East Bay residents hoping to get away during the holidays without breaking the bank are fortunate to have several options for a more affordable time off from the daily grind. With the Bay Area typically enjoying less than five inches of rain in December, there is an excellent chance travelers can reserve a camp spot, a quiet cabin or RV space much less expensive than staying in a hotel or B&B. However, the sooner holiday travel plans are made, the better chance popular locations can be booked through a local or government agency, such as the California State Park system. The following are five of the best cheap holiday escapes, all within a two hour’s drive from the East Bay.
Angel Island State Park
Tiburon, CA 94920
Angel Island isn’t nearly as famous or visited as Alcatraz Island, but this state park is just as special. The largest island in the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island was once home to a U.S. military fort, a quarantine station and later the U.S. Immigration Center, the West Coast version of New York’s Ellis Island. Today the island has the largest public dock on the bay and a number of recreational activities, including hiking, biking, tram tours and camping. Access to Angel Island can only be made via commercial ferry or private boat. Because there are only 11 environmental campsites, including an ADA site, nine numbered campsites and one kayak-accessible site, reservations must be made well in advance. For boat owners or renters, another option is to pay an overnight fee of just $30 at Ayala Cove.
21600 Big Basin Way
Boulder Creek, CA 95006
Although not widely known even by Bay Area residents, Big Basin State Park is the oldest state park in California. Located about 10 miles east of Boulder Creek on Highway 236, high up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, there are 146 family campsites in four campgrounds and more than 30 tent cabins managed privately. All campgrounds provide piped drinking water, restrooms and showers with some parking areas large enough for campers, trailers and RVs, but no RV hookups. Backcountry trail camps are closed from November 1 to April 30. One of the most popular hikes at Big Basin is the day-long Tree to Sea Trail, from the park headquarters to the Pacific coastline at Waddell Creek.
7000 Del Valle Road
Livermore, CA 94550
Located 10 miles south of Livermore and about an hour’s drive from Oakland, Del Valle Regional Park is open year round for family camping and group camping by reservation only. The park’s five-mile-long Lake Del Valle has two swimming beaches and other water activities like fishing, boating and windsurfing. The Del Valle Campground features 150 sites with 21 providing water, sewage and electrical hookups. All campsites are close to toilet and hot shower facilities, as well as the camp store. The best time to go fishing for rainbow trout and a variety of bass at Del Valle Regional Park is during the winter months.
5520 Knoxville Road
Napa, CA 94558
The largest lake in Napa County is also one of the largest freshwater lakes in California. Located off Highway 128, about an hour’s drive northeast from Napa, Lake Berryessa has several spots offering RV and tent camping and cabin rentals. Sites open for tent and RV camping during the winter months are Chaparral Cove Resort (Putah Creek), Lupine Shores Resort and all three sites at Markley Cove Marina. Steel Canyon and Spanish Flat at Markley Cove require a minimum two-night stay on weekends.
Sunset State Beach
201 Sunset Beach Road
Watsonville, CA 95076
Although most state beaches in Santa Cruz Country are more popular and closer to local attractions, Sunset State Beach tends to be far less crowded and much more relaxing. Located off a rural road surrounded by agricultural fields whose long entranceway is graced by pine trees, Sunset (as the locals like to call it) is 16 miles south of Santa Cruz and a few miles southwest of the farming community of Watsonville off San Andreas Road. The secluded state beach has 85 sites, including 64 standard campsites, 11 tent-only sites and nine for RVs or trailers only. Additionally, the state beach features ADA access, hiking trails, a picnic area, showers and restrooms, fire rings and a quiet, seemingly private 1.5-mile-long beach, with gorgeous views of the Monterey Bay. Another excellent choice for camping is the KOA Campgrounds, also on San Andreas Road, just a few miles north of Sunset.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.