The Big Chill

It's summertime in Sacramento and the living is easy—except when Mother Nature cranks up our city's thermostat. If you can't stand the heat, it's time to get out of town. From clear-bottom kayaking in Tahoe to a waterfall-filled hike in Marin and an ocean safari in Monterey, we've got 18 ways to keep your cool right now.

Lake Tahoe

On a clear kayak, you can see forever—or at least 70 feet down into Lake Tahoe. (Photo by André De Mello)

GET THE ALL CLEAR

No need for a snorkel mask or fins or even a swimsuit to fully experience the life aquatic while gliding across the water in transparent kayak-canoe hybrids made of the same sheer polycarbonate used for fighter jet windshields. The vessels from Clearly Tahoe, which seat one or two, feature deep hulls and high side walls that give the sensation of cruising along the water waist-deep, as well as flat, see-through bottoms—all the better to see 70 feet into the crystalline depths for glimpses of pyrite mineral deposits glistening like gold flecks on the lake floor, or schools of fish darting through shipwrecks. You can join a scheduled outing (through Oct. 15) or reserve a private one: Adventure excursions include the 90-minute morning Scenic Shoreline tour, where you skirt along towering cliffs and rock formations, and the kid-popular LED glow and stargazing tours, during which you can take in nature’s nightlife in illuminated boats. Tours start at $89. 530-554-4664. clearlytahoe.com
Jessica Rine​

Take a snowy hike or an icy swim at Lake Aloha. (Photo by Scott Sady/tahoelight.com)

SEE SNOW IN JULY

Ever spent the summer wishing you had access to a walk-in cooler? Well, after 2019’s supersized snowpack—which has prompted Squaw Valley to extend its ski season to July 7—a day hike through Desolation Wilderness, from Echo Summit to majestic, 8,000-foot-high Lake Aloha, promises sunny snow banks and alpine lake ice cubes through the end of July. What could be more rewarding after a jaunt over trail and talus than soaking your tired dogs in a frigid pool? Start the journey by parking at the rustic Echo Chalet (echochalet.net) on the shores of Echo Lake and self-register at the trailhead (you can also preregister at recreation.gov). Then strike out on the 12-mile out-and-back path—or cut the hike in half by taking the water taxi ($30 round trip) across the lake. From there, gentle grades take you up to mighty views and a smooth descent to island-studded Aloha’s endlessly explorable shoreline. Tote your trekking poles for sure footing on the snow, and do wear those shorts, but bring some layers and sunglasses with UV protection—the sun bouncing off that white stuff will get you every time, if the mosquitos don’t. And although this is one of the most popular trails through one of the Sierra’s most popular regions (check conditions before you go at desowv.org), it’s always a good idea to pack a map that doesn’t need batteries. —Hillary Louise Johnson

A call to arms: Stretch out during paddleboard yoga. (Photo courtesy of Lake Tahoe Yoga)

STRIKE A PADDLEBOARD POSE

If you’re like us, the morning light breaking across the tranquil, glassy surface of Big Blue makes you want to break into a sun salutation—but for a new twist, how about trying it on the water? Well Being ($35-$55; wellbeingtahoe.com), Mountain Lotus Yoga ($35-$50; mountainlotusyoga.com) and Lake Tahoe Yoga ($47; laketahoeyoga.com) all run stand-up paddleboard yoga classes, so you can see nirvana—and Mt. Tallac—upside down as you perfect your downward dog or say hello to Monument Peak with outstretched arms in a kneeling spinal twist. The dawn ritual—which begins with a short paddleboard lesson—may start out brisk, but the flowing movements and the sun’s rays soon result in warm muscles, making a post-session dip just the thing to start your day calm, collected and oh so cool.
J.R.

See galaxies far, far away during Tahoe Star Tours. (Photo courtesy of Tony Berendsen)

GAZE INTO A STARRY, STARRY NIGHT

Want to swing on a star? At 6,400 feet and far from the city’s light pollution, the Dark Skies Cosmoarium at Truckee’s Northstar resort seemingly places you within reach. Every Thursday and Saturday evening from June 13 to Aug. 31, it puts on a two-hour Tahoe Star Tours show led by astronomer Tony Berendsen, during which you can peer through high-powered Celestron telescopes for sharp views of globular star clusters, Saturn’s rings and the orange glow of Mars, then warm up with hot chocolate and s’mores around a fire pit. Pro tip: Check the calendar for a moonless night when galaxies beyond the Milky Way are viewable. Or get a good look at a nearly full moon on July 20, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission—Berendsen will give a talk about the historic moon landing that night and throughout the summer. $45 per adult. 150 Northstar Dr. Truckee. 800-466-6784. tahoestartours.comTori Masucci Cummins

This year’s Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival will mount an outdoor production of "The Taming of the Shrew." (Photo by Jeff Dow)

SEE SHAKESPEARE AT SUNSET

Long before Sam and Diane and Olivia and Fitz, Kate and Petruchio were crossing rapier wits in Shakespeare’s furiously funny domestic comedy, The Taming of the Shrew. Watch the fiery couple chase the chill out of the evening air from July 5 through Aug. 25, as the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival takes over Sand Harbor for its 47th year. Get thisclose to the action with on-stage seating, or choose lazy comfort by purchasing premium tickets, which come with Adirondack chairs and wait service (the cafe table section also offers meal delivery). Or go casual and hang back in the gallery areas, where you can dig your toes into the sand while taking in the sunset and a crisp breeze blowing in from Big Blue; bring your own dinner or grab eats and drinks like mahi-mahi tacos and icy margaritas at the on-site Shakespeare’s Kitchen (hint: online preordering is available). Not with the Bard? The performing arts series will also stage concerts—the Reno Philharmonic will play a few nights, for example—and Million Dollar Quartet, a jukebox musical based on a legendary Memphis jam session involving Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. $30-$140 per ticket. Sand Harbor State Park. 2005 Hwy. 28. Incline Village. 800-747-4697. laketahoeshakespeare.comT.M.C.

Float over the Truckee River and through the woods this summer. (Photo by Niel Kasper)

FLOAT AWAY THE DAY

The shape of water looks even more intriguing this summer, as the Sierra’s rapidly melting snowpack after an unusually white winter leads to unpredictable flows in the Truckee River. Instead of just grabbing an inner tube and DIYing it, your safest bet, especially if you’re a first-timer, is to tackle the 4-mile float downstream with the help of Tahoe City-based outfitters Truckee River Rafting and Truckee River Raft Co., whose seasons are expected to start sometime in July or August. Both companies will provide life jackets, paddles and sturdy rafts for your group (Fido is welcome too), and prep you for your lazy, refreshing trip through pine forests, under wooden bridges and past sandy beaches perfect for picnic stops. On the weekends, you’ll see everyone from bachelorettes to Boy Scouts bobbing along—you can join the party or, if that’s not your scene, opt for a quieter weekday drift. Either way, the skill level for this expedition is roughly zero, with only a short section of minor rapids near the end that spit you out below the River Ranch Lodge, where you can refuel on the patio with barbecue and local beer. Truckee River Rafting: $48 per adult. truckeeriverrafting.com. Truckee River Raft Co.: $45 per adult. truckeeriverraft.comT.M.C.

 

San Francisco Bay Area

Shuck and slurp your way through Tomales Bay with Food & Farm Tours’ oyster outings. (Photo courtesy of Food & Farm Tours)

ACT LIKE THE WORLD’S YOUR OYSTER

Every summer, the breezy shores of Tomales Bay are packed with San Franciscans in search of a sunny shuck-and-slurp. The historic Tony’s Seafood (tonysseafoodrestaurant.com), newly renovated and reopened by Hog Island Oyster Company, is upholding its 71-year reputation as the go-to spot for the barbecued variety, in which the delicate brininess of the fresh oyster enhances a house-made smoky-sweet sauce. At the Nick’s Cove boat shack (nickscove.com), perched mid-inlet at the end of a long pier, you can use its landline phone—there’s no cell service—to order and bring back a dozen of Tomales Bay’s best from the main restaurant and indulge amid a collection of maritime kitsch. Who knows, maybe West Marin resident Tom Waits and his buddy, actor Bill Pullman, will stop in for some shellfish too. (They did when we were there.) Fancy yourself beyond the standard mollusk fan? Consider the Oyster Lover’s excursion from the locally based Food & Farm Tours ($195; foodandfarmtours.com), where owner and sustainable ag expert Alexandra Fox leads guests on a four-hour jaunt through regional oyster farms, venturing into restricted areas to see the filtration tanks and harvesting facilities, and then to different seafood shacks along the shore to sample their best half shells. The company’s new chartered Deep Dive boat tour, which is expected to launch in July, is for the oyster obsessed: Pull on your waders, because you and your friends will be harvesting your own mollusks at low tide, hauling them to a secluded beach for a picnic that also includes bread, meats, and cheeses made by West Marin food artisans. —Leilani Marie Labong

Walk under the shade of tall cypress trees at Lands End. (Photo by Will Elder/NPS)

WALK TO THE EDGE OF GLORY

The easygoing, 3.5-mile out-and-back trail at Lands End hugs San Francisco’s craggy coast, in full sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, the iconic landmark that beckons tourists to the famous bluff-top path and keeps locals coming back for their inspiring-vista fix. Here on the Western brim of the continent, the ocean breezes are a little gustier and the fog a little soupier, especially in summer, so prepare to bundle up as you mosey along the cliff edge, lined in wind-sculpted cypress trees. Pick up a warm drink to take with you on the hike at the American Institute of Architects Award-winning Lands End Lookout visitor center. From there, you can see the hauntingly atmospheric ruins of Sutro Baths—in its 1890s heyday, it was the world’s largest indoor swimming complex housed inside a beautiful glass atrium. The USS San Francisco Memorial, just a few minutes’ walk from the Lands End trailhead, gives you the first view of the bridge, so be sure to bring your selfie stick. Continuing on, Mile Rock is a steep spur that ultimately leads down to a rocky beach—if you get that far, that is: the mystical Eagle Point Labyrinth proves to be a more popular stop along the short tangent. And near the end of the main track, you can often get a bird’s-eye view of surfers braving the swell at Deadman’s, a hard-to-reach break that entices the city’s most die-hard shredders. But don’t peer too closely—just remember, the brink is closer than you think. nps.gov
L.M.L.

In July, the San Francisco Botanical Garden will transform into a lush outdoor concert hall. (Photo by Travis Lange)

TAKE IN A SECRET GARDEN CONCERT

For 12 days this summer, unchained melodies will waft on the fragrant breeze as the annual Flower Piano festival takes over the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. From July 11-22, a dozen grand and upright pianos will dot the 55-acre landscape—some in intimate glades, some on sprawling lawns, some in pavilions. On weekends, they will be eclectically programmed with virtuosos playing everything from jazz to classical and pop, and between scheduled concerts (including all day on weekdays), the public is invited to channel their inner Rachmaninoff—in fact, many of the event’s featured performers were “discovered” by the organizers while playing impromptu. Watch the East Bay’s Awesöme Orchestra start with sheet music and build from rehearsal to performance in an afternoon, or catch the feverish action on the duo piano stage, or see local stars like composer Allison Lovejoy and avant-gardist Sarah Cahill tickle the ivories. And for a midsummer night’s dream, the music continues from 8-11 p.m. on the final weekend (visit sunsetpiano.com for the full schedule). $9-$55. 1199 9th Ave. San Francisco. sfbg.orgHillary Louise Johnson

HAVE A PICNIC WITH A VIEW

The historic Fort Baker Parade Ground in Sausalito, site of early 1900s military drills and marches, has been restored to a grassy, seaside recreation lawn for those who want to run their dogs, fly kites or kick around a soccer ball at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. We prefer a lazier, grazier pursuit: a picnic with oh-so-Californian provisions from nearby Driver’s Market—think avocado-and-tahini brown rice bowls, white truffle potato chips and Russian River Brewing Company’s almost mythical double IPA, Pliny the Elder. You don’t need to be a guest at Cavallo Point Lodge (cavallopoint.com), the luxury resort that inhabits the National Park Service site’s heritage military structures, to descend upon the 10-acre green. However, the hotel’s popular Farley Bar is a great place to warm up when the shadows of the Marin Headlands grow long on the oval, fortuitously timed to the happy hour. Request a table on the covered porch and don’t forget to do as the Bay Area locals around you will be doing—raising a sunset toast to pinch-me moments like these. nps.govL.M.L.

 

TAKE IT SLOW AT STOW LAKE

If you’re a fan of @KarlTheFog, you can get up close and personal with him just about any day of the week by taking out a rowboat or pedal boat and plying the misty morning waters of the doughnut-shaped Stow Lake, which has been a recreational haven for San Franciscans since 1893. With charming elements like arched stone bridges and tumbling waterfalls, and even a century-old ghost locals know as the White Lady, this area in the middle of Golden Gate Park is best to visit early in the day to beat the afternoon crowds. You can rent a vessel from the Stow Lake Boathouse ($22.50-$38.50 per hour) and glide alongside the resident ducklings, turtles and koi on exceptionally calm waters, take a half-hour stroll around the lake or hike up the middle island known as Strawberry Hill to catch a view of Twin Peaks and feel the mist coming off of nearby Huntington Falls. After your morning adventure, head back to the boathouse cafe and sit back with an It’s-It ice cream sandwich or a Lagunitas pale ale. Stow Lake Boathouse. 50 Stow Lake Drive East. San Francisco. 415-386-2531. stowlakeboathouse.comTori Masucci Cummins

Go with the flows at Cataract Falls. (Photo by Justino Diaz)

DO GO CHASING WATERFALLS

Cataract Falls, located deep in the shady foothills of Marin County near Bolinas, thankfully isn’t one of those destinations where you have to swelter and slog for miles in order to reach a spectacular waterfall. The hike consists of a nearly continuous series of nine cascades that flow alongside the entire length of the 3.3-mile round-trip trail, which hops from bank to bank over picturesque hewn-log bridges. Along the way, you’re cooled by the mist and by the leafy canopy that covers virtually every step of the route. You’ll want to stop every few feet and snap a picture—and to pace yourself, as this perfectly groomed trail can be steep going, although the footing is sure, with many stone and wooden steps to navigate. Bring the dog and the kids, as you can dial in your level of exertion: the hike’s prettiest pool comes a mere mile in, although the shady grove of picnic tables at the end makes for a perfect lunch stop. Hearty adventurers can press on by connecting to Marin’s 500 miles of trails and making a loop through ever more varied terrain with glimpses of the Pacific and the Bay. bit.ly/cataractfallsH.L.J.

 

Monterey

Young sea explorers can go surface scuba driving at the Monterey Bay Aquarium all summer. (Photo courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium)

TAKE A DIVE AT THE AQUARIUM

All the ocean’s a stage at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where exhibits featuring more than 35,000 sea creatures and plants give a peek into the natural splendor on display off the back deck, where the action is wet and wild. Through the Underwater Explorers program, aquatic adventurers ages 8-13 can suit up and go surface scuba diving from June 15 until Labor Day in a large tide pool to visit crab, starfish and sea cucumbers in their native habitat. Meanwhile, sunbathing otters and seals, among the 30-plus species of mammals that inhabit the bay, warm up the crowd before a short on-deck performance of Turning the Tide (June 22-Sept. 2), which depicts how the indigenous Rumsen Ohlone fished for food and reenacts conservationist Julia Platt’s crusade to make Monterey Bay the country’s first protected marine area. $50 ($30 for ages 3-12; additional $95 for scuba diving). 886 Cannery Row. Monterey. 831-648-4800. montereybayaquarium.orgCurtis Yee

JOIN A BIG BEACH PARTY

The Santa Cruz boardwalk is nostalgia central whatever era your teenage self may hail from, and there’s no better way to revisit the past, or introduce your own teens to your OG crush, than by chilling to Smash Mouth or The English Beat at one of the free Friday night beach concerts that will take place from June 14-Aug. 30 (beachboardwalk.com) in front of the 1907 wooden walkway. And we do mean chilling—you’ll want a warm blanket to sit on, and one to huddle under as the sun sets (hint: dig your toes deep into the sand to keep them toasty). If you’re more of a film buff than retro music fan, Wednesdays on the beach are movie nights from June 19-Aug. 14. Our can’t-miss pick of the season? The opening evening screening of the 1987 vampire camparama The Lost Boys, most of which was filmed locally. If you want to beat the crowds as well as the heat, you can join smaller throngs of local sailors and semi-retired hippies dancing in the sand behind the Crow’s Nest restaurant (maybe rideshare from downtown, as parking is limited; crowsnest-santacruz.com) on Thursday nights through Aug. 29 at its Summer Beach Party, where booze, BBQ and an assortment of local bands party like it’s 1969—just don’t tell anybody about it. —Hillary Louise Johnson

GET YOUR GLOW ON

You don’t have to be a sci-fi buff to feel transported to another universe during Kayak Connection’s nighttime bioluminescence tour of Elkhorn Slough, but if you are, you’ll swear you’re plying the glowing waters of Pandora, the radiant planet in James Cameron’s Avatar. Just before sunset, you’ll push off from Moss Landing and head down the channel, witnessing the bedtime routines of wildlife like sea otters and spotted harbor seals. But the real show begins when the sun goes down (Monterey Peninsula’s cloud cover means that summer nights are quite nippy, so bundle up). The voyage—reserve your spot early, as summer and fall weekend outings can book up fast—will lead you to illuminated pockets where you can witness the inlet’s bioluminescence phenomenon, a reaction caused by its single-celled inhabitants (in this case, diatom algae) that emit an out-of-this-world fluorescent blue light. The splendor is activated by movement, so splish-splash the night away in the shimmering alien waters before coming back to Earth. $70. 831-724-5692. kayakconnection.comJessica Rine

Take a walk on the wild and natural side at Point Lobos. (Photo by  David Royal/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom)

ROCK OUT AT BIG SUR

Some California landscapes are so iconic that you get a sense of déjà vu when you finally lay eyes on them in person—Muir Woods, Yosemite Valley and, of course, Big Sur, which begins with a bang at Point Lobos. Well-signed footpaths hug the rocky bluffs, offering postcard view after postcard view of coves, crooked manzanitas, dramatic outcroppings, basking sea lions and wildflowers that are ariot throughout the summer, long after the inland blooms have shriveled. Gorgeous enough to ravish the sensibilities of veteran outdoorspeople, this expansive windswept preserve is also accessible enough for small children and seniors (dogs aren’t allowed). You won’t have the place to yourself no matter the time or season, but the vistas are so transfixing that you’ll hardly care that you’re sharing the trails with families on the weekends and school groups on weekdays. Time your visit to low tide and you can extend it with a wade through the Weston tide pools, but if you want one of the 150 parking spaces, aim to beat the human tide by getting there early. $10 for parking. pointlobos.org H.L.J.

 Spot whales (and other aquatic mammals like dolphins and sea otters) on a Fast Raft ocean safari. (Photo by Kate Spencer)

GO ON AN OCEAN SAFARI

As Captain Ahab will tell you, the smaller the boat, the bigger the whale—at least that’s how it will seem aboard Monterey Bay’s smallest whale-watching vessel, the 33-foot Ranger. Agile and low to the water, the six-seat rigid-hulled inflatable craft from Fast Raft Ocean Safaris gets you up close and personal with the world’s largest mammal—expect to smell whale breath and get soaked with spray as barnacled behemoths breach, crash and splash (pro tip: if you’re seasick-prone, start your meds the night before). Guided by Captain Kate Spencer, passengers can expect to spot feeding humpbacks this summer (and through November)—lucky riders might even catch a glimpse of a 90-foot-long great blue—as well as dolphins, sea otters, seals and sea lions during the three-hour Moss Landing excursion. Choose between morning and afternoon rides (the morning water is less choppy, but humpbacks breach more consistently in the afternoon), and Captain Kate says to dress for snow—even in July—so suit up and we’ll call you Ishmael. $175-$185. 2486 Highway One. Moss Landing. 408-659-3900. fastraft.comC.Y.

 Refuge spa in Carmel offers some seriously cool water therapy. (Photo courtesy of Refuge Spa)

TAKE THE COLD-HOT PLUNGE

If the Dalai Lama and his devotees were to design a water park, where all the attractions were geared toward relaxation and contemplation, it would look like Refuge. This lushly landscaped, adults-only, 2-acre day spa in Carmel features four cool and cold plunge pools to shock the summer sludge out of your system between hot and warm soaks. Change into a bathing suit and robe, grab your water bottle, and, well, chill. Plan on spending at least three hours here, cycling through the warm-hot-cool-icy environments with plenty of time in between to nap in a hammock or read a book in an Adirondack chair around a fire pit. But leave time to soak up some ions from the wall of Himalayan sea salt in the sauna and open your pores in the eucalyptus steam room. If you’re tempted to rave to your partner about just how magical Refuge is, save it for the drive home because the entire complex is enveloped in a cone of silence—you’ll just have to use your inside voice to say “ahhh.” $52-$62. 27300 Rancho San Carlos Rd. Carmel. 831-620-7360. refuge.comH.L.J.