Travel & recreation: Get out!

Nearby getaways and vacation spots on the cheap (mostly)

The author and Weird, a cattle dog, enjoy the Olmstead Loop trail in Cool, which is six miles east of Auburn.

The author and Weird, a cattle dog, enjoy the Olmstead Loop trail in Cool, which is six miles east of Auburn.

Photo By CHRIS miller

When Highway 193 hits Main Street about 20 miles outside of Placerville and Auburn, you’re in Georgetown, a sleepy abode with a strip of stores and shops, a got-it-all quick-stop market, Mexican restaurant, B&B and big ol’ cemetery. Coming in from Sacramento, Georgetown’s a reasonable place to load up on water before hikes or to swish down a cold one afterward. Main Street turns into Wentworth Springs Road, but before there’s a block or two of shops, bars and restaurants. There also are many 19th-century historic homes that somehow have survived the numerous fires throughout the years, so if that’s your bag, check ’em out.

Don’t blink or you’ll miss Cool, which offers great hiking but by no means lives up to its name. OK, so there’s a Valero gas station, which has cheaper gas than in the grid—that’s kinda rad. And at the town market (can’t remember its name), a local was yelling at the owner because he’s carrying too much stock, so that can’t be so bad if you’re stranded—and being stranded without food isn’t cool. There’s a pet supply store (pets are cool); the requisite watering hole, complete with toothless patrons (cool!); a goodies store that sells more model horses than you’ve ever seen (uhh … ); and Cher’s Hair Salon, where a woman held her young baby while being coifed (dangerous?). What’s really cool is that all the good hiking in Cool can be accessed by parking in the gravel lot behind the Cool fire station, so all you really need to know is how to get there (it’s only 6 miles out of Auburn on Highway 49). So you pretty much never have to actually go to Cool at all to hike in Cool, which is cool.

Heavenly Flyer
For those who simply cannot vacation without hanging on for dear life to something high above ground, South Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Mountain Resort installed a zipline this past winter. Take in spectacular views of the deep blue lake while flying 50 mph down a 500-foot elevation drop for a total of 3,300 feet, which makes the Heavenly Flyer the longest zipline in the United States. To get to its launching pad, you must ride a gondola and then the Tamarack Express chairlift. So it’s three rides in one! Tell the little ones you’re at a theme park—the cheapest one ever! Heavenly Flyer at Heavenly Mountain Resort, South Lake Tahoe; (755) 586-7000; The zipline opens for summer service 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily beginning June 13. Tickets are $20-$30 for the first ride and multi-ride passes are available.

The small “town” of Quintette isn’t really a town at all, but instead a mile-long stretch of Wentworth Springs Road that includes the well-known University Falls’ trailhead. Parking’s rough near the big yellow gate that signals the trailhead, so work on your parallel skills beforehand and get there early. After the Falls hike, there’s a roadside dive bar/restaurant called Joker’s Roadhouse, advertising tri-tip, chicken and cold beer, that could be the perfect remedy to the Falls’ 6-mile sojourn.

Lake Tahoe
Sure, you could blow tens of thousands of dollars for another boring summer vacation in Belize, Kauai or Costa Rica, but considering the price of gas and airline tickets and travel essentials, like an antique four-piece early Victorian and William IV sterling silver tea set, it’s not like you’re going anywhere too far this summer. Fortunately, the inaugural TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Destination Awards just named the coupla-hours-away Lake Tahoe the No. 1 travel destination in the United States, and No. 25 in the world. Besides too many things to list here that you can do outdoors for nothing more than the cost of gas to get there and parking (OK, that can be a lot), a whole bunch of events—from music and Shakespeare festivals to fireworks shows and celebrity golf tournaments—are scheduled this summer.

Contact the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority for a full list of activities at (800) 288-2463, or visit

The infamous canal near the Wester States trail in Auburn. This is not a short-cut.

Photo By Nick Miller

There’s no hiking in Auburn downtown, unless you consider leisurely strolls through downtown on par with backcountry trekking. But about 3 miles out of town, you can access a trail that gives view to Knickerbocker Falls, but only during the spring. This hike also is near the defunct Auburn Dam site, which is fun to visit, though we don’t recommend hiking down the side of the canal (see “Walking the cradle,” page 81). Nothing’s particularly cheap in Auburn, but there’s a quaint nightlife, some restaurants and even some wineries, like Mt. Vernon, where you likely can score a glass or two for quaffing.

Rivers Edge Kayak & Canoe Trips
You can get on the Sacramento light rail with your fold-up kayak or canoe and take a short trip to a Folsom stop that will deposit you practically on water’s edge for a day of paddling and rapids riding. But if you just can’t take looking at this Valley but still want to indulge your river-floating side, why not head to the wine country for a change of venue? Healdsburg-based Rivers Edge Kayak & Canoe Trips offers reasonably priced trips that can combine swimming, fishing, picnicking, camping and gawking at an abundance of wildlife, if that’s what you are into. Half-day, full-day and two-day floats are available. Find a cheap place to stay or pitch a tent, toss in a day or three of wine tasting and maybe a day on the way home pretending you’re a Baghdad by the Bay tourista (don’t forget the Bermuda shorts, black socks and white tennies), and you can stretch this into a full week of activities only a couple hours away.

River’s Edge Kayak & Canoe Trips “At the Bridge,” 13840 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg; (707) 433-7247; Check the Web site for the package that floats your boat; they generally range from $15 hourly to rent a canoe or kayak to $160 per person for an all-inclusive, two-day float-and-camp trip.

Venture north, chillins, to the most populous city in Butte County, the cultural, economic and educational center of the northern Sacramento Valley and town nicknamed the “City of Roses.” (Screw you, Pasadena!) We prefer to call it the “City Not to Be Confused With Chico of Chico and the Man.” Oh, how we love Chico, so much so that we put a News & Review there. Or is it the other way around? Can’t remember, as we were shrooming big time back then. Anyhoots, despite summer temps above the 100-degree mark (100-degree temperatures? In the summer? Who woulda thunk it?), Chico has that bitchin’ downtown and bitchin’ campus and ultra-bitchin’ Bidwell Park. The 3,681-acre resource is one of the best places to cool off in that part of the state, with lots of shady wilderness areas, a freshwater swimming pool and creekside hiking. Or follow the Comanche Trail at Mendocino National Forest’s Genetic Resource and Conservation Center, which sits amid varieties of stately trees and a fast-flowing creek. Or head Oroville way to Feather Falls, the sixth highest waterfall in the United States, and Table Mountain, an ideal spot for summer picnics and general lounging. You know who loves lounging? Chico. No, the other Chico.

We could point you to a visitor’s bureau or park ranger’s office or prison warden, but why not cut to the chase and get all the relevant details from the Chico News & Review Visitor Guide at

San Francisco
If it were not for the fact that it’s really flippin’ expensive, this is a really inexpensive nearby summer travel destination. Sure, you can bike to there—if you’re Lance Armstrong. It’s a tossup whether the train (to BART to the Muni) is more economical than driving once you factor in the cost of parking, parking tickets and hiring a thug to remove the homeless person sleeping in your car. Then there is the cost of food and lodging and subsidizing the pot acquisition of those kids crashed out on Haight and … why did we include San Francisco on this list again? Oh yeah: It is a scientific fact that the hotter it gets in Sacramento, the colder it gets in ol’ Frisco. They call this the “Mark Twain effect.” By the way, next time someone in that fair city recites Twain’s “The coldest winter I ever saw” line, we’re yanking out their bleached dreadlocks, one at a time.

For more information, contact the Electric Kool-Aid Rainbow Flag Free Tibet 4-20 Visitor Bureau and P.C. Chakra Dispensary: (415) 974-6900 or