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Travelers today seek more than a hot little hammock to tick away their vacation time. According to the Travel Industry of America, adventure pursuits are taking a front seat in travel planning, including activities such as kayaking, scuba diving and mountain climbing. The new breed of "experiential travelers" is also on the rise, according to TravelZoo's Gabe Saglie. This concept translates into less time "zoning out" and more time learning or experiencing a destination's assets from the ground up. According to Saglie, more than 50 percent of Americans are interested in this type of travel.

This new travel niche is one of the fastest growing sectors in the travel industry, largely driven by Baby Boomers who are no longer content being tourists, and would rather break out as adventurers. It's the "do" versus "see" mentality, the demand for "real" experiences that are putting companies like Mountain Travel/Sobek, National Geographic Expeditions and Mansour Travel Company into overdrive. According to Gary Mansour, "Experiential travel is the hot ticket these days and 'authentic' is the prevailing buzzword. These global nomads are not content sitting poolside; they want genuine experience, stunning natural surroundings and locally inspired activities."

Mapping Out Monterey CountySafari with sea lions, cavort with California condors or dive for monsters of the deep... the region's natural assets are a ready-to-wear adventure for travelers seeking the real deal, California-style. With 99 miles of pristine coastline, the 5,312 sq. mile Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, stunning string of California parklands and outback of Big Sur, this region is rich in rewards year round.

Liquid Assets – Kayak Surfing, Estuary Safaris and Scuba for Monsters of the DeepKayaking in Monterey BayDive in for an adrenalin-based escape fresh with bracing sea breezes and wide open spaces. New on the radar of ocean experiences is Kayak Surfing. For the ultimate challenge, dump the longboard and take to the waves in a kayak. Learn the art of carving, roll techniques and how to get in/out of the wave in a safe, serene environment. Lessons and a full line of specialty surf kayaks are available at Kayak Connection. Those hot on Laird Hamilton's new sport can hit the waves running with classes in S.U.P. - or stand-up paddling. This trend emanating from Hawaii combines surfing with canoe-style paddling in a stand up position, exercising the core and sense of balance. Learn to walk on water via classes covering the basics of balance, strokes and paddling techniques.

www.adventuresbythesea.com, www.kayakconnection.com, www.montereybaykayas.com.

Avid SCUBA divers can track the monsters of the deep -- reportedly sighted just off the Big Sur Coast -- or the bizarre giant squid with three hearts, blue blood and enormous brains spotted in the depths of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Novices can sleuth the seas via Monterey Bay Dive Center with a full day Discover SCUBA program. Instruction and dives at the Sanctuary (with an underwater canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon), Point Lobos State Nature Preserve or San Carlos Beach offer insight into the region's rich diversity of sea life. www.montereybaydivecenter.com. For the smaller set, Monterey Bay Aquarium's Underwater Explorers program treats kids 8 - 13 years to an aquatic adventure with a surface SCUBA dive in the Great Tide Pool on Monterey Bay. www.mbayaq.org.

For a vivid postcard of this region's ecosystem and wealth of wildlife, naturalists can dial into the Elkhorn Slough Safari, a classic outback tour aboard a 27-foot pontoon. Spreading 1,400 acres and reaching inland nearly seven miles from the coast, the Elkhorn Slough Reserve steps up with some 400 plant species, 80 kinds of fish and 340 types of birds, including such rare species as the Peregrine Falcon and Snowy Plover. Photo safaris and birding workshops are also available. Kayaking the slough is another option. www.elkhornslough.com.

The enormous depths of Monterey Bay paired with a 99-mile stretch of coastline draw a rich and varied lineup of whales and wildlife. Among the most impressive are gray whales, some 7,000 behemoths, migrating from the Bering Sea to Mexico's Baja Peninsula between December and March. Also popular are humpbacks and blue whales, the largest animals in the world, which feed on the nutrient-rich waters from June through October-November. Visitors can tap into a whale watching tour, rent a sailboat or stay closer to shore with a naturalist-led kayak tour with Adventures by the Sea. www.chriswhalewatching.com, www.adventuresbythesea.com.

Call of the Wild – Condor Camp, Bat Tours, Bear Encounters and Wild Boar SausageClock the comeback of the California condor at Ventana Wildlife Society's newly-constructed (4/09) condor base camp. With a wingspan of nearly 10 feet, North America's largest land bird and one of the largest flying birds in the world is truly a magnificent sight to see. Enthusiasts can overnight at the rustic rearing/release facility set 2,800 ft. above the Pacific in Big Sur and participate in tracking and feeding these giants of the sky. Happy hour includes watching the birds fly in to roost as the sun sets, followed by a hike to the feeding grounds. On the endangered species list since 1967, the California condor now thrives on Big Sur's rugged coastline and at Pinnacles National Monument in Soledad. Since 1998, Ventana Wildlife Society has re-established 42 condors to the wild. Other options include day trips to base camp and two-hour tracking tours led by a wildlife biologist using specialized equipment to monitor nesting, feeding and flying habits. www.ventanaws.org.

Seeking a rendezvous with a Townsend's Big Ear Bat or talusing under 23 million-year-old volcanic rock formations? Hightail it to the Pinnacles National Monument. Home of the California condor release program and a crazy collection of crimson conical spires marking the remnants of an ancient volcano along the San Andreas Rift Zone, this is ground zero for ranger-led bat walks, "experiential" night hikes and eyeing 20+ condors who reside on this lunar-scape. The Monument sports two "talus" caves - a system of passages snaking under and between house-size boulders- offering a natural habitat for bats. Visitors can strike out solo to the Balconies Cave and Bear Gulch Cave, housing some 14 species of bats including the Townsend's Big Ear bat and Western Mastiff bat, with a wing span of 12 inches. Opened in 1908, the monument is a true character builder for hikers, climbers and nature lovers. Learn the ropes via Sanctuary Gym, which offers instructional rock climbing day-trips complete with gear.www.nps.gov www.rockgym.com.

"Monkeying around" is redefinied at Wild Things, an exotic animal training facility housing 100+ animals on 50 acres of rugged outback. Set in Steinbeck country just outside the city of Salinas, this working facility and rescue camp offers a deluxe seven-hour Walk with the Animals program. Sign up for a stint washing an African elephant, training session with Brandi (an American black bear of Grizzly Adams fame) or take the ultimate catwalk with an exotic cat or Elvis the kangaroo. Also allowed: monkey play dates or quality time fluffing up the lions. Guests can overnight in four safari-style suites on a remote savanna, with breakfast delivered by an elephant. www.wildthingsinc.com.

Pack those chaps and spurs for an authentic cattle drive at V6 Ranch in Parkfield, the self-proclaimed "Earthquake Capital of the World" where residents prefer their eggs scrambled and martinis shaken. Just 23 miles from Highway 101, this rustic town of lodge pole cabins and wide open spaces is officially the most studied spot on earth for earthquakes. Here, wannabe cowboys can saddle up for a real Western cattle drive on 50 miles of trails at the Varian family's 20,000 acre ranch. Rides include plenty of daytime cattle work, delicious ranch style fixin's and fireside sing-alongs once the suns sets. V6 also offers a "Ranch Life in California" program teaching traditional Vaquero horsemanship from a Hall of Fame Honoree, including the basics of team sorting, rope handling and working cattle by horseback. www.parkfield.com. True city slickers can opt for day rides at Holman Ranch, Pebble Beach Equestrian Center, Molera Horseback Tours and Marina Equestrian Center. www.holmanranch.com; www.ridepebblebeach.com; www.molerahorsebacktours.com.

Hunting for a little breakfast is harder than it sounds, especially if wild boar is on the menu. Hunters with an ancestral urge bag a boar and pack home a little homemade sausage can get their fix on 30,000 acres of fertile hunting grounds surrounding Fort Hunter Liggett and King City, often called the "Wild Boar Capitol of California." Weighing in at 200+ lbs., with two-inch tusks, wild boar are not an easy big game get and are usually tracked on private land requiring a qualified guide. Daily treks in Steinbeck Country's verdant rolling hills dotted with California oak and the meandering Salinas River are offered by a variety of outfitters. Pack a sense of adventure. www.edrothhunting.com.

Terra Firma – Musing Monarchs, Agricultural Treks and Lost LimekilnsMonarch Butterflies SMALL 3068 mo00079 rgb lIf tracking migration patterns of tropical insects is on the agenda, the Monarch Grove Sanctuary is the call for an up close peek at thousands of butterflies. Tucked into a residential enclave in Pacific Grove, this free frolic is a top winter spot for Monarchs who flutter as far as 2,000 miles at a height of 10,000 feet. Led by the earth's magnetic field and position of the sun, each year new butterflies arrive en masse to cluster in the pine and eucalyptus trees from October to February. Docents are available for informal tours. www.pgmuseum.org.

What better way to learn you're ABC's than a hands-on tour of the "Salad Bowl of the World"? Ag Venture Tours hit the fields running with an exploratory look at planting, harvesting, new farming techniques and the wonders of the region's artichokes, broccoli and cauliflower. This is a full sensory experience from walking through the row crops to sniffing the salad greens and in-depth look at America's top greens producer. www.agventuretours.com.

Pounding the pavement in Monterey County is sheer bliss; just ask any athlete who has crossed the finish line at the annual Big Sur International Marathon, Sea Otter Classic or Seagate Triathlon in Pacific Grove. The Monterey Recreation Trail is a solid start for pairing pavement with unsurpassed scenery. This path traverses the Monterey Bay coastline past Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row and Fisherman's Wharf. The trail also gives riders a view of surfers tackling frothy waves at Seaside State Beach, as well as hang gliders catching a breeze over the dunes of Marina State Beach.

Pebble Beach's 17-Mile Drive is a must-see for every cyclist. Rated as one of the top 100 routes to pedal in America, this ride is an excellent way to experience the 5,300-acre Pebble Beach community. Riders can start at any of the three main Pebble Beach gates and follow the signs past manicured lawns, emerald greens and jaw-dropping views of the Pacific coast. www.pebblebeach.com.

For off-road enthusiasts, Fort Ord steps up with a massive network of 86 miles of trails on 7,200 acres of biking nirvana. Experts can head for the Hurl Hill Trail or Staircase Trail, often compared to the great rocky trails in Moab, Utah. The Oil Well Road route is an excellent introduction to the single-track wonders of Fort Ord. The 11-mile loop delivers riders through beautiful wooded areas in the northeast corner of the park. For a bigger burn, tackle the Guidotti/Goat Trail Loop, a 13-mile, clockwise ride with a mixed bag of terrain including high ridges, maritime chaparral, grasslands, oak woodlands and wetlands. Another off-road option is the Old Coast Road in Big Sur, an 18.5-mile loop including steep climbs through towering redwoods and babbling brooks before reaching the ocean at Bixby Landing. http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/content/ca/en/fo/hollister/fort_ord/index.html.

Hikers and trail runners can slip into a variety of venues spanning Point Lobos State Nature Reserve to the outback of Big Sur as well as the hillside trails of Toro Park and Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley. For a true Raiders of the Lost Ark adventure, Big Sur Hiking Guides lead visitors to a magical site cutting deep through towering redwoods along several lush creeks to 100-year old lost limekilms. Other top picks include the strenuous hike to Sykes Hot Springs or moderate Ewoldsen Trail, a 4.5-mile loop tucked deep in the redwood forest along McWay Creek. The Pfeiffer Falls Trail and McWay Waterfall Trail both culminate with spectacular waterfalls. For top views, the Andrew Molera State Park/Creamery-Ridge Trail features a 7.3-mile loop with a moderately strenuous climb gaining over 1,200 feet in just over two miles. www.SeeMonterey.com.

Concrete Dreams – Pulling G's and Bouldering Land RoversNeed a tune up on technical driving skills? Check out the Land Rover Experience Driving School in Carmel Valley where signing on the dotted line will deliver a sweat-inducing spin through 80 acres of rugged terrain in a plush$76,000 Range Rover. Rev things up on the off-road obstacle course with one-on-one training on advanced techniques like winching and vehicle recovery. Not for the timid, the school puts drivers through the paces of maneuvering over sand traps, boulders, tricky wooded trails and descents steep enough challenge a veteran Everest climber. www.landroverusa.com

 Foiling urban idiots just got easier with one-day courses at Skip Barber Racing School at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Cut loose and pull some "g's" in a 150 h.p. formula racecar for the true testosterone test. The "One Day Combo" puts the pedal to the metal with instruction on high performance defensive driving skills including slide and recovery techniques, trailbraking and race-style heel-and-toe downshifting. Strap into a high-octane Dodge Viper on the world-famous 2.24-mile, 11-turn track and approach the Corkscrew Turn at 100 m.p.h., practicing braking, downshifting and cornering in split second intervals. www.skipbarber.com.

Alive is the Air – Freefall at 120 M.P.H., Get Air and GlidePush the automatic "Rush" button and take the plunge via the "world's highest tandem jump" at 18,000 feet with Skydive Monterey Bay. A quick 20-minute training and safety briefing, paired with an instructor and dual harness, is all that's required for the tandem skydive, one of the safest and certainly surreal experiences for first time divers. Get a condor's-eye view of the Monterey peninsula and Marine National Sanctuary following a throat-choking one-minute freefall clocking in at 120 miles per hour. www.skydivemontereybay.com. For a more sedate experience, strap in for an aerial sightseeing tour aboard a beautiful Cessna 172 at Monterey Bay Aviation. Soar over the Salinas Valley, Carmel and Big Sur in a climate controlled cabin with a direct ear to the pilot. www.montereybayaviation.com.

On the waterfront, Marina State Beach has become the tipping point for hang-gliders and kite boarders, thanks to its infusion of powerful afternoon and early evening winds. Visitors can set up and launch just south of the parking lot. Punctuated with surfers silently riding the horizon and a scenic boardwalk threading through the Marina Dunes Preserve, this area celebrates its qiomtessemce with an annual Festival of Winds and Steeple Chase Event every May.


(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)


Editor's note: Links to all the websites of Monterey County wineries, as well as links to hundreds of lodging and dining options can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.


GG  Bridge and cruise ship from Marin side SMALLCruise ships about to pass under bridge and out to Pacific.

Originally completed on May 27, 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge, named for the strait leading from the Pacific Ocean to the San Francisco Bay, is one of the city's most popular and most photographed landmarks.

Spanning 6,450 feet, the single-span suspension bridge will mark its 75th anniversary this year with a public celebration to be held May 27, 2012 along the waterfront between Pier 39 to the foot of the bridge at Fort Point.

Visitors and locals can enjoy dramatic views of the bridge from several points throughout the city. Viewing spots listed below are all free and open to the public. Note for out-of-towners: San Francisco can be very windy, particularly in the summer. Remember to wear layers, sunglasses and sunscreen.

Crissy Field

Crissy Field, a former military airfield located south of the Golden Gate Bridge in the Presidio, was restored to its natural state in 2001 and offers wide, fully-accessible walking and cycling trails between the Marina Green and Fort Point. Offering stunning views of the bridge, Crissy Field offers picnic areas and a small beachfront popular among families. Along Crissy Field, visitors can stop for lunch at the Warming Hut near Fort Point, the Beach Hut Cafe near the Marina Green, or check out the House of Air, a trampoline center in one of the repurposed buildings.

Distance from Golden Gate Bridge: 2.4 miles from the Marina Green

Fort Point

For an up-close view of the bridge, visit Fort Point, a Civil War-era brick fort accessible via the Marine Drive lot at Crissy Field. Although Fort Point never had any military action, the Golden Gate Bridge's chief engineer Joseph Strauss redesigned the bridge to preserve the fortress as a "fine example of the mason’s art."

Distance from Golden Gate Bridge: 1.2 miles

Baker Beach

Stretching a half mile below the rugged cliffs along the Presidio's western shoreline, Baker Beach offers spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Accessible by public transportation (Muni 29-line), the beach offers a picnic area with tables and grills, lots of parking and restroom facilities. Note: the northernmost end of Baker Beach is frequented by clothing-optional sunbathers.

Distance from Golden Gate Bridge: 1.2 miles

China Beach

Located in the Seacliff neighborhood, China Beach is a tiny, sheltered pocket of sand with a picnic area, a sunbathing deck, restrooms, cold showers and unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Note: the beach is only accessible by a steep, paved drive or natural stairway of approximately 100 steps. Distance from Golden Gate Bridge: 2.0 miles

Lands End

The Eagle's Point trailhead of Lands End near Lincoln Park offers jaw-dropping views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Near the popular hiking trail, which is also a short walking distance to the Legion of Honor, visitors can walk along a paved sidewalk near the 17th hole of the Lincoln Park Municipal Golf Course. Here, there are several benches and photo opportunities to reflect and capture the beauty of the bridge.

Distance from Golden Gate Bridge: 3.0 miles

Glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge

For slightly obstructed, but nonetheless dramatic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, visitors can enjoy views from several, unexpected vantage points.

Lover's Lane, the Presidio

As the oldest foot trail in the Presidio, Lover's Lane, a half-mile, pedestrian friendly, paved trail, begins at the Presidio Gate at the corner of Presidio and Pacific Avenues in Presidio Heights. As you stroll down the trail, protected by majestic eucalyptus groves, you'll get a Hollywood-esque glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge which will eventually disappear as you continue down the trail toward the Presidio's Main Post.

Distance from the Golden Gate Bridge: 2.2 miles

De Young Museum, Golden Gate ParkGG Bridge Tower in Fog 2BRDGE18 SMALLNorth tower shrouded in fog.

Located in the east end of Golden Gate Park, the Hamon Education Tower Observation Deck at the de Young Museum offers dramatic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as spectacular panoramic views of the city and Pacific Ocean. Touring the museum requires admission, but visiting the observation deck, open daily until 4:30 p.m., is free and open to the public.

Distance from Golden Gate Bridge: 2.9 miles

Library at the University California, San Francisco – Inner Sunset

Keep quiet here. Located at 530 Parnassus Avenue in the Inner Sunset, the library at the University of California, San Francisco, offers stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge from its main reading room.

Distance from Golden Gate Bridge: 4.1 miles

Coit Tower

Coit Tower, a slender white concrete column rising from the top of Telegraph Hill, provides 360-degree views of the city and bay, including the Golden Gate Bridge. The most-spectacular views can be seen from the observation deck, which is reached by elevator and requires tickets ($7).

Distance from Golden Gate Bridge: 4.9 miles

Golden Gate Bridge through the Waldo Tunnel

M drivers going through the Waldo tunnel, the unofficial name of the tunnel on U.S. Route 101 between the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito, can enjoy the first view of the city and the bridge upon exiting the tunnel's southbound bore. This view may be one of the most dramatic views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Distance from Golden Gate Bridge: 3.1 miles

Suite Tributes to the Golden Gate Bridge

To celebrate the Golden Gate Bridge's history with San Francisco, hotels throughout the city have created specialty suites for visitors to immerse themselves in the Bridge's history.

To honor the Golden Gate Bridge's 75th anniversary, Kimpton's Hotel Palomar San Francisco has created a "Golden Gate Suite," which includes several tributes to the orange icon, including furniture made out of reclaimed steel from the bridge. Located on the fifth floor of the hotel, the  festive suite features blown-up photos of the Golden Gate Bridge's tollboth covering the doors and walls outside the suite; a printed opaque decal of the Golden Gate Bridge that expands across the five bay windows inside the suite; a headboard painted in a street-art style to capture the grandeur of the bridge; a lampshade made with historic photos from 1937, the year the bridge was being built; decorative pillows created with vintage photographs of the bridge from the 1930s; and nightstands and a coffee table created with reclaimed Golden Gate Bridge steel. Guests staying in the Golden Gate Suite will also be treated to a complimentary Golden Gate cocktail from Fifth Floor Restaurant, the restaurant at Hotel Palomar San Francisco. The cocktail, called Vermillion M.E.S., gets its name from the Orange Vermillion color painted over the steel, chosen by architect Irving Morrow. The suite will be available through the end of 2012.

Located atop Nob Hill, the Fairmont San Francisco, one of a handful of hotels that offers rooms with Golden Gate Bridge Views, is celebrating one of its most iconic guests, Grammy-award winning singer Tony Bennett, with a special suite dedicated to him and his unique place in the hotel’s storied history. Located in the hotel's Tower Building, the "Tony Bennett Suite at The Fairmont San Francisco" is set to open May 24, 2012 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. The two-bedroom suite pays homage to Bennett, who in December 1961 took the stage of the Fairmont San Francisco’s Venetian Room and performed "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" for the first time. Guests of the suite will be treated with personal photos and memorabilia from Bennett, as well as an original painting of the Golden Gate Bridge, which he created specifically for the suite. In addition to his musical career, Bennett is also a noted visual artist. For Bennett fans, the hotel will also have a limited number of giclée prints of the Bennett painting of the Golden Gate Bridge for purchase. And as a special perk, guests of the suite will receive a copy of Bennett’s "Duets II" CD, which they may enjoy along with a bottle of champagne and heart-shaped dessert amenity.

Party like it’s 1937 at the Clift hotel for a 1930’s inspired weekend, May 25-27. Celebrations will include live music, DJ’s, 1930’s themed cocktails, and projection screens featuring films from the 1930’s. Guests are encouraged to come dressed in era-inspired clothing.

Across the Bay in Sausalito, Cavallo Point Lodge will be honoring the Golden Gate Bridge with weekend festivities to celebrate the bridge's 75th anniversary, as well as an art exhibit that will run through the end of June 2012.

To kickoff the weekend celebration, the luxury resort-spa will host a Golden Gate gala dinner on Saturday, May 26, 2012. Prepared by two award-winning chefs, Chef Justin Everett of Murray Circle and Chef Craig von Foerster of Sierra Mar, the dinner will feature a champagne reception followed by a six-course menu with wine pairings. On Sunday, May 27, 2012, the lodge will host a Terrace Party from 6-10 p.m. that will include a gourmet barbecue buffet, live music and stunning views of the fireworks display over the Bay. (Tickets are $75 per adult and $25 per child). Through June 30, 2012 the lodge will be hosting "Visions of the Golden Gate at 75," an exhibit linking the iconic span's past and present. The show will feature rare, black-and-white photographs of the bridge during the construction era taken by land surveyor and photographer W. Gordon Voorhies as well as contemporary interpretations by Bay Area photographers Robert Campbell, Emil Flock and Chris Honeysett.

Rooms with a (Bridge) ViewGG Bridge from Ft Point2BRDGE48 SMALLView from Ft Point is often spectacular.

For those in search of a room with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, a handful of San Francisco hotels offers rooms with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Presidio: The newly-opened Inn at the Presidio offers several rooms with bridge views. Located in historic Pershing Hall, previously the post’s bachelor officers' quarters, the inn offers 22 rooms, 17 of which are one-bedroom suites.

Union Square: The historic Westin St. Francis offers rooms with gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Tower Building; request guest rooms starting on floor 26, or book one of its two suites, the Pacific and the Bridge View.

Nob Hill: The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, perched atop Nob Hill, offers several guest rooms with partial views of the bridge, as well as its California suite. Visitors can also drop by Top of the Mark, the hotel's popular roof-top bar, for an exquisite view of the bridge from the northwest corner of the room.

Across the street from the Mark Hopkins, the Fairmont San Franciscoalso offers multiple views from its Tower Building.

Fisherman's Wharf: The Argonaut Hotel, in easy walking distance to all of the shops and restaurants on Fisherman's Wharf, offers waterfront views of the Golden Gate Bridge from several of its rooms.



Golden Gate Bridge: By the Numbers


Span: 6,450 feet

Total length: 8,981 feet

Completion date: May 28, 1937

Cost: $35 million

Date paid in full: July 1971

Engineer: Joseph B. Strauss

Road height: 260 feet

Tower height: 746 feet

Swing span: 27 feet

Deepest foundation: 110 feet under water

Cable thickness: 37 inches

Cable length: 7,650 feet

Steel used: 83,000 pounds

Concrete used: 389,000 cubic yards

Miles of wire cable: 80,000

Gallons of paint annually: 10,000

Color: International orange

Rise, in cold weather: 5 feet

Drop, in hot weather: 10 feet

Traffic: 3 million vehicles per month

CashToll: $6 (southbound only)

FasTrak Toll: $5


(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)


Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in San Francisco & the Bay Area can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.


Frog Jumping Champ SMALL photo courtesy of Calaveras CountyFrog Jumping Champ.    photo courtesy of Calaveras County

It's difficult anymore to find a corner of Earth where we are separated from our electronic devices. Even at  30,000 feet, two little syllables - Wi-Fi - keeps travelers plugged in. But California's Gold Country, the state's northeast/central region connected by meandering Highway 49, offers some steller spots where visitors can disconnect from technology for a digital detox.

Whether unplugging is a choice or a geographic happenstance, California's Gold Country offers everyone the chance to unplug and recharge. Here are twelve places to drop the call:

Rock Climb and Hike, Amador County: Remember what it feels like to be alive by hanging from a cliff by your knuckles 1,000 feet above a pristine mountain lake. http://www.touramador.com.

Cave and Mine Adventures, Calaveras County: Change your perspective zip lining over forests or crawling into the depths of the Earth, 165 feet into Moaning Cavern and through amphitheater-like rooms covered in stalactites. Sometimes visitors can hear the cavern actually moaning. Thankfully there is no cell reception. http://www.caveandmineadventures.com/

Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station, Tuolumne County: Spend days reading books with real pages, petting horses in the stables, trout fishing in the Stanislaus River, or dancing to old country music from the Saloon's juke box—who needs iTunes? For Teddy Roosevelt-like adventure, see Southern Yosemite National Park on horseback. http://www.kennedymeadows.com/

Susan's Place Restaurant, Sutter Creek (Amador County): Nosh on artisanal cheeseboards and homegrown mustards while sipping local wines on a brick patio enjoying the trellised landscape. The sign on the door, "please turn your cell phones off", sets the mood. http://www.susansplace.com/index.htm

Cascade down rivers, El Dorado County: Nobody can effectively shoot the rapids while texting. http://www.visit-eldorado.com/river-rafting.php

Concerts in Ironstone Vineyard, Murphys (Amador County): This year choose a concert by Reba McIntire, John Fogherty, Tony Bennett, Jeff Foxworthy and others while wining and dining at the vineyard. Even if your ring tone is "I left my heart..." it is taboo to leave your phone on. http://www.ironstonevineyards.com

In the footsteps of Ansel Adams, Yosemite National Park: This half-day photography class allows photographers to capture the same images Ansel Adams made famous through his classic black and white images. (OK, there may be a digital device involved.) Step back in time with an overnight stay in the historic Wawona Hotel, a mid-19th century wooden lodge in Yosemite National Park. http://www.yosemitepark.com

Take a soak at Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort, Highway 140/Midpines: Buy a day pass for access to a 10-person stainless steel hot tub, cold-rain shower, cedar hot-rock sauna and a seven-jet show in the Health Spa. www.yosemitebug.com

American River Bike Trail, Folsom (to Sacramento): City cyclists will enjoy a break from competing with autos on the longest continuous paved cycling path in the United States. With 32 miles of trails, there are plenty of options for riders of all levels. http://www.visitfolsom.com/cycling/

Christmas Tree Vineyard Lodge, Forest Hill (El Dorado County): Escape the news at this rustic six-room bed and breakfast abode because rooms are TV, radio and telephone-free. http://www.christmastreevineyardlodge.com

Off Road, Placer County:See this beautiful area on ATV's and motorcycles down mountain trails and through parks. www.visitplacer.com/northern-california-off-road.aspx

Jumping Frog Jubilee, Calaveras County:Immortalized by Mark Twain, this annual event in May attracts young and old, individuals and teams (and their bug-eyed competitors) for the Jumping Frog Jubilee at the Calaveras County Fair.  Visitors aren't off the grid here but might have their hands full. http://www.frogtown.org

The northeast/central California region known as the Gold Country, where gold was discovered in 1849, is an area made up of 12 counties and dozens of historic towns dotting Highway 49. It has been named one of the top ten U.S. travel destinations to see in 2012 by Lonely Planet. For more information call toll free (U.S.) 800-225-3764 or 916-985-2698, or visit www.calgold.org.


(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)


Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Gold Country can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.


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