Photo by Jonathan Mueller

While away an afternoon in the wine country or head for America’s Alps in the Shasta Cascade region.  Here’s just a few suggestions for going beyond San Francisco’s 49 square miles of surprises. 

Music Out There

There’s nothing better than an outdoor concert in the summer. San Francisco has plenty on deck including Outside Lands in August and the America’s Cup Concert Series through October. But if you’re looking for a little more pastoral setting, here’s a few favorites of ours: 

The Mountain Winery, Saratoga

In 1958 a concert bowl was constructed in Saratoga’s Mountain Winery and the now famous Concert Summer Series began. World-class music and breathtaking scenery have consistently proven to be a crowd pleasing combination. Coming up this summer are David Byrne and St. Vincent (July 20); Huey Lewis and The News (July 27); Chicago (Aug. 6); Tony Bennett (Aug. 9) and many others.

Transcendence Theatre's "Broadway Under The Stars," Jack London State Park

Enjoy the magic and thrill of Transcendence Theatre's "Broadway Under The Stars” in Jack London State Park, a series of concerts through Aug.  31 featuring professional Broadway and Hollywood performers in the breathtaking open-air winery ruins of Sonoma's Jack London State Historic Park. Each evening begins with pre-show live music and picnicking on the great lawn of the park (with multiple wineries pouring and food and wine available for purchase), and concludes with an evening of entertainment.

William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre, University of California, Berkeley

Better known just as the Greek Theatre, this 8,500-seat amphitheater was built in 1903 and has been the site of everything from graduations to rock concerts for decades. Another Planet Entertainment is the exclusive concert promoter for the venue now. Upcoming shows include The Postal Service (July 26-27), The Goat Rodeo Sessions with Yo-Yo Ma and others (Aug. 24), and Placido Domingo (Sept. 7). And be sure to top off the evening with a stop at Top Dog, 2534 Durant Ave., known far and wide for its hot dogs.

Napa Valley Vibes

It’s hard to just pick one spot in Napa Valley for outdoor concerts – there are so many options from rock to opera. Some suggestions from a “Valley Girl” of our acquaintance include Robert Mondavi Summer Festival Concert Series through July 20; the Napa Valley Festival del Sole, July 12-21; Rock Napa concerts on July 18-19 and Aug. 15-16, and Music in the Vineyards, Aug. 7-25. Now in its 19th season, this series brings together nationally known musicians in unique winery settings at twilight concerns. 

Monterery Bay Aquarium

In the July edition of Sunset magazine, Editor-at-Large Peter Fish called the Monterey Bay Aquarium “the best in the world, with mesmerizing exhibits of sea otters, jellyfish and more.” All summer long an expanded lineup of Aquarium Adventures is offered. Whether it’s a behind-the-scenes tour with aquarium naturalists, a scuba program for kids or sleeping next to a favorite exhibit with friends and family, there’s an ocean of options this summer – and throughout the year. Behind-the-scenes tours are offered several times each day, with different themes to give visitors ages six and up an insider’s view of the nation’s No. 1 aquarium. Hint: The new San Francisco CityPASS, available for sale at the San Francisco Visitor Information Center, includes the Monterey Bay Aquarium as an option. 

The Man on the Moon

On July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 landed the first astronauts on the Moon. One day later Neil Armstrong became the first to step on that distant satellite of Earth and his famous message was broadcast around the world, “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." He was soon joined by fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin; on July 24 they returned to Earth in the Command Module along with Michael Collins, landing in the Pacific. The USS Hornet which is now based in Alameda was the prime recovery ship for the Apollo 11 moon mission and led a “picture-perfect recovery” of America’s first astronauts to land on the Moon. Four months later, the Hornet recovered the crew of Apollo 12 as well. On July 20 the USS Hornet Museum, which has the largest Apollo exhibit on the West Coast, will commemorate the 44th anniversary of the Apollo 11 splashdown and honor the legacy of the Sea King helicopter; the Sea King played a key role in the recovery of the Apollo 11 astronauts upon their return to earth. The USS Hornet Museum opens daily starting at 10 a.m.

Mariposa Merriment

Sometimes the best experiences you can have on a road trip are community events. That’s why we cotton to Cousin Jack’s Mariposa Evening Summer Concert Series in downtown Mariposa’s Art Park, Hwy. 140 and Fourth St. Every Friday and Saturday night, these free performances feature folk, bluegrass, rock, jazz, reggae and country bands hailing from the Sierra Nevada and Central Valley and bring together both local and visiting concertgoers of all ages. Planted with native plants and tree, and terraced for comfortable viewing, the Arts Park is a beautiful and family friendly setting to enjoy music throughout the summer and on into the fall through Oct. 5. Stop over before heading into Yosemite National Park. 

Get Thee to a Yurt

The Shasta Cascade region some 200 miles north of San Francisco offers alternative camping options ranging from yurts (the modern version of nomadic tents) at Shasta Lake, in park models (environmental cabins rolled into the forest) at Manzanita Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park, in railroad cars at Dunsmuir and in fire lookouts in national forests.

Jelly Belly, Chocolate and Wine 

Quiet and relaxing jazz music plays in the background as you sip a glass of wine, nibble premium chocolates and converse with friends. You wouldn’t guess it, but this scene can be found at Fairfield’s Jelly Belly Visitor Center this summer. Tucked away in the upstairs Very Cherry Room, guests 21 and older are invited to try five flights of locally produced Suisun Valley wines paired with handmade chocolates from the Jelly Belly Store and Chocolate Shoppe.

Strike Gold at California’s Great America

In June California’s Great America opened Gold Striker, the tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster in Northern California and the early reviews have been stellar. The eighth coaster at California’s Great America, Gold Striker provides the look and feel of the original wood coasters with a fast and smooth ride that represents the best of modern designs. Inspired and designed with an Old West feel, Gold Striker stands 108 feet at its highest point with a first drop of 103 feet. Riders will careen along 3,197 feet of track at speeds up to 53.7 miles per hour. Adding intrigue to Gold Striker is the 174-foot “mine shaft” tunnel that is enclosed by wood on both sides, corrugated metal on top and in-fill underneath the tracks, replicating a true gold mine feel. The “mine shaft” is the longest initial descent tunnel on any wooden roller coaster.