Parks & Recreation: Revel in Northern California’s Great Outdoors

DestinationsHealth & Wellness

redwoods2Path in the redwoods

John Muir was a lifelong observer of the natural world. His love of science and geology took him from the shores of Scotland to the Sierra Nevada, finally settling in the Bay Area in 1868. Muir saw Northern California as an abundance of terrain waiting to be explored.

Striking cliff domes of Yosemite, blooming wildflowers along the trails of Diablo Valley and majestic redwood trees still decorate the landscape, thanks to the Father of the National Park Service.

Following Muir’s footsteps, the next generation of nature enthusiasts is invited to discover evergreen wonders and outdoor attractions in the Bay Area and beyond. A multitude of team-building activities take advantage of the coastal location, sunshine and temperate climate, often warmest during September.

Napa Valley and Sonoma County beckon wine connoisseurs to taste the fruits of never-ending vineyards. The East Bay is a warm reprieve from the rolling fog, with a trendy dining scene and urban vibe. Silicon Valley is the capital of tech innovation, while San Francisco beckons visitors to photograph the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

“All of these views—of the ocean, the bay, the parks, the hills—help inspire San Francisco to embrace green, sustainable practices so the environment continues to be beautiful for future generations,” says Kathryn Horton, vice president of convention services and events for San Francisco Travel.

San Francisco

sft_alcatrazAlcatraz Island, San Francisco

The City by the Bay is a photogenic gem that never fails to charm visitors with its natural beauty and colorful architecture. Tall buildings in the Financial District overlook the Port of San Francisco, while steep hills and high peaks offer spectacular vistas of the 49-square-mile cityscape. The heart of the Bay Area is drawing record numbers of tourists—welcoming 24.6 million in 2015—and remains popular for meetings and conventions.

“When meeting time is over, attendees can enjoy dining or bay cruises to see the skyline from the water; bicycling through the Presidio and over the Golden Gate Bridge; or city tours through Golden Gate Park and along Ocean Beach,” Horton says.

To experience the city sights and sounds, schedule a San Francisco City Insider’s Tour with Extranomical. The sightseeing company leads unique adventures for smaller groups, with stops at the Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, Twin Peaks and Union Square.

Alcatraz Island is a must-visit attraction since the world-famous penitentiary bolted its prison doors for good in 1963. The correctional facility once housed notorious criminals, including Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (“the Birdman of Alcatraz”) and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. The site of several escape attempts and prison riots comes alive with audio tours narrated by actual inmates and correctional officers who lived on the island.

Guided tours for large groups must be booked in advance, and the building can be used for special events. Hornblower Cruises and Events operates an eco-friendly ferry that docks at Alcatraz. The cruise and event company also offers fine dining, dancing and entertainment on yachts that sail around the bay. Private events and team-building groups are welcome aboard.

presidio-office-club-2Presidio Officers Club, San Francisco

In a city that’s constantly reinventing itself, there are still a few places where groups can relive Old San Francisco. The Presidio is a former Spanish fort and military base that offers 24 miles of hiking trails and 15 miles of bikeways within the national park site. Free to the public, Presidio Officers’ Club is a testament to California’s statehood, with special exhibits and events. The historic venue has two ballrooms and a courtyard for meetings and receptions. Nearby Golden Gate Park is a rectangular expanse of urban green space across 1,017 acres. Art and nature are celebrated at the De Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences and Conservatory of Flowers.

Oakland

Jack-London-Square-waterfront-shot-photo-credit-Keith-Braunies[1]Jack London Square, Oakland (Photo by Keith Braunies)

The hip sister across the bay, Oakland is a destination in its own right. The culturally diverse, industrial-chic city is one of the most vibrant, trendsetting places in the country. Oakland welcomes an average of 260 days of sunshine a year, earning it the nickname “Sunny Side of the Bay.” From historic Jack London Square to beautiful Lake Merritt, groups can explore the urban outdoors on foot, bike, ferry and public transit.

“Our waterfront along the Oakland Estuary is an amazing place to gather and meet with your meeting attendees,” says Frances Wong, public relations and community relations manager for Visit Oakland. “There are so many restaurants along Jack London Square, and those looking for a little downtime away from city life can stay within Oakland and visit one of many parks within the East Bay Regional Parks.”

Dining, retail and recreation come together at Jack London Square, named after the 19th-century American novelist. The mixed-use waterfront area along the Oakland Estuary is also a jumping off point for nautical-themed activities. California Canoe & Kayak offers guided tours and standup paddle board classes for groups. The Port of Oakland is where Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidential yacht, USS Potomac, is moored. The restored 165-foot vessel can host up to 100 guests for private cruises around the bay.

Oakland is aiming to be the next wine haven with its Urban Wine Trail. Ten different wineries within a 10-mile radius have taken residence in downtown’s vacant warehouses, where blends are barreled, bottled and ready to taste. Visit Oakland has installed street decals demarcating wineries such as Periscope Cellars in Old Oakland, Two Mile Wines in Uptown and Rosenblum in Jack London Square.

San Jose

lick-observatoryLick Observatory, San Jose

The largest city in the Bay Area is where innovation and ingenuity reverberate across the rest of the world. But there is more to San Jose than futuristic inventions and high-tech products. Nestled between the South Bay and Santa Cruz Mountains, the self-proclaimed capital of Silicon Valley boasts its fair share of the outdoors.

“San Jose is perfect for adventure-lovers of all interests,” says Kyle Schatzel, communications manager at Team San Jose. “With over 190 parks and gardens, San Jose has one of the nation’s largest urban trail networks, with 57 miles of developed trails open to the public. Just 30 minutes beyond downtown, feel liberated among shimmering poppies, magnificent redwood groves and breathtaking views.”

Groups can reach for the stars at Lick Observatory, a University of California research facility located on the outskirts of the city. Perched atop Mount Hamilton, the tallest point at 4,209 feet, stargazers can glimpse faraway celestial bodies through two giant telescopes during public viewing events, which draw around 35,000 visitors each year. The observatory hosts popular lectures and concert series, and is available for private events and group tours.

winchester-mystery-houseWinchester Mystery House, San Jose

Otherworldly takes on a different meaning at Winchester Mystery House. The Victorian mansion is known for its architectural oddities and reported paranormal activity. Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, continuously constructed haphazard additions until her death in 1922.

Now a tourist attraction, groups can tour doors and stairs that lead to nowhere, among other curious details. Winchester Mystery House can be used for scavenger hunts and events in the gardens, greenhouse, barn and dining room.

mountain-wineryThe Mountain Winery, Saratoga

In nearby Saratoga, The Mountain Winery is a quintessential Bay Area venue amid landscaped gardens and redwood groves. The stonemasonry estate was purchased in 1901 by French viticulturist Paul Masson, who popularized California sparkling wine. The stunning venue provides an Old World ambience for meetings, events and team building, from grape stomping to wine tasting.

Diablo Valley

It’s advisable to bring a pair of hiking boots when visiting Diablo Valley. The Diablo Range in Contra Costa County rises up like double pyramids in the distance, looming over the Bay Area and Central Valley. Low-lying hills and flat valleys surrounding Mount Diablo’s 3,849-foot summit provide miles of leisurely trails, as well as the perfect backdrop for pre- or post-meeting excursions.

“With accommodating facilities in a natural setting offering a sunny, temperate climate and convenient access to the best of the Bay Area, Diablo Valley offers planners a convenient, affordable home base for their clients’ next meeting, event or adventure,” says Jack Hlavac, president of Diablo Valley Tourism Business Improvement District.

John Muir was so taken with Diablo Valley’s dramatic landscape that he made his family home in the Alhambra Valley, now a preserved landmark open to the public. John Muir National Historic Site in the city of Martinez includes the Italianate Victorian mansion and a 9-acre park where some of his fruit orchards still flourish. Free tours and guided hikes are offered through the National Park Service.

Concord Pavilion is one of the largest outdoor music venues in the Bay Area and regularly attracts headliners such as Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Van Halen and Earth, Wind & Fire. The pavilion is also used for community events and festivals, and features a large stage, pit area, lawn and seating capacity of 12,500. The venue can be rented out for large events.

From the late 1800s to early 1900s, Diablo Valley was the largest coal producer in the state. Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, a 6,000-acre park located north of Mount Diablo, is the site of 12 mines that churned out more than 4 million tons of coal during their operation.

Hazel Atlas Mine is one of the mines to reopen access to the public. It once produced silica sand to make glass jars and bottles by Oakland’s Hazel-Atlas Glass Co. Underground tours of the 950-foot tunnel provide an up-close look at ore chutes, mine workings, old artifacts and interesting geological features.

Santa Rosa

Luther_Burbank_Home_and_GardensLuther Burbank Home & Gardens, Santa Rosa

A gateway to the wineries of Sonoma and Napa, Santa Rosa is the urban center of wine country and surrounding farmland. Locals head to the Russian River Valley to swim, fish and canoe the wide waterway that empties into the Pacific Ocean. Nature trails meander through forest preserves of ancient redwood trees that stand as tall as 350 feet.

“This is the chosen spot of all the Earth, as far as nature is concerned,” Luther Burbank once wrote about the beauty of Santa Rosa. The 19th-century horticulturist conducted plant-breeding experiments and developed hybrid varieties in the city’s fertile grounds. Group tours of Luther Burbank Home & Gardens are offered throughout the year, and private events for up to 100 can be held in the gardens and courtyard.

Santa Rosa is a world-class cycling destination and home to three-time Amgen Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer. The Tour de France-style road race spun through the city in May, attracting top professional cycling teams to compete on rugged courses. Outfitter Bicycle Tours, the official operator of the elite Levi’s Gran Fondo race, can take groups of up to 18 on routes along the coast and through the vineyards.

Afterward, indulge in a safari adventure at Safari West, which brings the African savannah to Northern California. During the day, groups can encounter 900 exotic animals including giraffes, gazelles, zebras, cheetahs and rhinos on the 400-acre wildlife habitat.

At night, luxury tents and rustic trappings provide the ultimate glamping experience, complete with plush beds and private bathrooms. Safari West has meeting space for up to 95 guests.

“From briefings in barns to retreats with rhinos, there are team-building activities galore,” says Charlene Lennon, director of sales for Visit Santa Rosa. “Conduct business in downtown Santa Rosa; then break out to the vineyards, coast or redwoods.”

As accessible as it is beautiful, Santa Rosa is serviced by Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport (STS), named after the famous Snoopy cartoonist who once resided in the city. Nonstop daily service is now extended to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Santa Ana, California.

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) will expand ground transportation via a 70-mile corridor with three train stops in Santa Rosa, including the regional airport. The first phase will be completed by the end of the year.

Sacramento

Moaning-Cavern-Rappel3_SerenaDeiningerMoaning Cavern Adventure Park, Vallecito

Where the American and Sacramento rivers meet, Sacramento is the shining star of California. The state capital sprung up from the Central Valley during the Gold Rush, after the precious metal was discovered in Sutter’s Mill in 1848. Fast forward more than a century later, and meeting groups will find modern-day treasures in the form of farm-to-fork cuisine and exciting excursions.

“Sacramento’s amazing weather and walkable layout make it an ideal destination for enjoying the outdoors,” says Sarah Atilano, director of convention sales and services for Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. “From rafting on one of the region’s rivers to taking a spin on the American River Bike Trail, there are countless ways to get outside and explore our city.”

North-Fork-American-River-Chamberlin-Falls-ClassNorth Fork American River rafting, Auburn

Team building doesn’t get any more exhilarating than a day of whitewater river rafting. The American River tributaries are navigable for beginning to intermediate groups that wish to spend a few hours or a few days paddling through placid streams or rough waters.

An experienced guide with Tributary Whitewater Tours teaches participants about river navigation, hydrology and raft equipment, with safety at the forefront. Rafters must strengthen trust, communication and teamwork to successfully tackle challenges of the river.

Southeast of Sacramento in nearby Calaveras County, deep, dark caverns hold strange and mysterious rock formations hundreds of feet below ground. Cave and Mine Adventures in Vallecito offers several cave tours of stalactites and stalagmites carved from hollowed limestone.

The truly brave can rappel and spelunk down one of the largest vertical cavern chambers on the West Coast at Moaning Cavern Adventure Park. The less adventurous can trek through California Cavern, a historic state landmark that has rare helictite crystalline formations.


Unwind in Wine Country

bicycle-riders Getaway Adventures Bicycle Tour, Sonoma

The birthplace of California’s wine industry is a picture of idyllic relaxation that continues to draw connoisseurs the world over to hundreds of wineries between Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Fertile soils and rolling hills produce award-winning varietals, farm-fresh produce and scenic vistas that make this region an ideal setting for small meetings and group retreats.

“Sonoma County is incredibly diverse and beautiful as a destination, and in fact, scenic beauty is the No. 1 reason visitors report choosing us for a stay,” says Tim Zahner, chief marketing officer for Sonoma County Tourism. “For groups, this means that there is plenty of open space to enjoy.”

sonoma-airportCharles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport

The most exhilarating view of the mountains and landscape comes with a high-flying ride from the treetops by Sonoma Canopy Tours. Climb up timbered staircases wrapped around tall coastal redwood trees and two sky bridges before ziplining over thick forest, deep ravines and meandering creeks. Back on the ground, pedal and sip through Sonoma’s pastoral vineyards with custom group tours offered through Getaway Adventures. Bikers can stop at three to four wineries on a 10-mile route, with the reward of a locally sourced picnic spread at the end.

Napa-Valley-Wine-Train-Vista-DomeNapa Valley Wine Train

One of the best ways to explore Napa’s legendary wineries is aboard Napa Valley Wine Train, which travels up and down the American Viticultural Area. The restaurant-cum-locomotive features memorable fine-dining experiences alongside stops at premier wineries, such as V. Sattui, Robert Mondavi, Grgich Hills Estate and Raymond Vineyards. Vintage Pullman train cars can be chartered for private parties.

No visit to Napa is complete without a day at the spa. Groups can embrace the dirt with mud therapy at The Bathhouse at Spa Solage in Solage Calistoga luxury resort. The signature three-part treatment is a mineral-rich experience that incorporates detoxifying mud and pure essential oils. It is encouraged to soak and rehydrate in healing geo-thermal pools, which improve circulation. The final step is a deeply relaxing rest in state-of-the-art sound chairs that course soothing vibrations throughout the body.


Lake Tahoe

MontBlue-outside

A deep blue wonder in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe is a favorite year-round getaway straddling the borders of California and Nevada. The pristine alpine setting is ideal for hiking and biking in the summer months, and becomes a winter wonderland during ski season. Once the snow melts, lakeside beaches populate with kayakers, paddleboarders, parasailers and swimmers. Lake Tahoe is the largest high-altitude lake in North America, and the second deepest in the United States.

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe is a ski-in/ski-out resort with mountain concierge service just minutes from the north shore. The AAA Five Diamond, Forbes Four Star property has 153 guest rooms and 16 executive suites, plus more than 15,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space. On the Nevada side, Montbleu Resort Casino & Spa (pictured) offers a variety of slot, table and video games, plus nightlife and entertainment at Opal Ultra Lounge. The 438-room hotel has a 16,000-square-foot convention center that can seat up to 1,200 guests.


Major Meeting Venues

East Bay

Claremont Club & Spa

Historic resort in Berkeley; joined Fairmont family last year; 276 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 5,166-square-foot ballroom; award-winning spa.

Concord Pavilion

concord-pavilion

Legendary outdoor concert venue; available for buyouts; affordable alternative to San Francisco concert halls; seats 12,500; renovated in 2014.

Crowne Plaza Concord/Walnut Creek

Next to Buchanan Field Airport in Concord; 323 guest rooms; 26,300 sq. ft. of event space in 13 meeting rooms.

Hilton Concord

Free shuttle to BART; 329 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of flexible function space, including 8,832-square-foot Golden Gate Ballroom; Plate & Vine restaurant.

Oakland Convention Center

64,000 sq. ft. of convention, exhibit, social gathering and meeting room space; walking distance to Jack London Square dining and entertainment complex.

Oakland Marriott City Center

Convenient location next to Oakland Convention Center; recently completed $22 million renovation; 500 refreshed guest rooms; 89,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space, including 47,736-square-foot combined exhibit halls.

North Bay

Andaz Napa

Downtown Napa boutique hotel; 141 stylish guest rooms; Andaz Farmers Table restaurant features farm-fresh fare; more than 9,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; lovely outdoor terrace; surrounded by tasting rooms.

Auberge du Soleil

Forbes Five Star resort famous for views of Napa Valley; near Silverado Trail in Rutherford; 50 guest rooms and suites; 7,090 sq. ft. of meeting space; award-winning restaurant and spa.

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa

Premier luxury resort in wine country; 226 guest rooms; 7,537 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space; 15,077 sq. ft. of outdoor event space; superb spa; golf; Michelin-starred Sante Restaurant.

Solage Calistoga

Forbes Four Star property on Silverado Trail; 89 guest rooms; more than 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; spa; Michelin-starred Solbar restaurant.

Sonoma County Event Center at the Fairgrounds

Opened in Santa Rosa in 1936; six meeting and exhibition halls; open-air amphitheater; two open-air arenas; 18-hole golf course; Sonoma County Fair and horse races held on grounds.

The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa

the-lodge-at-sonoma-renaissance

AAA Four Diamond property in Sonoma; 182 guest rooms; 23,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space, including 3,080-square-foot Sonoma Ballroom and 17 meeting rooms.

Sacramento

Hyatt Regency Sacramento

Convenient downtown location; AAA Four Diamond hotel; 505 guest rooms; 27,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including column-free 15,544-square-foot Regency ballroom.

Sacramento Convention Center Complex

Located in downtown Sacramento; 137,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space; 31 flexible meeting rooms; 10,000-square-foot junior ballroom; 25,000-square-foot ballroom; welcomes 875,000 attendees annually.

The Citizen Hotel

Marriott Autograph Collection property; 196 guest rooms; 8,252 sq. ft. of meeting and event space, including elegant Plaza Park Ballroom, with 2,280 sq. ft.; Grange restaurant attached.

San Francisco

Hotel Nikko

Steps from Union Square; 532 guest rooms; 24,000 sq. ft. of flexible function space; Nikko Ballroom has 6,658 sq. ft. of space; Asian-fusion cuisine at Anzu restaurant; complimentary Wi-Fi; 10,000-square-foot health club.

Hotel Zephyr

Waterfront hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf; $32 million renovation completed in 2015; modern decor with living wall art; 361 guest rooms; 8,000 sq. ft. of outdoor event space; 2,200-square-foot game room.

Moscone Center

Three-story convention center in the heart of the city; 700,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space; 256,225 sq. ft. of meeting space in 106 meeting rooms; 123,000 sq. ft. of prefunction lobby space.

South Bay

San Jose Convention Center

214,760 sq. ft. of exhibit space; 165,000 sq. ft. of contiguous space; 143,000 sq. ft. of column-free space; 43 meeting rooms; near 2,200 hotel rooms downtown.

San Jose Marriott

Adjacent to convention center; 484 refreshed guest rooms; 21,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; heated rooftop pool; Arcadia restaurant.

The Fairmont San Jose

fairmont-sanjose

San Jose’s first luxury hotel; 805 guest rooms; 65,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; multimedia theater with space for up to 3,000; McCormick & Schmick’s serves fresh-caught seafood.