While it's been a really dry year in Northern California, there's a storm on the horizon this week, which means snow in the Sierras and the start of ski and snow play season in Lake Tahoe. In fact many of Tahoe ski resorts have their opening days scheduled within the next two weeks. Make sure you check before you go, as opening dates are tentative and dependent on snowfall and weather; we've included website links and phone numbers.
Our favorite mountain destination is Northstar California Resort near Truckee, but the Tahoe area boasts numerous resorts and ski areas to suit anyone's taste and budget.
Here's our guide to places to ski, snowboard, tube, sled, and play in the snow around Tahoe. We're tried to focus on spots that offer not only skiing and snowboarding, but tubing, snow play, and other winter activities, as well. If we've omitted your favorite, please let us know!
This November and December, Cornerstone Sonoma presents a winter circus for the holidays by Le Cirque de Bohème. Experience the magic of a 1920s style circus based on the French tradition, featuring a magician, sword thrower, slack-rope walker, contortionists, and other world-class performers.
Follow the circus through the story of Luna, a 10-year-old girl who takes the audience on a journey of enchantment, wonder, and adventure through the "Bohemian Dream" to the hill of Paris' Montmarte—right near the famous Moulin Rouge.
This intimate circus gathering takes place under the tent in the gardens at Cornerstone Sonoma, and is limited to 80 guests per performance. Four shows have already sold out, but tickets are available for November 29 at 1 pm, November 30 at 5 pm, December 1 and 2 at 1 pm, and December 3 at 3 pm.
Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children 15 or younger. A portion of all ticket sales go to benefit the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance.
Not heading up to Lake Tahoe for "Ski Week"? There are still plenty of fun things to do in and around Marin with the kids during their time off! Check out our list of 10 fun family activities and outings, both indoor and outdoor, for mid-winter break.
Fly high at Crissy Field's House of Air indoor trampoline park.
This just in: Famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil has failed to see his shadow, meaning that spring is on its way. All the alternate, less noteworthy groundhogs, such as Atlanta's General Beauregard Lee have concurred, so we have something of a groundhog consensus. Groundhog Day has always been America's most underappreciated holiday, but not in our house! Our kids saw it on the calendar and have been eagerly anticipating the great day for weeks.
Apparently Groundhog Day is derived from an old German superstition brought to America by early immigrants. The groundhog (Marmota monax) is a large rodent common in central and eastern North America. We don't see groundhogs out here, but we have a close relative, the marmot, which lives in the Sierras. There aren't any groundhogs in Germany, either, but marmots are common in alpine areas, so perhaps that's the original groundhog.
Since we seem to be getting a break from the rain, why not take advantage of the beautiful weather by taking a family hike? There are so many amazing spots in Marin County that are perfect for a hike or nature walk with kids, whether they're in a baby backpack, a stroller, or walking on their own.
The winter landscape in Northern California can be breathtaking, too, with bright green grass and even some wildflowers showing their faces. Here are five of our favorite amazing Marin hikes for families, perfect for winter or any time, really. Remember to wear layered clothing, and it's usually a good idea to let the kids wear their rain boots on muddy winter trails.
The Fairway Waterfall in Novato (also known as the Arroyo de San Jose Waterfall) is a fantastic destination for a winter family hike. It's short and there's an amazing payoff at the end of the trail in the form of a 30-foot waterfall!
Tennessee Valley is one of Marin's most popular hikes, and for good reason—this easy walk to the beach and back is perfect for all ages and features spectacular scenery. Go early in the morning or on weekdays to avoid crowds and parking hassles.
Novato's Rush Creek Open Space Preserve offers gentle trails perfect for a family hike or bike ride. Fantastic views of Mt. Burdell and the surrounding wetlands add to the experience. Don't forget to bring the binoculars to observe birds and other wildlife.
The wildlife ponds on the Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District grounds in San Rafael are worth visiting at any time of year, but are especially scenic during the winter. A wide variety of birds flock to this bayside sanctuary, so bring your binoculars. Flat gravel trails are perfect for either a walk or a bike ride.
Even when the weather's been wet in Marin, it can be a lot of fun to head outdoors and take a hike, especially when there's something exciting to see at the end of the trail, like a waterfall. Marin's waterfalls are some of the county's hidden treasures, and are best appreciated when they're running full force in winter and spring. The Fairway Waterfall, also known as Arroyo de San Jose Waterfall, is a seasonal waterfall that can be found on a trail at the end of Fairway Drive, in Novato's Country Club neighborhood. We went to check out the waterfall yesterday and it was amazing.
The waterfall can be especially spectacular during and just after a good rainstorm, like the one we had this weekend. The trail to the Fairway waterfall is short and easy and the trailhead is easy to get to, so it's perfect for kids. So bundle up, put on those puddle stompers and raincoats, and head outdoors for a waterfall hike!
While we love the skiing and winter fun at Lake Tahoe, we know that not everyone's a skiier, and sometimes you just want to take the kids up to play in the snow. While many of the Tahoe ski resorts like Northstar, Squaw Valley, and Heavenly have tubing parks, ice skating, and other winter non-skiing activities for the family, there are plenty of places in the Sierras where you can get your snow play fix without the ski resort hustle and bustle (and price tag).
Most of these snow play sites are within a few hours' drive from Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area. While some have tubes and sleds to rent, others, most notably the California State Sno-Parks, offer little more than a place to park your car so you can go play in the snow. For a list of Lake Tahoe ski resorts that offer both skiiing and snow play activities, read our article here.
Are you and your family ready to hit the slopes this winter? Thanks to last week's early season storm (and of course the snowmaking machines), our favorite Tahoe ski destination, Northstar California Resort will open early this year.
The ski and snow fun start this Wednesday, November 14. Four lifts will be open, as well as a beginner magic carpet lift for new skiers and riders. Ski school, on-mountain dining, and Northstar's 9,000-square-foot ice skating rink will also be open starting Wednesday, and of course all the dining and shopping in the Village, too.
Learn more about what Northstar has to offer for familes in our article here. We're looking forward to heading back up later on in the season, toasting some marshmallows for s'mores at one of Northstar's fire pits, and meeting Marsh Mellow, the Northstar marketing wonder dog (pictured here—my daughter's obsessed with him).
We recently spent the weekend on the slopes at Northstar California, where our kids took ski lessons with one of their experienced instructors. We were amazed at how much progress they made in just a few hours!
When should you get your own kids started on skis? Mike Hafer, assistant director of the Northstar's Ski and Snowboard School, was kind enough to answer this and a few other questions about ski lessons for children. Mike is also a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) Demo Team and father of two young daughters.
What's the best age to get your kids started on the slopes? Is it ever too late?
When the child is ready. The mountain environment can be very intimidating to a young child. I would recommend that the child experiences snow play prior to learning how to ski or snowboard. Most 2-year-olds will only last about 20–30 minutes at most on the snow with equipment. 3-year-olds will typically go anywhere from a half day to a full day depending on their normal routines. If they are in need of nap time, I would recommend sticking with a half day program.