Beat the heat

Published: Friday, Dec. 1, 2006 - 4:23 pm

OK, let's face it: The past couple of weeks have shown how terribly torrid, screamingly scorching, horribly hot Sacramento can get in summer.

Even when the Delta breeze kicks in, cooling things down for a spell, it's a sure bet that, with August still ahead, there are more triple-digit days on the horizon. So let's skip the "it's a dry heat" nonsense and talk turkey about how to cool off when the mercury threatens to pop out the top of the tube.

It's a good thing that the other stereotype about Sacramento just happens to be true: Being "close to" so many cool places makes it easy to change scenery -- and climate -- without traveling far from home.

Here are our suggestions for getting out of the valley heat and into a sweatshirt this summer. Some are day trips that will have you home in time to fire up the grill; others are multiday getaways guaranteed to produce a pile of long-sleeved laundry.

A caveat: We can't begin to cover everything; the ideas presented here are tried and true personal favorites, nothing more. We invite readers to share their own "beat the heat" tips in a future issue.

Water, water everywhere

Think of houseboating, and the azure waters of Arizona's lakes Powell or Mead jump instantly to mind. Or perhaps you envision dawdling on the Delta with a fishing pole in one hand and a cold drink in the other.

But think again. The houseboating capital of the world -- the navel of the action, the genus of the genre -- is actually three hours up Interstate 5 from Sacramento. Lake Shasta -- big, blue and cool, with 360 miles of shoreline and more nooks and crannies than a person could explore in a lifetime -- is home port to more than 800 houseboats, about half of them rentals.

Shasta Lake Resorts, with three marinas around the lake, is the main rental agency. Its inventory ranges from luxury cruisers that sleep 12 and feature a rooftop hot tub to lazy lounge boats, party boats, ski boats and personal watercraft. Cruising around in the sunshine with the snowy snout of Mount Shasta poking out between forested hills is indeed a cool way to go.

For more information: www.houseboats.com/shasta or (800) 223-7950.

Family camp

When the national forests were established in the early 20th century, "camping" as recreation was a new concept. To encourage it, cities in Northern California were given grants of land on which to build family camps. Several of these old-fashioned enclaves still exist, including Camp Sacramento on Highway 50 at Twin Bridges.

Situated on the banks of the American River at a cool, 6,500 feet above sea level, Camp Sac for 75 years has provided a woodsy base for families who like to hike, splash, spike volleyballs, throw horseshoes and otherwise kick back. Managed by the Sacramento Neighborhood Services Division, the camp offers three- and five-night sessions throughout the summer, with three daily meals and scads of activities included in the rates. Three-night "minivacations," priced per person, are $161 per adult, $119 for ages 11-15, $90 for ages 6-10 and $53 for ages 2-5. Campers stay in rustic cabins and must provide their own linens.

Some sessions still have space available; for more information: (916) 277-6098 or www.cityofsacramento.org/parksandrecreation/recreation/campsac/

Go raft a river

We all know that whitewater rafting is a big industry on the American River, but how many of us actually have suited up and ridden the big rapids? Whether you tackle Class IV whitewater or float leisurely through Class I riffles, a day on the river is sure to cool you off -- and put you in high spirits, besides.

Last year saw record traffic on the American, although water levels were low. This year, the client base is down although flow conditions are ideal. Many river outfitters are discounting their trips on the Middle, North and South Forks this summer. Expect to pay around $120 for a daylong ride through wild Class IV water, less for float trips on calmer Class I and II stretches.

Many one- and two-day combinations over fast water and slow are available. Prices are lower weekdays than on weekends, and most companies offer discounted rates for kids.

Among the outfitters: Chili Bar Outdoor Center (www.cbocwhitewater.com; 800-356-2262 ); O.A.R.S. (www.oars.com or (800) 346-6277); and Whitewater Expeditions & Tours (www.wetrivertrips.com; 916-451-3241 or 888-723-8938). If you bought this year's Entertainment discount book for the Sacramento area, you'll find a two-for-one coupon with W.E.T. on page F99.

Paddle away

One of the fastest-growing sports in the country is kayaking. It's easier than canoeing and quicker to pick up -- on flat or slow-moving water, that is.

If you've never tried it, a good place to test your paddling wings is on Lake Natoma, where the California State University, Sacramento, Aquatic Center rents sit-on-top kayaks, perfect for beginners, along with sailboats and canoes. Lessons are available. For more information: (916) 985-7239 or csusaquaticcenter.com.

The next step might be to rent a kayak ($27) from American River Raft Rentals at the Sunrise Bridge in Rancho Cordova (916-635-4479; www.raftrentals.com ) and paddle the languid, six-mile run down the lower American to Goethe Park, where a shuttle will pick up the boat and return you to your car.

A suggestion for paddling in more dramatic scenery: Whiskeytown Lake, just outside Redding, is one of the loveliest bodies of water in the state, and blissfully uncrowded. H2O, at 1330 Market St. in Redding, (next door to Cheesecakes, one of the best restaurants in town) rents kayaks that you can car-top out to the Whiskey Creek area, where there are calm inlets and tiny islands to explore. Daily rate is $35 for a one-person craft or $40 for a tandem in a choice of models. For more information: (530) 241-4530 or www.h2oadventures.net.

Mountain highs

Shhh! Don't tell the world, but here's an area that's always gorgeous and never crowded, even during the height of summer. True, you may not be able to get a room at one of the half-dozen, hugely popular lakeside cabin resorts. But you can enjoy a nice dinner at several of them, rent a boat at a few and find motel accommodations in area communities. Camping also is an option.

Downieville, the quaintest of the Highway 49 Gold Rush towns, makes a picturesque base for excursions into Gold Lakes Basin, an area of granite hills and icy blue lakes in Sierra County.

Most spectacular of these chilly bodies of water is Sardine Lake, where you can rent a boat ($20 for a rowboat, $40 for a fishing boat with motor) for a day and drift about in scenery that looks like Switzerland. Sardine Lake Resort, on the water's edge, serves hearty dinners in a lakeside lodge. Nearby Packer Lake Lodge also has a good restaurant.

For regional travel information: Sierra County Chamber of Commerce, (530) 862-0623, (800) 200-4949 or www.sierracounty.org.

Wet and wild

Is there a Sacramento parent alive who hasn't done time with their kids at Waterworld in Sacramento or Golfland-Sunsplash in Roseville? The slippery slides and surging wave pools are the perfect antidote to a triple-digit heat wave. But they're not all there is.

For a change of pace, try driving an hour south to Manteca Water Slides, one of the biggest water parks on the continent with more than a mile of slides.

What makes it different? Well, for one thing, this park has a campground. That's right, pitch the tent or roll up the RV, and you and the kids can make a wet and wild weekend of it.

Manteca Water Slides and the adjacent Oakwood Lake Campground are between Stockton and Modesto on Highway 120, between Interstate 5 and Highway 99. An all-day pass to the water park is $23; kids under 42 inches are free, and spectators pay $15. Campsites are priced from $23 per night, and there's a store and a fishing lake on site.

For more information: (209) 249-2500 or www.oakwoodlake.com.

San Francisco on the cheap

Summer in San Francisco brings foggy days with temperatures in the '60s -- perfect for cooling your Tevas and taking in some of the places you've always meant to visit.

But let's face it: Summer isn't exactly a bargain-basement time for San Francisco hotels. One way to beat the high cost of a visit is to stay at the new City Center Hostel at 685 Ellis St. Hostelling International-American Youth Hostels operates the former Atherton Hotel as budget lodging for people of all ages.

Each former hotel room is outfitted with two sets of bunks (double rooms for couples also are available), and each has a private -- if tiny -- bathroom. The former lobby and bar have been converted into comfortable living rooms, and there's a communal kitchen where you can cook or eat.

The hostel also offers free weekend walking tours and a variety of guided excursions. Best of all is the price: just $22 to $24 per night for adults, half that for kids. (A tip: If you like to read in bed, bring your own light source; lighting in the rooms is limited to overhead fixtures.)

For more information: (415) 474-5721 or www.norcalhostels.org.

Jump in the lake

There's a reason Lake Tahoe is world-class vacation spot, and it doesn't take a week to learn why. Just two hours from the broiling valley heat, Tahoe boasts 72 miles of shoreline, including 15 miles of public beaches. It's a reliable 15-20 degrees cooler at this 6,200-foot altitude than at home, and bluebird days are a given all summer.

Yes, Lake Tahoe is cold -- water temperature seldom tops 70 degrees -- but it's great for a quick dip, and the surrounding scenery can't be beat. Among the best swimming beaches: Pope and Baldwin on the lake's California side and Zephyr Cove, King's Beach and Sand Harbor on the Nevada shore.

Want to make an evening of it? Pack a blanket and a beach chair hunker down with the Bard.

Shakespeare festivals are a hallmark of summer, but you'd be hard pressed to find one in a more dramatic setting than Sand Harbor. This season's Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival includes "The Taming of the Shrew" and "Twelfth Night" with performances daily except Mondays through Aug. 25. Tickets range from $20 ($12 for kids) for weekday general admission to $60 for preferred seating with pre-set chairs and wait service.

For more information: (800) 747-4697 or www.laketahoeshakespeare.com.

A cool visit to Middle Earth

Afraid of the dark? Maybe not if it promises stunning sights and cool, moist air. That's what visitors find by descending into one of the three caverns in the northern Sierra foothills: Black Chasm, Moaning Cavern and California Cavern.

Closest to Sacramento is Black Chasm Cavern (15701 Pioneer-Volcano Road, Volcano). Open just over a year, it's full of history and spectacular crystal formations spotlighted with dramatic lighting. There are huge rooms and deep lakes. A 50-minute Landmark Tour is good for families ($5 child, $10 general). The guides are knowledgable and friendly.

Adventurers in good physical condition (minimum age 18) can rappel, climb and wiggle their way into huge rooms and through tunnels on the four-hour Discovery Trip ($125). Because this advenuture, offered on Saturdays only, is strenuous and challenging, participants must have completed the rappel at Moaning Cavern and the Middle Earth Expedition at California Cavern.

At Moaning Cavern (5350 Moaning Cave Road, Vallecito), desire and 12 years of age (plus $45) are all you need to strap on a harness and rappel 165 feet down into the cavern with the help of professional guides. On the traditional 45-minute tour ($10 general, $5 child), visitors walk down into the main chamber, which is large enough to hold the Statue of Liberty.

At California Cavern, 9565 Cave City Road, Mountain Ranch, the water level determines when you can go enter.

For more information: (866) 762-2837 or www.caverntours.com.

Shivers at Bodega beaches

Jackets in July? You bet, if you are heading to the beaches north of San Francisco. There are lots of choices, but we stay clear of Stinson and its Bay Area crowds. Best bets are the expansive sands and pounding surf at Salmon Creek Beach, just north of Bodega Bay, and several other beaches to the north, including Goat Rock State Park.

Go prepared: pack a picnic, beach tent, blankets, hats, jackets, towels, change of clothes, Frisbees and boogie boards. Most of these state beaches have basic facilities, but no concessions. Note: Parking goes to the early birds.

If valley temperatures are in the triple digits, consider dinner in Bodega before heading back. We like the chowder at the walk-up counter next to the new posh Tides Restaurant. The complex also has a well-stocked deli.

Alcatraz at night

After a cool day in San Francisco, one great way to delay your return to the valley is to take the new National Park Service Alcatraz After Dark tour. Only 600 visitors are allowed on the Rock at night (compared to 4,000 in the day). You may join a guided tour to an otherwise closed area, or wander on your own. The evening tours change regularly; some recent themes have focused on survival in confinement, escapes and family quarters.

These tours are fund-raisers for the island's preservation. They are available Thursday through Sunday, departing at 6:20 p.m. and 7:05 p.m. from Pier 41 through Sept. 30. Boats back leave at 8:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Cost of the trip is $20.75 general, $18 seniors and juniors, $11.50 children.

Tip: Trips often sell out, so plan ahead. For more information: www.nps.gov/alcatraz. For tickets: (415) 705-5555 (expect a $2.25 service charge per ticket ordered by phone) or www.blueandgoldfleet.com.

Into the woods

Easy hiking in the cool shade of towering redwoods is just the ticket to relax from valley heat. A great choice is Muir Woods National Monument. This small park inside Mount Tamalpais State Park in Marin County is home to ancient redwoods. The monument's six miles of paved trails accommodate wheelchairs. However, no picnics are allowed. Also on the "no" list are bicycles, pets, horses, smoking, camping and portable radios. Admission is $2; hours are 8 a.m. to sunset.

Once you're there, stick around for dinner and Shakespeare at Stinson Beach, or enjoy other choice sights in Marin, such as Muir Beach. Stinson is a sure bet for a good seafood dinner at a diner along Highway 1. Fans of the Bard can enjoy Shakespeare at Stinson's outdoor theater. This season it's "Measure for Measure" through Aug. 18 and "Twelfth Night" Aug. 24 to Sept. 29. Showtimes are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 6 p.m. Sundays. For more information: (415) 868-1115 or www.shakespeareatstinson.org.

Where do you go?

Do you have a favorite way to beat the summer heat? If so, we'd like to know about it. Please send us your suggestions for quick getaways in Northern California, and we'll share them with readers later this season.

Send submissions to travel@sacbee.com (please put "summer getaways" in the reference field), or to Travel Section, The Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852.

Please be brief and include telephone, Web site and price information. Be sure to include your name, city of residence and a daytime phone number.

Thanks for sharing.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Janet Fullwood



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