Emily and Paul
Things to Do

What's to do, you ask?

Dude, it's California!

The question, as Ferris Bueller might say, isn't "what is there to do?" but rather "what isn't there to do?" There are warm, sandy beaches, lofty snow-capped mountains, dynamic cities, ancient redwoods, world-famous parks, an ocean---even deserts, if you drive far enough. From personal experience, we tend to emphasize the outdoors activities below, but a well-researched traveler will find that our recommendations only scratch the surface of possibilities.

Marin County

The region where the vast majority of guests will be staying, Marin County, has a balance of suburban convenience with quick access to fairly spectacular geography and wild places.

An absolute must for nature-types is Muir Woods located in the southwest of the county. This is a deep and dark redwood forest preserve familiar to anyone who remembers the Ewok scenes in nearby resident George Lucas' classic movie "Return of the Jedi." It only requires non-strenuous walking to tour it. This is the only safe way since most folks end up treading slowly with the back of their heads affixed to the top of their shoulder blades and with mouths agape as they stare upwards.

Nearby, is Mount Tamalpais with a scenic drive to the summit with views of the entire Bay Area to the south and east. The Pacific Ocean is straight down to the west.

Stinson Beach is a very popular destination and on fogless October afternoons offers pleasant sunbathing and swimming opportunities. For you East Coasters, the dark blue water of the Pacific is quite a bit colder than that of the greenish Atlantic but it's all the more exhilarating once you get used to it (and no painful jellyfish or sea nettles!) Those who enjoy walks on the beach will have a marvelous opportunity to do it, but be prepared if you wander into the "clothing-discouraged" area part of Stinson Beach well to the north of the main area.

The Bride and Maid of Honor personally recommend an out-and-back hike of the Dipsea Trail, which is a notoriously strenuous and rugged path from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach encompassing a brutal number of stairs. Guests who accept their challenge of performing this feat will be rewarded at the wedding reception.

A hikers or wildlife aficionados paradise awaits those who venture into Point Reyes. It exists on a large peninsula with very few roads and many types of aquatic and migratory birds. Hikes in this region vary in difficulty with something for everyone.

On the other side of the county, one finds very charming, cozy towns on the water, like Sausalito, Tiburon, and San Quentin. Well, maybe locals of the last one would debate its charm. These places host an array of cool shops, small restaurants, and featureless cellblocks.

Sonoma and Napa Counties, the Northern California Wine Country

If you've seen the movie "Sideways" you know you don't need to be pretentious or put on an overly sophisticated air to enjoy good California wine. A T-shirt, shorts, flip-flops, five bucks, and a designated driver are really all you need to taste at any of the hundred or so of local wineries.

Even for novices like us, its fun to try the many wines and distinguish the subtle differences. To be honest, we haven't had much luck untangling the delicate flavors of tannins, cherry, oak, nuts, twigs, bolts, tire irons, and what have you that the experts say they can, but it's still fun to stick our pinkies out as we swill it all down. If we get a free wine glass to boot, all the better.

Guests more cultured than us may have better luck judging the bouquet and finish, but they won't necessarily have more fun.

Sonoma and Napa are especially good for: whites, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio; reds, like Sangiovese (Chianti), Merlot blends, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon; and sparkling wines, among others.

Do some research in the local wine varieties beforehand and you'll definitely get more out of the trip. Bring lots of drinking water to combat the hot weather and diuretic effects of the alcohol.

The more popular and famous places are on CA-29 between the towns of Napa and Calistoga in Napa County. Go off the beaten path to Sonoma County, near Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, or the Russian River for some real treats and generous selection of often-free samples.

It's an easy drive to get to the wine country from Marin, just go north up US-101 about thirty to forty-five minutes and head east You'll need a guidebook and map to locate some number of wineries and develop a navigational strategy as they are often spread out.

Keep in mind that it's probably overly ambitious to hit up more than six or seven wineries in a day. As the Groom and a few of his old housemates can attest to, things can get pretty rambunctious and out of hand by the end of a long outing. Most wineries tend to close down by 5 pm or so.

San Francisco

Literally just down the road from Marin, San Francisco (please don't call it Frisco) is truly one of the greatest cities in the nation. It has world-class restaurants, a vigorous nightlife, a major symphony orchestra, many museums (the MOMA, de Young, etc), and a population that celebrates diversity in all things---OK, maybe not in politics. Expect it to be warm, breezy, and pleasant during the day, but cooling off dramatically as the fog creeps in the early evening. So bring a light jacket or sweater.

It's okay to first hit up the touristy stuff: like the cable cars on Fisherman's Wharf; an Alcatraz tour; Ghirardelli Square; a curvy drive down Lombard Street; and an afternoon stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge. Next, head into North Beach for some one-of-a-kind Italian bistros and cafes and maybe a stiff drink in one of the old haunts of the Beat poets. There are other places--take the kids to the Metreon with a truly epic arcade or the Exploratorium, the local science museum. Try shopping in Union Square with its many upscale stores.

Golden Gate Park, stretching between Ocean Beach and the Haight-Ashbury district, rivals its New York counterpart as the coolest urban recreational area in the country---but wearing flowers in your hair when you go is more likely to generate snickers than approval from the locals these days.

This park hosts the Japanese Tea Garden, sports fields, tennis courts, a windmill, paddle-boating, the California Academy of Science, a herd of buffalo, the Conservatory of Flowers, the botanical gardens, and a large public beach on the west end.

There's lot of cultural adventures to be had in San Francisco as well, like Chinatown (between North Beach and the Financial district) and Japantown to the west.

For a distinctly San Francisco treat, go west on Market Street to the Castro district. This is where tens and tens of thousands squeeze into a few city blocks every year for both the Pride Parade and the most fabulous Halloween party on the west coast.

Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada Mountains

The Sierras won't have any snow except for the glaciers on top of the highest peaks in the first weeks of October. Water from the spring melt-off will be at a minimum and thus many of Yosemite's magnificent waterfalls won/t be in full bloom, but they're still impressive.

However, the road across northern Yosemite (CA-120) will still be snow-free and open allowing drivers access to the marvelous Tuolumne Meadows, Tioga Pass at 10,000 feet, and points east. In the south, the road up to Glacier Point will also be open allowing access to arguably some of the most scenic vistas in the world.

Most visitors will take CA-140 into Yosemite Valley, which is at 4000 feet of elevation. This is from where the spectacular granite mammoths of El Capitan and Half Dome rise thousands of feet straight up. If you look carefully, you will likely see rock climbers trying their hands (and feet) at scaling these big walls.

Other excellent Yosemite side trips include Mariposa Grove to the south, where ancient gigantic Sequoia Pines are nestled. But the mother of the bride might suggest that you be on the lookout for football-sized falling cones!

Expect temperatures in the valley to be pleasant in the low 60's to upper 70's during the peak afternoon hours but cooling off rapidly in late afternoon to evening. An important thing to consider is the effect of altitude--so bring lots of sunscreen, snacks, and especially water as well as allow lots of time, if exerting yourself outdoors.

Weather can turn quickly in the Sierra, so be prepared for storms moving in this time of year by carrying a rain jacket.

The valley is very family-oriented with lodging, pools, and a grocery store near Camp Curry as well as shuttle service throughout the area. First, try a visit to Bridalveil Falls (a particularly appropriate destination, we think), which involves only a short, flat stroll from the parking lot to the views and base of the awesome falls.

For the more hearty folks, take your hiking boots and several water bottles and be prepared to sweat; most other trails involve a significant amount of climbing. We recommend the Yosemite Falls trails (starting near the Lodge) and Vernal/Nevada Falls trails (starting near Happy Isles.) Most day hikes involve hiking up and then turning around at some point to suit your activity needs and interests.

If you've got stamina and youthful stubbornness, try to make it from Happy Isles all the way up to the top of Half Dome and back in a day. This is a quintessentially Californian way of doing it: take an otherwise perfectly enjoyable and pleasant hike and make a personal endurance hell out of it.

Whatever you do, please be sure to be safe and to let others know your route and expected return time. However crowded it is in the Valley (not too bad in October), you will have much of the trails to yourselves if you make it more than a two hours hike upwards.

Yosemite is about a four hours drive, half of it on freeways and the other half on windy scenic highways (CA-120 or CA-140) through the foothills. The route from the Bay Area is straightforward and relatively well marked. It costs $20 per car to enter the park, which gives you a pass good for a week. Alternatively, you can use a Golden Eagle or National Parks pass for unlimited entry in national parks for a year.

Of course, Yosemite isn't the only mountain getaway. The region around Lake Tahoe is accessible entirely by highway (I-80) and in less than four hours. It has some spectacular scenery and many national forests. It's mostly known for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports, which will not yet be in season in the first weeks of October. Most of the amenities and crowds therefore will be nil.

It is however always bustling in Reno at night, so make the short jump from Tahoe over the Nevada border for the buffets, slots, and the blackjack tables

NCAA Football

We understand that many of our guests are making great sacrifices to be at our wedding: flying; driving; spending vacation days off work; and considerable expense. This hardship does not go unnoticed and we are grateful. However those sacrifices pale compared to those of the small lot who will be bearing a much greater burden to be with us this October: fans of Big-10 football.

Yes, we needn't remind you that you'll be unable to make the Northwestern game in Madison nor the Penn State game in Minneapolis on Saturday, October 7th.

However, if you can get used to tailgating in gorgeous 75-degree weather, Pac-10 football can possibly ease the withdraw symptoms. The Golden Bears of Cal will be hosting Oregon on Saturday, October 7th in Strawberry Canyon.

It's Berkeley, so I'm sure veggie and tofu brats with alfalfa sprouts will be available. However purists will be forgiven if they decide to pass on them.

Pro Baseball

The Bay Area has two franchises: the Oakland A's in the AL and the San Francisco Giants in the NL with both stadiums accessible by BART.

The regular season of Major League Baseball will have just ended and the availability of playoff games and tickets will depend on, of course, the success of the team that season. The success of the Giants will likely depend on the steroid investigations surrounding Barry Bonds. Pac Bell Park is one of the newest and nicest stadiums in the league, but tickets are hard enough to get during the regular season--so best of luck to you.


Pro Football

We've got two teams: the AFC Oakland Raiders and the NFC San Francisco 49ers.

The Raiders are hosting Cleveland on Sunday, October 1st. The 49ers are hosting San Diego on October 15th. On the eighth, San Francisco hosts Oakland, but you'll be too busy for Sunday football, right?


Pro Basketball and Hockey

The Golden State Warriors are based out of Oakland and will just be starting their 2006-2007 season. The same is true for the San Jose Sharks. You're on your own for scheduling and tickets. Good luck.

18 April 2006