Bundle up and hit the road. These local winter wonderlands in the Bay Area are full of adventure—and are less than a tank of gas away.
34033 Leland Meadow Rd.
Pinecrest, CA 95364
Why Go? Instead of fighting the I-80 crowds heading toward Tahoe, enjoy the largest snow play area in the Sierras. The groomed lanes on the main and kiddie slopes are safer than picking a sledding spot alongside a mountain road. The tow ropes are an added convenience. For all you downhillers, Dodge Ridge Wintersports Area is just a few miles away.
Must Do: If your youngster aged 5 to 12 needs more than a few runs down a hill, there are mini-snowmobiles available for use around an oval course. The additional charge includes use of a helmet.
Insider Tip: Carry tire chains and pack your own lunch to save some cash.
The Fine Print: The season will extend into April. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. All-day rates range from $13 for kids under 44 inches (they aren't allowed to use the tow lines) to $20 (midweek) and $32 (weekends and holidays) for teens and adults who want all-day tow-ups. There's no charge to park or if you just want to stay warm in the lodge.
1 Bear Valley Rd.
Why Go? Those who enjoy or just want to try cross country skiing or snowshoeing can traverse 35 groomed trails stretching out across 3,000 acres. There are also sledding and tubing hills for family fun. “There are bigger cross country resorts near Tahoe, but they don't have the same friendly, easy-going atmosphere that Bear Valley has,” said one happy skier.
Must Do: Spend some of your visit checking out the quaint and historic village of Bear Valley (it's halfway between Tahoe and Yosemite) and have a cup of hot chocolate at the Bear Valley Lodge. Want more skiing? Nearby is Bear Valley Mountain Resort, with its nine lifts and close to 2,000 vertical feet of runs.
Insider Tip: If you're new to the snow sports, hit the Rental Center first. It will save you valuable time since trail tickets, rentals and lessons can all be secured in the same place.
The Fine Print: The winter season runs through mid-April. Trails are open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Snowshoes are available for rent at $20 a day. Adult ski rentals are slightly higher. Trail fees range from $10 to $25. Sledding ($11) and tubing ($16) must be done with Bear Valley's equipment.
120 S. Market St.
San Jose, CA 95113
Why Go: The un-timed sessions allow you to skate as long as you can stay on the ice at the South Bay's largest seasonal outdoor rink. There are no time limits but also no return privileges, even after bathroom breaks. The Circle of Palms (between the Fairmont Hotel and San Jose Museum of Art) is a perfect backdrop for holiday blade runners.
Must Do: Before or after your ice time, enjoy two other holiday traditions: Christmas in the Park, the family oriented holiday tradition of lights, trees and exhibits in Plaza de Cesar Chavez and sample the the classic amusement park rides at Winter Wonderland.
Insider Tip: Avoid downtown parking fees and save $2 off skating admission by showing a valid VTA, light rail or bus pass. If you need to store any valuables, wear a light backpack since there are no lockers available.
The Fine Print: The rink is open until Jan. 12 from 11 a.m. to midnight. Admission of $13 for skaters 10 and younger and $15 for those 11 and up ($2 more from Dec. 20-Jan. 5) includes skate rental. Special deals are available.
3009 Middlefield Road, CA 94306
Why Go? Winter Lodge offers group skate lessons, with basic skill classes on weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings for anyone ages 4 and older. Open skating sessions are held daily. There's an indoor and outdoor rink.
Must Do: Grab a bunch of friends and fellow workers and schedule a broomball game. (It's like hockey in tennis shoes, with 10 players on each team swatting a ball toward the net.) For about $20 apiece, you get an hour of ice time on the indoor rink plus an additional hour to use the picnic and barbecue facilities.
Insider Tip: Try the family session (anyone under 18 must be with a parent) on Sundays from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., or leave the kids home and skate the adult session (18 and up only) from 8 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays.
The Fine Print: Winter Lodge is open through mid-April. Open skating sessions are $10 for a two-hour window, plus $4 for skate rental.