Nearby vacation communities where families go for generations

Since I'm not a Bay Area native, I'm wondering if there are any vacation communities near here (summer cottages or similar) where families tend to go year after year for generations. I'd like to find a place where my kids can grow up seeing the same kids every summer (and/or winter) throughout their lives. Ideally it'd be less than 6 hours drive from the East Bay and have swimming, sports, etc. I know about the various family camps, but wondering if there are other places with homes available for purchase or rental.

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

We used to rent in Catskills in NY from 4th of July till Labor Day, so our oldest had the true summer house friends . When we moved to East Bay we tried to recreate that tradition, but it is not as common here. There is Tahoe, and Tahoe Donner. There is also Pine Mountain Lake, which is a gated community on a man made Lake. People rent there all the time, though not for the whole summer. It is just so expensive and there isn't the same motivation to get the kids out of the city like in NYC. The summers here can be hot, but not unbearable, but the prices for rentals are by the night or by the week. In short, I have not found the same experience as a renter. If you are able to buy your experience might be different. Good luck!

Check out the western Russian River area, particularly the Summerhome Park neighborhood of Forestville.  That neighborhood, in particular, attracts families that come for the whole summer and have been doing so for generations.  Complete with snack bar, movie amphitheater, and members-only beach, it's definitely a slice of  yester-year.  There are a lot of great areas around the Russian River, not just this neighborhood.  Check out the small towns of Monte Rio and Guerneville, which, along with Forestville, generally comprise the vacation destinations at the river.  For a "resort" area it's remarkably down to earth (not Disney-fied like Napa), yet close to the ocean and wine tasting, so if you choose to buy in the area, you can rent out your house as a vacation rental when not using it, if you want.  It's also only 1.5 hours from the Bay Area, so a really easy commute. 

Serene Lakes, in Soda Springs - about 15 minutes south of Truckee. 

During the winter it is fantastic for skiing at Sugar Bowl (and cross country at Royal Gorge), but during the summer it is like a magical trip back to childhood, with a great lake for swimming & kayaking, hiking & biking galore, and a wonderful location. Everything about Serene Lakes is Old School, from the snack bar at the beach, to the quiet of a lake that doesn't allow engines, and families who have owned their homes for generations. Plenty of house rentals in this mountain community, which is our Happy Place.

You might consider buying or season-leasing a home in Dorrington/Camp Connell.  The Big Trees Village community may offer what you seek (   We season-leased before buying and are very pleased with the choice!  The neighborhoods in Arnold (Blue Lakes, Fly-In, and others) probably offer a similar community but we chose to buy above the snowline for easy cabin-side winter play.

So, the weather in the Bay Area is so pleasant that people don't really escape for a month to cooler parts - there's too much fun stuff to do here in the summer. But there are a bunch of places that are popular for a week of vacation with the fam where you'll find other kids running around.

1. Family Camps:  A lot of people I know go to family camps at the same time every summer and see the same families year after year. This is probably the closest thing we have to the Catskills. The cities of Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, as well as UC Berkeley and others all built camps in the early 1900's during the "back to nature" movement.  They are mostly in the beautiful Sierras and near Yosemite. Some of them are so popular you have to sign up almost a year ahead of time.  These range from fairly rustic tent cabins to more modern abodes and typically serve 3 meals, have a river or pool, and optional activities for kids and for adults.  These camps are open to all, not just residents or alumni.  We used to go to Berkeley Tuolumne camp until it burned, sadly, in the Rim Fire a few years ago. (But it will be back, and so will we!) Look on BPN for reviews of some of these camps.  

2. Sea Ranch on the Sonoma Coast:  We also really like to go to Sea Ranch, but there, it's more like comfortable houses with hot tubs and fireplaces nestled in the cedar trees and spaced far apart, so it's a great place for quiet and solitude, not so much for communing with your fellow Bay Areans.  But it's fun for kids. There are swimming pools, playgrounds, beaches, and flat empty roads for bike riding.

3. The Seaside: Some people do a week near the ocean.  Inverness has been a popular getaway for more than a century, and is very beautiful and ideally situated near Pt. Reyes and Tomales Bay (oysters, kayaking, etc.)- look on AirB&B or similar. It's more adult oriented in the sense that it's all about food, wine, fog, and views but it's close to the ocean for the kids. Then there are the more beachy spots popular with families where you rent a house for a week, like Stinson Beach, Dillon Beach, further south near Monterey and Santa Cruz, like Aptos and Capitola, Pajaro, Pismo, etc.

Lots of options!  

When my kids were little we'd take a place in Arnold for a week. Close, very neighborly, lots of kids.

Arnold, CA!  We are on the peninsula, so it would be even closer for you - I think a 2 hour drive or less.  We know multiple families who own cabins there - there are a few separate communities that each have their own lakes (with lifeguards and swim platforms), some have pools. The families we know do what you describe - go multiple times a year, make friends that they see and meet up with.   It's a beautiful small town in the woods, gets some snow each year (about a 30 minute drive to Bear Valley ski area) and is only 10 minutes from Murphy, which is a cute little town with tasting rooms and family-friendly restaurants and shops.  Close to hiking and gold country too.  We are recent transplants to the area and took a week vacation there last summer and were totally charmed.