Fun destinations close to home

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Hikers climb stairs cut into a rock mountain at Pinnacles National Park located an hour’s drive south of Gilroy.

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When planning vacations, it’s easy to overlook the hometowns that frame everyday lives. But when it comes to relaxation and adventure, staycations—once known as day trips—promise a full day of fun without the expense or planning needed to completely vacate. They’re perfect for weekends and offer an opportunity to explore or volunteer in the communities where people spend lots of time but likely haven’t taken many photos.
Jane Howard, executive director of the Gilroy Welcome Center, agreed. She said Gilroy has many small destination gems, such as Gilroy Gardens and the many local wineries that dot the landscape.
“The most overlooked staycation is oftentimes the wine tasting. Locals may forget what incredible wines we have and how many awards they’re winning,” said Howard, also noting the numerous outdoor adventures available locally. “Whatever you want to do, it’s all right here.”
With summer’s extra daylight hours, it’s even easier to embark on an outdoor adventure and be home by sunset. If backyard camping is getting old, check out these five inexpensive summer staycations just short drives away.
Henry W. Coe State Park is the largest state park in northern California, stretching for 87,000 acres between Gilroy and Morgan Hill. For less than $10, a carload of visitors can hike, mountain bike, backpack, horseback ride, camp or watch for wildlife. According to the website, the park has over 250 miles of hiking trails and old ranch roads that range from short leisurely loops to more ambitious backpacking loops of 50 miles or more. The park is open every day, but on your first visit stop by the Visitor Center at the headquarters entrance. It’s open on weekends from 8 a.m. until at least 4 p.m. and select weekdays. The Visitor Center is located on East Dunne Ave., 13 miles and roughly 30 minutes east of Morgan Hill. There are no wheelchair accessible hiking trails and dogs are not allowed in most of the park. Go to http://coepark.net/pineridgeassociation.
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The Gilroy Yamato Hot Springs are part of Coe State Park. Laura Dominguez-Yon, a volunteer docent, said her family was among the 600 families to stay at the hot springs after returning from Relocation Camps after World War II. Despite its name, hot mineral water is not currently available for soaking or drinking but restorations are underway, according to Dominguez-Yon. The hot springs open two Saturdays per month for guided tours, which last 1-3 hours and cost $10 per person. Special semi-annual events cost $15 per person. The springs offer modified tours. Only service animals are allowed. Consider packing a lunch and dress for the rustic outdoors. From Gilroy, the trip 10 miles east will take at least 25 minutes. Go to www.gilroyyamatohotsprings.org or call (408) 314-7185 to make reservations.
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McAlpine Lake and Park is located in San Juan Bautista 15 minutes south of Gilroy. The main attraction is fishing, which costs $20 per adult and $15 for children without a state fishing license. At McAlpine’s general store, visitors can stock up on gear and rent fishing poles for the day. Expect the lake to be stocked with trout, bass, sturgeon, catfish and bluegill. Pets and swimming are not allowed. Those who don’t like to fish can buy a day passes for $10 and enjoy a relaxing day surrounded by beautiful scenery, access to fire pits, shaded barbeque areas and spots to picnic. McAlpine is also a great place to camp in a tent, RV or rented cabin. Go to www.mcalpinelake.com.
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Pinnacles National Park is named for its impressive rock towers which divide the park into eastern and western sides. Located an hour’s drive south of Gilroy, the park is open every day for visitors seeking to hike, rock climb or spot California condors. Pinnacles is also a great place for spelunking—exploring wild caves. Of Pinnacle’s two talus caves, Bear Gulch Cave near headquarters in the East District is easier to navigate. Be sure and wear sensible shoes and take water and a flashlight. Reaching either cave requires a 2.2-mile round trip hike. Townsend’s big-eared bats, a protected species, give birth and raise young in Bear Gulch Cave during the spring, so that cave remains closed until July 15. Annual park passes are $20 per car. Go to www.nps.gov/pinn/index.htm.
Mt. Madonna Stables on Summit Road in Watsonville is one of many stables to offer horseback riding lessons and trail rides year round. Wannabe and established cowboys and cowgirls 7 years or older can enjoy one-hour trail rides tailored for all skill levels. A group of two or more costs $60 per person. Instructors provide safety tips and time for riders to get to know their horses’ individual personalities before hitting the trails. According to the stables’ website, those trails wind through more than 3000 acres of redwoods, waterfalls and stunning vistas. Long pants and closed-toed shoes are required and dogs are not allowed. Go to www.mtmadonnastables.com or call (408) 663-1665 for reservations.
Have a favorite local destination? Send us an email and tell us about it: [email protected]
Enjoy exercise and fun with the Henry W. Coe State Park 5k, 10k, Fun Run and Walk sponsored by the Pine Ridge Association starting at 9 a.m. June 13 in Hunting Hollow. Advanced registration is $30 at www.coepark.net/hh-10k. Same day registration is $40. All proceeds go to benefit Henry W. Coe State Park.

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