and home-style cooking turn this craft fair into an all-day excursion. Sonora’s Downtown Christmas Parade is a can’t-miss tradition, taking place on Friday, Nov. 24. From floats to antique cars, there is something for everyone. Dancers and marching bands keep the mood lively, and local merchants open their shops to serve hot apple cider. Lake Tahoe Lake Tahoe is lauded for its world-class skiing for all levels, stunning winter landscapes and to-die-for annual snowfall totals. Beginners flock to Squaw Valley’s six peaks and 4,000 skiable acres, where 70 percent of the slopes are geared toward beginner and intermediate powder hounds, while Sierra-at-Tahoe’s off-piste double-black-diamond Huckleberry Bowl is a must for challenge seekers. For off-the-slopes entertainment, book a dogsledding tour with Wilderness Adventures through the Squaw Valley’s frosty meadows and peaceful woodlands. San Jose If you’re looking for a dose of holiday cheer, San Jose is full of happenings from late November through early January. Check out the classic rides at Winter Wonderland (giant Ferris wheel included), family-oriented activities at Christmas in the Park and ice skating under the palms at Downtown Ice. Or if you’re a links lover, melt away your cold-weather blues at Cinnabar Hills Golf Club, set in the bucolic hills overlooking verdant Coyote Valley. Santa Cruz Santa Cruz, the quintessential California beach town, may be packed in summer, but it’s just as lovely to visit in winter when the crowds die down. Take advantage of the quieter season at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, when wetter weather facilitates the growth of brilliant green mosses that heighten the grandeur of the area’s famous towering ancient trees (some are as tall as the Statue of Liberty). Climb aboard the nearby Roaring Camp’s steam train to the summit of Bear Mountain, where you can sip cider and stroll amid charmingly decorated trees. Don’t miss the Shockwave and Typhoon, two new dizzying rides on the historic boardwalk; and slumber at the Pajaro Dunes Resort to have the stunning California coastline at your doorstep.
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