SAN JOSE, Calif. — Yearning to get out there and explore, but not go too far? That’s what a great day trip is all about. And we’ve got three suggestions, from a Victorian seaside town — with epic gin fizzes! — to a coastal redwoods hike and an olive oil and lavender expedition.
Explore Tiburon’s fizzy seaside
Stroll the past: This cozy Main Street dates back to the late 19th century, when Point Tiburon was a bustling railroad town — yes, really — and a major ferry terminus. Today, of course, chic boutiques line the road, the ferry goes to Angel Island and a century-old seaside cafe caters to the brunch and gin fizz crowd.
Back in 1867, the Pacific Mail Steamship Company’s PS China — a side-wheeler outfitted with sails — plied the waters between the San Francisco Bay and Asia, and trains began rumbling through town in 1884.
You can still see traces of that Victorian past. A 2.5-mile multi-use path traces the old Rail Trail from Blackie’s Pasture, named for a cavalry horse who lived out his golden years here, to the historical Donohue Depot. The latter’s now the Railroad and Ferry Depot Museum — still shuttered, due to the pandemic, but you can take a virtual tour of the museum and of the PS China’s swanky saloon at http://landmarkssociety.com.
Shop Ark Row: This historic stretch is named for the houseboats — arks — moored here in the 1890s by seafarers, artists and summer residents. No. 104, for example, is about 90 percent original ark. And No. 116 is a double ark, one sits atop another. Today, they house shops and offices, instead of Bohemians and sea captains. But there are some fun boutiques to browse here, including Nicholas Davoren and Evelyn Wood’s Local Spicery, a tea and spice shop at 80 Main St.
Sip a fizz: Only a quarter of Tiburon’s century-old Sam’s Anchor Cafe sits on land. The rest is perched over the lapping waves. Its colorful owner, Sam Vella, opened his cafe in a tent on the beach in 1920, before moving into the current digs. A graceful remodel in 2019 has left it looking better than ever — and that deck is the place to be on a sunny weekend, preferably with a chilly Famous Ramos Fizz ($14) in hand. Sam’s is open daily at 27 Main St.; https://samscafe.com.
Ramble through Aptos’ colossal coastal redwoods
Hike the glades: Sate your wilderness yearnings at Aptos’ spectacular Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. The craggy, deeply forested expanse of second- and third-growth redwood forest runs from the coast to the mountains, offering a haven for hiking, biking and picnicking. Nisene Marks’ children donated this land — nearly 10,000 acres — to the state in 1963 to honor their wilderness-loving mother. It’s a gift appreciated by every Northern California hiker or nature lover who has roamed the park or picnicked along Aptos Creek.
This State Park is open daily from sunrise to sunset at 564 Aptos Creek Road. ($8 day-use fee per car. Find park and trail information at www.parks.ca.gov.)
Pick up provisions: Pick up tasty picnic fare at Aptos’ Palm Deli before that hike — a Bird of Paradise sammie ($13), perhaps, with roast turkey, bacon and avocado tucked into sourdough, or a California Dreamin’ ($8.50) with hummus, cucumber and avocado. (Psst, they’re also known for their breakfast burritos — five kinds, all made with eggs from Aptos’ Glaum Egg Ranch.)
The deli is open daily from 7 a.m. at 3000 Valencia Ave. Peek at the menu and order online at www.thepalmdeli.com.
Stroll the sandy strands: Forests are fab, but so is the shore — and the Palm Deli lies just two miles from several stellar beaches, including the long, wide strand at Rio Del Mar (pups welcome on leash) and Seacliff State Beach. You might need to pack two picnics so you can stay all day.
Discover Capay Valley’s gastronomic side
Seek Seka Hills: The Capay Valley is an agricultural gem, all rolling hills, verdant orchards and farms and picturesque valleys. If you cut over to Highway 505 from 80, you’ll roll through the charming town of Winters and then wind your way through winding roads and tiny towns — Esparto, Capay and Brooks, home of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation’s olive groves and Seka Hills Olive Mill and tasting room. (The olive mill is about a mile from the tribe’s Cache Creek Casino Resort, in case slots and blackjack are more your thing. That olive oil is a sure bet, though.)
The Seka Hills olive oil tasting room is in Brooks, a tiny town in Capay Valley.
In prepandemic times, you could tour the 14,000-square foot olive mill facility. Now, it’s open for seated tastings of Seka Hills’ wines and samples of the mill’s various olive oil varieties, from arbequina to taggiasca and frantoio. There’s a tempting array of bites available, too, including a Nisqually smoked salmon sandwich ($13) with herby cream cheese and lemon pesto aioli on ciabatta.
The tasting room is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday at 19326 County Road 78 in Brooks; www.sekahills.com.
Celebrate the lavender harvest: Cache Creek Lavender farm’s annual Lavender Festival, which took a break last year, returns June 12-13 for a weekend of fragrant celebration. Harvest your own lavender, taste wine, hear live music and enjoy lavender ice cream and lemonade. The fun runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 3430 Madrone St. in Rumsey; www.cachecreeklavender.com.
Stop for road trip noshes: What better place for a roadside bite than the retro Road Trip Bar & Grill, perched on a highway corner in all its vintage glory. This casual eatery offers outdoor seating, cold beer and all-American fare, from the Spare Tire Burger ($12) to a classic Cobb Salad ($15). Open Thursday-Sunday at 24989 Highway 16; www.roadtripbg.com.