Written by Bill Zavestoski
Sure, we all want to be home for the holidays. But if home is here in the Bay Area and you just want to get away for a day as 2013 winds down, try one or more of these budget-friendly trips in and around Silicon Valley. Anyone from kids to empty-nesters will enjoy them. The best part? These destinations are only a tank of gas (or less) away.
1 New Years Creek Rd.
Go? This could be a case of
survival of the fattest. This state park is home to the world's
second largest mainland breeding colony for the northern elephant
seal. Through March, visitors can
observe male elephant seals doing battle on the beaches for the right
to mate. And by late January, females will be birthing their pups on the
Tip: Guide-mandatory walks to the colony began on Dec. 15. Be warned, it's a
moderately strenuous hike of three miles roundtrip and about two and a half hours.
Fine Print: The park is
open from 8 a.m. until sunset, with tours given from early morning to
mid-afternoon. It's $10 a car to park, and $7 a ticket for a guided
walk, with tots 3 and under free.
333 Blossom Hill Rd.
Go? Drive the mile and a half route
within Vasona Park to see the 15th
annual version of Fantasy of Lights. The oversized displays, most of
them animated, pair with sounds-of-the-season music piped through
your car sound system to put you in the holiday mood.
Tip:The line of cars normally will thin later in the evening as families
with youngsters make their way home.
Do: Take in the sight of the a 90-foot winking, twinkling Christmas tree.
Fine Print:Bring cash or a check since credit and debit cards are not accepted.
A carload of nine or fewer people costs $15. Dec. 31 is the final night.
Moffett Field (at the main gate to NASA's Ames Research Center)
Go? With security so tight these days in such key NASA facilities as the
Ames Research Center, the nearby Visitor Center is a great way to
learn more about what NASA is doing in Silicon Valley and the various
missions that originated here. Plus, there's a moon rock brought back
by Apollo 15 on display.
Insider Tip:Call ahead or check the NASA website if you plan to visit around any major holidays, since an abbreviated schedule will be in effect.
Must Do:Those of us who have followed space travel since the days of the first manned launches will want to view a Mercury Redstone capsule that was launched 130 statute miles high on Dec. 19, 1960. MR-1A was the last unmanned test flight before Alan Shepard's groundbreaking flight in May 1961.
The Fine Print:There is no admission charge. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The center is closed on Mondays and federal holidays.
1401 N. Shoreline Blvd.
Go? You're in the heart of Silicon Valley, so it makes sense, right? The
museum wants you to “learn
about computer history’s game-changers in our multimedia
exhibitions.” There are more than 1,100 historic artifacts,
including some of the very first functional modern computers dating
back to just after World War II.
Tip:The museum has a “One-Hour Visit” sheet on its
website that highlights a dozen key exhibits in computer history.
Print it out and bring it with you as a guide even if you don't plan
on being time-challenged.
Do:Visit the original "Jeopardy!" stage set where Watson, a
cognitive computing system, took on and beat the show's two
greatest champions, and play a round with a simulated version of
Watson. You can write in your name just like real "Jeopardy!" contestants do and snap some photos on the set.
Fine Print:Open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
General admission is $15 for teens and adults and $12 for seniors
(65+), students and active military with ID. Children 12 and younger
get in for free.