“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

–John Muir

Now that vaccination rates are up, more parks and attractions are reopening, enabling us to enjoy the great outdoors. Many of our favorite places to commune with nature have been closed these past long dreary months since March 19, 2020, when the state of California issued its first Shelter-In-Place order, and now we have the opportunity to renew our spirits. Who among us does not need a fresh outlook on life, a restoration of our soul? Below are listed some places that are perfect for a day’s outing or even a longer visit.


One hundred and fifty miles northwest of Benicia lies Mendocino, the spectacular site of the romantic 1971 movie, “Summer of ‘42.”   Picturesque Mendocino is a place of windblown cliffside trails, salty breezes and soaring shorebirds. A charmingly quaint downtown area is replete with specialty shops and inviting restaurants, offering a universal appeal. Eclectic galleries, the Mendocino Art Center, and a collection of great restaurants and bars are also available.

Adjacent to the downtown area is the Mendocino Headlands State Park with miles of trails, beaches, and stunning ocean views. Big River Beach in the Headlands area is where Big River meets the Pacific Ocean, just south of town, and is a broad, sandy beach, perfect for beach activities. Five miles north of Mendocino is the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, providing an interesting tour and ocean views. Nearby Jug Handle State Natural Reserve has both hikeable hillsides and an impressive beach with high bluffs.

Great campgrounds

Mendocino Grove

9601 California 1, Mendocino, CA, 95460 707.880.7710


Mendocino Headlands State Park

California 1, Mendocino, 707.937.5840

Hiking & camping amid dramatic scenery.


Russian Gulch State Park

Hiking & camping amid dramatic scenery.

California 1, Mendocino, 707.937.5804


Mendocino Headlands, coastline
Dog and lake

Sierra Lakes

In a recent travel article, Tom Stienstra, the San Francisco Chronicle Outdoor editor, outlined the Sierra Lakes area, north of Truckee and Lake Tahoe area.  These lakes, located in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area in Plumas National Forest, are an hour’s drive north of Truckee, only 160 miles northeast of Benicia. There are seven lakes that you can drive to on the Gold Lake Highway between Highways 49 and 89, and even more lakes that you can hike to as well. There are assorted campgrounds, lodges, and cabins in the area that lies between the towns of Bassetts to the south and Graeagle to the north. The Lakes Basin Recreation Area is great for day use or overnight camping.  The campgrounds are seasonal and vary in amenities and features. Some offer launches for inflatables or kayaks. Others are better for swimming or fishing.

The site Recreation.gov is your link to make reservations for camping. Just enter “Lakes Basin,” and several campsites pop up including Diablo, Berger, Packsaddle, Salmon Creek, Sardine Lake, Pass Creek and a multitude of others. For a little time spent exploring this site, you can tailor a camping experience to suit your preferences.  And for the most part, the cost per night is around $20.00. This experience can fit anyone’s budget.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

A final nod to those both young and old who love sea life, Monterey Bay Aquarium recently reopened after being closed for thirteen months. This world class aquarium that first opened in 1984 is a sure bet, and requires advanced reservations and online-only ticket sales. Face coverings and timed entries are among the new practices put in place for a safe visitor experience. Masks for those three and above are required and although that might present problems for some younger visitors, it benefits us all.

Monterey Bay Aquarium kelp forest

Even if you visit Monterey and don’t visit the aquarium, there are sure to be public areas to view sea otters and sea lions. These places include the Coast Guard pier, the Old Fisherman’s Wharf  (built in 1846), and the Municipal Wharf # 2, all three are popular with fishermen. Monterey also is a great place to pick up some specialty seafood at long established wharf and Cannery Row restaurants. Kitschy shops that appeal to all tastes can be found as well. Even though Monterey is only 128 miles away from Benicia, it can provide an interesting and enjoyable day trip for the whole family.